Titian and the Sensual Nude

Titian (Tiziano Vecelli)
Italian (Venetian), c. 1488–1576
Venus with an Organist and Cupid, c. 1550–55
Oil on canvas
59 1/8 x 85 7/8 in. (150.2 cm x 218.2 cm)
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The Venetian artists Giorgione and Titian developed a new, sensual approach to depicting the female nude, blurring the line between goddesses and contemporary women in their paintings. Inspired in part by ancient poetry and mythology, their reclining female nudes express themes of love and eroticism that flourished in the Renaissance culture of sixteenth-century Venice. The appeal of this subject matter extended to the Habsburg court in Madrid, where Philip II became Titian’s greatest patron. The many sensuous and often erotic paintings Titian made for Philip II demonstrate the artist’s achievements in rich color and loose brushwork—qualities that were immensely influential for other painters. The display of Titian’s works in the royal collections was repeatedly restricted in various salas reservadas. In the 1650s, Philip IV created a private exhibition space called the Bóvedas de Tiziano (Titian Vaults) in the Alcázar Palace, where the artist’s mythological works hung together with paintings by artists such as Tintoretto and Rubens.