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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:48

Titian, Christ Crowned with Thorns

Video transcript

by the time titian painted christ crowned with thorns he was towards the end of his very long career he was the greatest artist of the venetian renaissance and he was applying paint in a way that artists had never done before and you can imagine after decades of painting that you have a familiarity and an intimacy with your materials it was said that titian used his hands to paint at the end of his career you actually have a sense that that might be the case here look how heavy that paint is as it moves across the surface we see torches in the upper right and you can see the thickness of the white and gold paint gives us a sense of flickering light and of the chaos of this moment you have these figures that emerge from darkness he's able to convey a kind of aggression a kind of energy this is not the static renaissance any longer and there's a dynamism and power that is really at odds with the way in which we think about the renaissance it's almost proto-baroque meaning that it looks toward the baroque and its interest in movement and also in the way that everything is taking place very close to us and seems to move out into our space the drama is something i associate with a baroque and he's achieving that not only by the use of diagonals not only by the activation and the violence that's being rendered but also by the really stark contrast between light and dark it's funny that you use the word violence because to me this painting isn't all that violent we know that we're looking at christ having the crown of thorns this painful thing put on his head right this is the passion that is the events at the end of christ's life that culminate in the crucifixion write these moments of christ's terrible suffering but i don't see titian focusing on the blood and gore of the event like someone like rubens will do that's true look at the figure of christ even for all the activity there's also a kind of static quality at least in that central figure we see christ twisting his body in an unnatural way and he seems very resigned i'm interested in the way in which it is both violent and elegant simultaneously look at those diagonal sticks the figure in the back right really is plunging that stick and there is a real sense of violence and yet the stick is not actually catching the thorns it's not actually catching christ's head it's somehow moving past their positions seem dance-like instead of serious violent movement that's the perfect word dance like look at the figure on the extreme left he couldn't be rendered in a more brutish way and yet he's elegantly up on the balls of his feet his knees are bent there is a balance and lightness that is really at odds with what he's meant to represent or look at that figure in the lower right who strides up these stairs with the stick in one hand and an axe in the other but his arm curls up his head leans to the right this is a position that looks more like choreography than actual movement and these are all characteristics that remind us of mannerism and this is 1570 after all mannerism begins in the 1520s 1530s 1540s right at the time of the reformation this is a time of real spiritual upheaval in europe and perhaps we're seeing that reflected here it's a kind of anti-naturalism there is something very theatrical about it there is something very invented about it and in some ways we can't even read the forms of the bodies not only has titian embedded everything in darkness and this shallow space but for example we can't read the right leg of that standing figure on the left or similarly the right leg of the figure who's striding up from the lower right and so space becomes incomprehensible which is also a characteristic of mannerism when you look at a painting like this you can see the tremendous impact that this artist had on later painters i'm looking at velasquez reuben's rembrandt and of course caravaggio all these artists are looking back to titian and this extraordinary achievement in a sense the freedom that titian is allowing for generations of artists freeing them from the strictures of balance and harmony and clarity that had been hallmarks of the renaissance so this is a interesting moment of transitioning from the renaissance we see elements of mannerism when we also see elements of the baroque that is just to come you