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Titian was born in the year 1480, at Cadore, a small place distant about five miles from the foot of the Alps; he belonged to the family of the Vecelli, which is among the most noble of those parts. Giving early proof of much intelligence, he was sent at the age of ten to an uncle in Venice, an honorable citizen, who, seeing the boy to be much inclined to painting, placed him with the excellent painter, Gian Bellino, then very famous. Under his care, the youth soon proved himself to be endowed by nature with all the gifts of judgment and genius required for the art of painting. Now, Gian Bellino and the other masters of that country, not having the habit of studying the antique, were accustomed to copy only what they saw before them, and that in a dry, hard, labored manner, which Titian also acquired; but about the year 1507, Giorgione da Castel Franco, not being satisfied with that mode of proceeding, began to give to his works an unwonted softness and relief, painting them in a very beautiful manner; yet he by no means neglected to draw from the life, or to copy nature with his colors as closely as he could; and in doing the latter he shaded with colder or warmer tints as the living object might demand, but without first making a drawing; since he held that, to paint with the colors only, without any drawing on paper, was the best mode of proceeding, and most perfectly in accord with the true principles of design.
A Fete at the House of Titian.
In the year 1507, when the Emperor Maximilian was making war on the Venetians, Titian, as he relates himself, painted the "Angel Raphael, with Tobit and a Dog," in the Church of San Marziliano. There is a distant landscape in this picture, wherein San Giovanni Battista is seen at prayer in a wood; he is looking up to heaven, and his face is illumined by a light descending thence; some believe this picture to have been done before that on the "Exchange of the Germans," mentioned above, was commenced. Now, it chanced that certain gentlemen, not knowing that Giorgione no longer worked at this facade, and that Titian was doing it (nay, had already given that part over the Merceria to public view), met the former, and began as friends to rejoice with him, declaring that he was acquitting himself better on the side of the Merceria than he had done on that of the "Grand Canal;" which remark caused Giorgione so much vexation, that he would scarcely permit himself to be seen until the whole work was completed, and Titian had become generally known as the painter; nor did he thenceforward hold any intercourse with the latter and they were no longer friends.
In the year 1508, Titian published a wood-engraving of the "Triumph of Faith;" it comprised a vast number of figures: our first Parents, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Sybils, the Innocents, the Martyrs, the Apostles, and Our Saviour Christ borne in triumph by the four Evangelists, and the four Doctors, followed by the holy Confessors; here Titian displayed much boldness, a fine manner, and improving facility. I remember that Fra Bastiano del Piombo, speaking on this subject, told me that if Titian had then gone to Rome, and seen the works of Michael Angelo, with those of Raphael and the ancients, he was convinced, the admirable facility of his coloring considered, that he would have produced works of the most astonishing perfection; seeing that, as he well deserved to be called the most perfect imitator of Nature of our times, as regards coloring, he might thus have rendered himself equal to the Urbinese or Buonarroto, as regarded the great foundation of all, design. At a later period Titian repaired to Vicenza, where he painted "The Judgment of Solomon," on the Loggetta wherein the courts of justice are held; a very beautiful work. Returning to Venice, he then depicted the facade of the Germain; at Padua he painted certain frescos in the Church of Sant' Antonio, the subjects taken from the life of that saint; and in the Church of Santo Spirito he executed a small picture of San Marco seated in the midst of other saints, whose faces are portraits painted in oil with the utmost care; this picture has been taken for a work of Giorgione.
Now, the death of Giovan Bellino had caused a story in the hall of the Great Council to remain unfinished; it was that which represents Federigo Barbarossa kneeling before Pope Alessandro III., who plants his foot on the emperor's neck. This was now finished by Titian, who altered many parts of it, introducing portraits of his friends and others. For this he received from the senate an office in the Exchange of the Germans called the Senseria, which brought him in three hundred crowns yearly, and which those Signori usually give to the most eminent painter of their city, on condition that from time to time he shall take the portrait of their doge, or prince when such shall be created, at the price of eight crowns, which the doge himself pays, the portrait being then preserved in the Palace of San Marco, as a memorial of that doge.
After the completion of these works, our artist painted, for the Church of San Rocco, a figure of Christ bearing his cross; the Saviour has a rope round his neck, and is dragged forward by a Jew; many have thought this a work of Giorgione. It has become an object of the utmost devotion in Venice, and has received more crowns as offerings than have been earned by Titian and Giorgione both, through the whole course of their lives. Now, Titian had taken the portrait of Bembo, then secretary to Pope Leo X., and was by him invited to Rome, that he might see the city, with Raffaello da Urbino and other distinguished persons; but the artist having delayed his journey until 1520, when the pope and Raffaello were both dead, put it off for that time altogether. For the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore he painted a picture of "St. John the Baptist in the wilderness;" there is an angel beside him that appears to be living; and a distant landscape, with trees on the bank of a river, which are very graceful. He took portraits of the Prince Grimani and Loredano, which were considered admirable; and not long afterward he painted the portrait of King Francis, who was then leaving Italy to return to France.
In 1530, when the Emperor Charles V. was in Bologna, Titian, by the intervention of Pietro Aretino, was invited to that city by the Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, and there he made a magnificent portrait of his majesty in full armor. This gave so much satisfaction that the artist received a present of a thousand crowns for the same. Out of these he had subsequently to give the half to Alfonso Lombardi, the sculptor, who had made a model of that monarch to be executed in marble.
Having returned to Venice, Titian there found that many gentlemen had begun to favor Pordenone, commending exceedingly the works executed by that artist in the ceiling of the Hall of the Pregai, and elsewhere. They had also procured him the commission for a small picture in the Church of San Giovanni Elemosynario, which they intended him to paint in competition with one representing that saint in his episcopal habits, which had previously been executed there by Titian. But whatever care and pains Pordenone took, he could not equal nor even approach the work of the former. Titian was then appointed to paint a picture of the Annunciation for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, at Murano; but those who gave the commission for the work, not wishing to pay so much as five hundred crowns, which Titian required as its price, he sent it, by the advice of Pietro Aretino, as a gift to Charles V., who being greatly delighted with the work, made him a present of two thousand crowns. The place which the picture was to have occupied at Murano was then filled by one from the hand of Pordenone.
When the emperor, some time after this, returned with his army from Hungary, and was again at Bologna, holding a conference with Clement VII., he desired to have another portrait taken of him by Titian, who, before he departed from the city, also painted that of the Cardinal Ippolito de Medici in the Hungarian dress, with another of the same prelate fully armed, which is somewhat smaller than the first; these are both now in the Guardaroba of Duke Cosimo. He painted the portraits of Alfonso, Marquis of Davalos, and of Pietro Aretino, at the same period, and these things having made him known to Federigo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, he entered the service of the latter, and accompanied him to his states. At Mantua our artist made a portrait of the duke, which appears to breathe, and afterward executed that of his brother, the cardinal. These being finished, he painted twelve beautiful "Heads of the Twelve Caesars," to decorate one of the rooms erected by Giulio Romano, and when they were done, Giulio painted a "Story from the Lives of the Emperors" beneath each head.
The productions, but more especially the portraits, of Titian are so numerous that it would be almost impossible to make the record of them all. I will, therefore, speak of the principal only, and that without order of time, seeing that it does not much signify to tell which was painted earlier and which later. He took the portrait of Charles V. several times, as we have said, and was finally invited by that monarch to his court; there he painted him as he was in those last years; and so much was that most invincible emperor pleased with the manner of Titian, that once he had been portrayed by him, he would never permit himself to be taken by any other person. Each time that Titian painted the emperor he received a present of a thousand crowns of gold, and the artist was made a cavalier, or knight, by his majesty, with a revenue of two hundred crowns yearly, secured on the treasury of Naples, and attached to his title.
When Titian painted Filippo, King of Spain, the son of Charles, he received another annuity of two hundred crowns; so that these four hundred, added to the three hundred from the German Exchange, make him a fixed income of seven hundred crowns, which he possesses without the necessity of exerting himself in any manner. Titian presented the portraits of Charles V. and his son Filippo to the Duke Cosimo, who has them now in his Guardaroba. He also took the portrait of Ferdinand, King of the Romans, who was afterward emperor, with those of his children, Maximilian, that is to say, now emperor, and his brother; he likewise painted the Queen Maria; and at the command of the Emperor Charles, he portrayed the Duke of Saxony, when the latter was in prison. But what a waste of time is this! when there has scarcely been a noble of high rank, scarcely a prince or lady of great name, whose portrait has not been taken by Titian, who in that branch of art is indeed an excellent painter.
All these works, with many others which I omit to avoid prolixity, have been executed up to the present age of our artist, which is above seventy-six years. Titian has been always healthy and happy; he has been favored beyond the lot of most men, and has received from Heaven only favors and blessings. In his house he has entertained whatever princes, literati, or men of distinction have gone to or dwelt in Venice; for, to say nothing of his excellence in art, he has always distinguished himself by courtesy, hospitality, and rectitude.
Titian has had some rivals in Venice, but not of any great ability, wherefore he has easily overcome them by the superiority of his art; while he has also rendered himself acceptable to the gentlemen of the city. He has gained a fair amount of wealth, his labors having always been well paid; and it would have been well if he had worked for his amusement alone during these latter years, that he might not have diminished the reputation gained in his best days by works of inferior merit, performed at a period of life when nature tends inevitably to decline, and consequent imperfection.
In the year 1566, when Vasari, the writer of the present history, was at Venice, he went to visit Titian, as one who was his friend, and found him, although then very old, still with the pencils in his hand and painting busily. Great pleasure had Vasari in beholding his works and in conversing with the master.
It may be affirmed, then, that Titian, having adorned Venice, or rather all Italy, and other parts of the world, with excellent paintings, well merits to be loved and respected by artists, and in many things to be admired and imitated also, as one who has produced, and is producing, work of infinite merit; nay, such as must endure while the memory of illustrious men shall remain.
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