In the Frari Church
you can find the grand marble monument commemorating Titian
, one of the greatest of the Venetian painters.
This post summarize its story, and help you understand its symbolism.
Titian had expressed the will of being buried in this Church, and had contracting his burial rights with the Franciscans in exchange for a big canvas painted by himself. He died during an epidemic of plague, in 1576. Here begins the big mystery of his burial, not yet solved. Though some documents suggest that the State organized a funeral for him in St. Mark’s Basilica, despite the severe dispositions against the plague, and that he was buried in the Frari Church, when in the mid-19th century they made room for the big monument I will describe, no evidence of his burial was found in the Church. Was I because his body got consumed by the time, or maybe because he actually was not physically buried here? We are unsure if Titian died of age or because of the plague. But if the second case occurred, hardly they would have made the exception of burning him inside the city. It was like it was, the canvas he was working at remained unfinished in his studio and was later completed by his pupil Palma the Younger.
Today, people can admire it in the Accademia Gallery collection.
Some centuries later, in 1794, with the financial help of Girolamo Zulian and Angelo Querini, excellent sculptor Antonio Canova was asked to design a monument for Titian. His design was refused. It was only during the Austrian rule of Venice that the idea of a memorial for Titian became concrete. This happened between 1842 and 1852, for expressed will of emperor Ferdinand I.
A selection of artists was open in the Veneto region, to choose the best proposal for the memorial. The work was entrusted to Luigi Zandomenghi, professor at the Royal Fine Art Academy, and his son Pietro. They employed Carrara marble, though initially the design had included some mosaic for the scene on the background.
In the center of the monument, you can see the elderly figure of Titian, that according to the tradition, not supported by documents, died close to 100 years old. He sits on an honor chair, elegant in cloths, and crowned in laurel as expected for the greatest men of the Homeland. Around his neck are two thick golden chains and a medal, reminding of the honorific titles receive by another Austrian emperor, Charles V, who made him Knight. Titian sits between two allegories. On the left side is Universal Nature, who is a woman with a tower crown and lots of breasts, who is being unveiled by Titian, the artist that could reproduce Nature so faithfully in his art. On the right side, a young winged genius stands, accompanied by an owl, symbol of Wisdom. At the sides, four feminine allegories represents the four arts: next by Titian are Lady Painting, with a laurel crown in her hand, and a brush, and Graphic, holding a paper scroll. On the far left is Lady Sculpture holding a hammer and on the far right Lady Architecture holding a square.
On the pedestal, down below, a Latin inscription says “Titiano Ferdinandus I MDCCCLII”, which means “To Titian dedicated Ferdinand I in 1852”. At the bottom on the sides, two male figures show stone tables that recall the favours Titian received by the Austrian emperors. Charles V made him Knight and Earl; Ferdinand I financed his funeral monument.
On the background of the triumph arch are some bas-relieves that reproduce some paintings by Titian. The biggest, in the center, is the Assumption of Mary in the Frari. In the other sections you see the Visitation, traditionally considered the first artwork by Titian, the Martyrdom of St. Peter for the Dominican church of St. John and Paul; the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence for the Jesuits and the Pietà, his last work, now in the Accademia Gallery. At the peak roars a winged lion, symbol of the city, which shows the coat of arms of the Habsburgs.