The Assunta by Titian in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice


One of the highlights of our trip to Venice was the opportunity to see Titian’s Assunta in the location for which it was painted, the high alter of the Frari church.

Others are better placed than me to describe the importance of this painting in the development of Titian’s career and indeed of Venetian and Western art more generally. It represents the final transition from the Byzantine style in Venetian religious art to a new naturalistic style, sometimes referred to as High Renaissance, epitomised by the sensuous form of the Virgin Mary herself who seems to be spiralling herself up to heaven, unbidden and in the grips of an almost erotic passion. 

But what is truly gripping is the ability to see this picture in situ, in the enormous frame which Titian must have been involved in designing, and dominating the interior of this large gothic church from the moment one enters through the West door. We are so used to seeing pictures of this importance placed in museums where you inevitably lose the sense of place, and of scale, that comes in seeing them in the location for which they are designed. Nothing, of course, can recreate in our minds the attitudes and beliefs that a C16 viewer would have brought to bear on this picture, and what they might therefore have experienced in the presence of this picture But you do not need to be a believer to recognise that it is a stronger experience by far to see the picture in the setting for which it was painted than in a sterile secular environment. 

If you are visiting Venice, this is one picture you must see,