Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Titian - The Last Days by Mark Hudson

This book is a wonderful, though sometimes slightly confused, mix of travelogue, biography, art history and general history. The subtitle The Last Days is entirely misleading as it looks at most of Titian's life and a large proportion of his paintings and puts his work in context with the other developments in Venetial art at the time.

Large amounts of the narrative is spent detailing Titian's paintings, and where these paintings are shown in the colour plates in the centre of the book this is wonderful reading. I totally enjoyed discovering the depths to paintings that were being discribed to me as well as being available in front of my eyes. Some of the described paintings weren't available in the book though and these long descriptions became slightly tiresome as I wanted to have them in front of me, I'm not sure that the author should be expecting all readers to have a good visual memory for large numbers of paintings!

The book also went into a lot of detail about Titian's methods of working and how he had access to a large number of styles of painting, not to mention his assistants! I found it fascinating that often he would quiet blatantly adapt paintings by other artists, add his own background, paint the head of his model (or patron) onto the existing body and hey presto! another masterpiece! Not to mention the studio copies (mostly carried out by his assistants) of his own works.

There is also a lot of information about the art scene in Venice in the 1500s, the history of the times and the epidemics that periodically swept the city, including the 1576 plague which is believed to have killed Titian.

Added to all this, are a lot of discussions about eroticism in art. Many paintings of the period (including several by Titian himself) used naked people in suggestive poses, that were made respectable by the addition of a mythological tale. Titian seems to have been the first artist to have drawn a naked woman without this justification, and this painting The Venus of Urbino scandalised many people (Mark Twain reportedly described it as 'the obscenest picture the world possesses') while what we see is a beautiful young woman in a pose that is no more suggestive than the poses of many nymphs in many mythological paintings.

Interspered in all this are accounts of the author's travels round Venice in search of Titian's last home and round various art galleries and religious buildings in search of the artists paintings.

It's a totally fascinating book and a must read for anyone interested in art history or in the process of how artists work.

Titian - the Last Days by Mark Hudson, published by Bloomsbury

for Italy in Books

1 comment:

Frank Zweegers said...

Beautiful read!