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Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574):

Lives of the Artists: Titian

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TITIAN was born in the little town of Cadore, on the Piave, five miles from the Alps. He sprang from the family of the Vecelli, one of the most noble of those parts; and when he reached the age of ten years, showing a fine spirit and quickness of mind, he was sent to Venice to the house of one of his uncles, an honoured citizen. He, seeing that the boy was much inclined to painting, put him with the famous painter Gian Bellini, under whose discipline he studied draw ing, and showed himself in a short time to be endowed by nature with all that was necessary for the art of painting. Gian Bellini and thc other painters of that country, having no knowledge of ancient art, were accustomed mostly, in fact ent;rely, to draw from life, though in a dry, crude manner. Titian therefore learnt in this way. But when Giorgione da Castelfranco came, the manner of working did not altogether please him, and he began to give his works more softness and greater relief, following nature indeed, and imitating her as well as he could in colour, but not making any drawing, holding firmly that painting in colours without studying the drawing in a cartoon was the true and best way of working. Titian then, seeing Giorgione's method, left Gian Bellini's manner and adopted the new way, imitating it so well that his pictures were mistaken for works of Giorgione. And when Giorgione was employed upon the facade of the German Exchange a part was given to Titian. Some gentlemen, not knowing that Giorgione had ceased to work there, and that Titian was employed upon it, meeting Giorgione one day, began to congratulate him, saying he was doing better on this facade than he had done on that one on the Grand Canal. And this vexed Giorgione so much that until the work was finished, and it was known that Titian had done that part, he would not be seen, and from that time he would not let Titian work with him or be his friend.

In the year 1508 Titian published a woodcut of his Triumph of the Faith. And I remember Fra Sebastiano del Piombo talking to me about it, and saying that if Titian had been to Rome, and had seen Michael Angelo's work, and Raffaello's, and the ancient statues, and had studied drawing, he would have done astonishing things, because he had such a fine method of colouring, and deserved the praise of being the best imitator of nature in the matter of colour of our time.

Giovanni Bellini left unfinished at his death the picture, in the hall of the Great Council, of Frederic Barbarossa kneeling before Pope Alexander III. Titian completed it, altering many things, and introducing many portraits of his friends and others. For this he obtained from the Signory an office which is called the Senseria, which brings in three hundred crowns a year. This office has usually been given to the best painter of that city, with the duty of painting from time to time their prince or Doge, at the price of eight crowns only, paid them by this prince, and this portrait is afterwards placed in his memory in the palace of S. Mark's.

The Duke Alfonso of Ferrara had engaged Giovanni Bellini to paint a picture for a room in his palace, but he had been unable to comp4te it on account of his age, and Titian there,fore was summoned to finish it, and for this prince he painted several things, and was liberally rewarded by him. At this time he formed a friendship with the divine Ludovico Ariosto, who celebrated him in his "Orlando Furioso."

After his return to Venice he painted many pictures for the churches, and among others for the church of S. Rocco he painted Christ bearing the Cross. This, which many have supposed to be from Giorgione's hand, has become the chief object of devotion in Venice, and has received in alms rnore crowns than Titian and Giorgione earned in their whole life. Bembo, who was then secretary to Pope Leo X, pressed him to come to see Rome, Raffaello, and others; but Titian went on putting it off from day to day until Leo and Raffaello both were dead.

When Pietro Aretino, before the sack of Rome came to stay in Venice, he formed a great friendship with Titian, which was very useful to him, for he made him known as far as his pen could reach, and to princes of importance.

But to return to Titian's works. For the church of S. Giovanni and S. Paolo he painted an altarp~ece representing S. Peter Martyr in a wood of high trees, struck down by a fierce soldier, who has wounded him in the head, and as he lies but half alive you can see in his face the horror of death, while another friar fleeing shows signs of fear. In the sky are two angels coming in the light of heaven, which lights up a beautiful landscape. The work is the most finished one that Titian ever did.

When the emperor Charles V was in Bologna, Titian, at the suggestion of Pietro Aretino, was summoned by Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici to the palace, and painted a very fine portrait of his Majesty in full armour. Alfonso Lombardi had a great desire to portray him also, and having no other way of accomplishing it, he begged Titian to take him in the place of one of the men who carried the colours, not telling him what he was intending to do. Titian, like the courteous man he always showed himself, agreed, and took him with him into the emperor's room. Then, as soon as Titian had set to work, Alfonso placed himself where he could not be seen by him, and taking out a little box, he modelled in gypsum a portrait medallion of the emperor, and had just brought it to completion when Titian had finished his portrait. When at last the emperor rose, Alfonso closed the box, and was hiding it in his sleeve that Titian might not see it, when his Majesty said to him, "Show me what you have done;" and he was obliged to put it into his hand. The emperor, having considered it and praised it much, said, "Have you the courage to do it in marble?" "Yes, your sacred Majesty," answered Alfonso. "Do it then," replied the emperor, "and bring it to me at Genoa." Any one can imagine how strange this seemed to Titian. I fancy he thought he had compromised himself. But what must have seemed most strange to him was that his Majesty, sending him one thousand crowns, bade him give half to Alfonso and keep the other five hundred himself. Alfonso, applying himself with the utmost diligence, completed the head so successfully that it was pronounced a very rare piece of work, and when he brought it to the emperor, his Majesty gave him another three hundred crowns.

In the year 1545 he was called by Cardinal Farnese to Rome, where he found Vasari employed in the hall of the cardinal, and Titian being recommended to his care, he took him about to see Rome. And after he had rested some days, rooms were given him in the Belvedere that he might paint the Pope Paul III, Cardinal Farnese, and Duke Ottavio, which he completed to their great satisfaction. Afterwards he painted an Ecce Homo to present to the Pope; but whatever the cause might be, it did not appear to painters equal to his other paintings, especially his portraits.

One day Michael Angelo and Vasari went together to see Titian in the Belvedere, and he showed them a picture he had just painted of Danae in the shower of gold, and they praised it much. After they had left him, talking over Titian's work, Buonarroti commended him greatly, saying that his colour pleased him, but that it was a mistake that at Venice they did not learn first of all to draw well, for if this man, he said, were asslsted by art as he is by nature, especially in imitating life, it would not be possible to surpass him, for he has the finest talent and a very pleasant, vivacious manner.

Titian left Rome at length, having received many gifts, particularly a benefice with good revenues for his son Pomponio. Coming to Florence, he saw the rare things in that city, and was no less astonished than he had been at Rome, and so returned to Venice.

But because his works are infinite, especially his portraits, it is impossible to mention them all. So to speak only of the most remarkable without order of time. He painted Charles V. many times, and was at last called to his court that he might paint him as he was almost in his last years; and so much did he please that invincible emperor that he would never afterwards be painted by any other painter, and every time Titian painted him he had a donative of one thousand crowns of gold. His Majesty also made him a knight, with a provision of two hundred crowns from the treasury of Naples. When he painted the portraits of Philip, King of Spain, and his son Carlos, he received from him a settled provision of two hundred crowns; so that, adding these four hundred to the three hundred that he had from the Venetian Signory, he received seven hundred crowns a year, without any labour for it. He painted Ferdinand, King of the Romans, and his sons, and the Queen Maria. But what is the use of losing time in enumerating his portraits? There is no lord of note or prince or great lady who has not been painted by Titian; and besides, at different times, he produced many other works.

It is true that his way of working in his last pictures is very different from that of his youth. For his first works were finished with great diligence, and might be looked at near or far, but the last are worked with great patches of colour, so that they cannot be seen near, but at a distance they look perfect. This is the reason that many think they are done without any trouble, but this is not true. And this way of working is most judicious, for it makes the pictures seem living.

All these works, with a great many others, which cannot be mentioned lest I should become tedious, he has completed, having now reached the age of seventysix. He has been most healthy, and as fortunate as any one has ever been. In his house at Venice he has received all the princes, and learned and famous men, who have come to Venice; for besides his excellence in art, his manners have been most pleasant and courteous. He has had some rivals, but not very dangerous ones. He has earned much, for his works have always been well paid; but it would be well for him, in these his last years, to work only for pastime, lest he diminish his reputation. When the present writer was in Venice in 1566, he went to visit Titian, and found him, old as he was, with his brush in his hand painting, and he found great pleasure in seeing his works and talking with him.

Thus Titian having adorned Venice, or rather Italy, and indeed other parts of the world, with the finest pictures, deserves to be loved and studied by artists, and in many things imitated, for he has done works worthy of infinite praise, which will last as long as illustrious men are remembered.

Source. These texts were at,but vanished from the net, and so they have been restored here.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects, by Giorgio Vasari: newly tr. by Gaston du C. de Vere. With five hundred illustraiions, London, Macmillan and & The Medici society, 1912-15.

Other translations include:

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the painters, sculptors and architects. London, J. M. Dent; New York, Dutton [1949-50]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574.  Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors, and architects. Abridged from the translation by Gaston DuC. DeVere. Edited, with an introd., by Robert N. Linscott. New York, Modern Library [1959].

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists. Selected and translated by E.L. Seeley. Introd. by Alfred Werner. (New York, Noonday Press, [1965, c1957]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists; a selection translated by George Bull. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng. : Penguin Books, 1987.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the artists; translated with an introduction and notes by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. (Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1991.).

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