TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. ca. 1488, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Sacred and Profane Love

1514
Oil on canvas, 118 x 279 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

Sacred and Profane Love, Titian's masterpiece, was painted when he was about twenty-five to celebrate the marriage of the Venetian Nicolò Aurelio (coat of arms on the sarcophagus) and Laura Bagarotto in 1514. The bride dressed in white sitting beside Cupid is assisted by Venus in person. The figure with the vase of jewels symbolizes `fleeting happiness on earth' and the one bearing the burning flame of God's love symbolizes `eternal happiness in heaven'. The title is the result of a late 18th-century interpretation of the painting, which gives a moralistic reading of the nude figure, whereas the artist intended this to be an exaltation of both earthly and heavenly love. In fact in the Neoplatonic philosophy that Titian and his circle believed in contemplating the beauty of the creation led to an awareness of the divine perfection of the order of the cosmos.

In this painting of love in the open countryside Titian has surpassed the delicate lyrical poetry of Giovanni Bellini or Giorgione and attributes a classical grandeur to his figures. In 1899, the Rothschilds offered to buy this world famous work at a price that was higher than the estimated value of the Villa Borghese and all its works of art (4,000,000 Lire as opposed to 3,600,000 Lire) . However, Titian's Sacred and Profane Love has remained and virtually become the symbol of the Borghese Gallery itself.