Titian was maybe the most influential painter in history, and certainly the most versatile and productive painter of his day. Learn more about this leader of the 16th-century Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance holds many beautiful secrets which deserve a thorough contemplation. One tour company in Italy offers private thematic tours for the art lovers, and Renaissance is a favoured theme.
Your Italian guide will talk to you at length about Titian, the Renaissance painter.
Titian, the lover of the beautiful, was born at Arsenale, in the Valley of Cadore, in the heart of the Venetian Alps, in the year 1477. His father, Gregorio Vecelli, was a brave soldier, a member of the Council of Cadore, inspector of mines, superintendent of the castle, and, though probably limited in means, was universally esteemed for wisdom and uprightness. Of the mother, Lucia, little is known, save that she bore to Gregorio four children, Caterina, Francesco, Orsa, and Titian.
In this Alpine country, with its waterfalls and its rushing river, Piave, with its mountain wild flowers, its jagged rocks and nestling cottages, the boy Titian grew to be passionately fond of nature; to idolize beauty of form and face, and to revel in color. The clouds, the sky, the cliffs, the green colours, were a constant delight. In after years he put all these changing scenes upon canvas, becoming the most famous idealist as well as the "greatest landscape-painter of the Venetian school."
Titian's earliest works were a fresco of Hercules, on the front of the Morosini Palace; a Madonna, now in the Vienna Belvedere, which shows genuine feeling with careful finish; and portraits of his parents, now lost. His first important work was painted about the year 1500, when he was twenty-three, "Sacred and Profane Love" now in the Borghese Palace at Rome. It has all Titian's matchless warmth of coloring, with a correctness of design no other painter of the Venetian school ever attained. It is nature, but not individual nature; it is ideal beauty in all its perfection, and breathing life in all its truth, that we behold.
Between 1508 and 1511 Titian painted several Madonnas, one in the Belvedere at Vienna, one in Florence, one in the Louvre, and the beautiful "Madonna and St. Bridget" now in Madrid.
In 1511 Titian was called to Padua and Vicenza, where he executed some frescos, principally from the life of St. Anthony, returning to Venice in 1512.
Titian was at once declared to be the foremost painter in Venice, and was, indeed, the idol of the people. He painted the "Annunciation" for the Cathedral of Treviso, and executed several frescoes.
At this time, also, Titian painted one of his most exquisite creations, the "Sleeping Venus," now in Darmstadt, a graceful nude figure asleep on a red couch strewn with roses, her arm under her head. The face is delicate, innocent, pensive, and refined still the face of Violante, one of the most beautiful, which an artist has ever put upon canvas. There are several replicas in England and elsewhere.
Titian was now fifty-four. He had painted the "Entombment of Christ," which was a favorite with Van Dyck, and helped to form his style a picture four feet and four inches by seven feet, now in the Louvre; the Madonna of San Niccolo di Frari, now in the Vatican, which Pordenone is reported to have said was "not painting, but flesh itself"; the "Madonna di Casa Pesaro," which latter especially won the heartiest praise. These works are still among the most significant of Italian cultural heritage.
"The Martyrdom of St. Peter Martyr," completed in 1529, where Titian "reproduced the human form in its grandest development," has been studied by generations of artists, from Benvenuto Cellini and Rubens to Sir Joshua Reynolds. So valued was it by Venice that the Signoria threatened with death any one who should dare to remove it. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1867, together with the chapel which contained it.
In 1533 a most fortunate thing happened to Titian. Charles V. had come to Bologna, to receive the homage of Italy. The great emperor was an enthusiastic lover of art, had seen Titian's work, and desired a portrait from his hand. The artist hastened thither and painted Charles in armor, bare-headed. He used to say of himself that he was by nature ugly, but being painted so often uglier than he really was, he disappointed favorably many persons, who expected something most unattractive.
Another portrait of him which Titian painted, now at Madrid, shows him in splendid gala dress, with red beard, pale skin, blue eyes, and protruding lower lip.
Titian painted several portraits of himself, one now at Berlin, another at Madrid, still another in Florence, and others. They show a bold, high forehead, finely cut nose, penetrating eyes, and much dignity of bearing.
Titian was now sixty-eight years of age, growing old, out never slacking in energy or industry.
In 1546, on the return of the artist from Rome to his home, Casa Grande, in Venice, he painted the portraits of his lovely daughter Lavinia, now in the Dresden Museum, and in the Berlin gallery. Lavinia's hair is yellow, and strewed with pearls, showing a pretty wave, and irrepressible curls in stray locks on the forehead. Ear-rings, a neck- lace of pearls, glitter with gray reflections on a skin incomparably fair.
In January of 1548, Titian, now past seventy, was summoned to Augsburg, where Charles V had convened the Diet of the Empire. He painted the portrait of Charles on the field of Muhlberg in burnished armor inlaid with gold, his arms and legs in chain mail, his hands gauntleted, a morion with a red plume, but without a visor, on his head.
Titian was now seventy-nine years of age, honored and loved by many countries. While his life had been one of almost unceasing labor, he had found time to receive at Casa Grande, poets and artists, dukes and kings, at his delightful garden- parties. Henry III. of France came to see him, and received as a gift any pictures in the studio of which he asked the price.
Still the man past eighty painted on : "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence," now in the Jesuits' Church at Venice, and "Christ Crowned with Thorns," now in the Louvre, where, "with undeniable originality, he almost attained to a grandeur of composition and bold creativeness equal to those of Buonarotti, whilst he added to his creations that which was essentially his own the magic play of tints and lights and shadows which mark the true Venetian craftsman."
In 1565 he painted "The Transfiguration," in the San Salvadore at Venice, the "Annunciation" for the same church; "St. James of Compostella," in the Church of San Leo, and the "Cupid and Venus" of the Borghese Palace, the Queen of Love and two Graces teaching Cupid his vocation.
In 1566, the aged artist, now verging on ninety, heretofore exempt from taxation, Avas obliged to give a list of his property. He owned several houses, pieces of land, sawmills, and the like, and has been blamed because he did not state the full value of his possessions.
In 1576, when Titian was ninety-nine, according to tradition, he began his last picture, the "Christ of Pity," for the Franciscans of the Frari, with whom he had bargained for a grave in their chapel. The Saviour rests in death on the lap of the Virgin. Titian did not live to complete this work, which was done by his pupil, Palma Giovine, who placed conspicuously upon it this touching inscription: "That which Titian left unfinished, Palma reverently completed, and dedicated the work to God."
Images supplied by Mark Wolk.