WITH the ” Assumption,” finished in 1518 for the Church of the Frari, Titian rose to the very highest among Renaissance painters. The ” Glorious S. Mary ” was his theme, and he concentrated all his efforts on the realisation of that one idea. The central figure is, as it were, a collective rather than an individual type. Well proportioned and elastic as it is, it has the abundance of motherhood. Harmonious and serene, it combines dramatic force and profound feeling. Exultant Humanity, in its hour of triumph, rises with her, borne up lightly by that throbbing company of child angels and followed by full recognition and awestruck satisfaction in the adoring gaze of the throng below, yet Titian has contrived to keep some touch of the loving woman hurrying to meet her son. The flood of colour, the golden vault above, the garment of glowing blues and crimsons, have a more than common share in that spirit of confident joy and poured-out life which envelops the whole canvas. In the worthy representation of a great event, the visible assumption of Humanity to the Throne of God, Titian puts forth all his powers and steeps us in that temper of sanguine emotion, of belief in life and confidence in the capacity of man, which was so characteristic of the ripe Renaissance. In looking at this splendid canvas, we must call to mind the position for which Titian painted it. Hung in the dusky recesses of the apse, it was tempered by and merged in its stately surroundings. The band of Apostles almost formed a part of the whispering crowd below, and the glorious Mother was beheld soaring upwards to the golden light and the mysterious vistas of the vaulted arches above.
The patronage of courts had by this time altered the tenor of Titian’s life. In 1516 Duke Alfonso d’Este had invited him to Ferrara, where he had finished Bellini’s ” Bacchanals.” It bears the marks of Titian’s hand, and he has introduced a well-known point of view at Cadore into the background. In 1518 Alfonso writes to propose another painting, and Titian’s acceptance is contained in a very courtier-like letter, in which we divine a touch of irony. ” The more I thought of it,” he ends, the more I became convinced that the greatness of art among the ancients was due to the assistance they received from great princes, who were content to leave to the painter the credit and renown derived from their own ingenuity in bespeaking pictures.” Alfonso’s requirements for his new castle were frankly pagan. Mythological scenes were already popular. Mantegna had adorned Isabela d’Este’s ” Paradiso ” with revels of the gods, Botticelli had given his conception of classic myth in the Medici villa, already Bellini had essayed a Bacchanal, and Titian was to make designs for similar scenes to complete the decorations of the halls of Este. The same exuberant feeling he shows in the “Assumption” finds utterance in the ” Garden of Loves” and the ” Bacchanals,” both painted for Alfonso of Ferrara. The children in the former may be compared with the angels in the ” Assumption.” Their blue wings match the heavenly blue sky, and they are painted with the most delicate finish.
We can imagine the beauty of the great hall at Ferrara when hung with this brilliant series, which was completed in 1523 by the Bacchus and Ariadne ” of the National Gallery. The whole company of bacchanals is given up to wanton merrymaking. Above them broods the deep blue sky and great white clouds of a summer day. The deep greens of the foliage throw the creamy-white and burning colour of the draperies and the fair forms of the nymphs into glowing relief, while by a convention the satyrs are of a deep, tawny complexion. On a roll of music is stamped the rollicking device, ” Chi boit et ne reboit, ne sceais que boir soit.”
The purple fruit hangs ripened from the vines, its crimson juice shines like a jewel in crystal goblets and drips in streams over rosy limbs. The influence of such pictures as these. was absorbed by Rubens, but though they hardly surpass him in colour, they are more idyllic and less coarse. The perfect taste of the Renaissance is never shown more victoriously than here, where indulgence ceases to be repulsive, and the actors are real flesh and blood, yet more Arcadian than revolting. In the ” Bacchus and Ariadne,” Titian gives triumphant expression to a mood of wild rejoicing, so gay, so good-tempered, so simple, that we must smile in sympathy. The conqueror flinging himself from his golden chariot drawn by panthers, his deep red mantle fluttering on high, is so full of reckless life that our spirit bounds with him. His rioting band, marching with song and laughter, seems to people that golden country-side with fit inhabit-ants. The careless satyrs and little merry, goat-legged fauns shock us no more than a herd of forest ponies, tossing their manes and dashing along for love of life and movement.’ Yet almost before this series was put in place Titian was showing the diversity of his genius by the Deposition,” now in the Louvre, which was painted at the instance of the Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and nephew of Alfonso d’Este. Here he makes a great step in the use of chiaroscuro. While it is satisfying in balance and sweeping rhythm, and by the way in which every line follows and intensifies the helpless, slackened lines of the dead Body, it escapes Raphael’s academic treatment of the same subject. Its splendid colours are not noisy ; they merge into a scene of solemn pathos and tragedy. The scene has a simplicity and unity in its passion, and what above all gives it its intense power is the way in which the flaming hues are absorbed into the twilight shadows. The dark heads stand out against the dying sunset, the pallor of the dead is half veiled by the falling night. It is a picture which has the emotional beauty of a scene in nature, and makes a profound impression by its depth and mystery. This same solemnity and gravity temper the brilliant colouring of the great altarpiece painted for the Pesaro family in the Frari. Columns rise like great tree-trunks, light and air play through the clouds seen between them. The grouping is a new experiment, but the way in which the Mother and Child, though placed quite at one side of the picture, are focussed as the centre of interest, by the converging lines, diagonal on the one hand and straight on the other, crowns, it with success. The scheme of colour brings the two figures into high relief, while St. Francis and the family of the donor are subordinated to rich, deep tints. Titian has abandoned, more completely than ever before, any attempt to invest the Child with supernatural majesty. He is a delightful, spoiled baby, fully aware of his sovereignty over his mother, pre-tending to take no notice of the kneeling suppliants, but occupying himself in making a tent over his head out of her veil. The Madonna in Glory with six Saints ” of the Vatican is another example of the rich and smouldering ” colour in which Titian was now creating his great altarpieces, kneading his pigments into a quality, a solidity, which gives reality without heaviness, and finishing with that fine-grained texture which makes his flesh look like marble endowed with life.
Venuses, altarpieces, and portraits all tell us how boldly his own style was established. His sacred persons are not different from his pagans and goddesses. Yet though he has gone far, he still reminds us of Giorgione. He has been constant to the earliest influences which surrounded him, and to that temperament which made him accept those influences so instantaneouslyand this constancy and unity give him the untroubled ascendancy over art which is such a feature of his position.
With Leonardo and with Titian, painters had sprung to a recognised status in the great world of the Renaissance. They were no longer the patronised craftsmen. They had become the courted guests, the social equals. Titian, passing from the courts of Ferrara to those of Mantua and Urbino, attended by a band of assistants, was a magnificent personage, whose presence was looked upon as a favour, and who undertook a commission as one who conferred a coveted boon. Among those who clustered closest round the popular favourite, no one did more to enhance his position than Aretino, the brilliant unscrupulous debauchee, wit, bully, blackmailer, but a man who, with all his faults, had evidently his own power of fascination, and, the friend of princes, must have been himself the prince of good company. Aretino, as far as he could be said to be attached to any one, was consistent in his attachment to Titian from the time they first met at the court of the Gonzaga. He played the part of a chorus, calling attention to the great painter’s merits, jogging the memory of his employers as to payments, and never ceasing to flatter, amuse, and please him. Titian, for his part, shows himself equally devoted to Aretino’s interests, and has left various characteristic portraits of him, handsome and showy in his prime, sensual and depraved as age overtook him.
In the spring of 1528 the confraternity of St. Peter Martyr invited artists to send in sketches for an altarpiece to their patron-saint, in SS. Giovanni and Paolo, to replace an old one by Jacobello del Fiore. Palma Vecchio and Pordenone also competed, but Titian carried off the prize. The picture was delivered in 1530, and during the autumn of 1529 Sebastian del Piombo had returned to Venice from Rome, and Michelangelo had sought refuge there from Florence and had stayed for some months. A quarrel with the monks over the price had delayed the picture, so that it may quite probably have only been begun after intercourse with the Roman visitors had given a fresh turn to Titian’s ideas ; for though he never ceases to be himself, it certainly seems as if the genius of Michelangelo had had some effect. From what we know of the altarpiece, which perished by fire in 1867, but of which a good copy by Cigoli remains, Titian embarked suddenly upon forms of Herculean strength in violent action, but there his likeness to the Florentine ended ; the figures were, indeed, drawn with a deep, though not altogether successful, attention to anatomy and foreshortening, but the picture obtained its effect and derived its impressiveness from the setting in which the figures were placedthe great trees, bending and straining, the hurrying clouds, as if nature were in portentous harmony with the sinister deed, and overhead the enchanting gleam of light which shot downward and irradiated the face of the martyr and the two lovely winged boys, bathed in a flood of blue aether, who held aloft the palm of victory. Many copies of it remain, and we only regret that one which Rubens executed is not preserved among them.
When we look at the delicious Madonna del Coniglio ” in the Louvre and our own Marriage of S. Catherine,” the first of which certainly, and the second probably, was painted about this time, we cannot doubt that the charm of the idea of motherhood had particularly arrested the painter. About 1525 his first son, Pomponio, was born, and was followed by another son and a daughter. In the S. Catherine he paints that passion of mother-love with an intensity and reality that can only be drawn from life, and on the wheel at her feet he has inscribed his name, Ticianus, F. His feeling for landscape is increasing, and the landscape in these pictures equals the figures in importance and has en-grossed the painter quite as much. Every year Titian paid a visit to Cadore, and in the rich woodlands, the distant villages, the great white villa on the hill-side, and, above all, in the far-off blue mountains and the glooms and gleams of storm and sunshine, the sudden dart of rays through the summer clouds, which he has painted here, we see how constant was his study of his native country, and how profoundly he felt its poetry and its charm. He had married Cecilia, the daughter of a barber belonging to Perarolo, a little town near Cadore. In 1530 she died, and he mourned her deeply. He went on working and planning for his children’s future, and his sister came from Cadore to take charge of the motherless household ; but his friends’ letters speak of his being ill from melancholy, and he could not go on living in the old house at San Samuele, which had been his home for sixteen years. He took a new house on the north side of the city, in the parish of San Canciano. The Casa Grande, as it was called, was a building of importance, which the painter first hired and finally bought, letting off such apartments as he did not need. The first floor had a terrace, and was entered by a flight of steps from the garden, which overlooked the lagoons, and had a view of the Cadore mountains. It has been swept away by the building of the Fondamenta Nuova, but the documents of the leases are preserved, and the exact site is well established. Here his children grew up, and he worked for them unceasingly. Pomponio, his eldest son, was idle and extravagant, a constant source of trouble, and Aretino writes him reproachful letters, which he treats with much impertinence. Orazio took to his father’s profession, and was his constant companion, and often drew his cartoons ; and his beautiful daughter, Lavinia, was his greatest joy and pride. In this house Titian showed constant hospitality, and there are records of the princely fashion in which he entertained his friends and distinguished foreign visitors. Priscianese, a well-known Humanist and savant of the day, describes a Bacchanalian feast on the 1st of August, in a pleasant garden belonging to Messer Tiziano Vecellio. Aretino, Sansovino, and Jacopo Nardi were present. Till the sun set they stayed indoors, admiring the artist’s pictures. As soon as it went down, the tables were spread, looking on the lagoons, which soon swarmed with gondolas full of beautiful women, and resounded with music of voices and instruments, which till midnight, accompanied our delightful supper. Titian gave the most delicate viands and precious wines, and the supper ended gaily.”
In the year 1532 Titian for the first time sought other than Italian patronage. Charles V., who was then at the height of his power, with all Italy at his feet, passed through Mantua, and among all the treasures that he saw was most struck by Titian’s portrait of Federigo Gonzaga. After much writing to and fro, it was arranged that Titian should meet the Emperor at Bologna, where he had just been crowned. He made his first sketch of him, from which he afterwards produced a finished full length. It was the first of many portraits, and Vasari declares that from that time forth Charles would never sit to any other master. He received a knighthood, and many commissions from members of the Emperor’s court. It was for one of his nobles, da Valos, Marquis of Vasto, that he painted the allegorical piece in the Louvre, in which Mary of Arragon, the lovely wife of da Valos, is parting with her husband, who is bound on one of the desperate expeditions against the terrible Turks. Da Valos is dressed in armour, and the couple are encircled by Hymen, Victory, and the God of Love. The composition was repeated more than once, but never with quite the same success. We again suspect the influence of Michelangelo in the altarpiece painted before Titian next left Venice, of St. John the Almsgiver, for the Church of that name, of which the Doge was patron. The figures are life-size, the types stern and rugged, daringly foreshortened, and the colours, though gorgeous, are softened and broken by broad effects of light and shade. It is painted in a solemn mood, a contrast to that in which about this time he produced a series of beautiful female portraits, nude or semi-nude, chiefly, it would appear, at the instance of the Duke of Urbino. The Duke at this time was the General-in-Chief of the Venetian forces, a position which took him often to Venice, and Titian’s relations with him lasted till the painter’s death. At least twenty-five of his works must have adorned the castles of Urbino and Pesaro. Among these were the Venus of the Uffizi, La Bella di Tiziano,” in her gorgeous scheme of blue and amethyst, the Girl in a Fur Cloak,” besides portraits of the Duke and Duchess. It would be impossible to enumerate here the numbers of portraits which Titian was now supplying. The reputation he had acquired, not only in Italy, but in Spain, France, and Germany, was greater than had ever been attained by any painter, while his social position was established among the highest in every court.
He had rivals in Venice,” says Vasari, but none that he did not crush by his excellence and knowledge of the world in converse with gentlemen.” There is not a writer of the day who does not acclaim his genius. Titian was undoubtedly very fond of money, and had amassed a good fortune. He was constantly asking for favours, and had pensions and allowances from royal patrons. Lavinia, when she married, brought her husband a dowry of I 1400 ducats. He had painted the portraits of the Doges with tolerable regularity, but all through his life complaints were heard of his neglect of the work of the Hall of Grand Council. Occupied as he was with the work of his foreign patrons, he had systematically neglected the conditions enjoined by his possession of a Broker’s patent, and the Signoria suddenly called on him to refund the salary amounting to over 100 ducats a year, for the twenty years during which he had drawn it without performing his promise, while they prepared to instal Pordenone, who had lately appeared as his bitter rival, in his stead. Though Titian must have been making large sums of money at this time, his expenses were heavy, and he could not calmly face the obligation to repay such a sum as 2000 ducats at the same time that he lost the annual salary, nor was it pleasant to be ousted by a second-rate rival. His easy remedy was, however, in his own hands ; he set to work and soon completed a great canvas of the Battle of Cadore,” which, though it is only known to us from a con-temporary print and a drawing by Rubens, evidently deserved Vasari’s verdict of being the finest battlepiece ever placed in the hall. The movement and stir he contrives to give with a small number of figures is astonishing. The fortress burns upon the hillside, a regiment advancing with lances and pennons produces the illusion that it is the vanguard of a great army, the desperate conflict by the narrow bridge, realises all the terrors of war. It was an atonement for his long period of neglect, but it was not till 1439 that, Pordenone having suddenly died, the Signoria relented and reinstated Titian in his Broker’s patent. One of his later paintings for the State still keeps its place, ” The Triumph of Faith,” in which Doge Grimani, a splendid, steel-clad form with flowing mantle, kneels before the angelic apparition of Faith, who holds a cross, which angels and cherubs help her to support. Beneath the clouds are seen the Venetian fleet, the Ducal Palace, and the Campanile. It is an allegory of Grimani’s life ; his defeat and captivity are symbolised by the cross and chalice, and the magnificent figure of St. Mark with the lion is introduced to show that the Doge believes him-self to owe his freedom to the saint’s intercession. The prophet and standard-bearer at the sides were added by Marco Vecellio.
Though the battlepiece perished in the fire of 1577, another masterpiece of this time marks a climax in Titian’s brilliantly coloured and highly finished style. The ” Presentation of the Virgin ” was painted for the refectory of the Confraternity of the Carità, which was housed in the building now used as the Academy, so that the picture remains in the place for which it was executed. It is one of the most vivid and life-like of all his works. The composition is the traditional one ; the fifteen steps of the ” Gospel of Mary,” the High Priest of the old dispensation welcoming the childish representative of the new. Below is a great crowd, but it is this little figure which first attracts the eye. The contrast between the mass of architecture and the free and glowing country beyond is not without meaning, and a broken Roman torso, lying neglected on the ground, symbolises the downfall of the Pagan Empire. The flight of steps, with the figure sitting below them, is an idea borrowed from Carpaccio, and perhaps taken by him from the sketch-book of Jacopo Bellini. The men on the left are portraits of members and patrons of the confraternity. Most Titianesque are the beautiful women in rich dresses at the foot of the steps. In this stately composition we see what is often noticeable in Titian’s scenes ; he brings in the bystanders after the manner of a Greek chorus. They all, with one accord, express the same sentiment. There is a certain acceptation of the obvious in Titian, a vein of simplicity flows through his nature. He has not the sensitive and subtle search after the motives of humanity which we find in Tintoretto or Lotto. He has great intellectual power, but not great imagination. It is a temper which helps to keep the unity, the monumental quality of his scenes undisturbed and adds to their effect. In the ” Ecce Homo ” Christ is shown to the populace by Pilate, who with dubious compliment is a portrait of Aretino, and the contrast of the lonely, broken-down man with the crowd which, with all its lower instincts let loose, thunders back the cry of ” Crucify Him,” is the more dramatic because of the unanimous spirit which possesses the raging multitude. Other artists would have given more incidental byplay, and drawn off our attention from the main issue.