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World Museum Masterpieces at the Hermitage. Titian, Venus with a Mirror
05.27.2002 11:24

Titian, Venus with a Mirror On 24 May, 2002, World Museum Masterpieces at the Hermitage (the Alexander Room (N 282) the Winter Palace) presented the exhibition of the famous Venus with a Mirror of one of the giants of Venetian Renaissance painting, Titian Vecellio (1477-1576).

The painting was created by the artist in the 1550s when he was past seventy. However, these years, as well as the preceding quarter of a century were the most creative period in Titian's life. His glory resounded throughout Europe and sovereigns flocked to order works from him. Charles V bestowed on him the title of Count Palatine, an honor no other painter has deserved.

Venus with a Mirror became some sort of an answer to the dispute between the artistic schools of Florence and Venice about precedence of painting or sculpture.

The theme itself, the ancient goddess of love with her son Cupid, did not lend itself to varying interpretations. The artist sets forth his ideal of beauty polemicizing with classical art but at the same time showing his knowledge of ancient samples. Titian's Venus is derived from two Greco-Roman prototypes. Her hands repeat the gesture of the famous marble statue of Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Cnidus, however, unlike it, the goddess in the painting is not quite nude but draped up to her thighs. This is the characteristic feature of Venus Genetrix, the most famous example of which is the Louvre's Venus of Borghese. To assert the precedence of painting over sculpture, Titian introduced into his composition an object that was since long used for this purpose, the mirror. Mirrors, glass semispheres and black polished armor which allowed to give more than one view of a figure (while a statue required walking around) were added to the arsenal of Venetian painters by Giorgione. Venus is depicted almost in profile; the reflection of her face in the mirror, slightly blurred, looks like a portrait in a rectangular frame, ''a painting in a painting'', an innovation to be often used by subsequent painters.

The goddess's figure is lit with a soft half-tone light and seems to emit a warm glow itself. The skill with which Titian depicts the minute nuances of the white forehead, rouge cheeks and lips, the brilliance of the gems and the thick fur is surprising. Painting recreates the endless variety of the sensible world inaccessible to sculpture: this is the master's chief argument.

Titian thought very high of his Venus with a Mirror and did not want to sell it while he was alive. He kept the painting to himself as a prototype for many variants and replicas made in the 1560s both by himself and his assistants (non of his own reproductions survive). After the artist's death his younger son sold his father's house and, before that, paintings including Venus to the Venetian patrician Christophoro Barbarigo. Palazzo Barbarigo housed the great master's canvases for almost three centuries. The dynasty became extinct in the first half of the 19th century, and the collection was sold. In 1850 the Barbarigo Gallery was purchased by Nicholas I for the Hermitage. Venus with a Mirror was displayed side by side with the equally renowned Penitent Mary Magdalen in similar ancient carved frames in one of the Italian Studies of the New Hermitage.

In the 1920-1930s, Venus with a Mirror shared the fate of many masterpieces in the Hermitage collection. In 1931 it was sold to Andrew Mellon. Since 1937 its home is the National Gallery in Washington.

The exhibition will last till August 26, 2002.

News source: The Hermitage
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