TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. ca. 1488, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

The Death of St Peter Martyr

1527-29
Oil on canvas, 500 x 306 cm
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

At the close of the 1520s, Titian completed what used to be considered one of his finest works, The Death of St Peter Martyr. Tragically, it was destroyed in 1867 by fire in the Chapel of Rosary, where the painting was deposited at the time of the fire. The painting presently displayed in the Basilica is an 18th-century copy by Niccolò Cassala.

A vivid ekphrasis by Aretino describes how "you would comprehend all the living terrors of death" in the face and flesh of the man on the ground, and perceive "the pallor of vileness and the whiteness of fear" while contemplating his companion in flight. Aretino's description also brings home how realistic and shocking the image must have seemed to contemporaries. Such violence had never been seen in an altarpiece before, nor had any saint been portrayed in such a humiliating position, but Titian's solution is polemically Venetian in the importance of the landscape, whose trees soar and stir in sympathy with the drama below.