TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

St Mark Enthroned with Saints

Oil on canvas, 230 x 149 cm
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

This painting, one of Titian's youthful works, was probably created either during or shortly after the horrific outbreak of the plague in 1510 for the church of Santo Spirito in Isola to celebrate the end of the plague. (It is now in the sacristy of the Santa Maria della Salute.) Here the four saints who are traditionally invoked for protection from the plague - Saints Cosmas and Damian to the left, Roch and Sebastian to the right - are placed in pairs on each side of the altar where saint Mark, patron saint of Venice, is seated.

The altarpiece reflects the influence of Giovanni Bellini. However, the figure of St Mark is inspired by the enthroned monarch in Sebastiano del Piombo's Judgment of Solomon, while St Sebastian on the right derives from the same saint on a series of organ shutters painted by Sebastiano for the Venetian church of San Bartolomeo di Rialto.

A new stylistic direction is evident in the way Titian paints the four standing saints. They have a classical nobility of form and a hieratic air which points to the influence of Bellini. On the other hand, the saints on the left - certainly portraits - are given a very realistic sense of individuality which is in strong contrast with the almost Giorgionesque reserve of the figures to the right.

This altarpiece is a brilliantly coloured, luminous work. An unusual feature is the cloud that casts its shadow over the face of St Mark.