Titian D


28 November 2014

 

Such an attitude toward religious subjects was safe enough, for the Inquisition was not allowed to operate within the territory of the Venetian Republic. If there was any censoring of morals to be done, the doges intended to do it themselves, and they were powerful enough to defy the anger of the Holy See. And so the gay life continued and the artists reaped a rich harvest. Every young man who made the Grand Tour (that year of international travel which was a sort of social Ph.D. for all fashionable youngsters) returned from the city on the Adriatic with one or two pleasant products of the Venetian school. Indeed, the trade grew so brisk that even today there are probably more phony Venetian masters afloat in our museums than any others except products of the modern French school.

There you have the background against which Titian lived his long and busy life. He started in the usual fashion, serving first of all as an apprentice in the workshop of a mosaic worker and then going to two of the Bellini in succession (first to Gentile and next to Giovanni, the sons of Jacopo) to learn the painting business. Having got as much as he wanted from them, he entered into a partnership with Giorgione, who was his contemporary but who died while still quite young. Together they did a series of frescos for the warehouses of the German merchants living in Venice. After the Bellini were gone, Titian also finished the paintings which his former teacher had begun in the ducal palace.

 

paintings titian



That was the beginning of a career which in that day and age was quite a novelty. For Titian was the first among the great artists who was able to be entirely independent of a regular patron. He had of course a number of customers forwhom at one time or anothe he did certain pieces of work. But he was never obliged to hire himself out for years at a time to some pope or prince and to act as their official “court painter”. This was a most flattering title but in reality such a court painter was not really very far removed from the court cook or the court fool or the court musician. Titian, on the other hand, had his own workshop and there his clients , high or low, could come to look at his pictures and buy whatever they could afford. He was still enough a man of his time to feel a little self-conscious about his independent position, and when King Henry III of France visited him, he felt so deeply honored by the royal presence under his humble roof that he presented His Majesty with all the pictures of which he had deigned to ask the price and begged that the King would accept them as a present.

That, however, was just a little flareback to the days of his youth. The rest of his life he spent painting whatever and whomever he liked, following his own counsel in all he did, whether it pleased his clients or not - an independence few artists of that day could allow themselves.

As for the choice of his subjects, they covered every phase of life, both in this world and in the next. All of them, however, gave evidence of that same intense love of life which made these men of the Renaissance so different from their predecessors of the Gothic period. For good measure Titian finallyy added something that was entirely new. I would like to call it the psychological element. His faces may have been good likenesses or bad ones. That is something we never can tell about pictures made several hundred years ago. But the faces of Titian’s patrons are apt to reveal certain hidden traits so accurately that we would know the true character of these historical personages if we had nothing else to guide us in our judgment—no contemporary documents and no memoirs and no state papers.

 

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Take his portrait of Pope Paul III and his two grandsons. They clearly show the tragedy of that old man, who had such terrific ambitions for everything that could add to the outward glory of the Holy See and who realized that he had not many more years to live and that his worthless grandsons would then destroy everything he himself had so carefully built up. Or take his picture of the Emperor Charles V on horseback. It shows the mightiest ruler of his time as the loneliest man among all his millions of subjects. And the portrait of Aretino is exactly what we would expect of a blackguard of that sort.

In short, Titian was not only a very great artist, but also a gentleman who by his own life added immensely to the respect in which the arts came to be held, once the artist had regained the right to his own identity. I may be entirely mistaken and perhaps the title really belongs to someone else, but I have always felt inclined to call Titian the Franz Liszt of the painting profession—with the exception that the Venetian knew infinitely better how to handle his women. And I am not merely referring to the women whom he made immortal by allowing them to appear in his pictures.

It is curious how often we have forgotten everything about a famous man except some insignificant detail which to himself was not of any particular importance. Everybody, for example, knows about Titian red in connection with that strange reddish glow of the hair of so many of the women who sat for him. That particular red, however, had nothing to do with Titian, who merely copied what he saw. It was a red that was prescribed by fashion.

As Venice was the great center of pleasure and luxury of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, it was of course able to impose its own fashions upon the rest of the world. Now the Venetians seem to have had a decided liking for red-haired women, just as we, some twenty years ago, used to prefer blondes and went so far as to invent the platinum blonde. By what strange lotion of a contemporary beauty specialist they achieved this effect, we do not know. The formula has been lost. But the sun had apparently something to do with it, for the truly elegant ladies of that day used to spend hours and hours sitting patiently in the sun, their long tresses carefully draped across an enormous straw hat with a hole in the top of it which allowed the hair to bleach while the ladies themselves were carefully protected against sunburn. For there must be no tanned faces. Tanned faces were not considered nice for ladies of fashion. A creamy complexion was supposed to go best of all with this reddish sort of hair, and so they all had creamy complexions or bribed the maestro to give them creamy complexions. Today they would spend an extra thousand dollars to be shown as if they had just spent a month basking in the sun of a West Indian Island.
 



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Titian  D
28 November 2014
Titian D
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