The painting depicts a tender moment between Mary and infant Jesus.
The young woman is dressed in a red robe and abundant blue cloak that also covers her head, as in the traditional iconography of Mary. She is sitting and holding her baby, gazing him with an expression of deep love mixed with melancholy and sadness, reclining her head towards him. Little Jesus, lying in the arms of his mother, has a similar expression, which, like that of her mother, already understands his fate. He is holding something in his hand, perhaps a pomegranate, which alludes to the life that was given to us by Christ.
The two figures have well-defined shapes and profiles and they seem to emerge from a less defined background with an intensely red abundant drapery behind the Virgin and Child, a column and a beam of light on the left that the critics have interpreted as a representation of the burning bush, symbol of the eternal purity of Mary.
The painting was attributed to Titian already at the beginning of the 17th century, when it was documented in the collection of Milanese counts Mazenta, although in the past some of the critics had considered it a copy of the master’s original lost work. However, the authorship of the work, which dates between 1560 and 1565 and which was made during the years of Titian’s artistic maturity, can be confirmed when compared to the style of the other Titian’s paintings of this period, such as the Annunciation of the church of San Salvador in Venice, but also from the fast and overlapping brushstrokes and faded colors of his late period, which expresses the profound religious meditations of the painter in these years.
Moreover, radiological analyzes have revealed that the canvas had already been used by the artist to depict a praying female saint, identified as the penitent Magdalene with Margaret or perhaps with Catherine of Alexandria. The same analyzes confirmed that the technique in which the work was executed was the one that the painter used in the last years of his activity.
The light mixes with the colors and illuminates the faces of the two figures as well as the details of the background on the left.
The painting was probably commissioned by a private client, and there are various copies of it with variations, made with different techniques, such as the 17th-century engraving by Pietro Daret and a painting attributed to Padovanino.
Titian’s work came to the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice in 1981, following the last will of Leonardo Albertini who was the previous owner.
Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, Veneto, in 1488 or 1490.
He studied in Gentile Bellini’s workshop and then with his brother Giovanni Bellini, who influenced his artistic style significantly.
He was also inspired by the works of Giorgione, Albrecht Dürer, also known for engravings, Raphael and Michelangelo, whose works he studied profoundly. In this period he painted The Concert (Palatina Gallery, Florence), Christ Carrying the Cross (Scuola di San Rocco, Venice) and in 1508-1509 the frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, where also Giorgione was working at the time. Titian showed the typical features of his juvenile phase with monumental setting of the space and characters with sweeping gestures, illuminated by bright colors.
Between 1516 and 1518 he worked for the famous Assunta for the church of Santa Maria dei Frari and the Pesaro altarpiece and in 1520 the altarpiece of Averoldi (Brescia, Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso).
These and other commissions for private clients were often full of symbols and complex meanings, often for moral choices of human nature, such as Three Ages of Man (1512-1513, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) Sacred and Profane Love (1514-1515, Rome, Galleria Borghese) which guaranteed Titian a great success.
He became very popular in Italian and European courts, which ordered many works from him. Alfonso d’Este commissioned him the mythological canvases with The Worship of Venus (1518-1519, Prado), Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-1523, National Gallery of London) and The Andri (1523-1524, Prado). Guidobaldo della Rovere commissioned him the Venus of Urbino and Charles V and Isabella d’Este various portraits (1536, Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna).
Between 1545 and 1546 he stayed in Rome and began a new phase of painting, influenced by the central Italian Mannerism, with strong contrasts of light and shadow, more plastic and dynamic shapes, darker tones, as seen in the portrait of Paul III and his nephews (1546, Museo di Capodimonte of Naples) the Crowning with Thorns (1542-1544, Louvre) and Danae (Museo di Capodimonte of Naples).
Between 1540 and 1550 he went to Augusta and became closer to Carlo V and his son Philip II, sovereigns of Spain. He made a portrait of Charles V On Horseback, The Glory, The Deposition and St.Margaret, all in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. For Philip II he painted mythological subjects with the stories of Diana.
Titian’s later works are characterized by his philosophical thoughts about man and his destiny, which is reflected in his dense paintings. He used thick layers of colors that he sometimes added on canvas with his hands, like in The Crowning with Thorns (Alte Pinakothek of Munich) and The Punishment of Marsyas (Kromeriz Castle) both made in 1570.
In his last years he also painted Pietà for his own tomb, but the work remained unfinished (Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice).
Titian died in Venice in 1576.
The Accademia of Venice was founded in 1750 and the opening of the Gallerie dell’Accademia was linked to it with primarily educational purpose: in 1803 a decree established the need to adjoin a gallery next to the school that was used by the students who studied painting and sculpting.
In 1817 the gallery was opened also to the public. The gallery is located in the area of Dorsoduro, down by the Accademia bridge, in a complex including the church of Santa Maria della Carità, the Canonici Lateranensi convent and the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, all situated in a single floor, divided into twenty-fours and covering 5537 square meters.
The first section of the collection includes the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Pietà by Titian (1538) and the Triptych of the Madonna della Carità by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna (1480).
The collection also includes essays by the students of the academy and a collection of plaster casts (hence the plural name, gallerie) which were put on display in the exhibition with success in 1817.
The collection was enriched with the paintings brought from defeated France and with the masterpieces that were left to the museum by great collectors. However, the paintings were always linked to the Venetian culture and this feature was tried to overcome for the whole 20th century. Among these works was the legacy of Felicita Reiner (in 1833, but only formalized in 1850), which included masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca’s St. Jerome, Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child and Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene. The legacy of Girolamo Contarini (1838) included 180 works, among them Madonna of the Small Trees and the Four Allegories by Bellini, and six paintings by Pietro Longhi.
The emperor Franz Joseph grew the collection with Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna and Mantegna’s St. George, Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Giorgione’s Old Woman. The gallery was radically reorganized in 1895 by the director Giulio Cantalamessa. He excluded all the 19th century artists and for the first time the exhibition was organized chronologically. He coordinated the cycles of the School of St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio and the School of St. John the Evangelist by Cima da Conegliano, previously divided in various locations. Under the direction of Gino Fogolari (1905) the museum acquired other fundamental masterpieces, such as the Tempest by Giorgione and the Crucifixion by Luca Giordano and the Feast at the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi.
In the post-war period the museum performed various changes, for example Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which was supposed to be placed in a specially designed room, was returned to the Frari church in Venice instead. The 19th century works that were already excluded from the exhibition were sent to the deposit at the museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro and the foreign art in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. In the 1940s’ Vittorio Moschini and Carlo Scarpa wanted to perform a modern reorganization of the museum, including the 19th century salons, but which resulted quite impractical in the end. In these years Francesco Guardi’s Fire in the Oil Depot of San Marcuola and Montagna’s St. Peter and Donor became part of the collection.
In 1987 director Sciré decided to increase the exhibition space opening the gallery on the fourth floor with the graphic collection and a new deposit was opened on the top floor of the Palladio building. In the same year the collection was enriched with two cherubs and two allegorical figures representing Justice and Patience, taken from Giorgio Vasari’s ceiling in a room of Palazzo Corner on the Grand Canal. Between 2001-2003 the gallery was renovated expanding the exhibition areas and adding modern lightning in the rooms.