The painting was originally a processional banner painted on both sides with the Resurrection on one side and the Last Supper on the other. The banner was perhaps commissioned by the Della Rovere family, dukes of Urbino, from the Confraternity of Corpus Domini who made two payments to Titian between 1524 and 1544 for work that was painted in Venice in the early 1540s’.
In 1545, one year after the banner had arrived in the Marche (on June 1, 1544) the painter Pietro Viti separated the two scenes and painted the candelabra on a gold background that frames them. Both images were placed into a frame as independent paintings and the two paintings were placed in the Church of the Confraternity, Santa Maria di Pian di Mercato, on both sides of the main altar.
In 1708 the paintings were moved to the new location of the Confraternity, the church of San Francesco di Paola, and over a century and a half later, in 1861, Giovanni Morelli and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle catalogued the works as part of the ecclesiastical heritage of Umbria and the Marche. The work was preserved at the Institute of Fine Arts of Urbino and in 1866 the canvases were placed at the National Gallery.
The Last Supper takes place in a loggia without any decorations, with a mullion window and a circular architecture with a building in the background in a pyramid composition. The scene is almost entirely occupied by the very realistic and richly set table where you can see the folds of the white fabric that covers the table and a great variety of food and drink, partly consumed by the diners. Even the details of the dog are described realistically, nibbling a bone that has been given to him by one of the apostles. The table is surrounded by the twelve disciples close to each other, almost as if they were compressed to fit the scene, with Christ in the centre behind the table, one hand resting on the bread while the other is raised in blessing. The apostles are depicted with long and thick beards, as in tradition, caught in different attitudes, gestures and expressions, showing various reactions and moods. Someone brings his hand to his chest, one seems not to be listening, concentrating on another conversation, others have stopped what they have been doing to listen to their master, whose golden halo, painted with dense brushstrokes, illuminates the background behind him. Unlike Leonardo Da Vinci and the well-established iconographic tradition, Titian chooses not to present the moment when Christ announces that one of his disciples would betray him, and depicts the moment of the Eucharist, symbolized by the sacramental bread in Jesus’s hand.
The warm light that comes from outside to the eyes of the viewer surrounds the figures and enhances the colours. The verticality of the scene with the diagonal panel creates a certain sensation of instability and drama, accentuated by the asymmetrical architecture and the oblique wall on the right, due to the fact that the painting was supposed to be on a banner.
The Resurrection and the Last Supper are the only paintings commissioned by Della Rovere to Titian still in the Marche, testifying to the phase of the passing from the artist’s youth characterized by a “classic” painting with large and serene composition to maturity when the colours became more dramatic and the scenes are marked by movement.
The Della Rovere family members were refined collectors and important patrons and they commissioned various works from Titian, the famous Venus of Urbino among them, now preserved in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, which Titian painted in 1563 for Guidobaldo II. The work arrived in the Tuscan city with other paintings from the family collection as a dowry of Vittoria Della Rovere, the last descendant of the family, who married the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando II de’ Medici in 1634.
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.
National Gallery of the Marche