Few artists have reached the age allotted to Titian, whom Death passed by until he lacked but about a year of being a century old. The great Venetian painter was a man of fifty and over when he first met Charles V., his constant patron for more than a score of years, but he outlived the emperor nearly two decades.
It was probably in 1533, and at Bologna, that Titian made his first sketches of Charles, who was then on his way from Germany to embark at Genoa for Spain. From these sittings the artist painted a full-length portrait of the emperor, in armor, which has perished, and another one, showing him in a rich dress, with a hound by his side, which is in the Museum of Madrid.
“It was said of Charles V. that, from the day on which he first saw Titian, he never condescended to sit to any other master. The statement is based on the wording of a patent which the emperor issued to the master on his arrival at Barcelona in 1533. Titian is described in this document, which bears the date of May 19th, as a man so exquisitely gifted, that he deserves the name of the Apelles of his time. The emperor declares that he only follows the example of his predecessors, Alexander the Great and Octavian, in selecting him to be his painter; Alexander having sat to none but Apelles, and Octavian having employed the best of all draughtsmen, lest his glory should be tarnished by the monstrous failures of inexperienced designers : Titian’s felicity in art, and the skill he displayed, warrant a grant of imperial honors. He is therefore created a Count of the Lateran Palace, of the Aulic Council, and of the Consistory, with the title of Count Palatine, and all the advantages attached to those dignities. He acquires the faculty of appointing notaries and ordinary judges, and the power to legitimize the illegitimate offspring of persons beneath the station of prince, count, or baron. His children are raised to the rank of nobles of the empire, with all the honors appertaining to families with four generations of ancestors. Titian himself is made a Knight of the Golden Spur, with all the privileges of knighthood, to wit, the sword, the chain, and the golden spur ; and with this right the entrance to court is conceded a privilege which we shall find Titian frequently exercised.”
Such liberality was the more noteworthy coming from one usually so parsimonious as Charles. Motley says of him :
“.The absolute master of realms on which the sun perpetually shone, he was not only greedy for additional dominion, but he was avaricious in small matters, and hated to part with a hundred dollars. To the soldier who brought him the sword and gauntlets of Francis I., he gave a hundred crowns, when ten thousand would have been less than the customary present, so that the man left his presence full of desperation. The three soldiers who swam the Elbe, with their swords in their mouths, to bring him the boats with which he passed to the victory of Muhlberg, received from his imperial bounty a doublet, a pair of stockings, and four crowns apiece. His courtiers and ministers complained bitterly of his habitual niggardliness, and were fain to eke out their slender salaries by accepting bribes from every hand rich enough to bestow them.”
At the end of the year 1547, Charles summoned Titian to his court at Augsburg, and the painter, then seventy years old, obeyed the emperor’s behest and endured the hard-ships of a midwinter ride of two hundred miles across the Alps. Arriving at the imperial city, he was received with much favor by Charles, who increased his pension and sat to him for the equestrian portrait now at Madrid. This superb work shows Charles as he rode into the battle of Muhl-berg on the Elbe, where he defeated the Protestant league, and captured the Electors of Saxony and Hesse. The emperor is rep-resented in full armor, with lance in hand, ” his vizor up over the eager, powerful face the eye and beak of an eagle, the jaw of a bull-dog, the face of a born ruler, a man of prey.”
An entire contrast to this work is offered by another portrait of Charles, painted by Titian at Augsburg, which hangs in the gallery of Munich. Here the great emperor is seen in repose, seated on an armchair of red velvet, his black, fur-lined robe relieved against a yellow screen. He wears the order of the Golden Fleece and holds a glove in his right hand.
During his stay in Augsburg, Titian also painted portraits of many other high-born personages, among them Mary, Queen Dowager of Hungary, King Ferdinand, brother of the emperor, Philibert Emmanuel of Savoy, the brilliant Maurice of Saxony, and the cruel Duke of Alva.
Titian was again called to Augsburg by the emperor in 1550, and on the 11th of November in that year we find him writing as follows to Pietro Aretino, that despicable but ‘remarkable man, who at least was a faithful friend to our artist, by whom his portrait was painted more than once.
Titian to Aretino at Venice.
“SIGNOR PIETRO, HONORED G0ssip: I wrote by Messer Aeneas that I kept your letters near my heart, till occasion should offer to deliver them to his Majesty. The day after the Parmesan’s (Aeneas) departure his Majesty sent for me. After the usual courtesies and examination of the pictures which I had brought, he asked for news of you and whether I had letters from you to deliver. To the last question I answered affirmatively, and then presented the letter you gave me. Having read it, the emperor repeated its contents so as to be heard by his Highness his son, the Duke of Alva, Don Luigi Davila, and the rest of the gentlemen of the chamber, and as there was mention of me he asked what it was that was required of him. I replied that at Venice, in Rome, and in all Italy the public assumed that his Holiness was well minded to make you . . . (cardinal), upon which Caesar showed signs of pleasure in his face, saying he would greatly rejoice at such an event, which could not fail to please you ; and so, dear brother, I have done for you such service as I owe to a friend of your standing, and if I should be able otherwise to assist you, I beg you will command me in every respect. Not a day passes but the Duke of Alva speaks to me of the ‘divine Aretino,’ because he loves you much, and he says he will favor your interest with his Majesty. I told him that you would spend the world, that what you got you shared with everybody, and that you gave to the poor even to the clothes on your back, which is true, as every one knows. I gave your letter, too, to the Bishop of Arras, and you shall shortly have an answer. Sir Philip Hoby left yesterday for England by land; he salutes you, and says he will not be con-tent until he does you a pleasure himself in addition to the good offices which he promises to do for your benefit with his sovereign. Rejoice therefore, as you well may by the grace of God, and keep me in good recollection, saluting for me Signor Jacoho Sansovino and kissing the hand of Anichino.
” Your friend and gossip,
“From Augsburg, Nov. 11, 1550.”
The main purpose for which Titian was summoned to Augsburg at this time was to paint the portrait of Charles’s eldest son, afterward Philip II., then twenty-four years old. The first likeness done of the prince, now at Madrid, was sent to London when the marriage of Philip with Queen Mary of England was in course of arrangement, and, so skilfully had Titian veiled the repellent qualities of the prince, did much to incline Mary’s fancy toward him.
During this visit the courtiers saw with surprise the familiar inter-course between Charles and Titian, who held frequent conferences together as to the composition of a picture which should embody both the religious struggle of the time and the emperor’s desire for retirement from the cares of state. When, eight years later, Charles finally renounced, at Yuste, all the glory of this world, this picture of the Trinity was among those upon which his dying eyes last rested.
Stirling Maxwell says : “His retreat was adorned with some pictures, few, but well chosen, and worthy of a discerning lover of art, and the patron and friend of Titian. A composition on the subject of the ‘Trinity,’ and three pictures of ‘ Our Lady,’ by that great master, filled the apartments with poetry and beauty ; and as specimens of his skill in another style, there were portraits of the recluse himself and of his empress . . . . Long tradition, which there seems little reason to doubt, adds that over the high altar of the convent, and in sight of his own bed, he had placed that celebrated composition, called the ‘ Glory of Titian,’ a picture of the Last Judgment, in which Charles, his wife, and their royal children were represented in the master’s grandest style, as conducted by angels into life eternal. And another masterpiece of the great Venetian St. Jerome praying in his cavern, with a sweet landscape in the distance is also reputed to have formed the opposite altar-piece in the private oratory of the emperor.” A few days before his death, “he sent for a portrait of the empress, and hung for some time, lost in thought, over the gentle face, which, with its blue eyes, auburn hair, and pensive beauty, somewhat resembled the noble countenance of that other Isabella, the great Queen of Castile. He next called for a picture of Our Lord praying in the garden, and then for a sketch of the ‘ Last Judgment,’ by Titian. Having looked his last upon the image of the wife of his youth, it seemed as if he were now bidding farewell, in the contemplation of these other favorite pictures, to the noble art which he had loved with a love which cares, and years, and sickness could not quench, and that will ever be remembered with his better fame.”
We know not upon what historic data, if any, rests the anecdote illustrated by the painter, Carl Becker. It relates that once, when the great Venetian was at work upon a portrait of Charles, he dropped his brush and the emperor stooped to pick it -up. This was in those days a supreme condescension from a prince to a painter, one which doubtless more than compensated in the judgment of their world – for the harassing and interminable delays in making payment for his work of which Titian was so often forced to complain.