“You enter [the Uffizi] and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world – the Tribune – and there, against the wall, without obstructing rap or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses – Titian’s Venus”.
This is how Mark Twain recorded his encounter with one of Titian’s most famous nudes. Concepts of beauty change over time and the world has moved on from the voluptuous curves of the 16th century to the size zero models of today…
However, it was not the beauty of the painted model that Twain protested against in his Tramp Abroad, but rather the unapologetic sensuality and striking feminine power portrayed by Titian that the author found overwhelming, as many still do.
That luscious bed caressed by silken threads takes up the width of the painting. In the foreground a scene of domesticity unfolds. Perhaps the handmaids are making ready for the day, while the half-screened beauty fixes her visitor with an earnest stare. Skin aglow with the morning sun, a hand finds respite in the nook of her thighs.
She may be unclothed and yet it is the onlooker who feels naked and revealed. She seems to know something that we do not and yet is not ready to share her secret and lets it linger in the faintest of smiles.
Following into Titian’s footsteps, over the centuries many a painter revisited the contrast between innocence and sensuality. Amongst them number artists of equal renown: Velasquez, Goya and Manet. Yet none have decrypted the mystery of those smoky eyes, and it is this unreadable slant in her expression that makes Titian’s Venus unique.
Titian’s Venus is claimed as a must see on countless lists of “things to do before you die” so if you are in Italy for this Valentines season, why not treat yourself to a weekend in Florence and a date with the most beautiful nude ever painted.