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Titian's Annunciation in San Salvador

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The church of San Salvador has two paintings by Titian – one that I absolutely love and another that I’m not that crazy about. The painting on the high altar (The Transfiguration) is the one I don’t love – some art historians think it was badly restored and maybe that’s true; it looks a bit flat to me and the colors look strange. But no worries, because the other Titian is a mind-blower – The Annunciation (third altar on the right). Titian was over 70 years old when he painted this one. Mary is being approached by Archangel Gabriel, who looks particularly powerful and androgynous, but all the action is in that impressionistic burst of energy, angels, and light above them.

There’s another Titian Annunciation in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, painted almost thirty years earlier, and it’s really interesting to compare them - the San Rocco one (below) is gorgeous, but it’s so quiet and serene while the San Salvador one is explosive.


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There’s an interesting mystery connected to the signature on the San Salvador painting. Titian signed his name and then wrote “fecit fecit” (he did it, he did it). Some scholars think that he was being grouchy and addressing critics who might think that the painting was unfinished or had been done by artists from his workshop and not by him. But Lorenzetti (Venice and its Lagoon) says that Titian signed it that way “to emphasize the miracle of his activity” and that makes more sense to me. I think he knew it was a great painting.

During my third trip to Venice in 2004, I visited the San Salvador Annunciation every day for 10 days straight. I couldn’t get enough of it. At that time, you had to put a coin in the light box to see it, so I’d pop in the church, feed the light box, sit down, and look at it until the light went off. On a later trip, the painting was on loan to a Titian exhibit somewhere in Europe, and they had put a really bad copy of it in the altar in the church; it was awful! But the real painting was back this past November, and it was wonderful to see it again. And it now has free lights and no light box!

On the prayer rail in front of the painting, there’s a framed copy of Titian’s death certificate. Not sure why, since he's buried in the Frari not here.

San Salvador

A quote about Titian in his later years, from “Titian: Pocket Library of Great Art” by Marco Valsecchi~

“There is no doubt that Titian had taken on a new manner of expression…suggestive of intimate and deeply felt spiritual contradictions. The Annunciation in the church of San Salvador in Venice marks the beginnings of this luminous disintegration…and in fact, the works painted after 1570 anticipate in an impressive way not only Rembrandt but also Velazquez and Rubens….forms vibrating in a warm haze, lingering apparitions in a fantastic dissolving of form in color and light.”

Luminous disintegration! Great phrase.

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Comments (10)

Amy:

I always learn so much from your posts! I am sadly lacking in art knowledge, and your blog always spurs me to read more.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I really enjoy all the stories and historical background that find and share with us. Interesting about his signature on the painting in San Salvador. I would love to see more of his work. I remember being in awe with his painting in the Frari Church, probably something I would not have learned about without reading your blog. Thank you so much for that.

sandrac:

Annie, I find it so touching that you returned every day for 10 days to see the San Salvador Annunciation -- some paintings just take such hold of our hearts and imaginations! This one is particularly vibrant; interesting to contrast it with the more conventional pose in Titian's earlier version. He must have decided to really cut loose when he was older! Or, perhaps he felt more tumult inside as he approached the end of his life.

I do love and collect Annuciations, and I'll make a point of visiting the San Salvador church to see this painting! Thanks!

Amy, thank you! I'm no art expert at all but it's definitely something I love and enjoy talking about.

Kathy, I'm so glad you went to the Frari to see the Assunta. It's one of Venice's masterpieces, for sure. I'm glad that I turned you on to that one.

Sandra, it wasn't something I intended to do (visiting it everyday)...it just kinda happened. This church is right there close to the Rialto bridge and at that time, I was staying in that neighborhood so I'd walk by, see the church open, and pop in. It helps that San Salvador has very generous opening hours. It's such a wonderful way to experience art, to be able to easily look at it a number of times over several days rather than "one-and-done."

I like the idea that Titian "cut loose"! It makes a lot of sense. By that point in his life, he was wealthy and famous enough to not worry too much about making his clients happy.

I probably don't need to say that the painting looks about a million times better in real life than it does in this reproduction!

Andrew:

It's great that Sandrac collects Annunciations. I love that. Has the one on the Rialto bridge been included in the collection?

I agree that Annunciations are a great thing to collect. I need to get a photo of the one on the Rialto bridge - I have the angel, I think, but not the other side.

sandrac:

Andrew, I was not aware that there is an Annunciation scene carved into the Rialto! How fascinating.

I've found a few photos of the angel, which Annie mentions, but not the Virgin. I'm going to have to investigate further! Thanks for the tip.

Andrew:

Looking at the San Marco side of the bridge, Gabriel is on the left of the arch and Mary on the right.

Thanks Andrew! I found a photo I took from the vaporetto that shows both of them (though not very close) - will post it sometime soon.

sandrac:

Thanks Andrew.
And the photo sounds great! I'll watch for it, Annie.

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