Titian – The Deposition

This is Titian’s last work, unfinished when he died at ninety-nine. It is not striking at first sight, and one is apt to pass it by in haste to get to the brilliant Veronese in the neighboring room. But look long, from a little distance, and its soft floating outlines will take shape and position; its dark green shadows will disclose a majestic underlying harmony of sombre colors. It has a quality often found in the works of an artist’s old age : that of extreme breadth, simplification, concentration on a single interest, neglect of everything irrelevant. That quality appears to some extent in all great art; but when a man is young, and has not found himself, he tends to try more different things in the same work, and to include unnecessary details for no other reason than that they exist in the model, or in other pictures he has seen. Titian’s late works are extremely specialized, rigorously pruned down, indifferent to popular taste. But the enormous range of his genius, compassing in essence every type of pictorial value known to the history of art, forbade him to specialize on any one effect repeatedly. His late works are greatly varied, and astonishingly prophetic of future tendencies. In the Crowning with Thorns (Munich and Paris) and the Virgin Suffering (Florence, Uffizi 3114) he works in the agitated, light-streaked style of Tintoretto and El Greco. In the Emperor Charles at Munich, the Nymph and Shepherd at Vienna, and in several of the Madrid works, he anticipates the flattened abbreviations and the new color-schemes of Velazquez.

In this Deposition he is unmistakably working, and working with mastery, in the field that Rembrandt later made his own. Avoiding bright color-contrasts, he nevertheless, like Rembrandt, achieves an effect of rich color and luminosity by subtle blends and transitions within a restricted range of dark, unobtrusive tones. There is even a Greco-like quality in its unearthly, phosphorescent inner light, ignoring the natural fall of highlights and shadows. The dull green of the stone blocks is raised step by step in luminosity: to the soft polished sheen of the bottom of the con-cave niche; to the statues, whose apparent monochrome of light and dark is filled with iridescent blues and yellows beneath the prevailing green; to the weird radiance of the naked body; and finally to the warmer golden lustre of the mosaic-filled upper part of the niche. The red, blue and green of the garments and the warm red-brown flesh of the living figures are rich in tint and texture, but subdued in luminosity, as a setting for the pallid body of Christ.