TITIAN VECELLI, undeniably the greatest Venetian painter of the Renaissance, leaps into the full light of the movement. To be sure he appears full-grown, as Venus is said to have done when she appeared above the foam in the waters of Cythera, or Pallas Athene when she12 sprang from the brain of Zeus, but happily he was destined to live to a great age.
We have few and scanty records to tell of the very early days. So wide was his circle of patrons in after life, so intimate his acquaintance with the leading men of his generation, that it is not difficult to find out what manner of man he was without the aid of his pictures, even though they have a very definite story to tell the painstaking student.
There are well over one hundred important works, dealing with the life and art of Titian, written by enthusiasts in half-a-dozen languages, for of all the artists of the Renaissance he makes perhaps the most direct appeal to the man moyen sensuel.
PLATE II.—LA BELLA
(In the Pitti Palace, Florence)
This wonderful example of Titian's portrait painting may be seen in the Pitti Palace to-day, and was probably commissioned by the Duke of Urbino somewhere about the year 1536. It will be noticed by students of Titian that the model for this portrait appears in some of the master's pictures as Venus.
Fearless and unashamed, he gave the world pagan pictures, entering into the joy of their creation with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy who has found an orchard gate15 unlocked. To be sure the spirit of joy and of youth passed with the years, even this most fortunate of painters knew trouble, domestic and financial, but the beauty remained, expressing the fullest vigour of the Renaissance movement, the supreme achievement of human loveliness, the splendour of men and women.
Fortune was kind to Titian in many ways, and not in the least degree by driving to the sheltering fold of the Venetian Republic the great men of all lands who were hurrying to safety before the destroying advance of Spain. It is right, at the same time, to remember that the leaders of the destroying legions were the friends and patrons of the painter, that the greatest of them all desired to be buried in the shadow of the master's picture "La Gloria," now in the Prado. The time called for a supremely gifted artist to render its great men 16immortal, or at least to give them what we call immortality in the days when we forget that if modern science be correct man has existed for some 250,000 years and has not yet reached mental adolescence. Perhaps when he has developed his brain, and can control the march of this planet and the duration of his own life, he will not make half so attractive a subject for the painters as did those men and women of the fifteenth and sixteenth century whose beauty casts a spell over us to-day.
Titian was born at Pieve among the mountains of Cadore where the Tyrol and Italy meet. His statue in bronze looks out towards Venice to-day from the market-place of his native town, and the landscape that the painter knew best, and gave time out of mind to his pictures, has altered but little. He was a second son, and would seem to have been born about the year 1480, but17 there was no registrar of births, marriages, and deaths in Pieve and, while some authorities place the date at 1477, the year that he himself favoured, others advance it as far as 1482. There has been a great controversy about this birth date, but it might be safe to place it rather later still.
Titian was the son of one Gregorio Vecelli, who seems to have been a soldier and a man who held high position in the little town which, in the early days of the fifteenth century, had cast in its lot with the Venetian Republic. Nothing is known of his mother except her name, but his elder brother named Francesco followed art until he was middle aged, and there were two sisters Ursula and Katherine, of whom the former kept house for the painter for many years in Venice, after the death of his wife.
Francesco and Titian Vecelli developed18 at an early age a marked feeling for painting, and in order that they might have every chance of developing their gifts to the best advantage, Gregorio Vecelli took them to Venice, which lay some seventy miles from Pieve, and left them with a brother who had sufficient influence to secure for Titian admission to the studios of the brothers Bellini, who then shared with the Vivarini family the highest position in the art world of the Republic. Gian Bellini, then a man past middle age, had in his studio several pupils who were destined to achieve distinction. Palma Vecchio, Sebastian del Piombo, and Giorgione of Castelfranco were among them, and of these the last named was certainly the greatest. It is probable that, had he lived, even Titian Vecelli must have toiled after him in vain, for he influenced his fellow-student to an extent that is very clearly revealed in the early pictures, and19 has even led to confusion between the work of the two men, a confusion greatly increased by the fact that Titian completed some of the pictures that Giorgione left unfinished. Happily perhaps for Titian, though unfortunately for the world at large, Giorgione was destined to fall a victim to one of the plagues that ravaged Venice from time to time, and he died soon after completing his thirtieth year, leaving Titian undisputed master of Venetian painting.
Like all great men Titian was an assimilator. In his early days he started out under the influence of Bellini. Then he surrendered, as even his aged master did, to the strange, rare, and beautiful spirit of poetry and romance that Giorgione brought into art. He may have helped to develop and strengthen it, for he and Giorgione worked and lived together. Finally when20 outside influences had died down Titian found himself, and this was the greatest discovery of his life.
In the last years of Giorgione's short career he and Titian, both young men, were engaged to decorate the great Commercial House of the Germans, rebuilt upon the site of the older building that had been destroyed by fire about the beginning of the year 1505. The work would appear to have been started two years later. This united effort, purely decorative, must have been worthy of its surroundings at a time when Venice and beauty were almost synonymous terms; the greater part is lost to us to-day.
Serious troubles were upon the Republic. The League of Cambrai, one of the least scrupulous political arrangements in European history, had resulted in an attack upon the Venetian domains that had been entirely successful, though statecraft was destined to21 recover from the Philistines of Europe a part at least of what they had taken, and finding that the Republic was too beset to give much thought to art or artists Titian left Venice for Padua. This must have been very shortly after the completion of his work with Giorgione. His hand is to be seen in the very pleasant and learned city of Padua among the frescoes in the Scuola del Santo, and he may have been within its walls when the plague, on one of its periodical visits to Venice, added his friend and fellow-worker Giorgione to a heavy list of victims.
PLATE III.—THE ENTOMBMENT
(In the Louvre)
This world-famous canvas hangs in the Salon Carré of the Louvre. It is considered to be one of the masterpieces among the religious subjects painted by the great Venetian artist.
On Titian's return to the headquarters of the Republic only Palma Vecchio was left among the great men of his own age, and it would seem that Titian's rising fame had already spread beyond the borders of Venice, because in 1513, when he petitioned the Council of Ten for a broker's patent to work in the Hall of the German Merchants, he22 stated that he had been invited by the Pope (Leo X.) to come to Rome, and that he wished to leave a memorial in Venice. It is clear from the correspondence that he had an eye upon a post held by the aged Gian Bellini. This was the office of painter in the Hall of the Great Council, a coveted position for which Carpaccio, one of Bellini's less distinguished pupils, is said to have been among the claimants. Although Titian was a remarkable and rising man the Council hesitated to grant his request, partly because times were bad with the State and money was scarce. He was compelled to wait, and it would appear that his application was opposed both by the friends of Bellini and the supporters of Bellini's older pupils; but as soon as Bellini died, towards the close of 1516, Titian came to his desire and undertook to paint the great battle of Cadore in the Hall of the Great Council. Having25 secured his patent, work increased, his brush was in request in many quarters, and he did as so many other painters in the State employment of Venice had done—he left his official work for such spare time as more remunerative employment left him—to the great scandal of the Councillors whose angry protests are on record. His early portraits seem to have been of men; the women, in whose treatment he was perhaps less happy, sought him in later life, and his other early commissions were very largely for altar-pieces. Titian had powerful friends and patrons at an early age, for we see that he had been recommended to the Pope by Cardinal Bembo before he returned to Venice from Padua, and his pictures attracted the attention of that splendid patron of art Alfonso of Ferrara. This great connoisseur sent for and entertained him at his castle, and even offered to take him to Rome when Leo X.26 died, and his successor, after the fashion of Popes, would be likely to give some liberal commissions to the greatest artists of his time. In return for these kindnesses, and in consideration of a splendid fee, Titian painted the great picture of Alfonso of Ferrara of which a copy is to be seen in Florence. The original went to Madrid and has been lost. For the same generous master he painted his "Bacchus and Ariadne," his "Venus with the Shell," and a Bacchanal, and it is generally agreed that he painted a part at least of the picture called "The Bacchanal," now in the possession of the Duke of Northumberland.
Several of the works painted in Ferrara were taken in later days to Madrid, and it might be said in this place that it is almost as necessary to go to the Prado to see the Titians as it is to see the great works of Velazquez. "The Bacchanal" is there, and27 the "Worship of Venus" is there, and we find many others of the first importance, some two dozen, perhaps, whose authority is beyond dispute. This collection in the Prado is the more valuable because it represents Titian not only in the early days, but when he was at the zenith of his powers. The pictures range in date over a period of nearly seventy years, from the "Madonna with St. Bridget and St. Ulphus" (circa 1505) down to the "Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto," which was sent to Spain in 1575, a commission from Philip II. whose love for allegorical pictures is well known. Charles V. and his son Philip II. are to be seen in the Prado through the medium of Titian's brush, and, although many of the works have suffered from restoration, which is one of the vices associated with the great Spanish picture galleries, there are several that show few signs of an alien brush and28 are, for pictures by Titian, in first-class order.
Students of the Renaissance know that art was accepted by all the great rulers of Europe as something lying outside the boundaries of ambition and strife. It was one of the rewards of a great conqueror that he could have his portrait painted by the first painter of his day, and patriotism was kept outside the studio, to the great benefit of art and rulers alike. Venice offended Spain in many ways, and even offended the Church by laying a restraining hand upon the Holy Inquisition, but Popes and Spanish kings were proud, nevertheless, to be numbered among the patrons of the greatest artist of their time, they seemed to know that his brush would do more than immortalise their progress—that it would outlive it. The attention that Titian received from the Court of Ferrara did much to develop the esteem29 in which Venice held him, and Titian was requested to paint his famous "Assumption" for the great Church of Santa Maria de' Frari. To-day no more than a copy hangs in the church, the picture having been long ago transferred to the Accademia. It is very properly regarded by the authorities as one of the first very great pictures of Titian's life, marking as it does the entrance of living interests into sacred painting. The bustle and movement that earlier masters had not ventured to present are seen here to the greatest advantage, and although there must have been many to declare that its conception was wicked and irreligious and quite outside the thought of such acknowledged masters as Beato Angelico and Gian Bellini, it is likely that such criticism would have very little effect upon Titian, because he went on painting altar-pieces without reverting in any30 instance to the methods of his predecessors.
He painted a "Madonna" for the Church of St Nicholas, an "Assumption" for Verona's Cathedral, an "Entombment of Christ," now in Paris, and it could have surprised nobody when the Doge Andrea Gritti commissioned the artist to decorate the Church of St. Nicholas in the Ducal Palace. These frescoes have disappeared, but a picture by Titian preserves the patron for us, and this is something to be grateful for, because the head is full of interest. Titian continued to paint ecclesiastical subjects until pressure from the world beyond forced him to turn his brush to other purposes, and then he came under the patronage of Frederic Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, son of that Isabella d'Este, who had commissioned Titian's old master, Gian Bellini, to paint a secular picture for her camerino31 and was in the next few years to have her own portrait painted by Bellini's young pupil. In addition to an original picture he copied a portrait painted when she was young, and doubtless he was sufficiently a courtier to paint it in fashion that merited her approval and consoled her for having grown old.
The instinct for the fine arts had descended to Isabella's son, and when Titian went to work in Mantua he painted pictures that extended his European fame, because as the western world was situated in those days Mantua had a word to say in its affairs, entertaining foreign potentates and receiving foreign ambassadors. In those days, too, ambassadors took note of art movements, knowing that in so doing they were bound to please their masters; the political correspondence of the times includes a very considerable amount of art gossip. It is certain that Titian worked in Mantua for the Duke,32 and painted many pictures including the "Eleven Cæsars," but unhappily the greater part of all his labour is lost. Perhaps some canvases await the discerning critic in half-forgotten gallery or lumber-rooms; it is not likely that all have been destroyed.
PLATE IV.—THE HOLY FAMILY
(In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence)
Sometimes known as the Virgin with the Holy Child and Saints. Here we find Titian dealing with a religious subject with the restraint, dignity, and sense of beauty that proclaim him a master among painters. The motherly love of the Virgin, the solicitude of St. Joseph on the right, and the childish innocence of the two children are most effectively expressed and contrasted. The picture may be seen in the Uffizi Gallery.
The next great Italian house with which Titian seems to have entered into relations was that of Urbino whose Duke was nephew of that Pope Julius II. who was known to his contemporaries as "the Terrible Pontiff" because of his uncontrollable temper. He was the Pope who gave Michelangelo the commission to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. This artist was at least as bad-tempered as the Terrible Pontiff and the "I'm not a painter" with which he greeted the Pontiff's demand that he should paint when he preferred to practise sculpture has echoed down the ages. It is worth remembering that when the work was done,35 and Pope Julius came to see the result, he suggested that the scaffolding should be re-erected and the work decorated afresh with ultramarine and gold-leaf! Although Pope Julius bought the "Apollo" and the "Laocoon," Michelangelo was his adviser, but his nephew Francesco Maria della Rovere had sound instinct, and his connection with Titian lasted as long as he lived.
In the early years of this connection Titian painted the Duke and Duchess and the famous "Bella," which is reproduced in these pages and is reckoned, in spite of repainting, to be one of the most notable works from Titian's hand in this period of his career. Many portraits painted for the Court of Urbino are mentioned by Vasari; we cannot find any traces of them to-day. As one of them was of the Turkish Sultan, and it is not on record that Titian ever went to Turkey, it is reasonable to suppose that some at least of these36 pictures were copies of portraits that other men had painted. It was the custom for foreign potentates to have their portrait painted by the best man in their own capital and then to send the portrait to be copied by some artist of world-wide repute.
In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence there are portraits of the Duke of Urbino (which are signed) and his Duchess; they were kept at Urbino until the early part of the seventeenth century, and were then brought to their present resting-place. The picture of the Duke is a very striking one. He had made a great reputation in fighting against the Turks, and the emblems of his high office are seen in the picture. The Duchess is painted in repose; like so many of Titian's portraits of women this one has a rather listless expression. When the Duke died his son Guidobaldo continued relations with the painter, who painted the Duchess Julia37 just before her death. It seems likely that she never saw the picture, which is now in the Pitti at Florence. The portrait of the husband is lost.
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