Friday, October 12, 2012

Painting after Titian

The White Horse Opera set painting project has come to an end and the show, La Traviata  (set in Paris 1910) started last night.   In addition to the 12 post impressionist paintings used to set the atmosphere of the scenes in the opera, I copied a Titain, "The Entombment, to hang in the lasts act as Violetta dies from consumption (happy stuff some operas, but fab music!).  In this final scene all the paintings are turned to the wall as her apartment is being closed due to her declining health and fortune. But this one painting can still be seen hanging.
The director had asked for a religious painting and I chose this, partly because I'd made a tiny copy of it years ago (about 6"x 8") and because it sets a suitable solemn and compassionate mood.

Titian's wonderful work, squared up for copying.

Initial drawing on  a rather blotchy overpainted ground. 
94cm x 64cm
 I had initially started painting very loosely recalling Ruben's method of putting in white impasto highlights early on, loosely applied. I went  a bit over the top, but was just experimenting and couldn't stop myself. It was  a mix of  home made Titanium white, some varnish binder (dammar maybe) in egg tempera mixture, which I'd  had in the freezer for years.

Starting the colour using oils. It was a pretty rough start causing a bit of difficulty later in taming it down.

So I  had to back pedal and wrestle with it a bit to bring in a bit more accuracy.
My more or less finished copy below, I can see lots still needs doing, but out of time but it and it does the job.

 I've always looked long and hard at Titian's work (and others) and  now realize I have been actually absorbing something and could begin to usefully use some of his methods from memory.  Being restricted by time, and not wanting  slavish copy but more capture a feeling of his style, perfect accuracy wasn't the goal.
To sum up .....One rarely gets a chance to copy an old master painting. After starting working from a book reproduction, I went to the National Gallery to look closely at the Titians and realized that it was essential to see how he built up the drawing and laid the paint on in various ways, scumbled layers and glazes etc. So when I returned I could see where I'd been going wrong, drawing rather dark hard lines instead of building up the drawing with softer siennas, particularly noticeable with his depiction of hands. The Madonna below is one of my most favourite paintings. Everything is so softly even blurrily painted, and the glazing like nothing else I've seen, so many thin colours blending and picking up the  canvas texture, particularly over the blue gown. Most of the shadow in the gown was added later in multiple glazes.
Virgin with Child (National Gallery)

 Some of Titian's later work can be  incredibly loose. ie "The Death of Actaeon" (National Gallery)

 But his earlier work is more precise combining a confident looseness juxtaposed with incredible delicacy, particularly in the drapery of the figures. One of the finest bits of painting is in the Bacchus and Ariadne painting (National Gallery) - in the lower LH corner is  a crumpled yellowish cloth with an urn tipped on it's side, engraved with his name. If you  can get there to see it take a look at the way that cloth is painted. No photos can really show that but here is the  detail to show one what to look for. One needs  to get up close as possible to see it, but stay behind the rope security!


  1. Great post! I loved seeing all the steps!

  2. Thanks, Glad you enjoyed that. I was thinking I might be getting a bit long winded. The project has made me feel like doing more portraits.