Titian – Venus With The Organ Player

This is not one of Titian’s greatest pictures, but it represents a mature stage of his development, and it is in an excellent state of preservation. Such cleaning and restoring as it has had, have been skillfully done. That cannot be said for many of his more famous works, which have been crudely retouched in years past (though the fact is not usually advertised) or left under centuries of dirt and thickened varnish. From such undoubted masterpieces as the Entombment or the Supper at Emmaus, in the Louvre, one gets a false idea of Venetian color as being uniformly tinged with a dark golden brown. In Germany and Austria the technique of cleaning and restoring has been well developed—it is a combination of chemical science with sensitive, modest craftsmanship. There Venetian and other old masters come out from behind their films of amber to shine again in fresh, pure daylight hues.

The picture is one of a series of similar Venuses which Titian made to order for various patrons, who, it is said, were allowed to appear as the admiring organ-player. It has some of the ear-marks of a made-to-order work: a lack of life and spontaneity in the drawing. There is something a little forced, as of a conscious theoretical problem, in the effort to unify two such different elements as are in the right and left halves of the picture. But Titian is never a hack-worker; and if it lacks the supreme touch of genius, it is a work full of interest from the standpoint of design.

Based on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus at Dresden, like a host of later reclining nudes, it is characteristic of Titian and the later Renaissance in the way it elaborates that simple Grecian theme with a profusion of added elements. The organ and its player, the dog, cupid, and overhanging curtain, are all new, and each is the means of complicating the form wit some different color and texture. It loses in unity and concentrated force as compared with the Giorgione, but it gains a profusion of decorative materials for the eye to feed upon. We need not stop to dwell upon the careful interweaving of shapes: the repeated angles in the organ, the bearded profile, the hanging curtain, the mountain peak, and so on. Such effects were not distinctive with Titian. Nor was it original with him to construct a pat-tern of contrasting color-areas, or an atmosphere of blended tints.

But this picture was and still is remarkable as a design of realistic textures, repeated, varied and contrasted with each other. This is the type of design which Veronese, Velazquez, Vermeer and Chardin were later to develop in many different ways, but they added nothing to the basic form presented here. Each part not only has a definite shape, color and degree of lightness, but a distinctive surface consistency. For example, the cold, steely, gray-blue of the organ-pipes, and their hard, rigid, glossy smoothness, serve to bring out by contrast the warm, rosy skin and the soft, yielding roundness of the body. The little hairy dog, the glistening satin pillow and pearls, the wisp of veiling, the cloudy sky and the highlights on the organ—all these are varied tints and textures of the same basic color, white. There is gold in the hair of Venus and Cupid, in her jewelry, and in the hose of the organist. His jacket; the red coverlet and curtain, are all shades of deep purplish crimson, varied as to the lustre on their folds, and as to the amount of brown in them. In the flesh-tints of the Venus, all these colors are blended in lighter shades and in a more delicate, rich tinting. Not only the reds and whites are there, but even the blues and olive greens, in soft shadows and in veins beneath the surface of the skin. (In the nudes of Rubens, this color-richness was still further developed.) It is appropriate, in view of such an interest in textures, that the body is less smooth, slim and firm than in the Giorgione, or than in Titian’s younger Reclining Venus in the Uffizi. The maturer, softly undulating planes afford more opportunity for the play of different tints and shadows.