(b. ca. 1488, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)
Oil on canvas, 352 x 349 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
In the second half of the 16th century Titian was continually overburdened with commissions for work - from Charles V and Philip II, from the Republic and from many churches. Overcoming the crisis of Mannerism shortly before his stay in Rome at the Papal court (1545/6), Titian's work now took on a new incomparable coherence of vision and creative force. We witness the triumph of colour and light over the Renaissance notions of sculptural form. In his later works Titian's handling of colour is suffused with spirituality; his youthful themes lose their Phidian serenity and from the burning rhythm of interwoven tones which melt slowly into the glowing tints images emerge, at times dramatic, at times full of emotion for lost earthly happiness.
In his Pietà, originally planned for his tomb at the Frari and left unfinished at his death Titian achieves the high point of the expressive possibilities of his 'alchimia cromatica'. The work was completed by Palma il Giovane who added the torch-bearing cherub. The opaque density of this detail contrasts with the 'magical impressionism' of Titian's tonal harmonies. In the shimmering nocturnal scene figures of flesh and marble are evoked by a suffusion of glowing colour. And along the diagonal formed by the figures we are witness to an outpouring of human passion: Mary Magdalene turns in a cry of uncontrollable grief, the Virgin appears frozen in contemplation of her dead son and St Jerome leans forward to catch the last breath of Christ.