Titian, Pesaro Madonna, c. 1520
Titian is perhaps best known for his sensuous paintings of nude women, who are sometimes depicted as if
they are goddesses or allegories, which helps to maintain a sense of decorum. In Sacred and Profane Love
a Venetian bride in a gorgeous satin dress sits in a landscape across from a nude woman who lifts a lamp
up to the sky. The two women have similar facial features, and they probably represent the same woman
showing two different aspects of love, one as it is demonstrated in marriage, the other in a more ideal form.
Titian, Sacred and Profane Love, c. 1514
In the 1530s and 1540s, Titian did a series of erotic paintings commissioned by wealthy men, including the
King of Spain. Most famous of these paintings is the Venus of Urbino, done for Duke Guidobaldo della
Rovere of Urbino. Although this woman has been called Venus for centuries, she is no goddess, and there
is nothing mythological about the scene. The woman is instead probably a courtesan, lying on a bed and
looking directly—and expectantly—at her lover. Titian used oil on canvas to create a slightly blurred outline
of and soft shading on the woman’s body, which is then contrasted with the velvet, brocade, and satin of
the bedclothes and curtain behind her. Venice was notorious for its highly cultivated prostitutes, and the
city itself developed a reputation as a place that catered to sensuous pleasure. Titian, and many other
artists, like Veronese, captured the glamour and sensuality of the city and its women in their paintings.