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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Biblical feasts were among the main themes of the latter half of the 16th century. The Supper at Emmaus by the Titian, Veronese, Bassano and Tintoretto have all offered monumental samples of this.

The supper celebration at Emmaus echoes the famous Last Supper as it was the moment when two pilgrims that Christ was travelling with them recognized him. Since then, Titian has produced several versions of this event for commissioning patrons. The Painting reflects the careful reading of Leonardo along a horizontal table and a front view of Jesus Christ against the main backdrop of a landscape that is punctuated with several architectural elements.

The painting posture of one them resembles that of Judas. He chose to show the moment when all the pilgrims realized the identity of the new figure they encountered. Also, the painting provided him with a great opportunity to reconstruct the tablecloth with its folds and creases. Contrary to the famous belief that Titian was using unusually prepared colour grounds, it was discovered over the years that he typically used traditional gesso grounds which were sometimes covered with imprimitura materials. Until the end of the 16th century, it was a common practice in Venice to create or prepare a canvas for painting with the application of white gesso which is a calcium sulphate mineral.

Most of the artworks by Titian were majorly executed over the grounds that in some cases were covered by the Imprimatura. After several years, he started to experiment his painting with darker painting surfaces where he began to employ red-brown and quite dark grounds. From his first surviving large-scale artwork which is the flight into Egypt, the paint cross-section indicates that the canvas was designed and prepared with the gesso alone. Over it, there is a brown underpainting that is modelled with dark brown mixtures that mainly contain a lead-tin yellow, light black and earth pigments. The canvas for the portrait was designed with a substantial light layer of gesso forming some rough and vertical ridges in lower parts of the sleeve.

The first owners of the painting were a Maffei family from Verona, where Titian designed and painted an altarpiece for the Cathedral. The painting was commissioned by Ciriaco Mattei, who was the brother to Cardinal Girolamo Mattei. The altarpiece painting portrays the sonorous gravity and the colours of the spectrum that resembles the progression of some organ chords. It is believed that Titian borrowed the orange-yellow striking of the pages from Morretto's Supper at Emmaus.

Some of the arts that are related to the work of Titian include the portrait of the Doge Andrea Gritti which was done in an exceptionally rough way. It is believed that this portrait was influenced by the Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. Most of his paintings or artwork has been relined damaged and badly stored or degraded with time. But some of his portraits are lucky cases of excellent preservation, including the supper at Emmaus.