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( Originally Published 1913 )
The greatest painters of the Renaissance were Angelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Correggio, and lastly, Titian. Each had contributed his special perfections-accurate lines, mastery of light and shade, scientific knowledge allied with art, etc., and it was now left for Titian to unite many of these qualities and add his own superb use of color.
Born in 1477, Titian lived until 1576, painting almost until the end. Even then he was carried off by the plague which swept down upon Venice, claiming 40,000 victims. Otherwise it would appear that Titian might have passed his centenary. During this hundred years many events of mighty bearing upon the future transpired. In the year of his birth, Caxton printed his first book in England; when 15 years of age, Columbus discovered America and added another world to that of the ancients. Later Charles V. became emperor and Spain reached her widest expansion; Luther posted his ninetyfive theses and created such a stir that men still feel the effects of his religious movement. Finally, the Netherlands asserted their independence from the hated tyranny of Spain and es tablished their own government. Surely this was a great century for a man of genius to live through. Frequently men's lives are so brief that they catch at best but a glimpse of the vast plan of the universe. For this reason it is gratifying to come now and then upon one stronger than his fellowmen, who pauses a little longer and encircles with his vision a little wider horizon.
Titian was born in Cadore-in the mountains which divide Italy from the Austrian Tyrol. Rugged and wild is nature in this region; ragged peaks, bare rocks, deep caverns, precipitous gorges and rushing streams were imprinted upon the boy's mind and pictured by the mature man. From infancy he displayed a genius for drawing, and a legend still lives on in Cadore that as a child Titian crushed flowers and from their juices painted a Madonna. At the age of nine he was sent to Venice to study with his uncle, who appears to have been a worker in mosaic. The greater part of his life was spent in this Oueen City of the Adriatic, yet throughout his years he occasionally visited the little village, seventy miles north of Venice, where his early childhood had been passed.
In the periods we have been studying there were no such institutions as we have today in the way of art schools, where young aspirants may learn from experienced teachers and artists exhibit their productions. On the contrary, youths studied with some master in the locality or in the nearest art center, and established artists, as a rule, came under the patronage of a prince or duke who ordinarily maintained a court and wished to bring about his court men gifted in a variety of ways. Such protection and patronage was almost essential, particularly if the artist did not possess independent meansand few did. It is necessary to remember this in order to understand the persistence of one like Titian in seeking the favor of those in power. Unlike Rembrandt, Titian had a wholesome regard for fame, favor and money. He seemed to have possessed a clear business sense, seldom found in a man of his talents. Like Erasmus and other scholars of the times, he occasionally made some concessions to dignity in order to secure liberal means. Perhaps it should be added to his credit that in the end he was generally much more successful than was his literary contemporary.
Venice has ever made colorists of artists. Those whose colors have been subdued before coming to the city have straightway become intoxicated with the marvelous display of opalescent hues and have painted gorgeous sunsets, gay canals and rainbow mists. Having water-ways in the place of streets, the reflection in Venice is greater than in other cities. Not only is blue sky above; the world is paved with sky beneath. Mists rising from the sea catch the sun's rays and produce curious and bewitching effects. Those who dwell in the midst of such splendor become themselves infected with its charm and don gay attire. Gondolas became so sumptuous that the thrifty merchant fathers of the city were obliged to legislate against large sums being used for the purpose of making the tiny boats attractive.
Moreover, the Venice of Titian's day was a delight, apart from the bright tints of its canals. Princely palaces and costly municipal buildings arose on every hand, beautiful without and more beautiful still within. Frescoes by talented artists made decorative walls and ceilings. Architecture adapted itself to the local conditions and to the wealth of the community. Altogether Venice was even more truly than today a place to dream about. Unquestionably Titian's mastery of color was largely due to his removal to this city in his impressionable years, yet the autumnal tints of Cadore alike influenced him.
One of his first paintings was also one of his best-The Tribute Money. The Hebrews were at the time of Christ paying tribute to Rome. They hated this tribute tax as men in all ages have hated the fee demanded of them by one stronger in power. Wishing to get Christ into trouble by getting him to denounce the hated tribute, a crafty Pharisee came to him one day and asked: was it lawful to pay Caesar this tribute? Christ quickly divined the deceitful spirit that underlay the question, and he quietly pointed to the coin in the Pharisee's hand. "Whose image is engraven on the coin?" he asked. The Pharisee replied that it was Caesar's. Then came the well-known reply: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Both characters are plainly delineated on the canvas.
The German artist Durer visited Venice about this time. He painted so carefully that pores of the skin were said to be visible, and hairs lay apart from each other. How true it may be we may not know, but the story circulated that Titian painted this Tribute Money for the purpose of convincing the world that he too could paint hair to perfection.
In the fresco having for its theme the "Battle of Cadore," Titian reproduced much of the scenery peculiar to his beloved mountain country. This painting was ordered by the Venetian officials for the House of the Council. It represented a battle occasioned by the refusal of those dwelling in Cadore to recognize the authority of the Emperor. In the battle that followed their asserted freedom, they successfully withstood the attack of the imperial troops and won the day. Titian had considerable trouble over this painting, for the reason that he would put it aside whenever more remunerative work offered, causing the Venetians such delay that they finally lost all patience.
Among his allegorical pictures, the Three Ages of Man was very successful. In this painting little children are shown, falling asleep among the flowers; not far away, a shepherdess plays on a flute to charm her shepherd lover; beyond the hill, under the slight shade of a dying tree, an old man sits and looks long at a skull which a plough has perhaps turned up.
Titian married one Cecelia, who became the mother of four children. One son led a dissipated life and was the grief of his father. The mother died early in life, while her place was partially filled by Lucretia, Titian's dearly loved daughter. This daughter was painted by her father. She is shown beautifully attired, carrying a tray of fruit in her hands.
One of his popular paintings was that of Flora-a beauteous maiden whose neck seems to be of ivory and whose hair is pure gold. At least one hundred paintings remain from Titian's brush, many of them portraits. The Physician of Parma is the subject of a fine portrait of a scholarly man, who understood, so we feel as we look upon his picture, whatever was known of medical science in his generation. Even Philip of Spain secured a noble portrait from Titian. Many queens and princes sat for him, and for years his time was filled to overflowing.
Among his sacred subjects, The Presentation in the Temple is probably considered greatest, while his Assumption of the Virgin is another masterly production.