Titian lived in Venice for most of his life, but was also known throughout Europe. He may have made this work to rival a famous ancient Greek painter called Apelles. Apelles was greatly admired in the 1500s. He had painted a 'Venus Rising from the Sea', which had since been lost and was known only through a written description. Titian's Venus is a big, beautiful woman who dominates the picture. She looks unaware of being seen, like a celebrity snapped by a paparazzo while wading ashore after a swim. The only reference to her mythical status is the small scallop shell in the bottom left-hand corner.
Titian's Venus fills the canvas. The small shell floating on the water identifies the beautiful nude female as the goddess of love. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod described how Venus was born fully grown from the sea and blown to the shore on a scallop shell. Titian shows the goddess wringing her hair, a pose inspired by classical sculpture and by an account of a painting by Apelles, the most celebrated painter of ancient Greece. Titian's Venus proved that he could rival the art of antiquity and that he could make the ideal appear real. The painting is in exceptionally fine condition and was acquired from the Sutherland collection in 2003.
Titian made a greater impact on European painting than any other artist from Venice. His use of colour and development of a 'painterly' style of lively brush work has influenced generations of artists. He excelled in all types of painting, including altarpieces, religious subjects for private devotion, themes from classical mythology, allegorical works and portraits. The bright clear colours and smooth appearance of his early paintings are quite different from the more dramatic tonal contrasts and broken brushwork of his later work. He received public and private commissions from within Venice and from eminent patrons elsewhere. Titian painted many of his most celebrated pictures for King Philip II of Spain.