I borrowed half of the title of today’s post from an article by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.
As Jones says,
“Titian painted the Pietà when Venice was struck by plague. It was made as an ex voto offering, a prayer for the survival of himself and his beloved son, Orazio. In the bottom right-hand, propped under the stone lion, is a tablet on which Titian and Orazio are depicted praying to the Virgin for delivery from the plague. His plea went unanswered. Titian is recorded as having died “of fever” on August 27, 1576. Orazio also died during the plague.”
Compare the dark oppressing colours of the Pieta to the exhuberant light of the Transfiguration of Christ in San Salvador in Venice,
or the Assumption of the Virgin, in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.
The world of the light has been transformed into the underworld of the Dead.
The kneeling Nikodemus is a self-portrait of the painter himself. The brushwork is visible only in some parts of the huge canvas. In many others, the careful observer can see smudges of paint, rather than brush strokes.
The tablet in the right-bottom under the lion shows the painter and his son Orazio pleading to the Virgin for salvation.
But there has been no salvation. And the painting itself is anticipating this. It is full of fear, and silent resignation to the inevitability of Death. A Death that is anticipated as the entry in a dark, damp, frozen chamber, without any natural light. The painter of light, the admirer of women, the master of color, locks himself in the vision of his own death in the most horrific way imaginable.
The Pieta is allegedly Titian’s last painting. He did not even manage to finish it. According to the incription at the bottom of the picture, it was finished by Palma the Younger, one of his apprentices.