Herbert Cook.

Giorgione online

. (page 10 of 12)
Online LibraryHerbert CookGiorgione → online text (page 10 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the many pictures sent on divers occasions to your Majesty; but
having received intelligence from the Secretary Antonio Perez of
your Majesty's wish to gratify me, and having reached a great old
age not without privations, I now humbly beg that your Majesty will
deign, with accustomed benevolence, to give such directions to
ministers as will relieve my want. The glorious memory of Charles
the Fifth, your Majesty's father, having numbered me amongst his
familiar, nay, most faithful servants, by honouring me beyond my
deserts with the title of _cavaliere_, I wish to be able, with the
favour and protection of your Majesty - true portrait of that
immortal emperor - to support as it deserves the name of a
cavaliere, which is so honoured and esteemed in the world; and that
it may be known that the services done by me during many years to
the most serene house of Austria have met with grateful return, to
spend what remains of my days in the service of your Majesty. For
this I should feel the more obliged, as I should thus be consoled
in my old age, whilst praying to God to concede to your Majesty a
long and happy life with increase of his divine grace and
exaltation of your Majesty's Kingdom. In the meanwhile I expect
from the royal benevolence of your Majesty the fruits of the favour
I desire, with due reverence and humility, and kissing your sacred

"I am Your Catholic Majesty's

"most humble and devoted servant,


"From Venice, the 27th of February, 1576."

This is the last letter we have of Titian, who died in August of this
year, according to his own showing, in his hundredth year.

Now what reliance can be placed on this statement? On the one hand, we
have the evidence of two independent writers, Dolce and Vasari, both
personally acquainted with Titian, and both agreeing by inference that
the date of his birth was about 1489. Both had ample opportunity to get
at the truth, and Vasari is particularly explicit in recording the exact
date when he visited Titian in Venice and the age the painter had then
reached. Yet five years later Titian is found stating that he is
ninety-five, and not eighty-two as we should expect! Perhaps the best
comment is made by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who significantly remark
immediately after the last letter: "Titian's appeal to the benevolence
of the King of Spain looks like that of a garrulous old gentleman proud
of his longevity, but hoping still to live for many years."[160]
Exactly! The occasion could well be improved by a little timely
exaggeration well calculated to appeal to the sympathies and "infinite
benignity" of the monarch, and if, when the writer had actually reached
the respectable age of eighty-two, he wrote himself down as ninety-five,
who would gainsay him? It added point to his appeal - that was the chief
thing - and as to accuracy, well, Titian was not the man to be
over-scrupulous when his own interests were involved. But even though
the statement were not deliberately made to heighten the effect of an
appeal, we must in any case make allowances for the natural proneness to
exaggerate their age which usually characterises men of advanced years,
so that any _ex parte_ statement of this kind must be received with due
caution. Where, moreover, as in the present case, we have evidence of a
directly contradictory kind furnished by independent witnesses, whose
declarations in this respect are presumably disinterested, such _ex
parte_ statements are on the face of them unreliable. The balance of
evidence in this case appears to rest on the side of the older
historians, Dolce and Vasari, whose statements, as I hold, are in the
circumstances more reliable than the picturesque exaggeration of a man
of advanced years.

I claim, therefore, that any account of Titian's life based solely on
such flimsy evidence as to his age as is found in this letter to Philip
the Second is, to say the least, open to grave doubt. The whole
superstructure raised by modern writers on this uncertain foundation is
full of flaws and incongruities, and I am fully persuaded the future
historian will have to begin _de novo_ in any attempt at a chronological
reconstruction of Titian's career. The gap of thirty-five years down to
1511 may prove after all less by twelve or thirteen years than people
think, so that the young Titian naturally enough first emerges into view
at the age of twenty-two and not thirty-five.

But we must not anticipate results, for there is still the evidence of
the later writers of the seventeenth century to consider. Two of these
declare that Titian was born in 1477. The first of these, Tizianello, a
collateral descendant of the great painter, published his little
_Compendio_ in 1622, wherein he gives a sketchy and imperfect biography;
the other, Ridolfi, repeats the date in his _Meraviglie dell' Arte_,
published in 1648. The latter writer is notoriously unreliable in other
respects, and it is quite likely this is merely an instance of copying
from Tizianello, whose unsupported statement is chiefly of value as
showing that the "centenarian" theory had started within fifty years of
Titian's death. But again we ask: Why should the evidence of a
seventeenth-century writer be preferred to the personal testimony of
those who actually knew Titian himself, especially when Vasari gives us
precise information with which Dolce's independent account is in perfect
agreement? No doubt the great age to which Titian certainly attained was
exaggerated in the next generation after his death, but it is a
remarkable fact that the contemporary eulogies, mostly in poetic form,
which appeared on the occasion of his decease, do not allude to any such
phenomenal longevity.[161]

Nevertheless, Ridolfi's statement that Titian was born in 1477 is
commonly quoted as if there were no better and earlier evidence in
existence, and, indeed, it is a matter of surprise that conscientious
modern biographers have not looked more carefully at the original
authorities instead of being content to follow tradition, and I must
earnestly plead for a reconsideration of the question of Titian's age by
the future historians of Venetian painting.[162]

If, as I believe, Titian was born in or about 1489 instead of 1476-7,
it follows that he must have been Giorgione's junior by at least twelve
years - a most important deduction - and it also follows that he cannot
have produced any work of consequence before, say, 1505, at the age of
sixteen, and he will have died at eighty-seven and not in his hundredth
year. The alteration in date would help to explain the silence of all
records about him before 1511, when he would have been only twenty-two
and not thirty-five years old; it would fully account for his name not
being mentioned by Dürer in his famous letter of 1506, wherein he refers
to the painters of Venice, and it would equally account for the absence
of his name from the commission to paint the Fondaco frescoes in 1507-8,
for he would have been employed simply as Giorgione's young assistant.
The fact that in 1511 he signs himself simply "Io tician di Cador
Dpñtore" and not _Maestro_ would be more intelligible in a young man of
twenty-two than in an accomplished master of thirty-five, and the
character of his letter addressed to the Senate in 1513 would be more
natural to an ambitious aspirant of twenty-four than to a man in his
maturity of thirty-seven.[163]

Such are some of the obvious results of a change of date, but the larger
question as to the development of Titian's art must be left to the
future historian, for the importance of fixing a date lies in the
application thereof.[164] HERBERT COOK.


_Reply by Dr. Georg Gronau. Translated from the "Repertorium für
Kunstwissenschaft," vol. xxiv., 6th part_

In the January number of the _Nineteenth Century_ appears an article by
Herbert Cook under the title, "Did Titian live to be Ninety-Nine Years
Old?" The interrogation already suggests that the author comes to a
negative conclusion. It is, perhaps, not without interest to set forth
the reasons advanced by the English connoisseur and to submit them to
adverse criticism.

(Here follows an abstract of the article.)

The reasoning, as will have been seen, is not altogether free from
doubt. It has been usual hitherto in historical investigations to call
in question the assertions of a man about his own life only when
thoroughly weighty reasons justified such a course. Is the evidence of a
Dolce and of a Vasari so free from all objection that it outweighs
Titian's personal statement? Before answering this question it should be
pointed out that we possess two further statements of contemporary
writers on the subject of Titian's age, statements which have escaped
the notice of Mr. Cook. One is to be found in a letter from the Spanish
Consul in Venice, Thomas de Cornoga, to Philip II., dated 8th December
1567 (published in the very important work by Zarco del Valle[165]).
After informing the king of Titian's usual requests on the subject of
his pension, and so on, he continues: "y con los 85 annos de su edad
servira à V.M. hasta la muerte."

Somewhere, then, in the very year in which Titian, according to Vasari,
was "above seventy-six years of age," he seems to have been
eighty-five, according to the report of another and quite independent
witness, and if so, he would have been born about 1482.

We have then three definite statements:

Vasari (1566 or 1567) says "over 76"
The Consul (1567) " "85"
Titian himself (1571) " "95"

This new information, instead of helping us, only serves to make still
greater confusion.

The other piece of evidence not mentioned by Mr. Cook was written only a
few years after Titian's death. Borghini says in his _Riposo_, 1584:
"Mori ultimamente di vecchiezza (!not, then, of the plague?), essendo
d'età d'anni 98 o 99, l'anno 1576." ... This is the first time that the
traditional statement as to the master's age appears in literature. In
this state of things it is worth while to look closer into the evidence
of Dolce and Vasari to see if they are not after all the most
trustworthy witnesses.

It is always held to be a mistake to take rather vague statements quite
literally, as Mr. Cook has done, and to build thereon further
conclusions. When Dolce says that Titian painted with Giorgione at the
Fondaco, "non avendo egli allora appena venti anni," he is only trying
to make out that his hero, here as everywhere, was a most unusual person
(the whole dialogue is a glorification of the master). For the same
reason he makes the following remark, which we can absolutely prove to
be false: - the Assumption (he says) "fu la prima opera pubblica, che a
olio facesse." Now at least one work of Titian's was, then, already to
be seen in a public place - viz. the "St. Mark Enthroned, with Four
Saints," in Santo Spirito, afterwards removed to the sacristy of the
Salute. In other points, too, Dolce can be convicted of small errors and
misrepresentations, partly on literary grounds, partly due to his desire
to enhance the praise of Titian.

Vasari, again, should only be cited as witness when he speaks of works
of art which he has actually seen. In such a case, apart from slips, he
is always a trustworthy guide. Directly, however, he goes into
biographical details or questions of chronology accuracy becomes nearly
always a secondary matter. Titian's biography offers an excellent and
most instructive example of this. Vasari mentions first the birth and
upbringing of the boy, then he speaks of Giorgione and the Fondaco
frescoes, and goes on: "dopo la quale opera fece un quadro grande che
oggi è nella salla di messer Andrea Loredano.... Dopo in casa di messer
Giovanni D'Anna ... fece il suo ritratto ...; ed un quadro di Ecce Homo,
..." and he goes on, "L'anno poi 1507...." If it had not been that one
of these pictures, once in the possession of Giovanni D'Anna, had been
preserved (now in the Vienna Gallery), and that it bears in a
conspicuous place the date 1543, it would be recorded in all biographies
of Titian that he painted in 1507 an "Ecce Homo" for this Giovanni

If one goes further into Vasari's account we read that Titian published
his "Triumph of Faith" in 1508. "Dopo condottosi Tiziano a Vicenza,
dipinse a fresco sotto la loggetta ... il giudizio di Salamone. Appresso
tomato a Venezia, dipinse la facciata de' Grimani; e in Padoa nella
chiesa di Sant' Antonio alcune storie ... de fatti di quel santo: e in
quella di Santo Spirito fece ... un San Marco a sedere in mezzo a certi
Santi." We now know on documentary evidence that the Vicenza fresco
(which was destroyed later) dated from 1521, and similarly that the
frescoes at Padua were painted in 1511, whilst the date of the S. Mark
picture may be fixed with probability at 1504.

These examples prove how inexact Vasari is here once more. But it may be
objected, supposing that he is inaccurate in statements which refer
back, can he not be in the right in a case where he comes back, so to
speak, straight from visiting Titian and writes down his observation
about the master's actual age? To be sure; but when we find that so many
other similar notices of Vasari are wrong, even those that refer to
people whom he personally knew, we lose faith altogether. In turning
over the leaves of the sixth volume of the Sansoni edition of Vasari, in
which only his contemporaries, some of them closely connected, too, with
him, are spoken of, we find the following incorrect statements: -

P. 99. Tribolo was 65 years old (in reality only 50).
P. 209. Bugiardini died at 75 (really 79).
P. 288. Pontormo at 65 (he died actually in his 63rd year).
P. 564. Giovanni da Udine at 70 (really 77).

A still more glaring instance is to be found when Vasari not only makes
misstatements about his own life but is actually out by several years in
giving his own age. One and the same event - viz. his journey with
Cardinal Passerini to Florence - is given in his own autobiography to the
year 1524, in the "Life of Salviati," to the year 1523, and in the "Life
of Michael Angelo" to 1525. When he speaks of himself in the same
passage in the "Life of Salviati" as the "putto, che allora non aveva
più di nove anni," he is making a mistake of at least three years in his
own age. And not less delightful is it to read in the "Life of Giovanni
da Udine": "Giorgio Vasari, giovinetto di diciotto anni, quando serviva
il duca Alessandro de' Medici suo primo signore l'anno 1535." We are
obviously not dealing with Messer Giorgio's strongest point, for, as a
matter of fact, he was at that time twenty-four years of age! The same
false statement of age is found again in his own biography (vii. p. 656,
with the variation, "poco piú di diciotto anni").

But I think these instances suffice to prove how little one dare build
on such assertions of Vasari. Who dare say if Titian was really only
seventy-six in 1566 when the Aretine visited him?

And now a few remarks on the other points raised by Mr. Cook. As a
fact, it is an astonishing thing that we have no documentary evidence
about Titian before 1511; but does he not share this fate with very many
of his great countrymen, with Bellini, Giorgione, Sebastiano, and
others? An unfriendly chance has left us entirely in the dark as to the
early years of nearly all the great Venetian painters. That Dürer makes
no mention of Titian's name in his letters gives no cause for surprise,
for even the most celebrated of the younger artists, Giorgione, is not
alluded to, and of all those with Bellini, whose fame outshone even then
that of all others, only Barbari is mentioned. That Titian's name does
not occur in the documents about the Fondaco frescoes may be due to the
fact that Giorgione alone was commissioned to undertake the frescoes for
the magistrates, and that the latter painter in his turn brought his
associate Titian into the work.

Mr. Cook says that Titian still signed himself in 1511 "Dipintore"
instead of "Maestro." I am not aware whether in this respect definite
regulations or customs were usual in Venice.[166] At any rate, the
painter is still described in official documents as late as 1518 as "ser
Tizian depentor" (Lorenzi, "Monumenti," No. 366), when, even according
to Mr. Cook's theory, he must have been thirty years old; and he is
actually so called in 1528 (_ibid_. No. 403), after appearing in several
intermediate documents as "maestro" (Nos. 373, 377). If this argument,
however, proves unsound, the last point - viz. that the well-known
petition to the senate in 1513 reads more like that of a man of
twenty-four than one of thirty-seven - must be left to the hypothesis of
individual conjecture.

Must we really close these very long inquiries by confessing they are
beyond our ken? It almost seems so. For, with regard to the testimony
afforded by family documents, Dr. Jacobi (whose labours were utilised by
Crowe and Cavalcaselle) so conscientiously examined all that is left,
that a discovery in this direction is not to be looked for. Is the
statement of Tizianello that Titian's year of birth was 1477 to be
rejected without further question when we remember that, as a relative
of the painter, he could have had in 1622 access to documents possibly
since lost?

Under these circumstances the only thing left to do is to question the
works of Titian. Of these, two can be dated, not indeed with certainty,
but with some degree of probability: the dedicatory painting of the
Bishop of Pesaro with the portrait of Alexander VI. of 1502-03, and the
picture of St. Mark, already mentioned, of the year 1504. Both are, to
judge by the style, clearly early works, and both can be connected with
definite historical events of the years just mentioned. That these
paintings, however, could be the work of a fourteen- to fifteen-year-old
artist Mr. Cook will also admit to be impossible.

Much, far too much, in the story of Venetian painting must, for want of
definite information, be left to conjecture; and however unsatisfactory
it is, we must make the confession that we know as little about the date
of the birth of the greatest of the Venetians as we know of Giorgione's,
Sebastiano's, Palma's, and the rest. But supposing all of a sudden
information turned up giving us the exact date of Titian's birth, would
the picture of the development of Venetian painting be any the different
for it? In no wise. The relation to one another of the individual
artists of the younger generation is so clearly to be read in each man's
work, that no external particulars, however interesting they might be on
other grounds, could make the smallest difference. Titian's relations
with Giorgione especially could not be otherwise represented than has
been long determined, and that whether Titian was born in 1476, 1477,
1480, or even two or three years later.[167] GEORG GRONAU.


_Reply to Dr. Gronau. Reprinted from "Repertorium für
Kunstwissenschaft," vol. xxv., parts 1 and 2_

I must thank Dr. Georg Gronau for his very fair reply, published in
these pages[168] (to my article in the _Nineteenth Century_ on the
subject of Titian's age[169]). He has also most kindly pointed out two
pieces of contemporary evidence which had escaped my notice, and
although neither of these passages is conclusive proof one way or the
other, they deserve to be reckoned with in arriving at a decision.

Dr. Gronau formulates the evidence shortly thus:

Vasari in 1566 or 1567 says Titian is over 76
The Spanish Consul in 1567 " " 85
Titian himself in 1571 " he is " 95

and he adds that this new piece of evidence - viz. the letter of the
Spanish Consul to King Philip - instead of helping us, only makes the
confusion worse.

What then are we to think when yet another - a fourth - contemporary
statement turns up, differing from any of the three just quoted? Yet
such a letter exists, and I am happy in my turn to point out this fresh
piece of evidence, in the hope that instead of making the confusion
worse, it will help us to arrive at some decision.

On October the 15th, 1564, Garcia Hernandez, Envoy in Venice from King
Philip II., writes to the King his master that Titian begged that His
Majesty would condescend to order that he should be paid what was due to
him from the court and from Milan.... For the rest the painter was in
fine condition, and quite capable of work, and this was the time, if
ever, to get "other things" from him, as according to some people who
knew him, Titian was about ninety years old, though he did not show it,
and for money everything was to be had of him.[170]

In 1564 then the Spanish Envoy writes that Titian was said to be about
ninety. Let us then enlarge Dr. Gronau's table by this additional
statement, and further complete it by including the earliest piece of
evidence, the statement of Dolce in 1557 that Titian was scarcely twenty
when he worked at the Fondaco de' Tedeschi frescoes (1507-8). The year
of Titian's birth thus works out:

Writing in 1557, Dolce makes out Titian was born about 1489
" " 1566-7, Vasari " " " 1489
" " 1564, Spanish Envoy " " 1474
" " 1567, Spanish Consul " " 1482
" " 1571, Titian himself " " 1476

Now it is curious to notice that the last three statements are all made
in letters to King Philip, either by Titian himself, or at his request
by the Spanish agents.

It is curious to notice these statements as to Titian's great age occur
in begging letters.[171]

It is curious to notice they are mutually contradictory.

What are we to conclude?

Surely that the Spanish Envoy, the Spanish Consul, and Titian himself,
out of their own mouths stand convicted of inconsistency of statement,
and further that they betray an identical motive underlying each
representation - viz. an appeal _ad misericordiam._

Before, however, contrasting the value of the evidence as found in these
Spanish letters with the evidence as found in Dolce and Vasari, let us
note two points in these letters.

Garcia Hernandez, the Spanish Envoy, writes: "According to some people
who knew him, Titian was about ninety years old, though he did not show
it." Now, if Titian was really about ninety in the year 1564, he will
have lived to the age of one hundred and two, a feat of longevity of
which no one has ever accused him! Apart, therefore, from the healthy
scepticism which Hernandez betrays in this letter, we may certainly
conclude that "some people who knew him" were exaggerating Titian's age.

Secondly, Titian's letter of 1571 says he is ninety-five years old.
Titian's similar letter of 1576, the year of his death, omits to say he
is one hundred. Surely a strange omission, considering that he refers to
his old age three times in this one letter.[172] Does not the second
letter correct the inexactness of the first? and so Titian's statement
goes for nothing?

The collective evidence, then, of these Spanish letters amounts to this,
that, in the words of the Envoy, "for money everything was to be had of
Titian," and accordingly any statement as to his great age when thus
made for effect must be treated with the greatest suspicion.

But is the evidence of Dolce and Vasari any more trustworthy? Dr. Gronau
is at pains to show that both these writers often made mistakes in
their dates, a fact which no one can dispute. Their very incorrectness
is the more reason however for trusting them in this instance, for they
happen to agree about the date of Titian's birth; and, although neither
of them expressly gives the year 1489, they indicate separate and
independent events in his life, the one, Dolce, at the beginning, the
other, Vasari, at the end, which when looked into give the same result.

Moreover, be Dolce ever so anxious to cry up his hero Titian, and make
him out to have been precocious, and be Vasari ever so inexact in his
chronology, we must remember that, when both of them wrote, the
presumption of unusual longevity had not arisen, and that their evidence
therefore is less likely to be prejudiced in this respect than the
evidence given in obituary notices, such as occurs in Borghini's
_Riposo_ of 1584, and in the later writers like Tizianello and Ridolfi.

That Borghini therefore says Titian was ninety-eight or ninety-nine when
he died, and that Tizianello and Ridolfi, thirty-eight and sixty-four

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12

Online LibraryHerbert CookGiorgione → online text (page 10 of 12)