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( Originally Published Mid-1900's )
The very word 'Venice' on a printed page evokes a vision of colour, of blue sea and bluer sky, the play of sunshine on marble, and the gold of mosaics. It was, therefore, no accident that the Venetian painters were distinguished above all else for their mastery of colour. "The Venetians as a school," writes Mr Bernhard Berenson,were from the first endowed with exquisite tact in their use of colour. Seldom cold and rarely too warm, their colouring never seems an afterthought, as in many of the Florentine painters, nor is it always suggesting paint, as in some of the Veronese masters.When the eye has grown accustomed to make allowance for the darkening caused by time, for the dirt that lies in layers on so many pictures, and for unsuccessful attempts at restoration, the better Venetian paintings present such harmony of intention and execution as distinguishes the highest achievements of genuine poets.Their mastery over colour is the first thing that attracts most people to the painters of Venice.Their colouring not only gives direct pleasure to the eye, but acts like music upon the moods, stimulating thought and memory in much the same way as a work by a great composer.'
Venice contributed little of her own to the Byzantine tradition, and had to wait until the fifteenth century for the rise of a school of distinctive Venetian art.
In 1410 Gentile da Fabriano of Umbria and Vittore Pisano, commonly called Pisanello of Verona, were summoned to Venice to assist in the decoration of the Ducal Palace.
Gentile is represented in the British National Gallery by the beautiful Virgin and Child with Angels, and in the Uffizi Gallery by the popular picture of the Adoration of the Magi; and Pisanello by the charming Vision of St Eustace in the National Gallery.Pisanello had no influence on Venice, but Gentile's work met with great approval, and there gathered round him a company of young men with artistic leanings. Of these the most distinguished was Jacopo Bellini, who probably acted as assistant to Gentile, and who certainly accompanied him to Florence. Jacopo's affection and respect for his master are shown by the fact that he named his first son after Gentile, and refers to Gentile as his teacher in the inscription below one of his most important works.
Few works of Jacopo Bellini survive, and of those few the Madonna in the Uffizi Gallery is, perhaps, the best. Venice was a hundred years behind Florence in the development of painting. It was as if her people were content with the hues of the precious stones and ceramics imported from the East and with the brilliant colour of her splendid pageants. The hard-headed merchants who controlled her destiny spent money freely on pageantry, but were very thrifty in their outlay on paintings.
Padua had employed Giotto a century before Gentile and Pisanello were summoned to the Ducal Palace.
Jacopo Bellini was Court painter for many years at Ferrara before he settled down in Padua, where he founded an art studio, gathered pupils round him, and consequently provoked the jealousy of Squarcione, a very mediocre painter, but an art teacher of considerable reputation whose most famous pupil was Mantegna.
Squarcione's influence, though great, was not altogether salutary. He collected classical antiques with more enthusiasm than taste, and firmly believed that the study of ancient sculpture should be regarded as an essential part of an artist's education.Mantegna never emancipated himself from the sculpturesque style of painting fostered under Squarcione's influence, the effect of which can be traced in his Agony in the Garden in the National Gallery. This painting is altogether too sculpturesque. The recumbent figures in the foreground suggest statues which have accidentally been overturned.The outlines of the human figures are as sharply defined as the outlines of the mountains in the background.
Every medium of artistic expression, be it stone or paint, has its own limitations and its own conventions, and it is a thousand pities to imitate in one medium the conventions of another.
Mantegna was not a Venetian, for he was born in Vicenza in 1431-he died in 1506-but he belongs to the story of Venetian art on account of his great influence on his brother-in-law Gentile Bellini. Mantegna, to Squarcione's great annoyance, left Squarcione and joined Jacopo Bellini's studio, a change of patronage which was largely due to the fact that he had fallen in love with Jacopo's daughter, Nicolasia, whom he ultimately married, and thus entered a family which was united by ties of more than usual affection. Mantegna himself was of rather a quarrelsome disposition, but no quarrels ever clouded the affectionate intimacy between him and the brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini.
Gentile Bellini (1426?-1507) is represented in the Accademia delle Belle Arti 1 by two magnificent paintings.
Before attempting to describe these pictures a few words must be said about the scuola, which played such an important part in Venetian life.
A Venetian scuola was not a school in our sense of the word.It was a club or guild with many of the features of a mutual benefit organization.The basis of membership might be occupational, and in such cases the scuola performed many of the functions of the medieval guild; or, again, the qualification for membership might be racial, as with the Scuola San iorgio-degli-Schiavoni, for which Carpaccio painted the St George series.This scuola was founded for the benefit of Dalmatian sailors during their visits to Venice. Or, again, the scuola might be a charitable institution, such as the Scuola di Santa Ursula, founded to provide for orphan children, for which Carpaccio painted the St Ursula series.
The qualifications for membership might vary, but in one important point-namely, the importance which they attached to religion there was no differenee between one scuola and another.Every scuola had its own chapel, its own patron saint, and its own burial-ground. The scuola proved to be of great importance in the development of art, owing to the fact that they employed artists to decorate the walls of their chapels and halls, usually with scenes from the life of their patron saint.
The richer the scuola, the more palatial their apartments, and consequently the larger the paintings which Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini, and others were commissioned to paint.
Gentile's great picture in the Accademia, The Miracle in St Mark's Square, was painted for the Scuola di San Giovanni, a wealthy fraternity which possessed a fragment of the true cross. From time to time this sacred relic was carried in solemn proces sion through St Mark's Square. On one such occasion a father who had just learnt that his son had been seriously injured threw himself in front of the jewelled reliquary containing the fragment of the true cross, and implored its aid.At this precise moment, as he learnt later, his son was healed. This miracle is the subject of Bellini's great painting.
The painting is of the greatest historical interest, for it represents St Mark's before the old Byzantine mosaics had been replaced by the wretched sixteenthcentury substitutes. The buildings adjoining the Campanile, shown on the right of the painting, have since been replaced by the Procuratie Nuove, which is completely separated from the Campanile.
In his preoccupation with detail Bellini made no attempt to emphasize the central theme of his painting. The kneeling figure of the father, on whom should be focused the emotional significance of the picture, is quite insignificant, and can only be distinguished with difficulty from a crowd of other individuals. He is painted with no more and no less care than any other individual in the Square of St Mark's, from the members of the fraternity itselfevery face is probably an individual portrait to the dandy strutting in the middle distance and the beggar lounging in the porch of St Mark's. Bellini is not uninterested in the miracle, the nominal theme of his painting, but he has not yet learnt to omit the nonessential and to subordinate the irrelevant to the central theme. It is precisely to these defects that his painting owes its value as a contemporary document.
Titian would have given us a far more dramatic rendering of his theme, but a far less interesting picture.
A limited space, a hint of Saint Mark's in the background and an arch or two of the neighbouring arcade, enough to tell us where we are but subdued enough to be forgotten ; then half a dozen figures variously cognizant of the kneeling father whose agony of suppli cation would dominate the theme ;finally a few bystanders and a hint of the moving procession, revealing little but suggesting much. Oh, Titian would have painted the miracle, and no surroundings however interesting and no personages however important would have been allowed to divert our attention.
Yet another great panoramic picture by Bellini hangs in the same room at the Accademia, and represents another miracle. In this painting we see the canal of San Lorenzo and the sacred procession which has, however, been arrested by an unfortunate accident. The bearer of the sacred reliquary had been jostled in crossing the bridge, and had dropped his treasure into the canal. Several of the bystanders leapt into the water, but the reliquary eluded their attention, waited patiently till the official keeper dived in, and then floated gently toward him. Into this painting Mr Berenson tells us that Bellini.
introduces gondoliers, taking care to bring out all the beauty of their lithe, comely figures as they stand to ply the oar, and does not reject even such an episode as a serving maid standing in a doorway watching a negro who is about to plunge into the canal. He treats this bit of the picture with all the charm and much of that delicate feeling for simple effects of light and colour that we find in such Dutch painters as Vermeer van Delft and Peter de Hoogh.
Bellini spent a year in Constantinople.The Sultan had asked the Doge to send him a skilled portraitpainter, and Gentile was selected for this mission. The portrait of Mohammed II which he painted hangs in our National Gallery.
Bellini died in 1507 at the ripe age of eighty-one.
Giovanni Bellini (1428 -1516) was almost certainly younger than his brother Gentile, but the exact date of his birth is unknown.
He was educated in the Paduan School, the influence of which can be traced in the sculpturesque character of some of his earlier works.His Pieta, at Milan, for instance, might almost have been painted by his brother-in-law, Mantegna. The figure of St John is completely sculpturesque, and the landscape in the background is cold and formal.
We can trace the beginnings of the emancipation of Giovanni in his Agony in the Garden, which hangs in the National Gallery. Fortunately Mantegna's treatment of the same theme can be examined in an adjoin ing room. This latter picture, as I have already tried to show, represents the high water mark of the sculpturesque tradition.
Now turn to Bellini's picture.The recumbent figure still suggests sculpture, and the robe might have been cut out of metal, but there the resemblance to Mantegna ceases. The landscape is no longer hard and formal and Mantegnaesque. The tone and colour of the hills, the recession of the plain, and the eastern sky radiant in the dawn are handled with an unerring sense for atmosphere.The whole landscape is charged with poetry.We are witnessing the birth of a new move ment.Bellini is conscious of that sympathy between man and nature which was only just beginning to find expression in art, for until then landscape had not been regarded as in itself a theme for art. It was only tolerated as an accessory, as a background for scriptural subjects. Giovanni's Pieta in the Doges Palace marks yet another advance in landscape art. The landscape is no mere background for the sacred figures, but has been treated with no less loving care than they.
Giovanni was perhaps the first painter to paint mountains not as shapeless, awe-inspiring lumps of rock, but as things of beauty. The mountain background to his St Ferome in the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo is the first great mountainscape in Italian art.
Bellini began as a painter in tempera.The medium used in tempera-painting is the yolk of egg diluted in water. Tempera has its own technique and its own limitations.The colour dries almost immediately, and consequently it is impossible to modify a design once you have embarked upon it. "It is thus difficult," as Sir Charles J. Holmes points out,
to obtain fusion and modelling by blending one touch with its predecessor; the touches can only be laid side by side or superimposed...The peculiar qualities of tempera are the pearly translucency of its tints and the general luminosity of its tone. It is therefore able to render pale shades of blue and gray and lilac, which in oil-paintings would become chalky; a faculty to which the skies and distances of the early masters owe their tranquil charm.'
Giovanni soon realized the possibilities of oil-painting, which had been popularized in Italy by Antonio da Messina, but he never completely abandoned tempera. Artists who have despaired of reproducing the splendour and translucency of Bellini's colour have talked sadly of the Venetian secret,' which was to some extent an open secret, for Bellini did his best to communicate it to his followers. There was, however, something which Bellini could not pass on. His rare tact in the handling of colour was the distinguishing mark not of the School, but of individual genius.
Bellini's fame as a colourist rests partly on the innovations which he introduced into the treatment of landscape, but perhaps mainly on his Madonnas.He is, above all things, a great religious painter."Titian colours better," writes Ruskin,but has not his piety. Leonardo draws better, but has not his colour. Angelico is more heavenly, but has not his manliness, far less his powers of art.John Bellini is the only artist who appears to me to have united, in equal and magnificent measures, justness of drawing, nobleness of colouring, and perfect manliness of treatment with the pure, religious feeling.'
In all the realm of art there are no Madonnas to compare with Bellini's, and, in particular, with the noble series of his Madonnas at Venice: the Frari Madonna, the Madonna of San Zaccaria, and the Madonna of the Trees, in the Accademia.
Of these the most beautiful, and certainly the most spiritual, is the Madonna of the Trees, which takes its name from one of the loveliest landscape backgrounds in all Bellini's works. Critics have pointed out defects in drawing, notably in the hands, and the colouring has suffered woefully from ignorant restoration, but criticism is silent when confronted with the product of authentic inspiration.It is not only that this Madonna is beautiful, other Madonnas are no less beautiful, but the Madonna of the Trees is more than beautiful.Here, if ever in all the realm of art, the spirit of the Magnificat finds perfect expression. The picture is beyond all praise, perhaps because Bellini was not concerned to merit praise, but only to express the reverence which he felt for the Mother of God. And I am sure that the young girl whom he chose to sit for the Madonna was selected not only for her beauty and her dignity of mien, but for other qualities which fitted her for this high honour. You will meet her again at the Frari: one would like to know more about her. Painters had not yet begun to use their mistresses as models for the Madonna. "In old times," as Ruskin says,
men used their powers of painting to show the objects of faith ; in later times they used the objects of faith that they might show their powers of painting. The distinction is enormous ; the difference incalculable as irreconcilable.
Albrecht Durer, who visited Venice in 1506, paid a great tribute to Bellini as a man, no less than to Bellini as a painter: "He is very old, but still far the best in painting," and he added that whereas the painters of Venice were hostile to, and envious of, distinguished painters who visited them from abroad, and were divided among themselves by petty jealousies, Giovanni Bellini was entirely immune from these weaknesses. He towered, so Durer tells us, above contemporary artists by the nobility of his mind no less than by the greatness of his art. "Giovanni Bellini praised me," writes Durer, "to many of the nobility, and the people all tell me what an upright man he is, so that I too feel greatly attached to him." Bellini retained his faculties unimpaired to the end, and on one of his pictures, painted in his eighty-fifth year, you will find these proud words, Foannes Bellinus invictus fecit.
Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1522), one of the most popular painters of the Venetian School, is represented in the Accademia by a fine collection of his best works.The Miracle (I494) is valuable not only because it provides interesting information about the costumes and architecture of the period, but also for its representation of the old Rialto bridge, which was built of wood and was so constructed that a part of the bridge could be drawn up to allow ships with tall masts to pass. In the same room at the Accademia is the famous altar-piece by Carpaccio, famous because of the numerous reproductions of the charming little angel playing a mandolin at the foot of the picture.
The St Ursula series in the Accademia was painted between 1490 and 1495 for the Scuola di Sant' Ursula, an institution devoted to the care of orphan girls. The story of St Ursula, painted by Carpaccio in a series of nine pictures, which covered the walls in a room which was used as a chapel, has been reproduced in the Accademia. St Ursula, according to the legend, was the daughter-in-law of the King of Brittany, and her hand was sought in marriage by the King of England for his son and heir.The first picture represents the ambassadors from England arriving to present their request.Carpaccio, who had a great affection for dogs, seldom painted a picture without one, and in this picture there are three hounds on the quay. In the next picture we see the King and Ursula considering their reply. Ursula had intended to embrace a religious life and to avoid matrimony.She decided, however, to accept the King of England's offer if he would become a Christian and if he would provide her with an escort of 11,000 virgins for the pilgrimage which she contemplated making to Rome. In the third picture the ambassadors depart, bearing with them Ursula's reply.In the fourth picture the ambassadors return to England and make their report to the King,and in this picture Carpaccio's passion for pageantry finds full expression. Note the frescoes on the houses and the charming detail of the small boy fiddling on the left.
The fourth picture is divided into two portions by the flagstaff. On the left we see the English Prince leaving an English seaport in order to join Ursula's pilgrimage to Rome. On the right the Prince meets Ursula, and on the extreme right Ursula and the Prince kneel before the King.
The fifth picture represents the Pope blessing Ursula and the Prince on their arrival in Rome, with the Castle of St Angelo in the background.
The sixth picture is a charming interior. It represents the Vision of St Ursula. St Ursula and the angel are subordinated to Carpaccio's preoccupation with genre painting.He is far less interested in the human figures than in the scrupulous rendering of every article of furniture and interior decoration. Note the care which is lavished on the plants which adorn the window and the inevitable dog seated beside the bed.Ursula's vision would have depressed anybody less zealous for martyrdom, for she learnt in a dream that a violent death was awaiting her at Cologne.
The next picture is a representation of the arrival of the Pope and other ecclesiastics, who have decided to return with Ursula and to share her martyrdom at Cologne.The eighth picture represents the massacre of the 1 1,000 virgins by the brutal Huns. Julian, Prince of the Huns, offers to spare Ursula's life in return for her hand, but the offer is rejected with disdain, and we observe Julian in the act of aiming an arrow at Ursula's breast. The traditional date of these incidents is A.D. 238.
Finally we see the Glorification of St Ursula, a poor picture.
To my mind the most attractive of Carpaccio's pictures is to be found not in the Accademia, but in San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the little early Renaissance building founded as a seamen's institute by Dalmatian merchants for the benefit of Dalmatian or Slavonian seamen. Fifty years after the foundation in 1451 the institute was rebuilt, and Carpaccio was asked to decorate it. To his paintings in this building Ruskin devotes an interesting chapter in St Mark's Rest.
On the left wall as we enter the church are three paintings representing the story of St George. In the first we see St George confronting the dragon, a gay and interesting picture full of life and colour.Carpaccio had a great sense for design, and it is no accident that the line of the spear echoes the parallel line of the wooded crest behind it. St George wounded the dragon, but did not kill it outright, and, having tied the maiden's girdle round its neck, he led " the meek beast and debonair" to the city. The inhabitants were much alarmed, but St George promised to kill the dragon if they would agree to being baptized.
The next picture shows a pitifully small and depressed dragon about to be executed and St George taking careful and accurate aim. We then see St George busily engaged in baptizing the population. The dog in the foreground is the most comic hound ever painted; his expression of obvious disgust, as he averts his face from a ceremony of which he cordially disapproves, is inimitable.
On the right-hand wall are pictures depicting scenes in the life of St Jerome.On one occasion when St Jerome was discoursing with his brethren a lion hobbled painfully into the monastery. The monks fled in terror, but St Jerome approached the poor beast, and, discovering that his foot was sore, commanded the monks to return and minister to the lion. From that day the lion remained firmly attached to St Jerome. In the next picture we see the lion in St Jerome's cell.
Carpaccio has extracted the last drop of humour from the contrast between the poor, puzzled, plaintive man-eater and the panic stricken monks. Even in the distant background we see monks streaming in terror up a flight of stairs. There is a touch of conscious humour in the clever use which Carpaccio makes of the monks' billowing robes as an element in the design. Note the way in which the line of the stag's antlers in the middle distance is prolonged into the flying robes of the fugitive monks.
The paintings of St Jerome in his cell and the Death of St Ferome are in a more serious vein, and accordingly suffer from their juxtaposition with the broadly comic effect of the lion routing the holy men. Carpaccio's sense of mischievous humour got the better of him, as Mr Lucas has pointed out, even when he was depicting the death of the saint look at the pince-nez of the monk on the right reading the service.
What position should be assigned to Carpaccio in the hierarchy of great artists? Ruskin would place him among the greatest. In the royal palace at Venice, part of which is now an historical museum, you will find a painting of two courtesans which, so Ruskin tells us, unites, in a more intense degree than any other painting,
every nameable quality of painter's art... all that is faithfullest in Holland, fancifullest in Venice, severest in Florence, naturalest in England. Whatever de Hooghe could do in shade, Van Eyck in detail Giorgione in mass Titian in colour Bewick and Landseer in animal life, is here at once ; and I know no other picture in the world which can be compared with it.
I remember reading this song of praise outside Florian's and promptly making a bee-line for this little known masterpiece. I was sadly disappointed. Indeed, I have seldom seen a painting which interested me less.
I am equally at a loss to understand Ruskin's theory that Carpaccio is a great religious painter.
This, then, is the truth which Carpaccio knows and would teach : that the world is divided into two groups of men ; the first those whose God is their God and whose glory is their glory, who mind heavenly things ; and the second, men whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.
I can find no trace of this inspiring message in Carpaccio's work. Indeed, he seems weakest when he concentrates on a purely religious theme, and at his best when his irrepressible sense of fun is allowed full play. He never painted a drearier picture than the Apotheosis of St Ursula, a subject from which his sense of humour was definitely excluded.
Carpaccio had a keen eye for pageantry, but little dramatic faculty. He failed, for instance, in the picture representing the massacre of St Ursula. In this, "The commander of the Huns," writes Dr Powers, is a sentimental and lackadaisical creature whose followers display the savagery of a girls' archery club. The martyrs pose for the shooting as we now pose for the kodak.
To the antiquarian Carpaccio's paintings are invaluable as pictures of contemporary Venetian life, both domestic and out of doors. As historical documents no paintings of the Venetian school can rival Carpaccio's in importance.
Even apart from this value of his work Carpaccio is important for many reasons. He may not attain the highest rank as a painter, but he was certainly one of the greatest of colourists and the first great painter of genre. He might have achieved greater success had he been courageous enough to follow his tastes and to paint genre frankly and unashamedly for its own sake. Giorgione, as we shall see, was the first to do what Carpaccio would have done but for the restraints of tradition. And Carpaccio, at least, blazed the trail for Giorgione.
Carpaccio, one suspects, took a subtle if unconscious revenge on the holy personages whose careers he was commissioned to paint. He does his best, but the saints are subtly disparaged in the interests of the incidental accessories. It is not St Ursula, but her charming bedroom, which has made The Vision of St Ursula one of the world's most popular pictures.
Giorgione (1477-I5IO) was born in Castelfranco, a small town under the shadow of the little foothills where the Venetian plain meets the Alps.
Giorgione was a pupil of Giovanni Bellini, whose influence can be traced in Giorgione's most famous picture the Madonna of Castelfranco. Of Bellini's Madonna of San Zaccaria and Giorgione's Madonna of Castelfranco Dr Powers writes: "There are no two Madonnas in the world from the hands of different artists which are spiritually so near akin."
Giorgione was only thirty-three when he died.He was a victim of the plague which some fifty years later was to carry off Titian. Most of Giorgione's works have perished, and, indeed, of the many works attributed to him there are only three the attribution of which no critic disputes, and less than twenty which are credited by a majority of critics to Giorgione. Of the undisputed Giorgiones there is only one at Venice, the magnificent painting The Tempest in the Palazzo Giovanelli. This palace, which is situated in the Rio di Noale, is open to the public.
Giorgione was born at a period when art was just beginning to emancipate itself from the exclusive service of religion and the State. "So landscape," as Mr Berenson observes, had to slide in under the patronage of St Jerome ; while romantic biblical episodes, like the Finding of Moses, or the Fudgement of Solomon, gave an excuse for genre, and the portrait crept in half hidden under the mantle of a patron saint.'
Giorgione was one of the first to choose his subjects for no other reason than their personal appeal to his tastePater describes Giorgione as " the inventor of genre."That title must be claimed for Carpaccio, but whereas Carpaccio tried to conceal his love for genre, and pretended to be supremely interested in the representation of sacred legend, Giorgione painted genre frankly and joyously for its own sake.
He is the inventor of genre, of those easily movable pictures which serve neither for uses of devotion, nor of allegorical or historic teaching little groups of real men and women, amid congruous furniture or landscape morsels of actual life, conversation or music or play, but refined upon or idealized, till they come to seem like glimpses of life from afar. Those spaces of more cunningly blent colour, obediently filling their places, hitherto, in a mere architectural scheme, Giorgione detaches from the wall. He frames them by the hands of some skilful carver, so that people may move them readily and take with them where they go, as one might a poem in manuscript, or a musical instrument, to be used, at will, as a means of self education, stimulus or solace, coming like an animated presence, into one's cabinet, to enrich the air as with some choice aroma, and, like persons, live with us, for a day or a lifetime.
Giorgione was above all things a poet, "the first lyrical painter," as Mr Lucas describes him,the first to make a canvas represent a single mood, much as a sonnet does. He was the first to combine colour and pattern to no other end but sheer beauty. The picture had a subject, of course, but the subject no longer mattered.
Giorgione was supremely interested in landscape. Indeed, he often strained his theme in order to introduce landscape, as in the case of the Castelfranco Madonna. In the great painting at Venice the figures of the soldier and gipsy are subordinated so that they are parts of the landscape, "instead of the landscape being a stage for them." Giorgione's landscapes, as Dr Powers points out, reveal a clear appreciation of that feeling for mass contrasted with its component details which characterizes the work of modern landscape painters.
Foliage is made up of leaves, but you cannot paint foliage by painting leaves... The reason is that we do not see foliage as leaves. We see it as foliage ; that is, as a mass in which the parts, even if distinguishable, are not in fact distinguished.
Giorgione's importance must be measured less by the few great works which are indisputably his than by his profound influence on the development of painting in general and on the development of Titian's painting in particular. Titian and Giorgione were contemporaries and fellow-pupils, and the measure of Giorgione's influence may be seen in the fact that many of his paintings are attributed by some critics to Giorgione and by others to Titian. Titian in certain phases is more Giorgionesque than Giorgione. It is, for instance, impossible to decide whether the magnificent painting of The Concert in the Pitti Gallery at Florence is from the hand of Giorgione or that of the great master who outlived him by over fifty years.
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) informed the Emperor in 1571 that he was ninety-five. It is generally assumed that he meant that he was in his ninety-fifth year, and if this was so he must have been born in 1477. A later date has been suggested by some critics, but there ,does not appear to be any adequate reason why we should set aside Titian's own statement on this point, and if that statement was true Titian was no less than ninety-nine when he died in 1576.
He was born at Pieve di Cadore, a little village in the Dolomites.Titian never forgot the noble moun tains among which his early youth was spent. It is, I think, a fair assumption that a painter who records mountain scenery with accuracy and with care does not look upon the mountains with horror and disgust. One has only to contrast the shapeless lumps with which so many painters represented the peaks which oppressed and alarmed them on their rare passages across the Alpine passes with the subtle and accurate background of Titian's work to feel convinced that Titian must be numbered among those who, even in those early days, lifted up their eyes to the hills and found help.
Titian passed from Gentile to Giovanni Bellini, and was, as we have seen, a fellow pupil of Giorgione. His first work as a State artist was to complete certain unfinished works by Giovanni Bellini.Success came easy to Titian.His life, one of the longest lives in the history of art, was one long series of triumphs. Emperors, kings, and princes vied to secure his services. Charles V made him a count and ennobled his progeny. The Venetians showed no lack of appreciation for a painter uniquely gifted to express their civic pride and love of pageantry. Sir Charles J. Holmes writes:
Titian invented the craft of oil painting, and he used it with more variety and subtlety than any other has done since. He was one of the few supreme portrait painters and the first master of landscape in the grand style.
Titian's Assumption, in the Frari, described elsewhere in this book, is considered by most judges to be his greatest painting in Venice, but my own favourite is the charming Presentation of the Virgin, in the Accademia, which is now in the place for which it was originally intended. This picture should be compared with Tintoretto's variant of. the same theme, if only to enable one to realize how much Titian's picture gains by the beautiful background, the mountain scenery of his beloved Cadore.
We possess in our own National Gallery a fine collection of Titians, among others the famous Bacchus and Ariadne. The background of the Madonna with St Catherine in the same gallery deserves careful study, for it is an excellent instance of Titian's mastery of mountain form.
Titian's best portraits are to be sought elsewhere than in Venice, notably in the Pitti Gallery at Florence. He was primarily a painter of men. Taine considered him to be the greatest interpreter of masculine character that has ever lived. It is possible, as Dr Powers suggests, that he was not greatly interested in women, regarding them as "objects of physical beauty, as wearers of fine costumes and jewels, as the chief colour notes in the pageant of Venetian life," but his real intimates were men, and his greatest paintings are portraits of men.
Tintoretto (1518-94), or Jacopo Robusti, to give him his proper name, was the son of a dyer (tintore). As a boy he worked with his father, and was called `the Little Dyer,' or `il Tintoretto.' At the age of seventeen he entered Titian's studio as a pupil, but left hurriedly at the end of exactly ten days.
Titian, according to a legend which dates only from the time of Tintoretto's fame, was jealous of the genius displayed by his youthful pupil. It is far more probable that Titian, who was a poor teacher at the best, and who disliked wasting time on an intractable pupil, could make nothing of Tintoretto.Tintoretto might have proved more tractable had his attitude toward art been less instinctively opposed to that of Titian. Titian had an infinite capacity for taking pains. He worked on several pictures at the same time in order that he might leave each picture untouched for weeks together so as to allow each successive coat of paint to harden. "No one," writes Sir Charles J. Holmes of the Bacchus and Ariadne in the National Gallery, has succeeded in reproducing the method by which the flesh tones in the picture are rendered with full substance, and also with that inward glow which we know must come from transparency. The method is clearly no simple one. The figures must have been solidly and precisely painted in some tone comparatively cool and pale. Next, upon that secure foundation film after film of transparent or translucent colour must have been laid with exquisite nicety, perhaps, as tradition relates, with the fingers even more than with the brush."
Such patience was alien to Tintoretto, who was a supreme improvisor. He would often set to work on half a canvas without the least idea as to how the other half was to be filled. Tintoretto and his contemporaries were once invited to produce competitive sketches for a picture which was to be commissioned for the Scuola di San Rocco. Tintoretto turned up not with a sketch, but with the complete picture, and when the committee remonstrated and attacked him for attempting to force their verdict he replied quite truthfully, "This is my way of sketching."
Tintoretto seized the first opening that came his way, and thenceforward worked like a man possessed. Venice is full of his work. Seldom was there a more prolific painter. He was a great colourist when he cared, as the magnificent Origin of the Milky Way in our National Gallery clearly proves. But in general he was more interested in drawing than in colour, and Ruskin, who praised his best work to the skies, was forced to dismiss some of his work as "mere daubs redounding to the painter's everlasting shame." Dr Powers quotes the witty remark of a contemporary painter who says: "Tintoretto at his best is the equal of Titian; at his worst he is inferior to Tintoretto."
Tintoretto's avowed ambition was to combine the colouring of Titian with the design of Michelangelo, an ambition which he realized in the `swinging rhythm' and gorgeous colouring of The Origin of the Milky Way. He had a profound faith in the value of conscientious drawing: "You can buy colours on the Rialto," he once remarked, "but drawing must come by labour." Tintoretto was happily married. He had eight children, of whom the eldest daughter was his favourite. His wife managed him very cleverly, and, it is said, restricted him to one coin a day in order to restrain his prodigal generosity.
Tintoretto is the most dramatic of the Venetian painters, "the thunderbolt of painting," as he was described by his contemporaries. Venetian art was tending to become purely decorative and idyllic. Tintoretto introduces dramatic movement. Never has the great drama of the Crucifixion been rendered with such painful intensity as in Tintoretto's great masterpiece.
He was supremely interested in the mechanics and geometry of painting, and was absorbed by the new scientific problems of aerial perspective. One of the most intriguing aspects of this problem is to represent a figure floating more or less horizontally either toward or directly away from the spectator, and it is interesting to note how frequently Tintoretto intro duces a figure in this position.Compare, for instance, the famous Miracle of St Mark in the Accademia with the Bacchus and Ariadne in the Doges' Palace, or with The Origin of the Milky Way in the National Gallery.
Tintoretto at his best is, as the last-mentioned picture proves, almost as great a colourist as Titian. Moreover, he had a far greater appreciation than had Titian of the value of shadow to reinforce colour. Shadow, as Tintoretto knew and as Titian only began to discover late in life, is a powerful ally to colour.
Tintoretto was the predecessor of Rembrandt in the development of chiaroscuro. "It was he," as John Addington Symonds remarked,who brought to its perfection the poetry of chiaroscuro, expressing moods of passion and emotion by brusque lights, luminous half-shadows, and semi-opaque darkness, no less unmistakably than Beethoven by symphonic modulations.
Paolo Caliari (1528-88) was born in Verona, and was called ` il Veronese' by the Venetians among whom he settled when he was in his twenty-seventh year.
Tintoretto, as we have seen, was fascinated by the problems of chiaroscuro and delighted with the artistic and spiritual possibilities of shadow. Veronese, on the other hand, "reduced shadow," as Dr Powers tell us,
to its lowest terms. He of course understands the necessity of shadow for modelling and for the proper representation of objects in space, and for this basic requirement he uses it with skill. But shadow as an element in itself, a thing that has moods and creates moods, a solvent and a temperer of colour, of this he knows nothing. It follows inevitably that he cannot render the more emotional themes. The mood, the sentiment of a Gray's Elegy, cannot be invoked in noonday light.
Dr Powers raises the interesting point as to whether Veronese's neglect of shadow as a means of emotional expression explains his failure to interpret the spiritual, or whether his inability to interpret the spiritual led to his neglect of shadow. Veronese, I suggest, never even tried to interpret the spiritual, for the good reason that he was completely uninterested in the spiritual. He enjoyed good wine, loved the society of handsome men and lovely women, and gloried in all the pomp and panoply of triumphant aristocracy. His architectural backgrounds are superb, and, as Dr Powers remarks, "We must further recognize in Veronese a unique power to handle large groups with ease and with freedom alike from formality and disorder." His paintings are decorative to the highest degree. They possess, indeed, every quality save one emotional significance.
It is indeed difficult to feel any interest in the bland, well-dressed men and women who cross his stage. As pegs for a rich and decorative colour scheme they serve their purpose, and for the rest Sie waren lang gestorben Und wussten es selber nicht.
Veronese often painted sacred themes, and sometimes shocked his contemporaries by his lack of reverence. He was irreverent not because he desired to offend, but because, just as some people are colour blind, so Veronese was spiritually blind.His famous painting in the Accademia, The Feast in the House of Levi, was not a deliberate attempt to shock the serious minded nor a conscious piece of bravado. Indeed, nobody was more surprised than Veronese himself when he was summoned before the Holy Office to explain this outrage on the decencies. Here are some extracts from his examination:
Q. What picture is that which you have named?
As a handsome concession to the Holy Office Veronese appears to have removed a man bleeding from the nose and "a pair of soldiers in German costume half drunk and in most questionable attitudes."
There is one rather puzzling point in connexion with this examination on which I should be glad to be enlightened. The picture is now called The Feast in the House of Levi. Veronese refers to it as " The last supper which Jesus took with His disciples in the house of Simon." Earlier in the examination there is the suggestion that Veronese had been asked to substitute the figure of Magdalen for that of a dog.
It would seem that Veronesewas only superficially acquainted with the New Testament, and had confused the feast given to Christ by Levi the publican (Luke v, 27) and the feast given by Simon the leper, at which Christ's feet were anointed by "the woman having an alabaster box of ointment" (traditionally supposed to be Mary Magdalene), with the Last Supper. Possibly the picture was originally intended for the Last Supper and the title changed, as the result of protests against this gross outrage, to The Feast in the House of Levi. Before we take leave of this strange picture be careful to note the portraits of Michelangelo and Titian, who are given exactly equivalent positions near the two ends of the table while Veronese himself, now in the role of host, finds occasion to outline his splendid figure against one of the marble pillars in the hall. This portrait and the portrait of Titian the latter worthy of the highest praise are the high-water mark of Veronese's art.
Veronese was responsible for a brilliant innovation in the technique of ceiling painting. The problem of representing vertical standing figures on a horizontal ceiling had long perplexed painters. Foreshortening had been tried without success, until Veronese invented the balcony device. The spectator is supposed to be standing looking up through an opening above his head to a magnificent upper storey surrounded by a balustrade behind which his figures are grouped. He thus avoids the dangling foreshortened legs which look so ridiculous in Correggio's painting of the Parma dome, and which reminded the bishop of a fricassee of frogs.The culmination of Veronese's ceiling technique is seen in the central panel of the ceiling of the Hall of the Great Council representing the Triumph of Venice.An earlier and less successful attempt at the solution of this problem is seen in The Coronation of Esther in the church of San Sebastiano.Here there is no balustrade to cut off the foreshortened legs, and the result is heavy and unsatisfactory.
Veronese is magnificently represented in the National Gallery. The picture which Sir Charles J. Holmes singles out as his best work is described by him as " a miracle of painting."
The back of the woman is modelled with a breadth and certainty and ease which Velazquez himself never compassed. Those who are interested in colour may study the dark brocade upon which she is seated, and note with what masterly directness its pattern and its silvery sheen have been produced. For supreme craftsmanship, for knowledge of what can be done with large simple masses of rich oil paint, Veronese at his best is unrivalled. Others may have gifts of the intellect, of the imagination, or of the heart, which he does not possess, but as a craftsman on the grand scale he remains unique. Also he is one of the supreme colourists.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1769) and his grandson, Giandmenico, are described by Sir Charles Holmes as " the last great decorative painters of Italy."
Tiepolo was greatly influenced by Veronese, and, like Veronese, was concerned chiefly with objective facts and outward appearance. He is unsurpassed in the creation of decorative ceiling paintings such as the ornate painting The Institution of the Rosary in the church of Santa Maria del Rosario, commonly known as I Gesuati.In this picture Tiepolo adopts the device invented by Veronese of an apparent opening in the ceiling through which an upper storey and an upper balustrade can be seen, but Tiepolo, as Dr Powers says, departed farther from the scheme of Veronese, depending less on architecture and giving more space to the pale blue sky with its flecks of cloud and a cherub or two birdlike and far away.There is an extraordinary cheerfulness and sense of light and space in these beautiful creations, unquestionably the most beautiful of all pictured ceilings that we possess.Canaletto
As a young man Canaletto (1697-1768) attracted the attention of the British Consul in Venice, Smith by name, who bought many of his early works and sent them to England, where most of them passed into the collection of George III, and can now be seen at Windsor Castle. Canaletto spent a considerable amount of time in England, and many of his English paintings are delightful. His English works are represented in the National Gallery by paintings of Eton College and Ranelagh.
"We may not always recognize," writes Sir Charles J. Holmes,how much the English School of the eighteenth century owes, in its beginnings, to this final outburst of the Venetian genius. Canaletto's appearance in England in 1746 had ...important results. It is impossible to resist the conviction that Hogarth and Richard Wilson learnt from him the best part of their craft.
Francesco Guardi (1712-93) was far less gifted than Canaletto, to whom he was for a short period assistant, and by whom he was greatly influenced.His work is none the less full of charm. "Venice, in his hands," writes Sir Charles J. Holmes,becomes an airy lively place, where buildings in a general scheme of cool browns and greys harmonize pleasantly with skies of misty turquoise blue... With him died out the last flicker of artistic creation in Italy, until Segantini came to paint the dazzling snow and sunlight upon the high Alpine pastures.