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

The Annunciation

1562-64
Oil on canvas, 403 x 235 cm
San Salvador, Venice

Withdrawing into a noble creative isolation in which he explored new forms of expression, Titian painted a series of works on sacred and secular subjects for the court of Spain and other clients. The Annunciation in the Church of San Salvador near the Rialto is Titian's key religious painting of the 1560s. It is one of Titian's boldest and most freely painted late works. Here the warm, rich colour blurs the outlines of the figures and turns the painting into a shimmering iridescent haze.

The traditionally acquiescent pose of the Virgin, with arms crossed as she receives the message, has been transferred to the angel since Titian has here chosen to depict the moment just after the actual Annunciation itself. The Virgin, having lifted her veil to receive the Word, remains in suspended animation as she absorbs it, while the angel stands in awestruck reverence at the implications of the news just imparted and at the mystery of the incarnation. There is a materiality about this painting that belies its otherworldliness. Gabriel's wings are the reverse of feathery and have the surface density of beaten brass, yet the viewer is seduced into believing that the wings of angels could exist in no other form.

The composition derives from a lost Annunciation that Titian painted in 1537 for the nuns of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Murano. The nuns rejected it as too expensive, so Titian promptly presented it to Charles V hoping to encourage further commissions.