Titian’s Venus with an Organist (c.1550)
A series of paintings by Titian over the course of three decades depict the nude figure of Venus accompanied by a musician. Each of them is directly comparable to Manet’s Olympia which I have separately shown represents a painting (Olympia) accompanied by the artist himself holding a palette (the maid with flowers). Now let us look at some of Titian’s paintings in light of that finding.
Rona Goffen noted certain problems or visual inconsistencies that make little sense of Titian's supposed narratives. Venus, for example, is often much larger than her male admirer and sometimes much older as well. Nor would the customer have performed for the courtesan but the other way round. In addition, Titian's Venuses seem unaware of the musicians' presence though he is always staring at her.1
What no-one has noticed is that the playing of music is a common metaphor in Western painting for the making of art itself.2 That explains why so many painters, like those performing at left, have portrayed themselves as musicians. Veronese in white at top painted himself facing Titian in a red cap. Below is a self-portrait of Lavinia Fontana. They are not boasting about the range of their accomplishments here but have turned an image of themselves "painting" into poetry.
Titian's Venus, like the nude Olympia in Edouard Manet's eponymous painting, represents a painting with Titian as a musician/painter looking at his composition. That explains why Venus is out-of-scale (just like Manet's bather in Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe is and for the same reason): to indicate two different realities. It is also why the Venuses fail to acknowledge the artist/musician and why her figure is so closely parallel to the picture plane.
See continuation below
More Works by Titian
Get to know what painters and sculptors look like at work - and their various processes - and your brain will penetrate the surface of a painting in no time. A painting like this one...
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