NO other painter ever united in himself so many qualities of artistic merit as Titian. The chief of the Venetian school, he represented in the highest degree all its characteristic excellences. If others surpassed him in single efforts, or in certain respects, none equalled him in sustained grandeur. In his extraordinary length of days he acquired full mastery of his materials. There was nothing in craftsmanship which he could not accomplish with ease and rapidity. With unsurpassed technical equipment was combined an imagination of unlimited range, powerful yet delicate, dramatic but not the- atrical, exuberant but restrained. Delighting in the sheer joy of living, he was yet sensitive to the most subtle phases of the inner life. Partaking fully of the Venetian love of pomp and splendour, he knew the value of simplicity. Sometimes, like Palma, he painted a woman merely as a beautiful creature of flesh and blood; sometimes, like Giorgione, he enveloped his sitters in an atmosphere of poetic serenity, or again, like Lotto, he unveiled the secrets of a soul. Most frequently, however, he was himself, Titian, giving to his subjects that air of nobility which no one else could give, an appearance of entire self-command. He was by turns subjective and objective, always putting something of him-self into his work, yet capable of a thoroughly objective realism. His colour, rich, profound, sonorous, unites all tones in a perfect chord.
The portrait work of Titian ran side by side with his religious and mythological subjects throughout his career. His patrons were dwellers in kings’ palaces. Emperors, kings, doges, popes, cardinals and bishops, noblemen, poets and beautiful women fill his canvases. Nor was there one among all these great personages of finer bearing than the painter himself. ” He was the noblest Roman of them all.” A group of male portraits in the decade from 1520 to 1530 show the earlier methods of Titian. The simplest elements are used to produce noble effects. The figures are in half-length, placed high on the canvas, wearing plain black clothes, relieved only by a touch of white at the throat. They are young men, feeling the responsibility of their caste, high-bred, refined, grave and thoughtful, the personification of repose. One of these was Tommaso Mosti, who was secretary of the Duke of Ferrara. Another has been called, but probably incorrectly, Alessandro de’ Medici, but the majority are unknown.’ The most winning is the Man with the Glove, in the Louvre, a Venetian Sir Galahad.
To the same period also belong some portraits of a much more decorative order. One is of Federigo Gonzaga, in three-quarters length, richly dressed, standing by a table, with his hand on a little pet dog. This son of Isabella d’Este had been, as we know from Francia’s portrait, a charming boy. His brilliant mother spared no pains with his education, and he spent three years in Rome at the court of Julius II. At the age of twenty he succeeded his father as the Duke of Mantua, and was soon after made Captain General of the Church. It was near this time that the portrait was painted, showing him as he was, an amiable pleasure-loving young man of fashion, rather than a soldier or diplomat. Force and energy were not Titian’s special note with his young sitters. On the other hand the portrait of the Doge Andreas Gritti, painted at nearly the same time, shows all the force of an imperious will. This old man, with the keen glance, and firmly compressed lips, is a ruler not to be trifled with.
In 1532 Titian was summoned by the Emperor Charles V to paint the first of the long series of portraits which have linked the name of the great painter with the court of Spain. Half Flemish and half Spanish, Charles was by no means a prepossessing subject. His face was long and narrow, and his lower jaw protruded unpleasantly. Titian, however, knew how to throw a kingly glamour over the figure which overcame all defects. Standing in his rich court dress, with his hand on the head of a great hound, Charles made a splendid and spirited picture. Fifteen years later he was painted again in all the weariness of his increasing years, seated in a large arm-chair. The painter has shown great insight into the character of the morbid and weary old man. The equestrian portrait of the same year (1548) is accounted by some one of the greatest portraits in the world, while others criticize the ignorance of equine anatomy which it displays. In the course of his service of the emperor, Titian made various journeys to the towns where the court was held, Bologna, Mantua and Milan, and even took the fatiguing journey across the Alps to Augsburg, when nearly seventy years of age. His genius was highly appreciated by his royal patron : he received a pension and was created Count Palatine of the Empire, and Knight of the Golden Spur. The story is told that at one of the portrait sittings, Titian let fall a brush which the emperor, picking up, re-stored to the painter with the gracious words : ” Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar.”
It was not only for his own likeness but for many other , pictures that the emperor employed Titian. One of his most interesting orders was for a portrait of the Empress Isabella, who had died in 1539. This work was painted with the help of an old picture, and while lacking the vitality of a direct study, it is full of charm.
In the last years of his life, Charles V, worn out with the cares of government, re-tired to a convent, relinquishing his kingdom to his son Philip II. In the new monarch Titian had another generous patron for whom he exercised his choicest gifts. Again he made the impossible possible in transforming ugliness into kingliness. Philip had a poor figure, with large, ungainly feet, and his features were almost repulsive. His eyes were large and bulging, he had his father’s projecting jaw with full fleshy lips, which his scanty beard could not conceal. In spite of these difficulties, Titian made him the subject of some of his finest portrait work. Whether standing in splendid suit of gold inlaid armour, or in rich court dress of embroidered velvet, Philip looks every inch a king, grave, self-contained, distinguished. A full-length portrait in armour was sent to Queen Mary of England in furtherance of the king’s suit for her royal hand. Word was returned that she was ” greatly enamoured ” of the portrait, and the marriage was soon after effected. Philip, however, was never popular in England, and after Queen Mary’s death returned to Spain to spend the rest of his life. Cruel, sensual and fanatic, his reign is a poor record of mistakes and atrocities. Nevertheless, while better kings are forgotten, he achieved an immortality due largely to the genius of Titian.
For psychological insight the group of portraits for the Pope Paul III show Titian at his best. It was in 1543 that he was invited by the Cardinal Farnese to Ferrara and Brussels, where he painted the portraits both of his host and the old pope. This was the pope, it will be remembered, who excommunicated Henry VIII, who assembled the Council of Trent, and who ordered the Last Judgment to be painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel. A saving sense of humour was his most agreeable trait. One recalls with amusement his reply to the chamberlain who complained of being portrayed by Michelangelo in the Inferno. ” If it had been in Purgatory, I might have done something for you, but I have no authority in hell.” Something cunning in the sharp old eyes, something sinister in the wide mouth, whose shape is defined even beneath the heavy moustache and beard, and .something wary in the peculiar drooping pose of the head strike us at once in these portraits. Two years later Titian was called to Rome, and once again painted the pope with powerful effect. The old man is seated by a table, attended by the Cardinal Farnese and his grandson Ottavio. The composition recalls that of Raphael’s Leo X, with differences. The pope turns to address Ottavio who bends obsequiously towards him. The self-revelation of both men is amazing: the old man, cunning as a fox, the youth, vain and fawning.
From the immense popularity of his work Titian derived an income which enabled him to live like a prince. When somewhat over fifty years of age he set up an establishment at Casa Grande, just outside Venice, in a spot overlooking the lagoon, opposite Murano. Here he laid out a beautiful garden, and here he entertained his guests with lavish hospitality. His wife having died a few years before, the darling of the home was his daughter Lavinia. In her girlhood Lavinia made a charming portrait subject. Richly dressed in brocade, and with jewels in her bright hair, Titian painted her lifting high a plate of fruit. The pose was exactly suited to the curves of her plump figure, and her fresh colour and vivacious smile lent themselves to the pretty conceit. Her beauty was not, how-ever, of a lasting kind. When a few years after her father again painted her portrait in honour of her betrothal, she had already lost her kittenish grace. She stands rather awkwardly, though with something of a shy sweetness in the expression, holding a fan in one hand. What the figure lacks in grace is amply made up in the brilliant treatment of the flesh, and the texture painting. Ten years later Lavinia had become a stout matron, bourgeoise and amiable, but not interesting, still richly dressed and carrying her large feather fan complacently. Two portraits of this period are quite commonplace.
This group of pictures suggests Titian’s characteristic point of view in women’s portraits. Though he loved Lavinia devotedly, he did not try to invest her with any romantic glamour. He seemed to reserve his more poetic and psychological moods for men. Even in painting the Virgin and saints he did not touch a much higher key than in his mythological subjects. Life, abundant, serene and joyous, was his theme. With a beautiful woman before him, he lavished con-summate skill upon her hair, her neck and her fine raiment, but ignored the psychic factor. The Flora is one of the most beautiful of his women, the model for the Medea and Venus (” Sacred and Profane Love “). What art lover does not recall with delight the long curve made by her drooping head, the soft appealing eyes, the hair shimmering like spun gold against the white skin? Yet Flora is only a beautiful soulless creature. La Bella carries her head like an exquisite flower on a long stem. Every feature is perfect, every line of her figure graceful, she has the bearing of a princess. But she is a figure-head, rather than a woman of thought and character. Eleanora Gonzaga might well feel flattered to have her features so idealized, but the painter did scant justice to ” the wisdom, genius, courtesy and refinement ” which the courtier Castiglione attributed to her. Eleanora was in the forties when Titian painted the companion portraits of the Duke of Urbino and his good wife. Francesco Maria della Rovere was general-in-chief of the Venetian forces, a man of military prowess and very violent temper. His portrait in full armour gives complete expression to his warlike spirit. The duchess is amiable, placid, and as in the Bella picture, not over intellectual. Another great lady whom Titian painted was Isabella d’Este, but this portrait is known only in Rubens’s copy. Allowing amply for the difference between painter and copyist, we must yet be disappointed that the most intellectual woman of her period should look so wooden.’ It seems another proof of Titian’s lack of interest in feminine psychology.
The friends and associates of Titian represented the wit and learning, as well as the wealth and aristocracy of Venice. One of his closest intimates was Aretino. This. poet has been called the ” founder of modern journalism,” and certainly his influence was as powerful as the press of today, a letter, a poem or an epigram from his hand making or breaking a reputation. He was by turns flattering, abusive, ironical, insinuating. His character was notoriously licentious, but he was assiduously fêted, for everybody feared him. If there was any good side to this strange man, he showed it to Titian. The two enjoyed many tastes in common, especially the love of nature, and the love of art. A letter from Aretino to the painter describing a sunset, ends with a genuine tribute to his friend’s art. ” What marvellous clouds they were,” he wrote, ” I gazed astonished at the varied colours they displayed. The nearer masses burned with flames of sunset,- the more remote blushed with a blaze of crimson less afire. Oh, how splendidly did Nature’s pencil treat and dispose that airy landscape, keeping the sky apart from the palaces, just as Titian does. . . . With her lights and her darks, there she was, harmonizing, toning, and bringing out into relief just as she wished. Seeing which, I, who know that your pencil is the spirit of her inmost soul, cried aloud, thrice or four times, ` Oh Titian, where are you now? ‘ ” It is the finer Aretino of such impassioned outbursts whom Titian’s portrait reveals, splendidly dressed as a prince, with noble bearing and an expression of poetic in-sight which redeems the sensual face. The mouth so habituated to a sneer is partly concealed with the long heavy beard.
Time and space would fail to describe in full the noble company of sitters who -still live on Titian’s canvases. Vitality is their common possession. They live and breathe as truly as when they sat in Titian’s studio over three hundred years ago. Yet they all belong to a higher sphere than our common everyday world, as if they had their being in a rarefied atmosphere of noble sentiment. Or again, it is as if, in some one’s fanciful phrase, “ they had sat to music.” Their eyes do not meet ours with any sense of intimacy; their glance is averted with fine reserve.
As years went by, honours increased upon Titian. In 1574 King Henry III of France, passing through Venice as the guest of the Republic, visited the painter, and found him at the age – of ninety-seven still hale and hearty, still painting, and still entertaining with princely hospitality. Two years later he died of the plague, having nearly rounded out a century of life.
A follower of Titian who caught the master’s spirit in an extraordinary degree was Paris Bordone, a man whose works are not numerous enough to give him his deserved place in Venetian art. Some splendid portraits from his hand show a rare gift of colour. The most attractive are of women. They embody in full perfection the blonde, Venetian type of beauty, but are somewhat stiff in pose.
A charming portrait of a little boy shows how well he understood child life.
Tintoretto was a follower of Titian by dint of his own perseverance. His stay in the master’s studio was of brief duration, terminated according to tradition by Titian’s jealousy of his precocious pupil. There was nothing, however, to hinder the young man from studying Titian’s works scattered throughout Venice. Inspired by their splendid colour, he took for his ambitious standard, the drawing of Michelangelo and the colour of Titian.” A little episode shows his cleverness as an imitator. Taking a sketch by Titian he covered it with lampblack, and then painted a head in Titian’s manner on the same canvas. Exhibiting this to a company of artists who had been boasting of their knowledge of the master’s art, they all agreed that this was a real Titian, whereupon Tintoretto, erasing the lampblack, showed them how few really understood painting.
Tintoretto first attracted notice through some portraits painted with peculiar lights and shadows which suggested the epigram:
“If Tintoretto shines thus in the shades of night What will he do when radiant day has risen?”
In later years his work lay largely in the line of great decorative schemes, but he had besides a wide vogue for portraiture. He lived nearly twenty years after Titian’s death, and with indefatigable industry, produced a volume of work far exceeding that of any other Italian. Sebastian del Piombo remarked that Tintoretto could paint in two days as much as he himself in two years.
One of his patrons was Aretino, who was, as we have seen, greatly feared for his sharp tongue. During the portrait sitting the painter suddenly approached the poet, taking a large pistol from his doublet. Aretino drew back with a start, when Tintoretto, applying the weapon as a measuring stick, calmly re-marked, ” You stand two pistols and a half high.” It is said that Aretino, bully as he was, afterwards treated the painter with marked respect. Sansovino was another of his famous sitters. The architect spent the latter half of his life in Venice, where he de-signed many buildings, and was held in high esteem. Vasari gives us a delightful account of his old age, corresponding closely to the impression of Tintoretto’s portrait. ” He had,” he wrote, ” an exceedingly venerable appearance ; with his beautiful white beard he still retained the carriage of his youth: he was strong and healthy, even to his ninety-third year, and could see the smallest object at whatever distance.” Another grand old man was the Doge Marcantonio Trevisano, wearing an ermine cape, and the cap of his office. As he sits erect and commanding, one cannot imagine infirmity making any inroads upon so impregnable a constitution.
Tintoretto’s distinctive contribution to Venetian portrait painting was his pictures of old men : senators, procurators, and dignitaries of various sorts. Apparently he was not flattering enough to be popular as a painter of women. No one previous to Rembrandt had so fully understood the beauty of age : the expressiveness of wrinkled skin, of hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, and the glory of white hair. But Rembrandt was inclined to emphasize the element of pathos, while Tintoretto preferred the note of strength. In the old men of his canvases the unquenchable fire of youth still burns brightly, the spirit triumphs over the infirmities of years. The splendid virility of these veterans makes us wonder anew at the conditions of life which produced such specimens of mankind. His subjects have the gravity characteristic of the Venetian school; they take their portrait sittings solemnly. They lack the air of grand distinction which Titian imparted, and they are not the dreamers Giorgione would have made them, but they meet our gaze with an air of living reality.
Included in the school of Venice are certain painters of North Italy who felt directly or indirectly the influence of the great Venetians. Romanino of Brescia was one such. In his early manhood he spent a few years in Venice studying the works of Giorgione, whose golden tone he in some measure acquired. His occasional portrait work was admirable, showing the characteristics of his Venetian model. Of Brescia, too, was Moretto, who, though not really visiting Venice, was actuated by a spirit akin to the Venetians. He excelled as a portrait painter, giving his sitters an air of great distinction. Among other notable patrons, he is known to have taken the likeness of the poet Aretino. Much of his work was for the house of Montinengro, for whom he decorated the Palazzo della Fabbrica in Brescia. In one room a landscape motive is finished in the foreground by a simulated balustrade which forms a portrait setting for various figures. Here and there, as if taking the air in their own garden, a pretty young princess pauses with her pet dog, to smile at the spectator. There is an old-time charm about the work which the artificiality of the plan in no wise destroys.
The Count Sciarra Martinengro was one of the most interesting of this long-pedigreed family. He was educated at the French court, where he remained till the assassination of his father called him home to avenge the crime. In the confusion of the encounter with the assassin in a public square the young nobleman accidently killed the wrong man, the victim being a kinsman. The misfortune deeply affected his sensitive nature. He threw himself into a life of adventure and finally fell in fighting with the Huguenots. The unique charm of this personality is wonderfully preserved in Moretto’s famous portrait of the National Gallery. The gentle-man stands leaning on a table, his cheek supported on his hand, lost in revery. A splendid ermine collar falls over his velvet tunic, a plumed hat is worn in French fashion : he is the impersonation of romantic melancholy.
The most distinguished of Moretto’s pupils was Morone, who is known almost exclusively for his numerous portrait works. Some of his pictures have been attributed to Titian, so strong was the kinship between the two men. It is even said that Titian often recommended patrons to him. Almost everybody knows the famous Tailor of the National Gallery, looking up from his cutting-table, scissors in hand, in the midst of his task. His white doublet and red hose are delightfully painted. A peculiar tinge of melancholy colours the portraits by Morone, due partly to a dispirited carriage of the head, and partly to the haunting expression of the eyes, which look directly into ours. In the Tailor this seems like shyness, in the lady of the National Gallery, gentle timidity, in the Widower of the National Gallery of Ireland, it is genuine sorrow, in the man of the Uffizi, it is positive moroseness. The extreme lifelikeness of the portraits comes both from the qualities of painting and the intimacy of the direct gaze. The little girl of the Bergamo Gallery is a delightful child, one of the dear, every-day homespun kind.
Veronese, the latest and most distinguished of the naturalized Venetians, devoted himself so completely to large scenic compositions that he had no time for portrait painting. It was only as he introduced contemporary likenesses into his religious subjects that we see how admirably he adapted himself to this branch of art. In the Marriage at Cana, Alfonso d’Avalos figures as the bridegroom, and Eleanor, wife of the King of France, as the bride. Charles V, Francis I, Solyman I, and Queen Mary of England are among the guests. The musicians represent the leading Venetian painters of Veronese’s day : Titian, Tintoretto, Jacopo Bassano, and Veronese himself. In the Christ at Emmaus are the most delightful real children, some of them, the painter’s own. A beautiful blonde woman stands at one side, holding a babe on one arm like a veritable Madonna, a little girl nestling at her _ side. A small boy on the other side peeps out from the shelter of her long cape, to watch the antics of a pet dog held by a somewhat larger boy kneeling on the `pavement. In front of the table two little girls play with a big dog between them. The grace and naïveté of these children anticipate by two hundred years the spirit of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The child had been made very little account of in Venice, much less it would seem than elsewhere in Italy. Only in the disguise of angel musicians had children had a place in the sumptuous art of the great city. The portrait painters evidently rarely received orders for the likenesses of the sons and daughters of their patrons. At the height of > Venetian development comes this new note from Veronese, to bring to full completion the splendid work of the Venetian portrait school.