Titian, The Flight into Egypt, about 1506-7. © The State Hermitage Museum / Natalia Antonova, Inessa Regentova
The exhibition will explore Titian’s originality in creating one of the first large scale landscape narratives, and will demonstrate how he adapted ideas from the work of other artists in order to create his sophisticated composition. The painting will be exhibited alongside more than 20 works by Titian’s Venetian contemporaries including, Bellini, Giorgione, and Sebastiano del Piombo, from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, from the Hermitage and from other British institutions. Artists such as Albrecht Dürer, who was in Venice at the time Titian began this work, will also be included in the exhibition.
The Flight into Egypt is believed to be one of Titian’s earliest paintings. Produced on an impressive sized canvas (206 x 336 cm), the landscape occupies most of the composition, drawing the viewer’s eye to the green of the foliage, and the blues of the sky, mountains and stream. This unprecedented sensitivity to colour is a characteristic of Titian. He spontaneously displayed a naïve approach to nature, especially in the depiction of animals. The choice of this particular subject allowed the young painter to display his precocious skill in landscape painting and reveals the bold brushwork and exhilarating use of colour that would become signatures of his artistic style.
The patron of The Flight into Egypt was the Venetian patrician Andrea Loredan, a relative of Doge Loredan of whom the Gallery owns a formidable portrait by Titian’s first master Giovanni Bellini. It was painted for the portico of Loredan’s palace on the Grand Canal, known as the ‘Ca’ Loredan Vendramin Calergi’, which today houses the Venice Casino. Loredan was also patron of other great painters active in Venice at that time including Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione and Sebastiano del Piombo, whose Judgment of Solomon was probably conceived as a pendant of this painting.
The Flight into Egypt has been generously lent by the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and will be showcased at the National Gallery for the first time following a lengthy and skilful restoration. This will be the first time the work has been seen outside Russia since 1768 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased the picture. The Flight into Egypt is therefore almost entirely unknown to the British audience as it has not left Russia since its purchase. Seeing it in the context of the works will be a revelation to the public and scholars alike.
Vecellio (‘Titian’, c. 1488-1576) was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice, and the first painter to have a mainly international clientele. During his long career, he experimented with many different styles of painting which embody the development of art during his epoch.
Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites on the Venetian side of the Alps. He started his artistic training in the workshop of the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccato. He later briefly joined Gentile Bellini’s workshop. After Gentile’s death in 1507, Titian joined the workshop of his brother, Giovanni Bellini, which at that time was the most important in Venice. It was through Bellini that Titian met artist Giorgione, from whom he mainly developed his early style.
After Giorgione’s death in 1510, Titian launched his independent career in Venice. He was now left without rivals among his generation who could compete at his level.
He became famous as a portraitist and was also known as a painter of various profane subjects. These skills drew the attention of intellectually ambitious Italian dukes and aristocrats, and commissions to paint prestigious public religious paintings.
He later became the principal painter to the imperial court of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Phillip II of Spain, which gave him immense privileges, honours and even titles.
The last phase of Titian’s life coincided with a radical revision of his own style and painting technique. Starting from the late 1550s, Titian developed a much freer use of the brush and a less descriptive representation of reality. In the late 1560s and early 1570s, when Titian was already extremely old, he pushed his art to the edge of abstraction. His latest style has been defined as ‘magic impressionism’.
Titian, Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo, about 1509. Oil on canvas, 81.2 x 66.3 cm. © The National Gallery, London.