Shifting Affluence and Influence

Titian Flaying of Marsyas 1570-1576

“…Hale’s biography captures the energy and colors of everyday Venetian life as brilliantly as a Canaletto painting. The author of a well-received guidebook to Venice, she locates La Serenissima at the center of a global network whose spirit suffused Titian’s palette. In the haunting “Flaying of Marsyas,” one of Titian’s visual poesie (poems) based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Apollo’s removal of the satyr’s skin reflected a harrowing development in Venice’s foreign affairs: the flaying of the military officer Marcantonio Bragadin by Turkish troops in 1571. Yet Titian was too subtle an artist to sacrifice beauty in the metaphorical depiction of a current event. Hale points out that his Apollo, holding his knife “as though it were a painter’s brush,” radiates a delicacy and innocence at odds with his gory task. Perhaps the otherwise unliterary Titian was evoking Dante, who begged, as Hale notes, Apollo to “enter my breast and breathe there as you did when you tore Marsyas from the sheath of his limbs.” This rare ability to fuse the political and the poetic explains why the European elite were so keen on commissioning a man who was, according to Hale, “the greatest portraitist of the Renaissance.” [Joseph Luzzi on Sheila Hale’s Titian: His Life]

Titian Rape of Europa 1562

“…the provenance of The Rape of Europa itself doubles as a convincing grand narrative of the shifting affluence and influence of the West. It was Spanish Habsburg dominance in the 16th century that allowed Philip II to annex the greatest Venetian painter of his time, in effect as “court artist in absentia”. As Spanish power waned, the picture passed to Bourbon France, and from there to a flourishing Victorian Britain and eventually the Boston of the Gilded Age. 
The idea of metamorphosis, too, is as useful for thinking about the history of the painting as it is for describing its source. The Rape of Europa has had a different status in each of the collections to which it has belonged, reflecting any period’s prevailing attitudes to Titian’s oeuvre even as it transformed them.” [Thomas Marks reviewing Charles FitzRoy’s book]

Titian Pietro Aretino 1537

“It is as impossible to keep untouched by what happens to your neighbours as to have a bright sky over your own house when it is stormy everywhere else. Spain did not directly dominate Venice, but the new fashions of life and thought inaugurated by her nearly universal triumph could not be kept out. Her victims, among whom the Italian scholars must be reckoned, flocked to Venice for shelter, persecuted by a rule that cherished the Inquisition. Now for the first time Venetian painters were brought in contact with men of letters. As they were already, fortunately for themselves, too well acquainted with the business of their own art to be taken in tow by learning or even by poetry, the relation of the man of letters to the painter became on the whole a stimulating and at any rate a profitable one, as in the instance of two of the greatest, where it took the form of a partnership for mutual advantage. It is not to our purpose to speak of Aretino’s gain, but Titian would scarcely have acquired such fame in his lifetime if that founder of modern journalism, Pietro Aretino, had not been at his side, eager to trumpet his praises and to advise him whom to court.” [Berenson on Titian]

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