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Assumption of the Virgin


Assumption of the Virgin

  • Date: 1516 - 1518
  • Style: High Renaissance
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: Christianity, saints-and-apostles, Virgin-Mary
  • Dimensions: 360 x 690 cm
  • Order Oil Painting

The Assumption of the Virgin or Frari Assumption is a large altarpiece panel painting in oils by the Italian Renaissance artist Titian, painted in 1515–18. It remains in the position it was designed for, on the high altar of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari or Frari church in Venice. It is the largest altarpiece in the city, with the figures well over life-size, necessitated by the large church, with a considerable distance between the altar and the congregation.

It marked a new direction in Titian's style, that reflected his awareness of the developments in High Renaissance painting further south, in Florence and Rome, by artists including Raphael and Michelangelo. The agitated figures of the Apostles marked a break with the usual meditative stillness of saints in Venetian painting, in the tradition of Giovanni Bellini and others.

It was perhaps originally rather shocking for the Venetian public, but soon recognised as a masterpiece that confirmed Titian's position as the leading artist in Venice, and one of the most important in all Italy, a rival to Michelangelo and Raphael.

The Assumption of Mary was a Catholic doctrine that remained optional in the early 16th century; it was not declared an article of faith until 1950. The Franciscan order whose church the Frari is, were always keen promoters of this and other aspects of Marian theology, in particular the related doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, then still a matter of live controversy. The doctrine held that the body of the Virgin Mary was "assumed" or moved physically into heaven "at the end of her earthly life". Most Catholics believed that this took place after a normal death (usually three days after in tradition), but some that Mary was still alive when it happened, a question that Munificentissimus Deus in 1950 was careful not to settle. At the base of the picture, glimpses of Mary's stone sarcophagus can be discreetly seen, allowing those believing in an assumption before death to ignore it or regard it as something else.

The broad composition of Titian's painting, with a group of apostles below a rising Mary, shown as alive, who moves towards a group of angels in heaven, follows earlier depictions in art, though such an imagined scene did not form part of the doctrine. The related scene of the Coronation of the Virgin in heaven had tended to be replaced by scenes showing the moment of the actual assumption, as here, which was often combined with it. Here the angel accompanying God the Father on the right holds out a crown, which he is about to place on her head.

The figures are in three zones, divided by spaces filled only with light. On the ground are the Apostles, tightly packed in a group and in a variety of dramatic poses, most looking up at the unprecedented sight of the Virgin Mary rising to heaven. They are shown in a variety of poses, ranging from gazing in awe, to kneeling and reaching for the skies, "monumental figures ... massed in collective movement, united with shadow, heroic gestures are given a silhouette of unprecedented boldness".

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