Venetian Painting – Titian

THE mountains of Cadore are not always visible from Venice, but there they lie, behind the mists, and in the clear shining after rain, in the golden eventide of autumn, and on steel-cold winter days they stand out, lapis-lazuli blue or deep purple, or, like Shelley’s enchanted peaks, in sharp-cut, beautiful shapes rising above billowy slopes. Cadore is a land of rich chestnut woods, of leaping streams, of gleams and glooms, sudden storms and bursts of sunshine. It is an order of scenery which enters deep into the affections of its sons, and we can form some idea of the hold its mingling of wild poetry and sensuous softness obtained over the mind of Titian from the fact that in after years, while he never exerts himself to paint the city in which he lived and in which all his greatest triumphs were gained, he is uniformly constant to his mountain home, enters into its spirit and interprets its charm with warm and penetrating insight.

The district formed part of the dependencies of the great republic, and relied upon Venice for its safety, its distinction, and in great measure for its employment. The small craftsmen and artists from all the country round looked forward to going down to seek their fortune at her hands. They tacked the name of their native town to their own name, and were drawn into the magnificent life of the city of the sea, and came back from time to time with stories of her art, her power, and beauty.

The Vecelli had for generations held honour-able posts in Cadore. The father and grand-father of the young Tiziano were influential men, and with his brother and sisters he must have been brought up in comfort. There are even traditions of noble birth, and it is evident that Titian was always a gentleman, though this did not prevent his being educated as a crafts-man, and when he was only ten years old he was sent down to Venice to be apprenticed to a mosaicist.

It was a changing Venice to which Titian came as a boy ; changing in its life, its social and political conditions, and its art was faith-fully registering its aspirations and tastes. More than at any previous time, it was calculated to impress a youth to whom it had been held up as the embodiment of splendid sovereignty, and the difference between the little hill-town set in the midst of its wild solitudes and the brilliant city of the sea must have been dazzling and bewildering. A new sense of intellectual luxury had awakened in the great commercial centre. The Venetian love of splendour was displaying itself by the encouragement and collection of objects of art, and both ancient and modern works were in increasing request. On Gentile Bellini’s and Carpaccio’s canvases we see the sort of people the Venetians were, shrewd, quiet, splendour-loving, but business-like, the young men fashionably dressed, fastidious connoisseurs, splendid patrons of art and of religion. Buyers were beginning to find out what a delightful decoration the small picture made, and that it was as much in place in their own halls as over the altar of a chapel. The portrait, too, was gaining in importance, and the idea of making it a pleasure-giving picture, even more than a faithful transcript, was gathering ground. The ” Procession of the Relic” was still in Gentile’s studio, but the Frari “Madonna and Child ” was just installed in its place. Carpaccio was beginning his long series of St,. Ursula, and the Bellini and Vivarini were in keen rivalship.

Titian is said to have passed from the bottega of Gentile to that of Giovanni Bellini, but nothing in his style reminds us of the former, and even his early work has very little that is really Bellinesque, whereas from the very first he reflects the new spirit which emanated from Giorgione. Titian was a year the elder, and we can divine the sympathy that arose between the two when they came together in Bellini’s School. As soon as their apprenticeship was at an end they became partners. Fond of pleasure and gaiety, loving splendour, dress, and amusement, they were naturally congenial companions, and were drawn yet more closely together by their love for their art and by the aptitude with which Titian grasped Giorgione’s principles.

And if we ask ourselves why we take for granted that of two young men so closely allied in age and circumstance we accept Giorgione as the leader and the creator of the new style, we may answer that Titian was a more complex character. He was intellectual, and carried his intellect into his art, but this was no new feature. The intellect had had and was having a large share in art. But in that part which was new, and which was launching art upon an untried course, Giorgione is more intense, more one-idea’d than Titian. What he does he does with a fervour and a spontaneity that marks him as one who pours out the language of the heart.

The partnership between the two was probably arranged a few years before the end of the century, for we have seen that young painters usually started on their own account at about nineteen or twenty. For some years Titian, like Giorgione, was engrossed by the decorations of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The groups of figures described by Zanetti in 1771 show us that while Giorgione made some attempt at following classic figures, Titian broke entirely with Greek art and only thought of picturesque nature and contemporary costume.

Vasari complains that he never knew what Titian’s ” Judith ” was meant to represent, ” unless it was Germania,” but Zanetti, who had the benefit of Sebastiano Ricci’s taste, declares that from what he saw, both Giorgione and Titian gave proofs of remarkable skill. ” While Giorgione showed a fervid and original spirit and opened up a new path, over which he shed a light that was to guide posterity, Titian was of a grander and more equable genius, leaning at first, indeed, upon Giorgion.e’s example, but expanding with such force and rapidity as to place him in advance of his companion, on an eminence to which no later craftsman was able to climb. . . . He moderated the fire of Giorgione, whose strength lay in fanciful movement and a mysterious artifice in disposing shadows, contrasted darkly with warm lights, blended, strengthened, blurred, so as to produce the semblance of exuberant life.” Certain works remain to link the two painters ; even now critics are divided as to which of the two to attribute the ” Concert ” in the Pitti. The figures are Giorgionesque, but the technique establishes it as an early Titian, and it is doubtful whether Giorgione would be capable of the intellectual effort which produced the dreamy, passionate expression of the young monk, borne far out of himself by his own melody, and half recalled to life by the touch on his shoulder. Titian, like Giorgione, was a musician, and the fascination of music is felt by many masters of the Italian schools. In one picture the player feels vaguely after the melody, in another we are asked to anticipate the song that is just about to begin, or the last chords of that just finished vibrate upon the ear, but nowhere else in all art has any one so seized the melody of an instant and kept its fulness and its passion sounding in our ears as this musician does.

Though we cannot say that Titian was the pupil of any one master, the fifteen years, more or less, that he spent with Giorgione left an indelible impression upon him. We have only to look at such a picture as the ” Madonna and Child with SS. John Baptist and Antony Abate,” in the Uffizi, an early work, to recollect that in 1503 Giorgione at Castelfranco had taken the Madonna from her niche in the sanctuary and had enthroned her on high in a bright and sunny landscape with S. Liberale standing sentinel at her feet, like a knight guarding his liege lady.

Titian in this early group casts every convention aside ; a beautiful woman and lovely children are placed in surroundings whose charm is devoid of hieratic and religious significance. The same easy unfettered treatment appears in the ” Madonna with the Cherries” at Vienna, and the Madonna with St. Bridget and S. Ulfus ” at Madrid, and while it has been surmised that the example of the precise Albert Dürer, who paid his first visit to Venice in 1506, was not without its effect in preserving Titian from falling into laxity of treatment and in inciting him to fine finish, it is interesting to find that Titian was, in fact, discarding the use of the carefully traced and transferred cartoon, and was sketching his design freely on panel or canvas with a brush dipped in brown pigment, and altering and modifying it as he went on.

The last years of Titian’s first period in Venice must have been anxious ones. The Emperor Maximilian was attacking the Venetian possessions on the mainland, in anger at a refusal to grant his troops a free passage on their way to uphold German supremacy in Central Italy. Cadore was the first point of his invasion, and from i 507 Titian’s uncle and great-uncle were in the Councils of the State, his father held an important command, and his brother Francesco, who had already made some progress as an artist, threw down his brush and became a soldier. Titian was not one of those who took up arms, but his thoughts must have been full of the attack and defence in his mountain fastnesses, and he must have anxiously awaited news of his father’s troops and of the squadrons of Maso of Ferrara, under whose colours Francesco was riding. Francesco made a reputation as a distinguished soldier, and was severely wounded, and when peace was made, Titian, who loved him tenderly,” persuaded him to return to the pursuit of art.

The ratification of the League of Cambray, in which Julius II., Maximilian, and Ferdinand of Naples combined against the power of Venice, was disastrous for a time to the city and to the artists who depended upon her prosperity. Craftsmen of all kinds first fled to her for shelter, then, as profits and orders fell off, they left to look else-where for commissions. An outbreak of plague, in which Giorgione perished, went further to make Venice an undesirable home, and at this time Sebastian del Piombo left for Rome, Lotto for the Romagna, and Titian for Padua.

We may believe that Titian never felt perfectly satisfied with fresco-painting as a craft, for when he was given a commission to fresco the halls of the Santo, the confraternity of St. Anthony, patron-saints of Padua, he threw off beautifully composed and spirited drawings, but he left the execution of them chiefly to assistants, among whom the feeble Domenico Campagnola, a painter whom he probably picked up at Padua, is conspicuous. Even where the landscape is best, as in ” S. Anthony restoring a Youth,” the drawing and composition only make us feel how enchanting the scene would have been in oils on one of Titian’s melting canvases. In those frescoes which he executed himself while his interest was still fresh, the ” Miracle which grants Speech to an Infant ” is the most Giorgionesque. Up to this time he had preserved the straight-cut corsage and the actual dress of his contemporaries, after the practice of Giorgione ; he keeps, too, to his companion’s plan of design, placing the most important figures upon one plane, close to the frame and behind a low wall or ledge which forms a sort of inner frame and with a distant horizon. In the Paduan frescoes he makes use of this plan, and the straight clouds, the spindly trees, and the youths in gay doublets are all reminiscent of his early comrade, but the group of women to the left in the ” Miracle of the Child ” shows that Titian is beginning more decidedly to enunciate his own type. The introduction of portraits proves that he was tending to rely largely upon nature, in contradistinction to Giorgione’s lyrically improvised figures. He fuses the influence of Giorgione and the influence of Antonello da Messina and the Bellini in a deeper knowledge of life and nature, and he is passing beyond Giorgione in grasp and completeness. When he was able to return to Venice, which he did in 1512, a temporary peace having been concluded with Maximilian, he abandoned the uncongenial medium of fresco for good, and devoted himself to that which admitted of the afterthoughts, the enrichments, the gradual attainment of an exquisite surface, and at this time his works are remarkable for their brilliant gloss and finish.

During the next twelve years we may group a number of paintings which, taken in con-junction with those of Giorgione, show the true Venetian School at its most intense, idyllic moment. They are the works of a man in the pride of youth and strength, sane and healthy, an example of the confident, sanguine, joyous temper of his age, capable of embodying its dominant tendencies, of expressing its enjoyment of life, its worldly-mindedness, its love of pleasure, as well as its noble feeling and its grave and magnificent purpose.

For absolute delight in colour let us turn to a picture like the Noli me tangere ” of the National Gallery. The golden light, the blues and olives of the landscape, the crimson of the Magdalen’s raiment, combine in a feast of emotional beauty, emphasising the feeling of the woman, whose soul is breathed out in the word ” Master.” The colour unites with the light and shadow, is embedded in it ; and we can see Titian’s delight in the ductile medium which had such power to give material sensation. In these liquid crimsons, these deep greens and shoaling blues, the velvety fulness and plenitudes of the brush become visible ; we can look into their depths and see something quite unlike the smooth, opaque washes of the Florentines.

In such a masterpiece as ” Sacred and Profane Love,” painted during these years for the Borghese, there are summed up all those artistic aims towards which the Venetian painters had been tending. The picture is still Giorgionesque in mood. It may represent, as Dr. Wickhoff suggests, Venus exhorting Medea to listen to the love-suit of Jason ; but the subject is not forced upon us, and we are more occupied with the contrast between the two beautiful personalities, so harmoniously related to each other, yet so opposed in type. The gracious, self-absorbed lady, with her softly dressed hair, her loose glove, her silvery satin dress, is a contrast in look and spirit to the goddess whose free, simple attitude and outward gaze embody the nobler ideal. The sinuous and enchanting line of Venus’s figure against the crimson cloak has, I think, been the outcome of admiration for Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus,” and has the same soft, unhurried curves. Titian’s two figures are perfectly spaced in a setting which breathes the very aroma of the early Renaissance. A bas-relief on the marble fountain represents nymphs whipping a sleeping Love to life, while a cupid teases the chaste unicorn. A delicious baby Love splashes in the water, fallen rose-leaves strew the mellow marble rim, around arid away stretches a sunny country scene, in which people are placidly pursuing a life of ease and pleasure. What a revelation to Venice these pictures were which began with Giorgione’s conversaziones!

How little occupied the women are with the story. Venus does not argue, or check off reasons on her fingers, like S. Ursula. Medea is listening to her own thoughts, but the whole scene is bathed in the suggestion of the joy and happiness of love. The little censer burning away in the blue and breathless air might be a philtre diffusing sensuous dreams, and when the rays of the evening sun strike the picture, where it now hangs, and bring out each touch of its glowing radiance, it seems to palpitate with the joy of life and to thrill with the magic of summer in the days when the world was young.

With the influence still lingering of Giorgione’s ” Knight of Malta,” Titian produced some of his finest portraits in the decade that led to the middle of his life. The ” Dr. Parma ” at Vienna, the noble ” Man in Black and ” Man with a Glove ” of the Louvre, the ” Young Englishman ” of the Pitti, with his keen blue eyes, the portrait at Temple Newsam, which, with some critics, still passes as a Giorgione, are all examples in which he keeps the half-length, invented by Bellini and followed by Giorgione.

After the visit to Padua he shows less preference for costume, and his women are generally clothed in a loose white chemise, rather than the square-cut bodice.

We do not wonder that all the leading personages of Italy wished to be painted by Titian. His are the portraits of a man of intellect. They show the subject at his best ;. grave, cultivated, stately, as he appeared and wished to appear ; not taken off his guard in any way. What can be more sympathetic as a personality than the Ariosto of the National Gallery ? We can enter into his mind and make a friend of him, and yet all the time he has himself in hand ; he allows us to divine as much as he chooses, and draws a thin veil over all that he does not intend us to discover. The painter himself is impersonal and not over-sensitive he does not paint in his own fancies about his sitter —probably he had none ; he saw what he was meant to see. There was what Mr. Berenson calls a certain happy insensibility ” about him, which prevented him from taking fantastic flights, or from looking too deep below the surface.