Raphael, Titian exhibit offers rare
look at human spirit
December 15, 1999-March 19, 2000
Friday, December 24, 1999 by BETTY MOHR, Chicago Daily
At first glance the Renaissance paintings by Raphael and Titian, on exhibit for the
first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, look like simple portraits of a man and a
woman. But take a closer look.
On loan from Florence, Italy's Pitti Palace, (for which the Art Institute exchanged
some of its Impressionist paintings), the oil portrait of "Donna Velata" (circa
1516) by Raphael and "Portrait of a Man with Blue-Green Eyes" (1540-45) by
Titian, are on display in a first-ever showing in Chicago, accompanied by seven from the
Art Institute's own Renaissance collection.
This exhibit presents a rare chance for art lovers to see grand Italian artistry, as
well as garnering insights into the differences in the way men and women were viewed in
the 16th century, as well as getting an appreciation for the Renaissance's view of
The Titian painting is that of a young nobleman with blue-green eyes, a ruddy
complexion and a confident demeanor. "The Titian makes an allusion to the world at
large because he's caught this man at a moment between activities," says Larry J.
Feinberg, curator of European paintings at the
Art Institute. "He's just come in from conducting important business affairs and
doesn't even have time to sit down. He still has his glove in his hand, and his impatience
is conveyed by his hand on his hip and his tousled hair."
The Raphael portrait is that of a veiled woman with warm, dark eyes, dressed in
elaborate gold and white, recalling Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in that she appears to
be looking at the viewer. "The Raphael was probably commissioned in honor of this
woman's marriage," Feinberg says.
How can you tell that the woman is married? "The veil she's wearing,"
Feinberg says, "is a sign of marriage. She also has her hand over her heart, which
shows allegiance to her husband."
These two paintings show a contrast in the view of gender during the Renaissance. The
man in Titian's painting stands like the master of his domain, confident in his power and
place in the world. He wears slight sideburns, a mustache and a goatee. His could be an
image of any one of today's captains of industry.
The woman by Raphael, however, is another matter. She sits demurely, withdrawn from the
world, a quiet, guarded figure looking out at the viewer with a shy gaze. One can't
imagine a woman of our day in a pose like that. "Yet, today, you would see a man in a
pose like that of Titian's man painted today," Feinberg says.
Besides this gender gap, the oil portraits also offer a look into the Renaissance's
philosophical outlook. "They had a grander sense of the individual," Feinberg
says. "Today, there's more of a sense of fragmenting life, and I think there's less a
sense of the value of the individual.
"Granted, of course, that there were different classes and both of these people
clearly belonged to the upper class," he says. "The Renaissance concept of
humanity, by and large, is that of a cosmopolitan individual who has free will and to a
large extent determines his own life, and has a commanding presence in the world."
Not only do these paintings represent an exalted view of the individual, which didn't
exist during Europe's dark Middle Ages and hadn't been recognized in the Western world
since Greece's classical age, but the portraits also represent landmarks in the history of
"They were groundbreaking and innovative in that Raphael and Titian invented a new
way of doing portraiture that I would call the action portrait," Feinberg says.
"They weren't content just to portray the face accurately and to provide a couple of
static symbols like a necklace of like something that denoted social station.
"They wanted the figures to sort of act out their roles in life. So you see the
young Englishman has been caught in the moment and even though the veiled lady is rather
sedate, she still makes this gesture with her hands to show you how she feels. Raphael and
Titian really withstand the test of time in that they became models for painters such as
Jean-Auguste-Dominque-Ingres, Anthony van Dyck, as well as many other great artists who
See also http://www.artic.edu/aic/general/raphael.html