Wonder  }  Artwork

Titian's Annunciation, jewel of Treviso cathedral

A revolutionary tale

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Where is

Veneto del Duomo, 1, 31100 Treviso TV, Italia (16m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

Coming from Piazza dei Signori, at the end of the Calmaggiore arcades, now a shopping street, here it is that on our left appears imposingly, the facade of Treviso Cathedral. An extraordinary and illogical complex of layered interventions that tell us a thousand years of the city's history. A wide white staircase, topped by a classical tympanum, leads us inside where, at the end of the nave, the apse is flanked by two Renaissance chapels. To the right is the Malchiostro or Annunziata chapel. Here in the collected half-light of the sacred place, enhanced by an elegant marble frame, Titian's masterpiece is revealed.

Why it is special

The effect is surprising and engrosses us because it is almost theatrical: the curtain rises and amidst imposing architectural wings, drapery and checkered floor with a bold diagonal perspective, the Mystery is fulfilled. Blue cloak over red robe, for the Virgin in the foreground, and Angel in white robe, as per tradition, but everything else tells us of an absolute revolution. The Angel, who seems to emerge from a backlit cloud in the background, surprises behind the Virgin who, with a twist turns back her sweet gaze but catches ours and keeps us glued to the scene.

Not to be missed

Now look closely at the scene, where is the important iconographic revolution? Titian reverses roles, planes and positions. No longer is the Virgin on the right with the Angel on the left placed on the same plane. The perspective, ingeniously foreshortened, gives full centrality to the Virgin now on the left and leaves the divine Messenger in the background on the right, making himself small. The result is new, dynamic, exciting and makes us absolutely participate.

A bit of history

A perhaps little-known work, the altarpiece (oil on panel) was commissioned from Titian, by Broccardo Malchiostro, secretary to the bishop-humanist Bernardo de Rossi, between 1520 and 1523. The chapel of the same name, which houses it, was erected in 1519 to a design by Tullio and Antonio Lombardo and frescoed by Pordenone. It is preceded by a vestibule richly decorated by other important names such as Paris Bordon, Girolamo da Treviso, and Domenico Capriolo. Like other places of art and worship in Treviso, this chapel unfortunately bears witness to the dramatic bombing of April 7, 1944, which caused its dome to collapse.


And then the intruder! You will immediately notice that little figure in the exact center of the scene who seems to be secretly spying on the moment. It is none other than the canonical patron Malchiostro who self-centeredly emphasizes the authorship of the work. The effect, however, is almost caricatured, telling us of a punishment inflicted on his daring. Already an unloved character in his own time, his image would be daubed with pitch in 1526 and then redone several times in later times. The little man we see today, therefore, is far from Titian's grace.

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Silvia Del Monaco

Titian's Annunciation: the absolute protagonist of the scene, elegant and beautiful like a queen, but in silent prayer and mystical waiting for the Divine Messenger of Light and Faith.


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