Sacred and Profane Love (1514) by Titian

Sacred and Profane Love - Titian - 1514

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Artwork Information

TitleSacred and Profane Love
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions279 x 118 cm
Art MovementHigh Renaissance
Current LocationBorghese Gallery, Rome, Italy
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About Sacred and Profane Love

The artwork “Sacred and Profane Love” is a masterful oil on canvas painting completed by the renowned artist Titian in 1514. As an emblematic piece of the High Renaissance, it measures 279 by 118 centimeters and falls within the allegorical painting genre. Presently, this significant artwork graces the Borghese Gallery in Rome, Italy, where it continues to intrigue art aficionados and scholars alike with its layered representations and exquisite craftsmanship.

The artwork presents two female figures that dominate the composition, poised on opposite sides of a marble sarcophagus which is being used as an unusual fountain or garden basin. To the left, a woman clad in a sumptuous white dress that richly falls over her legs and arms; her attire is accentuated by elegant gloves and a dignified posture. She represents Sacred Love, the embodiment of spiritual and divine affection, which transcends the physical realm. To the right, another woman, representing Profane Love, is depicted with a contrastingly bare chest, her bodily form draped in a vibrant red cloth, a symbol of passion and earthly desires; she holds a vessel which reinforces the temporal nature of worldly pleasures.

A plump, angelic figure, who can be interpreted as a Cupid or putto, connects these two contrasting personifications of love as he engages with the clear, still water in the basin, suggesting the pure, reflective nature of love itself. The intricately carved sarcophagus, adorned with what appear to be scenes of nude figures and horses, furthers the artifact’s enigmatic message.

The backdrop of the artwork is equally enchanting, divided into two disparate landscapes. On the left, one may observe rolling hills and a town, evoking a serene civility, while on the right, a more rugged terrain is visible, complementing the figure of Profane Love with its untamed natural beauty. Both landscapes converge in the distance, under a spacious sky that hints at a unification of sacred and profane elements.

Titian’s use of color and light masterfully distinguishes between the two realms of experience represented by the figures, suggesting a complex dialogue between the spiritual and the material, the chaste and the carnal. Through this allegory, the artwork invites contemplation on the nature of love in its multifaceted expressions.

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