Novelty and Tradition in Titian's Art

Novelty and Tradition in Titian's Art

Novelty and Tradition in Titian's Art

Novelty and Tradition in Titian's Art

Excerpt

It is a pleasure to me to have an opportunity to speak to this audience about the great painter Titian and to try to illustrate for you some of the many facets of his art which were dependent on tradition and to suggest some of the ways in which he was unique and original; for, as we shall see, like a good Venetian, he was a successful blend of boldness and of caution.

One can, of course, look at his Europa (fig. 1), hanging against the red damask wall of the Gardner Museum in Boston, and rejoice in the opalescent mists on the distant mountains, in the rosy hue of the maiden's flying cloak, and one can feel deeply elated by the promise of love as Europa is borne to the shore of the wine dark sea, without knowing why or when Titian painted the picture. It is, however, a curious feature of the human mind that an acquaintance with the context makes even the most sublime concepts more accessible.1 Aside from the rather considerable documentation about Titian preserved in the archives of Venice and of Madrid, we have some useful visual evidence about Titian as a man, which comes from a self portrait painted at about the same time as the Europa and for the same patron, Philip II of Spain (fig. 2).2 The artist wears the fine black clothes which the Spanish conquest of so much of Italy had made fashionable after 1530; at his throat we see the collar of his white cotton shirt which Venetian trade with Syria had made possible.3 Around his neck is the linked golden chain given him by the Emperor Charles V together with his patent of nobility in 1533.4 The grey beard is long, in the fashion set by the Doge Andrea Gritti on his election in 1523.5 In his hand, Titian holds his magic brush, the tool which made possible for him this gentlemanly elegance, gave him the right to appear on the walls of the royal palace at Madrid, and which explains his personal knightly motto, "Art is more powerful than Nature," or, more literally translated, "Art can do more than Nature can."6 His features are fine and delicate, his grey-blue eyes still bright and piercing. Most interesting to us is the fact that he has depicted himself in profile and not in the three-quarter view in which the Renaissance painter customarily gazed at himself in a mirror. Titian must have used two mirrors in order to see himself in this less familiar way. Those of his contemporaries who describe his character all agree that Titian's manners were most gracious and courteous, but that, even with his intimates, he was always reserved and reticent. Thus we are already prepared for a sensitive and keen observer, whose ideas will develop in secret, while, in outward respects, he will appear to conform to tradition.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.