Britain's golden age of art collecting in the 19th century
brought a striking number of fine masterpieces from continental
Europe to reside in country houses and castles in England - and also
Works of the Venetian Renaissance, Titians above all, became
available and highly fashionable. Wealthy Scottish collectors joined
These Northern European collectors found the opulent warmth of
Venetian color particularly attractive. The Venetian sense of color,
and taste for luxurious materials, had been fostered by the Italian
city-state's trading and cultural connections with the East.
By the 20th century, however, many collectors were forced to turn
around and sell these works again, as estate costs rose and two
world wars intervened.
Now, the Scots are happy to welcome home - for a while - a number
of these artworks. They are featured, along with magnificent works
still in Scotland, in a grand exhibition "The Age of Titian:
Venetian Renaissance Art From Scottish Collections" staged by the
National Galleries of Scotland. The show's opening weeks coincide
with the Edinburgh International Festival.
Focusing squarely on Titian and his fellow artists, the
exhibition also sheds light on the Scottish collectors. Everyone
wanted a Titian or a Tintoretto. Collectors unwittingly ended up
with copies, good or not so good. Today's art historians face patchy
records; attributions were frequently cockeyed. (Art history was
still in its infancy when these collections were formed.)
Titian, who lived from about 1485 to 1576, was the dominant
painter in Venice for much of the 16th century. He was vastly
admired throughout Italy and further afield. He worked for
aristocratic patrons in Ferrara and Mantua, for the Emperor Charles
V and Pope Paul III. Later, though he never traveled to Spain, he
counted Philip II of Spain as a major patron.
Titian's work became synonymous with color and freedom of
execution. It was almost improvisatory compared with the planned,
linear painting of the Florentine school, of Raphael or
Michelangelo. A contemporary writer rated Titian (known in Italian
usually as Tiziano Vecellio) above those giants because his color
gave the pulse of life to his paintings. They have "the mellowness
and softness of nature," Lodovico Dolce wrote.
"By his mid career, Titian was in an unusually privileged
position," says Peter Humfrey, curator of the exhibition and
professor of art history at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
"It was not the norm at the period, but he had become so famous
[that] all these grandees were very keen to have work from the brush
of the 'divine Titian,' as he was called."
This renown meant Titian was sometimes able to choose his own
subjects and paint freely without following explicit instructions
from his patrons. Two large and magnificent late Titians,
conveniently nicknamed the "Diana pictures," fall into this
category. The subjects are mythological: "Diana and Actaeon" and
"Diana and Callisto."
The artist was not being self-indulgent, Professor Humfrey says.
He would still have had "a shrewd idea that the subjects as well as
the treatment would appeal." Indeed, Titian's letters show him
continually asking Philip, for whom he made the Diana paintings, if
he liked them.
These two paintings dominate the Edinburgh exhibition just as
Titian dominated his Venetian contemporaries. And what
contemporaries! Giorgione, Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, Lotto,
Moroni, not to mention Giovanni Bellini, who in turn had dominated
Venetian art before Titian. Titian towers over them all.
The two Diana pictures (part of a series painted for Philip), are
glorious, elated, sensuous dramas energized by an array of
triumphantly painted female nudes. Although painted for a Spanish
royal patron, they have ended up in a Scottish collection - that of
the Duke of Sutherland. …