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Sacred and Profane Love | Stylistic Differences Between Titian and Giorgione

Sacred and Profane Love by Titian, Venetian Painting Technique

Sacred and Profane Love
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Oil on canvas, 118 x 279 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

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In this allegorical painting of Sacred and Profane Love, the Italian Renaissance artist Titian clearly separates himself stylistically from his recently deceased friend Giorgione. Sacred and Profane Love was painted to celebrate a wedding between a wealthy Venetian couple in 1514. Two female figures representing sacred and profane love lean against the rim of an open, water-filled, marble sarcophagus with a frieze depicting a classical scene from the story of Venus and Adonis and the patron's coat-of-arms.

Sacred and Profane Love is a title given to the painting only in the 18th century when a moralistic tone was applied to the work which Titian certainly never intended. For Titian, Venus or Sacred Love, the figure on the right holding the lamp of divine love, would have represented heavenly love or eternal happiness, while the bride or Profane Love on the left represented earthly love. In the center between sacred and profane love is a chubby Cupid who stirs the waters of love in the sarcophagus.

The figures in Sacred and Profane Love are clearly modeled, strongly outlined, unlike Giorgione's softer modeling style. Also different from Giorgione in Sacred and Profane Love is Titian's use of landscape. While there is a wealth of detail in the background of Sacred and Profane Love, it is not the dominant feature as it was in Giorgione's paintings such as in The Tempest, in which the figures are almost an afterthought to the lush landscape.

Behind Profane Love on the left is a magnificent palace, while on the right behind Sacred Love is a church, a contrast again between earthly happiness, a worldly life of luxury, and a sacred, spiritual life of love or heavenly happiness. The main figures in Sacred and Profane Love are large, filling up most of the interior space, while Giorgione's figures in The Tempest are clearly subservient to the awesome forces of nature with its stormy, romantic background. Titian's message in Sacred and Profane Love is clear, while Giorgione's works leave the viewer wondering as to their meaning.

It has been reported that there was an unsuccessful attempt by the Rothschilds to purchase Sacred and Profane Love from its owner, the Villa Borghese, in the 18th century for a sum of money that was more than the worth of the Villa Borghese itself and its entire art collection. Titian's work remains in the Borghese Collection today in Rome.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian.

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