Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, was born in 1477 in the town of Cadore, high up in that wonderful and strange range of mountains called the Dolamite Alps. They are some sort of stone that centuries of wind and rain, keen frost, melting snow and rushing water have worn, and cut, and carved into a thousand shapes of beauty and wonder. Tiziano da Cadore (Titian of Cadore) he is often called. His father was a distinguished soldier, his great uncle was Bishop of Odezza. His inheritance from his ancestors was a magnificent physique and a steadiness of nerve which the strain of nearly a hundred years was unable to shake. Titian was eminently the painter of dignity and repose, of the majesty of nature and man, and this majesty and dignity came from the lessons taught him by the great mountains, the peace of infinite skies and all the restful forms of nature. Titian was but a child when he came to Venice, and what a change it must have been for the boy from Cadore to the splendid city lying upon the sea. He studied with the Bellini, who did not approve his hasty and bold methods. He then went to Giorgione. He was slow in gaining recognition, but from the moment he painted the “Tribute Money,” his star began its ascent.
The fortieth year of the sixteenth century finds Titian, a man of sixty-three, in a position never attained by any artist save Raphael and Michelangelo. But Raphael died young, and Michelangelo disclaimed the pleasures of society, while Titian was the center of a circle which comprised the wealth, rank and genius of Italy. He lived in a splendid home in that part of Venice which looks out on the Island of Murano, and beyond in the distance he could see the mountains in which Cadore lay nestled. In 1532 Titian was brought into direct relation with the Emperor Charles V., whom he immortalized in the portraits he produced. For this Charles made him Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur, and his children nobles of the Empire.
Titian had the faculty which so few men possess, of charming his contemporaries, to whatever grade they might belong, and if he had enemies it was because envy had not creased to be a vice of that time. There was not an artist in Venice who could hope to equal him.
Titian at sixty imparted to his art not only the outward semblance, but the secret and to many unrevealed subtleties of nature. It was an art which displayed the charm whilst it concealed the realism; not an imitation only, but an embodiment of results attained by analysis of cause and effect, telling what nature tells in nature’s mysterious hidden way.
“Three lives,” says Pino, “has Titian, one natural, one artificial, the third eternal.”
“All that Titian’s figures want,” says Biondo, “is a voice; in all else they are nature itself.”
“Nature,” says Ridolfi, “surrendered to Titian and took its laws from his pencil.”
“In everything,” writes Boschini, “Titian’s art was similar to nature. Milk feeds his babes; he weaves the stuffs; by him the arms are wrought; he transfers the trees, the hills and plains to his picture ; his animals have but just issued from the ark, and his joy or grief are alike infectious. So long as nature lives Titian will also live.”
Titian was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, portrait painters the world has ever seen. His portraits comprise all the noted people of his time, kings, princes, patricians, poets, scholars and warriors. With these magnificent portraits he has helped to make the history of his age.
After four hundred years Titian stands the first colorist of the world. The truth and beauty of Titian’s color may be appreciated and admired by all. But it is only to the artist whose multiplied hours of toil have not succeeded in approaching one of its tones that its supreme excellence is manifest. When we think of Titian we think of him as a happy man. He saw no fault in the world in which he lived. He loved it, comprehended it, and reproduced it as it was. He was first among his rivals visited at his own house by the kings of France and Poland, a favorite of Charles V., of Philip II., of Pope and Doge and Prince. He was overwhelmed with commissions, liberally compensated, pensioned and enjoying to the utmost his good fortune. He lived in great state, dressed splendidly and, although not very learned, he was keen of perception, and life-long familiarity with courts had taught him the elegancies of such a life. We are told that he was very courteous and his manners were those of a Prince. He was industrious to the greatest degree. He was devoted to his three children ; his eldest son Pomponio was a bitter disappointment. He led a gay and dissipated life and brought much sorrow to the family. Orazio worked with his father in the studio, and acted as his agent.
His daughter Lavinia was her father’s favorite, and it is her face we see in many of his pictures. “At Cadore Titian was born. At Cadore he lived until he was ten years old. To Cadore he returned year after year for love of kindred and mountains. There, after the death of his wife in 1530, he took refuge with his three motherless children. Then in 1560 he came again, old but not bent, and bearing the titles of Count of the Empire and Knight of the Golden Spur. There also he intended to go in 1576, when the plague was sweeping Venice; but brave and strong to the last, he delayed until the edict was passed forbidding any one to leave the city. So in Venice he died, ninety-nine years old, alone and forsaken, and the pestilence which took his life thwarted his last wishes, for none dared carry his body to Cadore as be had willed.” It was doubtless thrown into a trench with thousands of others.
( Originally Published 1912 )
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