Venetian Painting – More About Titian

WHILE Titian was executing portraits of the Doges, of Aretino and of Isabella of Portugal, and of himself and his daughter Lavinia, he was also striking out a new line in the ceiling pictures for the Church of San Spirito, which have since been transferred to the Salute. Though painted before his journey to Rome, it may be suspected that he had Michelangelo’s work in the Sixtine Chapel in mind, and that he was setting himself the task of bold fore-shortening and technical problems. The daring of the conception is great, yet we feel sure that this is not Titian’s element ; his figures in violent movement give a vivid idea of strength and muscular force, but fail both in grace and drawing, and though the colour and light and shade distract our attention from defects of form, he does not possess that mastery over the flowing silhouette which Tintoretto attained.

It was in 1543 that his relations with the Farnese, whose young cardinal he had been painting, drew him at last to Rome. Leo X. had tried to attract him there without success, but now at sixty-eight he found himself as far on the road as Urbino. His son Orazio was with him, and Duke Guidobaldo was himself his escort, and sent him on with a band of men-at-arms from Pesaro. He was received in Rome by Cardinal Bembo ; Paul III. gave him a cordial welcome and Vasari was appointed his cicerone. It is interesting to inquire what impression Rome, with its treasures of antique statuary and contemporary painting, made upon Titian. ” He is filled with wonder and glad that he came,” writes Bembo. In a letter to Aretino he regrets that he had not come before. He stayed eight months in Rome, and was made a Roman citizen. He visits the Stanze of Raphael in company with Sebastian del Piombo, and Michelangelo comes to see him at his lodgings, and he receives a long letter from Aretino advising him to compare Michelangelo with Raphael, and Sansovino and Bramante with the sculptors and architects of antiquity. Titian was well established in his own style, and was received as the creator of acknowledged master-pieces, and he never painted a more magnificent portrait-piece than that of Paul III., the peevish old Pope, ailing and humorous, suspicious of the two nephews who are painted with him, and who he guessed to be conspiring against him. The characteristic attitude of the old man of eighty, bent down in his chair, his quick, irritable glance, the steady, determined gaze of the cardinal, the obsequious attitude and weak, wily face of Ottavio Farnese are all immortalised in a broader, more careless technique than Titian has hitherto used. Though he does not seem to have been directly influenced by all he saw in Rome, we undoubtedly find a change coming over his work between 1540 and 1550, which may be in part ascribed to a widening of his artistic horizon and a consciousness of what others were doing, both around him and abroad. In its whole handling and character his late is different from his early manner. It begins at this time to take on a blurred, soft, impressionist character. His delight in rich colouring seems to wane, and he aims at intensifying the power of light. He reaches that point in the Venetian School of painting which we may regard as its climax, when there is little strong local colour, but the canvas seems illumined from within. There are no clear-cut lines, but the shapes are suggested by sombre enveloping shades in which the radiant brightness is embedded. His landscapes alter too ; they are no longer blue and smiling, filled with loving detail, but grander, more mysterious. In the “St. Jerome” in Paris the old Saint kneels in wild and lonely surroundings, and the moon, slowly rising behind the dark trees, sends a sharp, silver ray across the crucifix. The ” Supper at Emmaus” has the grandiose effect that is given by avoidance of detail and simplification of method.

Titian painted several portraits of himself, and we know what sort of stately figure was presented by the old man of seventy who, at Christmas in 1547, set forth to ride across the Alps in the depths of winter to obey Charles V.’s call to Augsburg. The excitement of the public was great at his departure, and Aretino describes how his house was besieged for the sketches and designs he left behind him. For nearly forty years Titian was employed by the House of Hapsburg. He had been working for Charles since 1530, and when the Emperor abdicated, his employment by Philip II. lasted till his death. The palace inventory of 1686 contained seventy-six Titians, and though probably not all were genuine, yet an immense number were really by him, and the gallery, even now, is richer in his works than any other.

The great hall of the Pardo must have been a wonderful sight, with Titian’s finest portrait of himself in the midst, and the magnificent portraits and sacred and allegorical pieces which he continued from this time forward to con-tribute to it. In this year, which was the last before Charles’s abdication, and during this visit to South Germany, he painted the great equestrian portrait of the Emperor on the field of Mühlberg, and two years later came the first of his many portraits of Philip II. The face, in the first sketch, is laid in with a sort of fury of impressionism, and in the parade portrait the sitter is realised as a man of great distinction. Ugly and sensual as he is, we never tire of looking at Titian’s conception—a full length of distinguished mien rendered attractive by magnificent colour. Everything in it lives, and the slender, aristocratic hands are, as Morelli says, a whole biography in themselves.

The splendid series of allegorical subjects which Titian contributed to the Pardo, while he was still supplying sacred pictures and altarpieces to Venice and the neighbouring mainland, are among his most mature and important works. Never has his gamut of tones been fuller and stronger than in the Jupiter and Antiope,” or the Venus of the Pardo ” as it is sometimes called. The Venus herself has the attitude of Giorgione’s dreaming goddess, with her arm flung up above her head. It is, perhaps, the only time that Titian succeeds in giving anything ideal to one of his Venuses. The famous nudes of the Uffizi and the Louvre are splendid courtesans, far removed from Giorgione’s idyllic vision; but Antiope, slumbering on her couch of skins, and her woodland lover, gazing with adoring eyes on her beautiful face, have a whole world of sweet and joyful fancy. The whole scene is full of a joie de vivre, which carries us back to the Bacchanals painted so many years before, and in these Titian gives King Philip his most perfect work, every touch of which is his own. This picture, now in the Louvre, was given to Charles I. by the King of Spain, and bought for Cardinal Mazarin in 165o. ” Danaë,” “Venus and Adonis,” “Europa and the Bull,” and a ” Last Supper ” followed in quick succession, but Titian was now employing many assistants, and great parts of the canvases issuing from his workshop show weak, imitative hands, while replicas were made of other works.

His later feeling for the religious in art is expressed in the now bedimmed paintings in San Salvatore in Venice. Vasari describes these in r 566. Painted when Titian was nearly ninety years old, the “Transfiguration” is remarkable for forcible, majestic movement, while in the “Annunciation ” he invents quite a new treatment. Mary turns round and raises her veil, while she grasps the book as if she depended on it for stay and support. The four angels are full of life and gaiety, and the whole has much grace and colour, though it is dashed in, in the painter’s later style, in broad and sweeping planes without patience of detail. The old man has signed it ” Titianus, fecit, fecit,” a contemptuous reply to some critics who complained of its want of finish. He knew well what it was in composition and execution, and that all that he had ever known or done lay within the careless strength of his last manner.

A letter written to the King of Spain’s secretary in 1574 gives a list “in part” of fourteen pictures sent to Madrid during the last twenty-five years, ” with many others which I do not remember.” On every hand we hear of lost pictures from the master’s brush, and the number produced even during the last ten years of his life must have been enormous, for till the end he was full of great undertakings and achievements. Very late in life he painted a ” Shepherd and Nymph ” (Vienna), which in its idyllic feeling, its slumberous delight, its mingling of clothed and nude figures, recalls the early days with Giorgione, yet the blurred and smouldering richness, the absolute negation of all sharp lines and lights is in his very latest style, and he has gone past Giorgione on his own ground. Then in strange contrast is the “Christ Crowned with Thorns,” at Vienna, a tragic figure stupefied with suffering. His last great work was the ” Pietà ” in the Academy, which, though unfinished, is nobly designed and very impressive. He places the Virgin supporting the Body in a great dome-shaped niche, which gives elevation. It is flanked by two calm, antique, stone figures, whose impassive air contrasts with the wild pain and grief below. The Magdalen steps out towards the spectator with the wailing cry of a Greek tragedy. It perhaps hardly moves us like the concentrated feeling of Bellini’s Madonna, or the hurried, trembling grief of Tintoretto’s Magdalen, but it is monumental in the sweeping grace of its line, and full of nobility of feeling. It is sadly rubbed and darkened and has lost much of Titian’s colour, but is still beautiful in its deep greys mingled with a sombre golden glow, as of half-extinguished fires. These late paintings are of the true impressionist order ; looked at closely they present a mass of scumbled touches, of incoherent dashes, but if we step farther away, to the right focus, light and dark arrange themselves, order shines through the whole, and we see what the great master meant us to see. ” Titian’s later creations,” says Vasari, ” are struck off rapidly, so that when close you cannot see them, but afar they look perfect, and this is the style which so many tried to imitate, to show that they were practised hands, but only produced absurdities.” Titian was preparing the picture for the Frari, in payment for the grant of a tomb for himself, when in August 1576 the plague broke out in Venice, and on the 27th the great painter died of it in his own house. The stringent regulations concerning infection were relaxed to do honour to one of the greatest sons of Venice, and he was laid to rest in the Frari, borne there in solemn procession, through a city stricken by terror and panic, and buried in the Chapel of the Crucified Saviour, for which his last work was ordered. The ” Assumption ” of his prime looked down upon him, and close at hand was the ” Madonna of Casa Pesaro.” His son Orazio caught the plague and died immediately after, and the painter’s house was sacked by thieves and many precious things stolen.

The great personality of Titian stands out as that which of all others established and consolidated the school of Venice. He is its central figure. The century of life, of which eighty years were passed in ceaseless industry of production, left its deep impression on the art of every civilised country of Europe. Every great man of the day who was a lover of art and culture fell under Titian’s spell. His influence on his contemporaries was enormous, and he had everything : genius, industry, personal distinction, character, social charm. He is, perhaps, of too intellectual a cast of mind to be quite typical of the Venetian spirit, in the way that Tintoretto is ; it is conceivable that in another environment Titian might have developed on rather different lines, but this temper gave him greater domination. He was free from the eccentricities which beset genius. He possessed the saving salt of practical common sense, so that the golden mean of sanity and healthful joy in his works commended them to all men, and they are not difficult to understand. Yet while all can see the beauty of his poetic instinct for colour, his interesting and original technique, his grasp and scope, his mastery and certainty have gained for him the title of the painter’s painter.” There is no one from whom men feel that they can so safely learn so much, and the grand breadth and power of elimination of his later years is justified by the way in which in his earlier work he has carried exquisite finish and rich impasto to perfection.


Ancona. Crucifixion (L.).

S. Domenico : Madonna with Saints and Donor, 1520.

Antwerp. Pope Alexander VI. presenting Jacopo Pesaro.

Berlin. Infant Daughter of Strozzi, 154Z ; Portrait of Him-self (L.) ; Lavinia bearing Charges.

Brescia. SS. Nazaro e Celso : Altarpiece, 1522.

Dresden. Madonna with Saints (E.) ; Tribute Money (E.) ; Lavinia as Bride, 1555 ; Lavinia as Matron (L.) ; Portrait, 1561 Lady with Vase (L.) ; Lady in Red Dress.

Florence. Pitti : La Bella ; Aretino, 1545 ; Magdalen ; The Young Englishman ; The Concert (E.) ; Philip II. ; Ippolito de Medici, 1533 ; Tommaso Mosti.

Uffizi : Eleanora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, 1537 Francesco della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, 1537 Flora ; Venus, the head a portrait of Lavinia ; Venus, the head a portrait of Eleanora Gonzaga Madonna with S. Anthony Abbot.

London. Holy Family and Shepherd ; Bacchus and Ariadne (E.) ; Noli me tangere (E.) ; Madonna with SS. John and Catherine.

Bridgewater House : Holy Family (E.) ; Venus of the Shell ; Three Ages of Man ; Diana and Actaeon, 1559 ; Callisto, 1559.

Earl Brownlow : Diana and Actaeon (L.).

Sir F. Cook. Portrait of Laura de Dianti.

Madrid. Madonna with SS. Ulfus and Bridget (E.) ; Bacchanal; The Garden of Loves ; Danaë, 1554 ; Venus and Youth playing Organ (L.) ; Salome (portrait of Lavinia) ; Trinity, 1554; Entombment, 1559 ; Prometheus ; Religion succoured by Spain (L.) Sisyphus (L.) ; Alfonso of Ferrara ; Charles V. at the Battle of Muhlberg, 1548 ; Charles V. and his Dog, 1533 ; Philip IT., 1550 Philip II. ; The Infant ; Don Fernando and Victory ; Portrait Portrait of Himself; Duke of Alva ; Venus and Adonis ; Fall of Man ; Empress Isabella.

Medole (near Brescia). Christ appearing to His Mother.

Munich. Vanitas ; Portrait of Charles V., 154.8 ; Madonna and Saints ; Man with Baton.

Naples. Paul III. and Cardinals, 1545 ; Dana.

Padua. Scuola del Santo : Frescoes S. Anthony granting Speech to an Infant ; The Youth who cut off his Leg ; The Jealous Husband, 1511.

Paris. Madonna with Saints (E.) ; La Vierge au Lapin ; Madonna with S. Agnes ; Christ at Emmaus (L.) ; Crowning with Thorns (L.) ; Entombment ; S. Jerome (L.) ; Jupiter and Antiope (L.) ; Francis I. ; Allegory ; Marquis da Valos and Mary of Arragon ; Alfonso of Ferrara and Laura Dianti ; L’Homme au Gant (E.) ; Portraits.

Rome. Villa Borghese : Sacred and Profane Love (E.) ; St. Dominio (L.) ; Education of Cupid (L.).

Capitol : Baptism (E.).

Doria : Daughter of Herodias.

Vatican : Madonna in Glory and six Saints, 1523. Treviso Duomo. Annunciation.

Urbino. Resurrection (L.) ; Last Supper (L.).

Venice. Academy : Presentation of Virgin, 1540 ; S. John in the Desert ; Assumption, 1518 ; Pietà, 1573.

Palazzo Ducale Staircase : S. Christopher, 1523.

Sala di Quattro porte : Doge Giovanni before Faith, 1555.

Frari : Pesaro Madonna, 1526.

S. Giovanni Elemosinario : S. John the Almsgiver, 1523.

Scuola di San Rocco : Annunciation (E.).

Salute Sacristy : Descent of the Holy Spirit ; St. Mark enthroned with Saints ; David and Goliath ; Sacrifice of Isaac ; Cain and Abel.

S. Salvatore : Annunciation (L.) ; Transfiguration (L.). Verona. Duomo : Assumption.

Vienna. Gipsy Madonna (E.) ; Madonna of the Cherries (E.) ; Ecce Homo, 1543 ; Isabela d’Este, 1534. ; The Tambourine Player ; Girl in Fur Cloak ; Dr. Parma (E.) ; Shepherd and Nymph (L.) ; Portraits ; Doge Andrea Gritti ; Jacopo Strada ; Diana and Callisto ; Madonna and Saints.

Wallace Collection. Perseus and Andromeda. (In collaboration with his nephew, Francesco Vecellio.)

Louvre. Madonna and Saints. (The same by Francesco alone.) Glasgow. Madonna and Saints.