Called the greatest Venetian painter of the 16th century, Titian trained under two of the most influential Venetian artists: Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione. This drawing shows Titian's debt to Giorgione: the carefully constructed narrative unravels in a lush landscape beneath a threatening sky, reminiscent of his master's work.

Titian was a pioneering artist in his own right. The intensity of this drawing is also due to his draughtsmanship. By using a variety of pen lines, he was able to convey different textures and build up the atmosphere of the landscape. The roundness of the leaves on the trees are somehow softer than the billowing clouds, heavy with rain, bearing down on the rocky hills of the background. The straight lines of the buildings allow them to be read against the trees; the water is given depth by using similar lines.

Human detail is revealed by the farmer driving his cow/bull over the bridge. Two figures are also shown on the far bank; could the one prostrate on the ground be the missing rider, thrown when the serpent spooked his horse? The horse gallops out of the water, stretching every sinew to escape its pursuer. Titian depicts a moment that is never explained, increasing the drama and leaving the viewer to decide how the scene ends.

This drawing may have been owned by the artist Rembrandt: a copy he made of it is now in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin. It is thought to have been acquired for the Devonshire Collection by the 2nd Duke of Devonshire. 

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