Contemporary Critics

Contemporary authors fueled this competition through biographies of artists, letters, and critical writings on the theories of art. These theories centered on the artist’s ability to imitate and copy nature, an idea studied greatly during the humanist and Renaissance times. In some instances “texts on disegno and colorito [in the mid-sixteenth century] probably reveal more about the topoi of literary debate than the practice of the painter with his brushes.”[1]

Girogio Vasari, Self-Portrait, 1566-1568, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, (Image Credit to Museums of Florence)

Giorgio Vasari, an artist and author of The Lives of the Artists. Vasari knew and conversed with the Renaissance masters, such as Michelangelo and Titian. He wrote much on the concept of disegno vs. colorito, siding with his Tuscan brethren that disegno was superior over all. He praised Titian for his understanding of color but believed “it was [just] a pity artisans in Venice did not learn to draw well from the beginning and that Venetian painters did not have a better method of study.”[2]



Titian, Portrait of Pietro Aretino, 1545, Florence, Galleria Pitti (image credit to ARTstor)

Pietro Aretino was a great poet and art critic who influenced the popularity of many artists, including Michelangelo and especially Titian. Aretino is from the small town of Arezzo in Tuscany but spent the majority of his life in Venice and wrote many poems and letters concerning how much he loved the city. He had an interesting relationship with Titian; the two were great friends but also “perhaps this association resulted from pure self-interest” and profit for both.[3] He explains the artist’s brush as creating life, that in one unknown work “the flesh-tints so beautifully painted that they resemble snow streaked with vermillion, and seem to be warm and to pulsate with the very essence of life.”[4] It was a quite the relationship, and through the letters they wrote to each other “they seem to have agreed about everything, from types of feminine beauty to the misdeeds of princes, as well as in all problems of painting techniques.”[5] Aretino does begin to question Titian’s late works and believes that they might be unfinished.

Lo–dovico Dolce was another important critic of Italian painting and believed Titian and colorito were superior. In his work, L’ Aretino, Dolce writes about his thought of painting but it seems his “intention [was] to persuade [his readers] that besides Michelangelo have achieved artistic excellence, although the finest remain Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.”[6] Dolce saw nothing wrong with what Titian was doing with oil painting and believed it was the greatest work being made at the time. He sees painting as “nothing other that the imitation of art” and its purpose was to “express ‘the thoughts and feelings of the spirit.’”[7] The common theory at this time which Dolce writes about concerns the idea there were three categories to consider when producing a painting: invention, design, and color. His main goal, however, still seemed to focus on increasing the fame of Titian and Raphael, and decreasing the power of Michelangelo.

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[1] Paul Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 219.

[2] Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, (New York: Oxford Press, 1998),  501.

[3] Bruce Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings: 1450-1590, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), 138.

[4] Pietro Aretino, Selected Letters, Trans. By George Bull, (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 68.

[5] James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, (New York: Stein and Day, 1965), 184.

[6] D. R. Wright, “Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 45, no. 3 (Spring 1987): 278, (accessed November 7, 2011).

[7] Wright, “Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino,” 277.

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