Renaissance art: When the largest altarpiece in Venice was unveiled

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The Assumption of the Virgin, Titian, 1515-1518

May 19, On This Day

Titian’s elevation to mastery

The Assumption of the Virgin, Titian, 1515-1518

Over 5 centuries ago on this day — May 19, 1518 — Italian Renaissance artist Titian’s masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin or Frari Assumptio, was unveiled as a large altarpiece panel at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari or Frari church in Venice.

The painting seen through the arch in the choir-screen

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.

Altarpiece for a church in Murano, Venice, by Giovanni Bellini, 1510–1515
Palma Vecchio, Assumption of Mary (1512–1514). She is removing her belt as Thomas (above the head of the apostle in green) hurries to the scene

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.

Transfiguration by Raphael, 1517–1520, with which Titian’s painting is often compared