Capitoline Museum, Rome
Oil on wood
115 x 89 cm
Titian was one of the great artists of the Renaissance. He started pursing his interest in art and painting at a young age, along with his brother, in Venice. Here, he shadowed under masters such as Giovanni Bellini, who had quite an influence on Titian’s work. The first work that brought Titian into the spotlight was his completion of the “Homage of Frederick Barbarossa to Pope Alexander III” (1512). The painting was started by Giovanni Bellini, but left unfinished due to his death. Titian also worked with Giorgione. Titian served as his personal assistant until his death in 1510. Together, they were major influences on the Venetian school of Italian Renaissance Painting. Giorgione strongly influenced Titian’s works so much that their styles are extremely hard to distinguish from one another. They concentrated on the use of color to create a mood. Many of Titian’s paintings are described as “Giorgionesque.” Their paintings, unless signed or documented, are sometimes even labeled to be painted by both artists, since no one could really tell the difference. After the completion of “Assumption of the Virgin,” Titian’s reputation grew quickly and he started to develop an individualized style. Over Titian’s lifespan, he created over 600 works of art. Titian died of the plague in 1576 in his 80s or 90s. His actual birth date has never been agreed upon.
Titian’s painting of “The Baptism of Christ” features three figures arranged in a diagonal line. The attention of the viewer is drawn directly to Christ, who is placed at the center. He is standing in the Jordan River beneath John the Baptist, who stands above on the riverbank pouring water over Christ’s head. In the lower right hand corner, a man dressed in black observes the baptism. This man is speculated to be Giovanni (Juan) Ram, the patron of this particular work. He is wearing two wedding rings, which could symbolize Ram’s earthly marriage, as well as his mystical marriage to God. This mystical marriage between God and man was common theology of the Renaissance. His black robe contrasts with the purity of Christ’s white clothes. Titian uses red and blue for the clothing of John the Baptist and Christ’s robe on the ground. These colors were commonly used in religious works to symbolize the Heavens and the Earth. The heads of cherubs are hidden in a ray of light shining out of the clouds. The background consists of a small grove of trees and a farmhouse landscape. This composition is considered a typical “Titianesque” landscape.
This painting, along with the others that were completed around this time, marks the beginning of his autonomy from Bellini and Giorgione. Titian began to develop a new approach to the balance of color and landscape. Titian’s use of color was innovative, and became common in Renaissance art. He was known for his use of bright and rich pigments. He acheived sfumato, which is a blending and shading of tones. He also used chiaroscuro, which is the uses of light and dark to create contrast and a heightened illusion of depth.
“The Baptism of Christ” remained in the Ram family’s possession until the end of the 16th century. It was sold and taken to Rome, where it eventually found its way to the Capitolini collection in 1750. It was just recently exhibited in the Duomo in Siena in April of this year. This was the first time this painting has been moved from Rome since 1750.