TOTUS TUUS: ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ by Titian (1516 – 1518)

TOTUS TUUS: ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ by Titian (1516 – 1518)

 Tiziano Vecelli (anglicized as Titian) is one of the greatest painters of the Venetian school of High Renaissance art. Born in the Republic of Venice in 1488-90, his vivid application of colour had a profound influence on the artistic world. His imaginative temperament earned him the title of a poet-painter. The fluidity in his painting, the increasing freedom of brushstroke and his deft ability to grasp personality can be well noted in today’s masterpiece – The Assumption of the Virgin.

The painting, a bright star among the many dazzles, can be found in the Church of Santa Maria dei Frari in Venice. As you walk down the nave of the Church and step across the choir screen your gaze is directed to this giant, massive, twenty three feet tall painting that serves as the central altar piece of the Franciscan Church. At first glance its scale, the richness of its colour, its complexity and its theological beauty enamours the viewer. The burst of its golden hues absorbs the haze of light that spills through the lancet windows that surround it. At once, the Assumption of the Virgin springs forth to life as the viewer is transported to the divine hour of mystery and glory. 

As we begin this sacred journey, we first encounter a horizontal mass of awe-struck apostles who physically share our terrestrial space. However, spiritually their souls rise above their mortal beings as they stare in wonder and awe at the spectacular vision before them. We are drawn to their efficacy as the earthbound figures with their hands raised attempt to rise against the force of gravity, homebound to heaven. In a dramatic swirl the apostle in red, with his back towards us directs our gaze to the next intermediary layer.

As the humble blue sky bends low in reverence, a storm of cherubs invade the earth. Upon billows of clouds they carry the most Immaculate Virgin. She ain’t no longer the little Jewish girl of the Annunciation, afraid at the hearkening of the Divine messenger. Here, she is a mature woman who bore the Son of Man and suffered with Him for our salvation. Interestingly, what continues to endure and linger, as seen in this painting, is her absolute unconditional ‘YES’.

As her serene and pure being beholds the Almighty, she lifts her arms to the Father pronouncing, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to Thy word.’ The little celestial being, to our left, holds a metal plaque with the acronym ‘BEVI’ while the heavenly attendant to our right elevates the letters ‘GLO’. Together they hail and honour the ‘Glorious Blessed Virgin’. (GLOriosa BEata VIrgo). As her faithfulness resounds the air, the charming cherubs with flutes and timbrels sing praises and exalt the name of the Most High.

The Most High, God the Father looks down at His radiant servant with tenderness and love. The relationship they share moves us to contemplate on the divine mystery. The voluptuousness of her rose coloured tunic and the azure mantle stand in stark contrast to the delicate transparency that colours her face. Elegant and blissful, nothing withstands her grace; nothing withstands her purity. As the Virgin is lifted into eternity, an angel and a cherub submerged in an incalculable depth of glory, bring forth a wreath and tiara to crown the Queen of Heaven. As God the Father nods at this testimony, forever stands still.

Titian captures this moment with geometrical joy. He synthesizes the three spheres using the vibrant Venetian colour red. The delightful figure of Mary forms an asymmetrical triangle invoking the Trinity. Titian personifies the lowest sphere as a square i.e. earthy, limited and measurable. The transcending upper sphere resembles a circle, alluding to the divine, unlimited and immeasurable love of God. It is infinite, it is eternal.

What more could be the essence of the feast of the Assumption? It is the song of a ‘yes’ with the lyrics of faithful suffering and patience and the music of providence and hope. Mary’s trust turns the terrible terror of death into a peaceful, effortless transition from one world to the next. Notice that as Mary (creation) lifts her arms in surrender, God the Father (the Creator) stretches out His arms in a greater embrace. ‘Totus tuus’ (Completely Yours), they both acclaim!

Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557

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