In his notes the curator of the Tiziano exhibition wrote,
The aim of this exhibition is to authentically reconstruct his sixty year artistic journey, bringing together for the first time dozens of masterpieces, appropriately related to each phase of the artist’s life. Thus in successive passages we may grasp his careful evaluation of the tradition of Bellinian chromatic classicism and the revolution of tonalism learnt from Giorgione, right down to that dynamism of the painted surface which, together with extraordinary expressive force, opens up to the most advanced modernity.
|Titian: Self-Portrait, Prado|
The collection Filled ten rooms on two floors of the Scuderie and the curator decided to begin with a famous Titian self-portrait from the Prado juxtaposed with a very large Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, a painting revelatory of the old man in the self-portrait.
The ochre tonalities and the dark brown shadows punctuate a composition rendered dramatic by the fire of the braziers, by the rent sky. The expressive force is given by a colour no longer with half tones: this is how Titian interprets the hagiographic story where the Saint, tortured on the gridiron, proclaims, ‘my light has no darkness: everything is resplendent with light.’
|Titian: St. Lawrence|
This painting set the stage for the whole exhibition in another sense. The great majority of the paintings throughout were of sacred or religious subjects. Throughout his long lifetime Titian’s patrons were devoted to these subjects and looked to Titian to bring out their full meaning.
The first two rooms, for example, contained a Baptism of Christ (c. 1512); a Mystic Marriage of S. Catherine; the famous Christ being dragged by what the translator calls a “rogue”; Pope Alexander VI presenting a member of the Pesaro family to St. Peter; and three Madonnas and Child including an altarpiece from the Vatican Museum that had overwhelmed Goethe on his trip to Italy. Goethe wrote, “It shines before my eyes more than any other picture I have seen to date.” The only exception was a small so-called “Orpheus and Eurydice” that to my mind could easily be re-interpreted as a “sacred” subject.
Room 3 contained more of the same including three Crucifixions. One, attributed to Titian’s workshop, was especially interesting since it depicted Christ on the Cross along with the Good Thief. Usually Christ will either be alone or pictured between the two thieves. But in this case only the two were shown side by side. Nothing seemed to be holding the redeemed thief on his cross and he seemed to be about to fly off of it in response to the words of Christ: “this day thou shall be with me in Paradise.” A remarkable painting.
Rooms 4 and 5 contained an Annunciation, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and a Deposition done for Phillip of Spain around 1559. The latter was especially interesting to me because Titian used an antique relief on a sarcophagus in a way similar to the one in the Borghese Gallery’s “Sacred and Profane Love.” The relief contained images of the sacrifice of Isaac and Cain and Abel, both symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ.
In Rooms 6 and 7 we began to experience the portraits for which Titian is so justly famous. Here we have Pope Paul III, a man with a glove, and the famous “Flora” whose image also graces the cover of the exhibition brochure as well as posters all over Rome. The brochure calls her a Venetian beauty but I still believe she is Mary Magdalene. She is only called Flora because of the flowers in her hand but she has no other characteristics of the nymph.
Room 8 was devoted to State portraits included a couple of Doges, but in room 9 we finally got to see some of Titian’s paintings derived from ancient mythology. There was a Danae done around 1544 and now in Naples, as well as the famous painting from the Borghese Gallery of Venus blindfolding Cupid.
The curator used Room 10 to bring the exhibition to an end and to recall its beginning. The “Flaying of Marsyas recalled the “Martyrdom of St. Lawrence,” but the exhibition ended with another self-portrait. This one from Berlin was done around 1562. Here is the curator’s description.
In this Self-Portrait he concentrates all the warmth of the picture in the head of the old man…It is the pose of an unprecedented assertiveness where the table, pure point of light becomes an expressive instrument for highlighting the figure which is not turned towards the beholder but is gazing at a distant point with the intent look of someone deep in thought.
It was a fitting end to a magnificent exhibition. Not only were the paintings of the highest order but also they were beautifully hung and lit. Wall descriptions were easy to read and informative. My wife used the audio guide and thought it was excellent. “Tiziano” must have been years in the making but it was well worth the effort.