Titian as a Painter of Portraits

 

self portrait intro

Imaginary Self-portrait of Titian by Pietro Della Vecchio (1602-78).

Born Tiziano Vecellio in Preve di Cadore in the Dolomite region in the 1480’s Titian (c.1477-1576) became the most famous painter in 16th century Venice and the greatest member of the Venetian School. Dominating for sixty years painting in that city and northern Italy and influencing Tintoretto and Veronese. European kings and princes competed for his services and his stature was as great an Michelangelo’s. Apprenticed to Gentile (c.1429-1507) and Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) Titian then imitated the style of Giorgione (1477-1510) with whom he worked for some years. Titian became painter to the wealthy Venetian intellectual circles and close friend of Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) whose writings advanced Titian’s reputation. Titian, along with Aretino and the sculptor Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) formed the triumvirate which ruled artistic matters in Venice.

Titian’s career can be divided into phases from which an understanding of his development as an artist can be obtained. The period of his Beginnings and Training (1484-1520), the years of apprenticeship when he absorbed the achievements of the past. His Artistic Development (1520-1540) follows the deaths of Giorgione (1510), Giovanni Bellini (1516), and Raphael (1520), leaping beyond his contemporaries with a seemingly miraculous outburst of inventive power. His period of Celebrity and Power (1540-1555), when he crested another wave of innovation. His late period, his Final Achievement (1556-1576), where in the loneliness and isolation of old age he was able to reject all artistic current compromise. Not a time of decline or decay, but a time of fulfillment when he was able to ignore the tastes of patrons and his art became one of pure intentional expression. The Summary and Conclusions will show how Titian carried forward and developed the art of portrait painting as part of his own continuous developmental process.

 2. First Period: Beginnings and Training (1484-1520).

Titian’s turbulent youthful mood was not appropriate to portrait painting. Only a few small, subdued portraits are ascribed to his early Giorgionesque period. Later Titian developed a larger portrait format but his early portraits still possess the solemn rigidity that characterise donor portraits in his religious paintings.
Giorgione’s compositions elevated landscape, including man, to the status of central role player. Giorgione was not a monumentalist, preferring a more intimate, informal, lyrical and poetic style. Giorgione tried to rise “…above the dualism of man and environment to achieve the harmonic unity of man and ature.” (Fasolo, 1980. p3) by focussing his attention on a landscape and the figures in it. Titian was less whimsical than Giorgione but it is within this context that we must view Titian’s early art.

Titian continued to develop the Giorgionesque idyll during the 1510s, and his earliest works show Giorgione’s influence. Even then an essential difference between the two is present. Titian showed a power of dramatic expression (not found in Giorgione) coupled with a drawing style with an analytical grasp of structure and form. A contrast with the simplification of Giorgione. Titian introduced a powerful human presence, a scenario with man including nature in his actions. Titian charged situations with dramatic pathos, people at specific moments, a style giving his work a universality, a vision of harmony.  In Giorgione’s studio Titian produced his first Portrait of a Man (not now extant), a picture of one of the Barbarigo family. Giorgione died in 1510, and the death of Bellini in 1516, left Titian (in full command of his powers by 1511) in undisputed supremacy amongst Venetian artists.

The Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman (1507) and also known as Portrait of a Man [Fig 1] shows his developing artistic personality, but still clearly Giorgionesque. Compositionally this picture is connected with the Portrait of a Woman (1508) or La Schiavona [Fig 2]. The Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman shows development from small head and shoulders portraits normal for the late 15th century towards half-length and full-length portraits — the important innovation of 16th century painting. The picture shows a young man seated behind a parapet.

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Figure 1.  Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman (1507).  Public domain.

Flanders portraits rarely employed painted fictive frames and parapets. They were more popular in Italy where some artists preferred stepped parapets [Figure 2]. A parapet was often used to support an arm as in Titian’s Portrait of a Man, 1510.

Late Bellini portraits such as Doge Loredan (1501) show the sitter behind a ledge as a recessional device. In his 1507 portrait Titian shows greater surround with the Doge’s palace seen a window. Similarly Giorgione in his Virgin and Child (The Tallard Madonna) of 1477-1510 (Ashmolean Museum), shows the Doge’s palace through a window. Possibly borrowed by Titian from Giorgione. The sitter is moustached and bearded suggesting a teenager with eye direction indicating a self-portrait. The Portrait of a Woman (La Schiavona) of 1508 [Fig 2] is step-parapeted with profiled relief in grisaille of the sitters head. An unidentified

la schivona

Figure 2. Portrait of a Woman (La Schiavona) 1508. Public domain.

woman of comely proportions wearing a vibrant crimson dress resting her hand on the parapet (Gould, 1975; Hope, 1980). Using a frame as a parapet on which to rest hands is that by Raphael in his La Muta (1507). Titian signed this portrait with TV (Tiziano Vecelli) being dated by some around 1511 (Campbell, 1990) rather than 1508 (Fasolo, 1980).

The Portrait of a Man in a Blue Sleeve, 1510 [Fig 3] is also known as the Ariosto or pseudo-Ariosto. Of Titian’s formative period Giorgione’s pictorial language is still present but now transformed by greater creative power. Initialled by Titian and dated around 1511-1512 (Campbell, 1990; Steer, 1995) instead of 1510 (Fasolo, 1980; Murray, 1995). The sitter’s nose appears straighter than in the portrait of 1507 but the eye direction suggests a self-portrait (Hope, 1980).

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Figure 3.  Portrait of a Man with a Blue Sleeve. (1510).

The picture’s mood is of generalised inner mystery, and therefore Giorgionesque, is thus important as individual likeness. A new element is concern with character for its own sake shown by the forceful manner in which the sitters personality is projected. The sitter appears to have shaken off a rustic uncouthness. Titian was an earthy, extroverted, sensual, ambitious individual, imbued with a peasant shrewdness and hardworking peasant toughness (Gould, 1971) and this portrait (as does the 1507 picture) shows one. The sitter has now acquired a degree of polish and sophistication and is acknowledged as the inspirational source for one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits in the National Gallery. The figure in the textured, padded and silvered blue sleeve presents an extraordinary physical presence with textures and light adding to his aura of self-confidence, thereby reflecting the arch-competence of both sitter and artist who are possibly one and the same. The sleeve indicates evidence of expense, fashion and accompanying status.

There is an intense richness of colour in Titian’s early portraits and an especial grace in his female figures. For Titian beauty was an everyday qualitative phenomenon that had an unfailing charm. Whether in his early female portraits or later nudes and ‘Venuses’ we always find the same female beauty to which he remained faithful all his life. For example – the Woman at her Mirror [Fig 4] painted between 1512 and 1515.

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Figure 4.  Woman at her Mirror (1512-15).

Various meanings have been attributed to this work but perhaps it is only a figure study rather than a true portrait. With the picture Violante, 1515 (Fasolo, 1980) we have a fine portrait of a young woman [Fig 5], the daughter of Titian’s artist friend known as Palma Vecchio (1480-1528).

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Figure 5.  Violante (1515).

Titian is clearly paying homage to womanly beauty, but the picture is also attributed to Palma Vecchio as an idealised portrait of a courtesan, dated 1507-1508 (Steer, 1995). Whatever the date and whoever ‘Violante’ really is the style resembles more that of Palma Vecchio’s A Blonde Woman (1520) and Portrait of a Woman of 1520 [Fig 6]. The style indicates that Violante is probably by Palma Vecchio. The sheer joy Titian displays in representing female beauty is however shown in his masterpiece Flora (1515). The portrait La Bella, once attributed to Titian, resembles the sumptuous figure in Sacred and Profane Love but is in the style of Palma (Fortini Brown, 1997).

La Bella

Figure 6.  Portrait of a Woman, or La Bella (1520).

With Flora, 1515,  [Fig 7] Titian brought spiritual and earthly elements into an extraordinary and accomplished harmony. The style is subtle and less casual, less provocative than Palma Vecchio’s courtesans. It is a work justly celebrated which appears to represent Titian’s ideal of feminine beauty where he has represented the figure as an ideal nymph. She represents a classical balance between the sensuous and the special character of the Venetian ‘fancy portrait (Steer, 1995).

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Figure 7.  Flora (1515).

At this time various pictures of beautiful women form a difficult category to distinguish. Are they just paintings of models, just ‘fancy pictures’ based on studies from life, or are they true portraits? Light falls on Flora’s face, on the robe and the breast it has left exposed. Every detail, even though the picture is almost flat, is perfectly executed, the hands especially. The picture’s essence is that Titian has connected the picture planes using colour and texture. Therefore Flora shows the beginnings of a new phase in Titian’s development as a figure and portrait painter. The painting of the goddess of flowers depicts a blonde Venetian woman with a straight nose, the ideal beauty of a satiated society.

During this period Titian also produced a Portrait of a Young Man in a Fur (1515), see Figure 8, now in New York, plus Portrait of a Young Man (1515), see Figure 9, now in London. The London portrait has been attributed to Giorgione (Gould, 1971) but if the date is correct it we must remember that Giorgione died in 1510. It is nonetheless an unusually fine example of the half-length portrait.

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Figure 8Young Man in a Fur (1515).

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Figure 9 Portrait of a Young Man (1515).

The unknown man emerges from a shady and undefined background to present clear outlines but still possesses a Giorgionesque lyricism. The sitter wears dark clothes with light falling on a noble face, on a white shirt and single red sleeve. This enhancement of the sitters reflective features is another developing feature of Titian’s portrait style.

3. Second Period: Artistic Development (1520-1540).

Giorgione’s influence now diminishes and Titian develops light effects to heighten pictorial narrative. Marrying his housekeeper Cecilia di Perarola in 1525 they have two sons Pomponio (1524) and Orazio (1525). Cecilia fell ill in 1525 and died (1530) after giving birth to Lavinia and a non-surviving daughter. This had a profound affect on Titian. During this period Titian became increasingly involved with the courts of Ferrara and Mantua. Portraits now developed a more expansive and overt style. Marked by a quiet pictorial subtlety and colouristic refinement the 1530s portraits are compelling images of idealised masculinity and femininity. Titian’s mastery of colour appears in his Portrait of Vincenzo Mosti (1520), a Ferrarese nobleman, painted in neutral tones, whites, greys [Fig 10]. Titian, in straight¬forward portraits employed dark all-over tonality with key forms emphasised by light.

Mosti

Figure 10Portrait of Vincenzo Mosti (1520).

Aesthetic effect depended on relationships and intensity of detail, as with Man with a Glove (1523), which expressively defines innate nobility and inner grandeur [Fig 11]. The inscrutable calm and pictorial realisation of this young man is a masterpiece of tonal gradations and Titian’s painterly skill.

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Figure 11.  Man with a Glove (1523).

Psychological characterisation is emphasised in the pose of Frederick II Gonzaga (1525) with the sitter shown three-quarter dressed in magnificently in blue velvet doublet and red stockings [Fig 12]. Federico Gonzaga (1500-1540), one of Titian’s most important patrons, and son of Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), is enveloped in light posed against a luminous grey background. The Duke’s status is emphasised by the compelling physical splendour expressed by Titian using exquisitely and aesthetically modulated colours, the dog echoing compositionally the facial tones of its master.

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Figure 12Frederick Il Gonzaga (1525).

In 1530 Charles V invited Titian to his coronation in Bologna where he painted his first (1532) and well-received Portrait of Charles V [Fig 13] thereby establishing a long rapport. No in the Prado in Madrid the portrait is a copy of Selenneger’s but with altered proportions. It is thought to have been painted

charles V

Figure 13Charles V with a Dog (1532).

at Venice from drawings done at Bologna and presented to Charles when they met at Asti in 1536 (Wethey, 1971; Hope, 1980). During this period Titian added to the lyrical use of colour a quality of dramatic action and vitality whilst still adhering to reality. His portraits now demonstrate a profound psychological insight and understanding of his subjects: Cardinal Ippolito de’Medici (1532-33); Andrea de’ Franceschi (1532) a severe and ascetic depiction of the Grand Chancellor of the Republic of Venice; his Old Man in Armour (1535) which represents Titian’s father Gregorio; and Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino (1536-38), Captain General of the Venetian Republic [Fig 14]. Now in the Uffizi, Florence, he holds the Commander’s Baton with papal insignia and branch of oak referring to his surname Rovere meaning ‘oak’. Assumed one of a pair with Eleonara Gonzaga (Campbell, 1990).

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Figure 14Francesco Maria della Rovere (1536-38).

In his female portraits his search for beauty is coupled with a recognition of inner dignity, e.g.,  La Bella [Fig 6] is typical of the style Titian developed for court portraiture with its richness of texture, detail and beauty of colour. Three-quarter length, designed for display, she is a model who posed nude for; him on other occasions e.g., Venus of Urbino ; and Girl with a Fur (Hope, 1980; Wethey, 1971), see Figure 15.  Beneath The Girl with a Fur is a painted a version of La Bella (Campbell, 1990; Wilde, 1974) originally described by its first owner (Francesco Rovere) in 1536 as “…that Lady wearing the blue garment.” (Rovere, 1536).

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Figure 15.  Girl with a Fur (1534-38).

The style is quite different from the severe manner in which Titian depicted his own countrymen (Steer, 1995). Lack of interest in her identity shows “…that La Bella is not really a portrait but a fancy picture based on studies from life.” (Campbell, 1990). For Francesco Rovere the interest is beauty not personage. Inherited by Vittoria della Rovere La Bella was taken from Urbino to Florence in 1631 prior to her marriage to Ferdinando II de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The portrait [Fig 16] of Elenora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino (1536-38) was subject to a sonnet by Pietro Aretino who wrote “The union of colours laid in by Titian’s brush expresses, besides the concord that reigns in Eleonora, her gentle spirit.” (Camesasca, 1957-60).

E Gonzaga

Figure 16.  Elenora Gonzaga (1536-38).

Eleonora was the daughter of Gianfranco Gonzaga, Marquis of  Mantua and Isabella d’Este and married Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, in 1509. Previously Titian had Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) herself (1534-36) copied [Fig  17] from a portrait by Francia in 1511 from an earlier original (Campbell, 1990). Now in Vienna, it is cut down on both sides and copied from a Francia portrait of 1511, itself a copy of an earlier original by an unknown artist (Campbell, 1990). Obviously a young twenties woman in the picture she must have been sixty at least in 1534. Not averse to copying for his patrons Titian produced his Francis I (1538) from a medal by Cetlini (Wethey, 1971).

Isabella d'este

Figure 17Isabella d’Este (1534-36).

4. Third Period: Celebrity and Power (1540-1555).

After 1540 Titian’s search for realism becomes more apparent and proceeds to exhalt and discern the spiritual values and qualities of his sitters and patrons. Now his psychological insight is at its height with his Portrait of Pietro Bembo (1540) of the most celebrated Venetian 16th century humanist (Fig 18) and Doge Andrea Gritti (1540) finished more than a year after the Doge’s death.

bembo

Figure 18Portrait of Pietro Bembo (1540).

Now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and probably a second and later portrait of Bembo (1470-1547), the poet, literary theorist and cardinal in Venice. He loved some women other than the De more platonico and one bore him three children (Fasolo, 1980). The portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti (1540), also in the National Gallery of Art, Washington is a powerful characterisation [Fig 19] where for Titian “…humanity cannot act except by investiture with dignity and power.” (R. Lunghi quoted by Fasolo, 1980).

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Figure 19. Doge Andrea Gritti (1540).

The Speech of Alfonso D’Avalos (1540-41) is a celebrative composition with dignified gesture and pose [Fig 20]. Humanised by the presence of D’Avalos’s sonithe landscape is populated by a multitude of soldiers.  Titian Met Charles V and pope Paul Ill at Busseto in 1543 where painted Pope Paul III (1543) a portrait characterised with restrained but intense vitality. Seated which subsequently  became general for papal portraits.

Alfonso

Figure 20. The Speech of Alfonso D’Avalos (1540-41).

Previously Titian had painted Ranuccio Famese  (1542), grandson of Paul III and Prior of San Giovanni dei Forlani in Venice. Ranuccio  I,  (1530-65) wears the Maltese Cross emblem of the priory’s ownership. A beautifully  perceptive and crafted portrait [Fig 21] displaying boyish innocence and naivete to perfection.

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Figure 21. Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese (1542).

Now n the National Gallery of Art, Washington, it is a canvas signed Titianus/F. The portrait is an exquisite concentration upon an individual. The background is muted in order to concentrate on the colourful doublet and fresh, youthful complexion of Ranuccio (Campbell, 1990).

Followed by Portrait of Don Diego Mendoza (1545) with its classical background [Fig 22], Pitti Palace in Florence, and Pietro Aretino (1545) where years of self-indulgence [Fig 23] have “…turned the notorious and lively writer and blackmailer into the bloated image portrayed.” (Gould, 1971). Aretino) (1492-1556) a literary reprobate kept European courts and dignitaries to ransom by holding still his rapier wit and scything satire.

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Figure 22. Portrait of Don Diego Mendoza (1545).

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Figure 23Pietro Aretino (1545).

Settling in Venice in 1527 Aretino flattered Titian by his very good company and brought him many clients. Of this period is the enigmatic Man with Blue Eyes (1545) with its neutral colouring [Fig 24], disquieting, impassive expression of the sitter. Now in the Pitti Palace, Florence. Sometimes called the Young Englishman or the Duke of Norfolk thesitter is unidentified (Gould, 1971).

blue eyes

Figure 24. Man with Blue Eyes (1545).

Everything occurs to concentrate attention on the face with its inquisitorial gaze. The figure is surrounded by an undefined sombre space with accentuation depending on the chain across his chest. The chill of the Man with Blue Eyes is counteracted by the colourfully warm and vibrant Portrait of a Girl (1546) where  female beauty [Fig 25] and passing resemblance to La Bella show Titian’s unfailing interest in female beauty. Now in Museodimonte, Naples.

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Figure 25. Portrait of a Girl (1546).

 In 1545 Titian was the guest of Guidobaldo II della Rovere in Urbino where he was commissioned to paint [Fig 26] the Duchess Giulia di Verano (1547). -Birooe; according to Aretino,A from a verbal description with her clothes sent from the Duchy, consisting of crimson damask (Campbell, 1990). Now in the Pizzi Palace,

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Figure 26.  Giulia Varano, Duchess of Urbino (1547).

Florence, she was identified as Giuila by the monogram (Giulia and Guidobaldo) and wearing of crimson (Campbell, 1990).

Going to Rome in 1545 Titian met Michelangelo, Sebastiano del Piombo, Pietro Bembo and Cardinal Alessandro Famese. Given honorary Roman citizenship he painted Pope Paul Ill with his grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio (1546) — a work of rare psychological insight displaying the tensions foretelling the eventual schism between the sitters. Returning to Venice there followed the Votive portrait of the Vendramin Family (1547) of original composition set in the open. Gabriel and Andrea Vendramin worship in the open with Andrea’s sons but suprisingly Andrea’s six daughters are excluded. No other Titian is comparable to such a large family group which was not common in Renaissance portraiture. ‘

In 1548 Charles V invited Titian to Augsburg where he painted the posthumous Isabella of Portugal (1548) showing her richly dressed [Fig 27] and spiritually calm. Isabella, dead wife of Charles V, is created in poetic effect as an act of memory showing her as remote in depiction as she is in death. Now in the Prado,

isabella

Figure 27.  Isabella of Portugal (1548).

Mdrid, it was painted at the request of Charles V someyears after her death (Fasolo, 1980). The Charles V Seated (1548), in the Prado, Madrid, shows Charles V alone and silent [Fig 28], gazing enigmatically but intently outwards, the cares of state burdensome after the victorious Battle of Muhlberg.

Charles V seated

Figure 28.  Charles V Seated (1548).

The supreme portrait was the equestrian Charles V at Muhlberg (1548) where another aspect of the Emperor [Fig 29], with Titian at the height of his powers, is represented as a great general. Again, Charles is alone, resplendent and impassive, looking at an invisible horizon, and where Titian’s skill has reached unsurpassed limits. Now in the Prado, Madrid, the painting was badly damaged by fire, the horses legs and the base of the picture are repainted (Steer, 1995).

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Figure 29.  Charles V at Muhlberg (1548).

Prior to returning to Augsburg in.1550 he painted The Knight of Malta (1550), again a powerful portrait of a dignitary of the Maltese connection in Venice [Fig 30]. The Venetian Knights of Malta connection reappears. A rich chapter they owned the priory of San Giovanni dei Fortani of which Ranuccio Farnese became prior, see Figure  21, (Fasolo, 1980).

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Figure 30The Knight of Malta (1550).

The Portrait of A Military Commander (1550) is a chromatic symphony with a theatrical pose expressing the character of the sitter [Fig 31] reflecting the grandeur of victory. Now at Kassel in Germany. The dragon motif in the background and the man’s lance refer to St George possibly an allegorical reference to

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Figure 31.  Portrait of a Military Commander (1550).

the triumph of a Christian hero (this gentleman or knight?) over evil (Fasolo, 1980). Charles V requested two portraits of his son Prince Philip, future Felipe II of Spain. The Philip II (1550) is similar to one in the Museo di Capodimonte (Naples) and is still debated as to sequence. Colour variations are chiefly background [Fig 32] with the figure illuminated by refined modulations of tone and light stressing the newness of kingship by splendid apparel. Charles V had abdicated in favour of Philip in 1550. Now in the Pitti Palace, Florence.

Philip II

Figure 32.  Philip II (1551).

The Philip II in Armour (1551) is a full-length pose [Fig 33], Prado in Madrid, with a determined sitter amidst an astonishing tour de force of detail. The armour is brilliantly painted, though Philip did not appreciate Titian’s semi-impressionist technique, with adjuncts (e.g. the helmet) being now used to exemplify the grandeur and status of the portrait subject. During this celebrated period Titian had continued his great series of portraits without any trace of repetition but the crisis of 16th century impinged upon all societal levels and Titian who was now entering his seventies. It is thus that he embarks upon his final achievements.

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Figure 33.  Philip II in Armour (1551).

5. Late Period: Final Achievement, (1556-1576).
Titian, despite his trials and tribulations still possessed an animating and implacable pride in his work. His later works now show a change in direction. A new manner with more varied colours and denser textures. Outlines are rebuilt after having been broken down with colours flowing into one another, completely liberated from constricting lines and lit as if by some mysterious source. An example is the Allegory of Prudence (1565) with its three faces [Fig 34], symbolising the Three Ages of Man’, above the heads of the wolf, lion, and dog, representing Titian, his son Orazio, and nephew Marco. The profiles are deliberately severe with broad brush strokes applied with strength, will, and sense of purpose.

Allegory

Figure 34.  Allegory of Prudence (1565).

The Self Portrait (1560), now in Berlin, shows still the feature of the heavy underlying lower jaw and one which could not change with age [Fig 35]. Evidence that the Portrait of a Man (1507), see Figure 1, and Portrait of a Man (1510), see Figure 3, are indeed Titian (Gould, 1971). The self-portrait of 1560 is a fragment painted mainly in monochrome, the hands merely sketched in. Titian expresses human grandeur in his own imperious face. It is a final act of self-revelation using chiarascuro, hazy colour and simplification (Godfrey, 1975).

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Figure 35.  Self Portrait (1560).

In his Self Portrait (1567) we see a different aspect of his personality, is not one connected with age but with a character looking beyond time, beyond objective forms and horizons, perhaps reflecting on the manner of his art and style so obviously shown by the portrait itself [Fig 36]. Now in the Prado, Madrid, he has reverted to smaller scales, a more intimate size, seemingly reserved for himself and the beauties he lovingly portrayed. he larger portraits were for the grand, his patrons (Godfrey, 1965).

self portrait 1567

Figure 36. Self Portrait (1567).

The portrait Jacopo Strada (1567-68) was dated to within eight years of Titian’s death and is an unusually elaborate example of his late style of portraiture [Fig 37]. Titian has retained his favourite compositional device, the diagonal pattern, for the art dealer sitter seen with some of his wares. Placed in an interior, either influenced by northern portraits or Lorenzo Lotto, it shows Titian still experimenting (Steer, 1995). Picture now in Vienna. Titian’s last portraits show him capable of expressing serene tranquility almost to the point of tragedy, where he is beyond the demands of life and only contemplates the struggle for survival. Titian died of the plague in Venice in 1576.

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Figure 37.  Jacopo Strada (1567-68).

6. Summary and Conclusion
Titian’s portraits tempered a searching realism with compassion and lyricism, ranging from famous individuals to Venetian beauties, and his vibrant colour style was both an emotional and intellectual achievement. The neutral atmosphere of his earlier portrait backgrounds were replaced by cleverly arranged elements of setting arranged in patterns which remained staples for formal portraiture until the 20th century. Most of his artistic innovations from 1530 to 1550 were in the field of portraiture. Late Renaissance portraits were in a ‘courtly style’ — e.g., Bronzino — and were immobile aristocratic portrayals whereas Titian was always more naturalistic than the Manneristic `figura serpentiana’ device. Titian, the visual dramatist, preferred to compel his viewer to participate in the inner life of his sitters.

Titian achieved in old age a perfection in painting never achieved by previous artist, using a completely new and significant colour technique and style. As a result his later works are tragic poesies of colour and light and emotion. Titian used his brush to probe beneath the surface of his sitters to produce human documents rather than mere pictorial records. His full painterly form ranged from flaming colours and mysterious light to sombre and restrained hues. His final, octogenarian style was a summary use of grainy textures and colours that only took final form when viewed from a distance — a style that transformed and transcended the formal approach to beauty of the Renaissance.

Titian portrayed the likeness of grandiose personages without falsification and by remaining truthful to his sitters, and himself, he remained truthful to reality. Michelangelo intellectualised his later works with his tortured torsos that are tormented internally and externally, Perhaps an expression of his lesser nobility that had been wet-nursed in the campagna. Titian was from, and of, the campagna and his peasant robustness is reflected in the rumbustious style of his life and art. A son of a republic who immortalised an aristocracy, a genius who lent beauty to the jutting jawed ugliness of the Habsburg dynasty. For Titian, unlike Michelangelo’s dynamism of the Renaissance heroic, his figures are not sculptural but absorbed within the very fabric of life. Titian never tried to portray the ideal man and always stayed in the proximity of the real human being he was representing. Titian’s primal concern was with man living within his own environment.

The patrons of Titian did not only seek pictorial records but commissioned him “… because they provided exceptionally lively likenesses of
themselves, and because they admired them as works of art.” (Steer, 1995). Trtian’s achievement was to liberate the artist from bondage and elevate him to individual recognition in his own right. There could be no true patronage without a recognition of art itself and Titian’s art, especially his portraits, contributed enormously towards such progress in aesthetic values. In Titian there is an advanced mode of reflection only immaturely developed in High and Late Renaissance portraits. Titian’s humanism was not so much a reverence for the antique, literary or artistic, but essentially an outlook more akin to later concepts of what humanism came to mean in modem times.

7. References
Camesasca, E. (Ed). (1957-60). Lettre Surarte di Pietro Aretino. 3 vols. Milan. Sonnet included
in a letter dated Venice, 7.11.1537, to Veronica Gambara. Cited by Campbell (1990).
Campbell, L (1990). Renaissance Portraits. Yale UP, New Haven.
Fasolo, U. (1980). Titian. Constable, Firenze.
Godfrey, F.M. (1965). Italian Painting 1250-1800. Alec Tiranti, London.
Gould, C. (1971). Man. Hamlyn, London.
Gould, C. (1975). National Gallery Catalogues. The Sixteenth Century Italian School. London.
Fortin Brown, P. (1997). The Renaissance in Venice. Everyman, London.
Hope, C. (1980). Titian. London.
Murray, L. (1995). The High Renaissance and Mannerism. Thames & Hudson, London.
Rovers, Francesco Maria della, Duke of Urbino, to Gian Giacomo Leonard’. Padua, 2.5.1536.
Cited in Campbell (1990).
Steer, J. (1995). Venetian Painting. Thames & Hudson. London.
Wethey, H. E. (1971). The Paintings of Titian, II, The Portraits. London.
Wille, J. (1974). Venetian Art from Bellini to Titian. Cited in Campbell (1990).

All illustrations are in the public domain.

 

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One response to “Titian as a Painter of Portraits

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