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.
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.
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.