Titian keeps making the news. In November this column noted a portrait http://www.examiner.com/article/telling-an-old-master-from-a-copy newly attributed to the 15th century Venetian painter at the Prado.
Now the National Gallery in London announces discovery of a Titian in its basement.
Then there’s a new book called “Titian” by Sheila Hale, but the title is wrong, according to Joseph Lutz, associate professor of Italian at Bard College. In that Titian’s life is mostly undocumented and Hale had to write around that by chronicling the goings on in Venice where he lived and worked, Lutz says the book should have been titled “Titian and His World.”
A reason for the scant records for Titian was offered by historians Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves in their 1945 book “Artists on Art.” Venetians, they said, didn’t write about art the way Florentines like Michelangelo did, because the Venetians were less rational and scientific.
Yet here’s a surprising quote from Titian, reported by 17th century historian Carlo Ridolfi, : “It is not bright colors but good drawing that makes figures beautiful.”
This is surprising not only because Titian’s remark seems to disprove the view of Goldwater and Treves, but also because color is the very thing that Titian is famous for. “Titian red,” after all, is his legacy.
Certainly the red in Titian’s “Rape of Europa” heightens the drama of the legendary story of Roman god Jupiter disguised as a bull for the purpose of rape. The female’s red robe flies up into the wind like blood spurting as companions across the way shriek helplessly.
“Not bright colors” indeed.
Titian is also known for the way he applied color: This included painting a first coat, often on a coarse surface, and layering it several times with bright pigments. The method is unmistakable in his energetic brushwork of his “Venus and Adonis.”
Commenting on this technique, Titian’s pupil Palma Giovani said that his paintings look like he used his fingers more than his brush. No mention of drawing.
And Renaissance historian Vasari waxed on about Titian’s technique and color, saying his works “are executed with bold, sweeping strokes, and in patches of color, with the result that they cannot be viewed from nearby, but appear perfect at a distance.“
All this attention to Titian’s palette leaves you wondering if he resented the focus. Is that why this rarely quoted painter made a point of saying, “It is not bright colors but good drawing that makes figures beautiful”?