“Trenta, quaranta velature!” (glazes, thirty to forty), is an oft quoted statement attributed to Titian. So is the idea that he painted with his fingers. As we shall see, these two statements are more related than they might seem.
Above is Titian’s Madonna of the Cherries from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Circa 1515.
Broadly translating, the Italian term velatura (singular of velature) can mean: sail, veil or fog in English. In art-speak it currently means glaze. Merrifield, in her book, Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting defines velatura as follows:
When large surfaces were to be glazed, the colour was frequently rubbed on with all the fingers or the flat of the hand, so as to fill the interstices left by the brush, and to cover the surface thinly and evenly…
Another term is sfregazzi. Merrifield defines it as:
…to dip the finger into the colour and draw it once along the surface to be painted with an even movement.
Above is Titian’s Ecce Homo from the Prado. Circa 1548.
What is the purpose of a glaze? Basically it is a means to subtly adjust the color and/or value of a dry color which is underneath it. The key here is the word ‘subtle’. In the glossary section Cast Painting Using the Sight-Size Approach, I define glaze as:
A thin application of translucent paint that is meant to alter the color (or value) of a dried underlayer. Glazes are normally darker than what they are painted over and tend to result in a relatively warmer color as well. Glazes are used to create subtle shifts in color and partly rely on the underlayer for their resulting effect. Glazes are always thinned with a medium or oil.
Although somewhat out of fashion now, many great painters of the past used glazes as a part of their painting process. Titian was one such painter and Velazquez was another. As I mention in my post about Velazquez’s portrait of Innocent X, glazes on a painting as viewed from a photograph are notoriously difficult to properly observe. Very often, what appears in the photo to be thicker paint is really an area of glaze over-paint where the underlayer and the texture of the canvas weave is showing through.
That Merrifield’s definitions of velatura and sfregazzi involve rubbing or applying the paint with the hand or fingers as opposed to a brush is something to pay attention to. I have often said that my left pinky finger is my favorite brush and from the above definitions it is clear that in general I am not alone. However, follow at your own risk. Who knows where your finger has been.