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


Oil on canvas, 371 x 197 cm
Museo Civico, Ancona

The painting was commissioned for the San Domenico in Ascona by the Cornovi family, who had recently moved to Ancona from Venice.

Though this was painted only a little later than the superb Crucifixion in the Escorial, there are already clear signs that Titian's style has progressed to the point where he is painting purely with colour. The scene with the mourners is taking place only in the foreground. The sky and the figures under the Cross are all painted in dark colours. Blue and black dominate the scene; white is used to produce dramatic highlights. Titian succeeds in representing St Dominic's sorrow as he embraces the Cross almost entirely by means of the distribution of light and the broad sweeping brushstrokes.

The stark placement of the three mourners in the immediate foreground, inviting us to share their suffering, makes this one of the first masterpieces of Counter-Reformation art, where narrative clarity and emotional empathy were denoted as artistic priorities. The Virgin and saints are arranged in a crescent, like the head of an anchor, at the base of the cross. On the left, the Virgin sways in solitary grief, while in the centre St Dominic, with exaggeratedly long fingers, feverishly clutches the base of the cross to draw strength. Christ, more fully illuminated than the others, is already beyond their reach, an effect Titian achieves by making him a little smaller than the rest and so creating a feeling of distance and separation. The blood which is pointedly depicted coursing along the sinews of his arms and down his side to soak into the loincloth also conforms to the taste and tenets of the Counter-Reformation.