Titianvs Rubens: Venus and Adonis
Venusand Adonisis the title for two different versions of a painting created bydifferent artists from different time periods. The original piece wasinspired by a literary while the latter piece is a recreation of thefirst work. The original painting was done by Italian artist TizianoVecellio also known as Titian (Venetian, ca. 1485/90?–1576) and therecreation was done by Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640). Bothpieces used a similar medium of oil on canvas but are of differentsizes with Titan’s measuring 42 x 52 1/2 in. (106.7 x 133.4 cm)while the Rubens’ has added strips and measures 77 3/4 x 95 5/8 in.(197.5 x 242.9 cm). The paintings being similar contain the samesubject of goddess Venus clinging to her mortal lover Adonis tryingto stop him from leaving, a topic that Titian borrowed from talesfrom Ovid’s Metamorphoses. By closely examining these two pieces,it is clear to that they share a similar topic but uses differentstyles influenced by the period of the artists and at the same timeconvey different messages on sexual intentions and freedom ofmovement.
Asa renaissance master who was highly respected for his versatility andadaptability to work with all types of paintings such as landscapes,religious subjects, and mythological subjects among others, Titan’sversion is of high quality. This particular piecework was createdduring the Venetian art period from the early to mid-16thcentury when use of color was emphasized over lines. This is evidentin Titian’s version especially the background of the image wherethe appearance of foliage does not have clear cut lines but appearsas blurry blots of color as a result of subtle gradation of color. Itis also these Venetian artists of the 16thcentury who introduced new landscapes and female nudes in their workas is the case with Titans’ piece. It is also notable that colorhas been used to achieve depth and to create the effect of depth withdarker hues in the background and in shadows.
Thestyle changes significantly in Rubens’ piece as his style wasinfluenced by the Flemish Baroque style besides Titan’s Venetianrenaissance style. The baroque period came immediately after therenaissance period spreading from the start to the end of the 17thcentury. This style emphasized on new subjects and injection of lifeand drama in the pieces. For instance, Rubens injects additionaldrama in the work by portraying Cupid to be clinging to Adonis toprevent him from living while in Titan’s piece, Cupid is just lyingaround and watching the drama unfold. This in one way or anotherincreases intensity of the moment. In Rubens piece also, Adonis bodyis facing forward exposing he breasts and face. This allows Rubens toadd the aspect of beauty and even makes the hairs of Adonis and Venuslonger as well as making Adonis’ body more muscular all in the nameof emphasizing beauty and adding more drama and life to the painting.Adonis garment, which is bright red also symbolizes a “new-sprung’flower as discussed in the original poem. At the same time, inclusionof flowers in paintings coincided with the baroque style.
Interms of composition, treatment of space the two paintings haveutilized chiaroscuro and perspective in different ways. For Titan,there is an appreciation of space as a third dimension characteristicof renaissance paintings albeit applied minimally. The objects in thebackground which appears as vegetation and the sky are relativelydarker compared to objects the foreground. There is no perspectiveutilized as most of the objects in the painting are in theforeground. However, the manner in which Venus’ body is contortedto almost show her back, buttocks and face almost at the same timealso create dimension of space her human body is represented from amultitude of perspectives. In contrast, Rubens employs bothchiaroscuro and perspective very well to make the painting lively andvivid. The colors of objects in the foreground are brighter and vividwhile the colors of objects in the background are blurry.Furthermore, perspective is employed by making trees in the leftbackground significantly smaller to create concept of space.
Thepositioning of the bodies, male and female in the painting furtherexpound on the concept of space as well communicate different levelsof sexual intention. In both cases, the Venus body posture andposition clearly express her intentions of detaining Adonis. However,in Rubens version, Venus extends both arms towards Adonis andslightly curves her around his arm in an affectionate manner thatplaces Adonis inside her axial boundary. There is also somesignificant distance between Adonis and Venus which creates somedegree of freedom of movement. On the contrary, in Titan’spainting, Venus refrains Adonis from leaving by grasping him by thetorso and closing her axial boundary. The opening up of the axialboundary communicates more sexual intentions. However, this iscanceled out by Venus higher clothing that seems to cover breasts inTitan as opposed to Rubens were proximal boundary is open withbreasts exposed. The boundary conditions around these spaces can beambiguous or evoke subjective responses. It is thus important theyshould be cross referenced with activities and roles. In this case,the differences in expression of sexual intentions by both artistsboil down to art period styles. Titan’s renaissance period was notyet open to explicit nudity while Baroque period influencing Rubenswas more receptive to female nudity as his piece not only shows Venusfacing observers but also leaving her breasts bare (Spiegel andMachotka 109).
Onthe overall, Rubens version of the painting portrays more emotionsand sensations. Given that that the painting portrays a scene of lovefrom a poem, it is important for the images and persons representedin the image to represent the same. However, looking at Titansversion of the painting, the look on Adonis face is more ofbewilderments and surprise. He seems surprised that Venus has reachedout to her in the manner she does. The depiction is clearly differentin Ruben’s version because the look on Venus’ face is clearlyadoring and lustful. Upon closer inspection, tears can be seenstreaming down her eyes in her desperation. The fact that even Cupidhimself has chosen to intervene in this situation underlines Venus’desperation. Furthermore, the larger painting by Rubens has a lot ofspace to include finer details in the image. Again, the colors usedare bold and solid. Instead of using grey on what appears to be atree trunk and the dogs as Titan has done, Rubens uses solid blackand also replaces the brownish clothing of Adonis with a strikingred. The larger of Rubens canvas also enables the audience to relatewith the objects in the painting as more real life as opposed to thesignificantly smaller objects in Titans version (Notes on elements).
Fromthe comparison of the two versions of Venus and Adonis, it is clearto see the influence on art periods on an artist’s piece of workand way of thinking in developing themes in a piece of work. Again,it is very striking that different studies on the two versions haverevealed different reactions and different emotions evoked amongaudiences (Spiegel and Machotka 112). This clearly points to theessence of art which is clearly subjective to individuals withinobjective frameworks of interpretation. All in all, the differentversions seem to communicate the different same message in verydifferent painting styles which serves to highlight the venetianrenaissance style and the Flemish baroque style.
Baroqueart. N.d. Web. <http://loki.stockton.edu/~fergusoc/lesson7/lect7.htm>
JohnPaul Spiegel, Pavel Machotka, The Articulate Body. New York: ArdentMedia. Print. 1982
Noteson elements of painting. Web<https://users.wfu.edu/~laugh/painting2/elements_of_painting.pdf>
Renaissancevs. Baroque Art. N.d.Web.