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

St John the Baptist in the Desert

c. 1542
Oil on canvas, 201 x 134 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Even more than in his Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, Titian's attempt to fill out his chromatic language with Mannerist elements is clearly evident in this work painted for the now demolished church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The overpowering plasticity of the figure, its theatrical pose, and the strength of the timbres of the tones all reflect the dominant taste of the fifth decade of the sixteenth century in a Venice which was increasingly concerned with the problems of form and composition that preoccupied the 'classicists' of Central Italy, ideas that were propagated in Venice by Jacopo Sansovino, Vasari and Salviati.

But even in this muscular athlete (certainly no hermit emaciated by exhausting fast) the formal academic quality of Mannerism is redeemed by Titian's sensitivity to colour: the 'impasto' of the paint seems almost to be rising in the luminous matching of the grey of the skin to the ivory colour of the flesh and in the browns, greens and darkened by the rushing torrent. Indeed it was precisely because of his feeling for colour that in Titian the formulae of Mannerism, instead of crystallizing in abstract programmatic projects, was translated into an enthusiasm for research.