Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian’s Venus of Urbino

The great Venetian painter Titian (1488-1596) produces this masterpiece in 1538. Although it is named after the ancient goddess of sex and love, within the framework of the painting there is little indication of her divinity. Rather, what we see is a nude woman, covering her most alluring area, staring straight at us. Apparently painted as a wedding present for the Duke of Urbino to celebrate his marriage, it is thought that the open eroticism of the work is meant to convey a not so subtle message to his young bride about the importance of sex and sensuality. What makes the work still alluring for us today is the near perfection of the female form, the contrast between her softness, her curves and sensuality, the warmth of her smooth flesh and the cascading flow of her blonde hair; and yet all the while she is framed by a rather linear, architectural and domestic background. It is sex and sensuality brought into our public world, as we are invited into her private world of love and pleasure.

Yet we can imagine how such a blatantly erotic work would have its detractors. A person of no less stature than Mark Twain said of the painting: “the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses It was painted for a bagnio, and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong” Yet in he went on to add, in typical Twain  humor, “in truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery”.

We can excuse such a great humorist and satirist as Mark Twain for what may be nothing more than a mockingly shocked reaction to this painting. However one may react to this, it is a great work of art, having endured now for nearly five hundred years, and still as powerful today as it was when it was first painted. It shows how beautiful depictions of eroticism and the female form have been and will continue to be a universal and permanent part of our world.