Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

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before he was old enough for serious teaching, had a long
career from that beginning until the day when he was
carried to the Frari in hasty state, by special order of
the Signoria, to be buried there against all law and rule,
while the other victims of the plague were taken in secret
to outlying islands and put into the earth out of the way,
in the hideous panic which that horrible complaint brought
with it. But never during all this long interval, three
parts of a century, had he given up the close pursuit of
his art. And what changes during that time had passed
over Art in Venice! The timid tempera period was
altogether extinct the disciples of the old school all
gone; and of the first generation which revolutionized
the Venetian bottegas, and brought nature and the secret
of lustrous modern color, and ease and humanity into
Art, none were left. Bellini and Carpaccio and all the
throng of lesser masters had been swept away in the long
inevitable procession of the generations. And their
principles had been carried into the sensuous brilliancy
of a development which loved color and the dimpled
roundness of flesh, and the beauty which is of the body
rather than the mind. When Titian began, his teachers
and masters applied all their faculties to the setting forth
of a noble ideal, of perfect devotion and purity of man-
hood and womanhood, with the picturesque clothing and
sentiment of their century, yet consecrated by some
higher purpose, something in which all the generations
should sympathize and be of accord. When he ended,


the world was full of images lovely in their manner, in
which the carnagione of the naked limbs, the painting of
a dimple, were of more importance than all the emotions
that touch the soul. It is none of our business to make
moral distinctions between the one method and the other.
This was the result in Venice of that new inspiration
which the older painters had first turned to every pious
and noble use. And it was Titian in his love of beauty,
in his love of money, in his magnificent faculty of work
and adaptability to the wishes of the time, that brought
it about. His associates of youth all dropped from him,
the gentle Palma, now called il Vecchio, dying midway
in the career of the robuster companion, as Giorgione
had fallen at its beginning. In his long life and endless
labors, as well as in his more persevering and steady
power, Titian, whatever hints and instructions he may
have taken, as his later prosaic biographers suggest, from
each of them, outdid them both. And there can be no
doubt that he still stands above them all, at least in the
general estimation; dwelling in a supremacy of skill and
strength upon the side of the deep, flowing stream that
divides Venice; dominating everything that came after
him, like the white marble mountain of the Salute, but
never learning the heavenly secret of the elder brother-
hood who first instructed his youth.

There are some picturesque anecdotes of Titian which
everybody knows, as, for instance, that of the astounding
moment in which the painter having dropped a brush,
great Charles, the lord of so many kingdoms, a Spaniard
and accustomed to the utmost rigidity of etiquette, the
Roman emperor at the apex of human glory, made the
hair stand on end of every courtly beholder by picking it
up. " Your servant is unworthy of such an honor," said
Titian, in words that might have been addressed to some-
thing divine. "A Titian is worthy to be served by
Caesar," replied his imperial majesty, not undervaluing
the condescension, as perhaps a friendly English prince
who had acted on impulse, or a more light-hearted
Frenchman with the de Hen of exquisite courtesy, might
have done. Charles knew it was an incident for history,
and conducted himself accordingly. There is a prettier
and more pleasant suggestion in the scene recorded by
Ridolfi, which describes how Titian, while painting


Alfonso of Este, the Duke of Ferrara, was visited by
Ariosto with the divino suo poema in his pocket, which he
was still in the course of writing who read aloud his
verses for the delight of both sitter and painter, and
afterward talked it over, and derived much advantage
from Titian's criticisms and remarks, which helped him
" in the description of landscapes and in setting forth
the beauty of Alcina, Angelica, and Bradamante."
"Thus," Ridolfi adds, "Art held the office of mute
poetry, and poetry of painting eloquent."



WHEN Titian was at the height, or rather approaching
the height, of his honors, a certain little dyer, or dyer's
son, a born Venetian, from one of the side canals where
the tintori are still by times to be seen, purple-limbed
from the dye-houses, was brought to his studio. The lad
had daubed with his father's colors since he could walk,
tracing figures upon the walls and every vacant space,
and, no doubt, with his spirito siravagante making himself
a nuisance to all his belongings. Robusto, the father,
was a man of sense, no doubt, and saw it was vain to
strive against so strong a natural impulse; besides, there
was no reason why he should do so, for he had no posi-
tion to forfeit, and the trade of a painter was a prosper-
ous trade, and not one to be despised by any honest
citizen. We are not told at what age young Jacopo, the
tintorettino, the little dyer, came into the great painter's
studio. But he was born in 1512, and if we suppose him
to be fifteen or so, no doubt that would be the furthest
age which he was likely to have reached before being set
to his apprenticeship by a prudent Venetian father. The
story of his quickly interrupted studies there is told by
Ridolfi with every appearance of truthfulnes.

"Not many days after, Titian came into the room
where his pupils worked, and seeing at the foot of one
of the benches certain papers upon which figures were
drawn, asked who had done them. Jacopo, who was the
author of the same, afraid to have done wrong, timidly
said that they were from his hand. Titian perceiving
from these beginnings that the boy would probably be-
come a great man, and give him trouble in his supremacy
of art, had no sooner gone upstairs and laid aside his
mantle than he called Girolamo, his pupil (for in human
breasts jealousy works like a canker), to whom he gave
orders to send Jacopo away."



"Thus," adds Ridolfi, "without hearing the reason, he
was left without a master." The story is an ugly one for
Titian. Though it is insinuated of other masters that they
have regarded the progress of their pupils with alarm,
there has been no such circumstantial account of profes-
sional jealousy in the very budding of youthful powers.
Vasari, who was a contemporary of both, and a friend of
Titian, though he does not mention this incident, gives
in his sketch of the younger painter a picture which ac-
cords in every respect with Ridolfi's detailed biography,
though the criticism of Vasari has all the boldness of a
contemporary, and that lively, amused appreciation with
which a calm looker-on beholds the eccentricities of a
passionate genius which he admires but cannot under-
stand. Tintoretto's violence and extravagance had be-
come classical by Ridolfi's time. They were still half
ridiculous, a thing to talk about with shrugged shoulders
and shaken head, in the days when Messer Giorgio of
Florence had the story told to him, or perhaps saw with
his own eyes the terrible painter rushing with the force of
a giant at his work.

In the same city of Venice [says Vasari, suddenly bursting into this
lively narrative in the midst of the labored record of a certain Battista
Franco who was nobody] there lived and lives still a painter called
Jacopo Tintoretto, full of worth and talent, especially in music and in
playing divers instruments, and in other respects amiable in all his
actions; but in matters of art, extravagant, capricious, swift, and resolute;
and the most hot-headed \il pi-U terribile cervelld\ that ever has taken
painting in hand, as may be seen in all his works and in the fantastic
composition which he puts together in his own way, different from the
use and custom of other painters; surpassing extravagance with new and
capricious inventions, and strange whims of intellect; working on the
spur of the moment and without design, almost as if art was a mere
pleasantry. Sometimes he will put forth sketches as finished pictures,
so roughly dashed in that the strokes of the brush are clearly visible, as
if done by accident or in defiance rather than by design and judgment.
He has worked almost in every style in fresco, in oil, portraits from
nature, and at every price; in such away that, according to their different
modes, he has painted and still paints the greater number of pictures
that are executed in Venice. And as in his youth he showed much un-
derstanding in many fine works, if he had known the great principle
which there is in nature, and aided it with study and cool judgment, as
those have done who have followed the fine methods of their predecessors,
and had not, as he has done, abandoned this practice, he would have been
one of the best painters who have ever been known in Venice not that
it should be understood by this that he is not actually a fine and good
painter, of a vivid, fanciful, and gracious spirit.


How this swift, imperious, masterful genius was formed,
Ridolfi tells us with much more detail than is usual, and
with many graphic touches; himself waking up in the
midst of his somewhat dry biographies with a quickened
interest, and that pleasure in coming across a vigorous,
original human being amid so many shadows which none
but a writer of biographical sketches can fully know. No
one of all our painters stands out of the canvas like the
dyer's son, robust as his name, a true type, perhaps the
truest of all, of his indomitable race. When he was
turned out of Titian's studio, " everyone may conceive,"
says Ridolfi, " what disgust he felt in his mind."

But such affronts become sometimes powerful stimulants to the noble
spirit, and afford material for generous resolutions. Jacopo, excited by
indignation, although still but a boy, turned over in his mind how to
carry on the career he had begun and not allowing himself to be carried
away by passion, knowing the greatness of Titian, whose honors were
predicted by all, he considered in every way how, by means of studying
the works of that master, and the relievos of Michael Angelo Buonarotti,
reputed father of design, he might become a painter. Thus, with the
help of these two divine lights, whom painting and sculpture have ren-
dered so illustrious in modern times, he went forward toward his desired
end; well advised to provide himself with secure escort to point out the
path to him in difficult passages. And in order not to deviate from his
proposed course he inscribed the laws which were to regulate his studies
upon the walls of the cabinet in which he pursued them, as follows :


Upon this he set himself to collect from all quarters, not without
great expense, casts of ancient marbles ; and procured from Florence
the miniature models done by Daniele Volterrano from the figures upon
the tombs of the Medici, in San Lorenzo in that city ; that is, the
" Aurora," the " Twilight," the " Day " and the " Night," of which he
made a special study ; making drawings of them from every side, and by
the light of a lamp, in order, by the strong shadows thrown from this light,
to form in himself a powerful and effective manner. In the same way,
every arm, hand, and torso which he could collect he drew over and
over again on colored paper with charcoal, in water-colors, and every
other way in which he could teach himself what was necessary for the
uses of art. . . Nor did he give up copying the pictures of Titian,
upon which he established an excellent method of color, so that many
things painted by him in the flower of his age retain all the advantages
of that style to which he added those of much observation from his
continual studies, and thus following the traces of the best masters,
advanced with great steps toward perfection.

We need not follow Ridolfi in his detailed account of
all the experiments of the self-instructed painter how


he "departed from the study of nature alone, which for
the most part produces things imperfect, not conjoining,
except rarely, all the parts of corresponding beauty";
how he improvised for himself a course of anatomy; how
he forestalled the lay figures of modern times by models
of wax and plaster, upon which he hung his draperies;
how he arranged his lights, both by day and night, so
as to throw everything into bold relief. His invention
seems to have been endless; in his solitary workshop,
without the aid of any master, the young man faced by
himself all the difficulties of his art, and made for himself
many of the aids which the ingenuity of later ages has
been supposed to contrive for the advantage of the
student. Nor did the confine himself to his studio, or to
those endless expedients for seeing his models on every
side, and securing the effect of them in every light.

He also continued, in order to practice himself in the management
of color, to visit every place where painting was going on and it is
said that, drawn by the desire of work, he went with the builders to
Cittadella, where round the rays of the clock he painted various fanci-
ful matters, solely to relieve his mind of some of the innumerable
thoughts that filled it. He went much about also among the painters
of lower pretensions who worked in the Piazza of San Marco on the
painters' benches, to learn their method too.

The painters' benches, le banche per depintori, were, as
Ridolfi tells us in another place, under the porticoes in
the Piazza, where, according to an ancient privilege
granted by the Senate, the poorer or humbler members
of the profession plied their trade; painting on chests
and probably other articles of furniture "histories,
foliage, grotesques, and other bizarre things." They
would seem to have worked in the open air, unsheltered
save by the arches of the colonnade, where now tourists
sip their ices, and gossiping politicians congregate; and
to have sold their wares as they worked, a lowly but not
unprofitable branch of an already too much followed pro-
fession. The depintori da banche seem to have been a
recognized section of artists, and such a painter as
Schiavone was fain by times in his poverty, we are told,
to get a day's work from a friend of this humble order.
The dyer's son, it is evident, had no such need. He
went but to look on; to watch how they got those bold
effects which told upon the cassettone for a bourgeois


rted from the study of nature alone, which for

the mo*t part produces things imperfect, not conjoining,

, all the parts of corresponding beauty";

ruprovised for himself a course of anatomy; how

restalled the lay figures of modern times by models

.ix and plaster, upon which he hung his draperies;

how he arranged his lights, both by- day and night, so

as to throw everything into bold relief. His invention

seems to have been endless; in his solitary workshop,

without the aid of any master, the young man faced by

himself all the difficulties of his art, and made for himself

many of the aids which the ingenuity of later ages has

been supposed to contrive for the advantage of the

student. Nor did the confine himself to his studio, or to

those endless expedients for seeing his models on every

side, and securing the efr in in every light.

He also continued, in ordtr ; .<# -* tiiisclf in the management

of color, to visit every plai . w going on and it is

said that, drawn by the desire 'i the builders to

Cittadella, where round the rays of i 1 irious fanci-

ful matters, solely to reliV- i Tierable

thoughts that filled it J HF BRIDGE OF SlGHS
of lower pretensions v
painters' benches, to learn their mc'.h

The painters' benches, It As
Ridolfi tells us in an..
the Piazza, where, accord in...
granted by the Senate, the p
of the profession plied their trad?

and probably other articles of histories,

grotesques, and other b; ungs." They

in to have worked in the open air, unsheltered

ie arches of the colonnade, where now tourists

and gossiping politicians congregate; and

heir wares as they worked, a lowly but not

h of an already too much followed pro-

-intori da banche seem to have been a

recog >n of artists, and such a painter as

Sciiia-. times in his poverty, we are told,

to get a d om a friend of this humble order.

The dyer's s evident, had no such need. He

went but to 'n watch how they got those bold

effects which : the cassettcne for a bouv


bride, or the finer ornamentation of the coffer which was
to inclose the patrican lady's embroideries of gold. He
scorned no instruction, wherever he could find it, this
determined student, whom Titian had refused to teach.

And it adds a new feature to that ancient Venice which
was so like, yet unlike, the present city of the sea, to
behold thus clearly, in the well-known scene, the painters
on their benches, with their long panels laid out for sale,
and admiring groups lingering in their walk to watch
over the busy artist's shoulder the progress he was mak-
ing, or to cheapen the fine painted lid of a box which
was wanted for some approaching wedding. The new
porticoes were not yet quite completed, and the chip-
pings of the stones, and all the dust of the masons'
work, must have disturbed the painters, who were of too
little account to trouble Sansovino, the fine architect,
who was then piling up the Procuratie Nuove in those
dignified masses, over the heads of all the gay and varied
life going on below.

In those days [adds Ridolfi], which may be called the happy days
of painting, there abounded in Venice many youths of fine genius,
who, full of talent, made great progress in art, exhibiting in emulation
one with another the result of their labors in the Merceria in order to
know the opinions of the spectators ; where also Tintoretto, with his
inventions and fancies, did not fail to show the effects which God and
nature had worked in him. And among the things which he thus
exhibited were two portraits, one of himself with a relievo in his hand,
the other of his brother playing the harp, represented by night with such
tremendous force [can si terribile maniera\ that every beholder was
struck with amazement ; at sight of which a gentle bystander, moved by
the sight of so much poetic rapture, sung thus :

" Si Tinctorettus noctes sic lucet in umbris
Exorto faciet quid radiante Die?"

He exhibited also in Rialto a history with many figures, the fame of
which reached the ears of Titian himself, who, going up to it in haste,
could not contain his praises, though he wished no good to his despised
scholar ; genius \la virtu] being of that condition that, even when full of
envy, it cannot withhold praise of true merit though in an enemy."

With all this, however, Tintoretto did not prosper in
the exercise of his profession. He got no commissions
like the other young men. The cry was all for Palma
Vecchio, for Pordenone, for Bonifazio, says Ridolfi, per-
haps not too exact in his dates; but above all, for Titian,
who received most of the commissions of importance.


Titian himself, however, was, at the probable time
referred to, about 1530, the earliest date at which Tin-
toretto could possibly match himself against the elder
painters, much pressed by Pordenone, to whom the
Senate were anxious to hand over his uncompleted work.
In short, it is evident that the brotherhood of art was
already suffering from too much competition. The
dyer's energetic son, who seems to have had no pinch
of necessity forcing him to paint cassettoni like the other
poor painters, moved heaven and earth with the high-
handed vigor which pecuniary independence gives, to
get work for himself, and to make himself known. If it
was work which did not pay, no matter; the determined
painter took it in hand all the same; and to poor
churches in need of decoration his advent would be
a godsend. Whether it was an organ that wanted paint-
ing, or the front of a house, or an altar-piece for a little
out-of-the-way chapel, he was ready for all. On one
occasion a house which was being built near the Ponte
dell' Angelo seemed to him to afford a fitting opportu-
nity for the exhibition of his powers. He addressed
himself, accordingly, to the builders, with whom it
seems to have been the interest of the painters to keep
a good understanding, and who were often intrusted
with the responsibility of ordering such frescoes as
might be required, who informed him that the master
of the house did not want any frescoes painted. But
Tintoretto, intoxicated, no doubt, with the prospect of
that fine, fair wall all to himself, to cover as he would,
" determined, in one way or another, to have the painting
of it," and proposed to the master-mason to paint the
house for nothing; for the price of the colors merely.
This offer, being submitted to the proprietor, was
promptly accepted, and the painter had his way.

Something of the same kind happened, according to
Ridolfi, in a more serious undertaking at the church of
the Madonna dell' Orto. With his many thoughts
"boiling in his fruitful brain," and with an overwhelming
desire to prove himself the boldest painter in the world,
he suddenly proposed to the prior of this convent to
paint the two sides of the chief chapel behind the great
altar. The frescoed house-fronts are visible no longer,
but the two vast pictures in this chapel remain to tell


the tale. The spaces were fifty feet in height, and the
prior laughed at the mad suggestion, thinking that for
such a work the whole year's income of the convent
would scarcely be enough; and, without taking any
notice of the proposal, bade the painter good-day. But
Tintoretto, taking no heed of this dismissal, went on to
say that he would ask nothing for the work, but only the
cost of the material, giving his own time and labor as
a gift. These words made the prior pause; for who
could doubt that to have two such huge illustrations,
superior to all around, without paying anything for
them, would be balm to any Venetian's thoughts?
Finally the bargain was made and the work begun, the
painter flinging himself upon it with all his strength.
The two great pictures one representing the return of
Moses, after receiving the Tablets of the Law, to find
that all Israel was worshiping the golden calf, the
other the Last Judgment were promptly executed, and
still remain, gigantic, to the admiration of all spectators.
The fame of this strange bargain ran through the city,
and attracted the attention of all classes. The critics
and authorities shook their heads and lamented over the
decay of art which had to resort to such measures.
"But little cared Tintoretto for the discussions of the
painters, proposing to himself no other end than self-
satisfaction and glory little useful as these things are."
Both Vasari and Ridolfi concur in the story of a certain
competition at the school of San Rocco, in which Tinto-
retto was to contend with Schiavone, Salviati, and Zuc-
chero for the ornamentation of a portion of the ceiling.
While the others prepared drawings and designs, this
tremendous competitor had the space measured, and with
all his fire of rapid execution, in which nobody could
touch him, so that Vasari says, when the others thought
he had scarcely begun, he had already finished, set to
work to paint a picture of the subject given. When the
day of the competition arrived he conveyed his canvas to
the spot, and had it secretly fixed up in its place and
covered and after the other competitors had exhibited
their drawings he, to the consternation of all, snatched
away the linen which covered his picture and revealed it
completed. A great uproar, as might be supposed, arose.
What the feelings of his rivals were, seeing this march


which he had stolen upon them, may be imagined; but the
authorities of the confraternita, solemnly assembled to sit
upon the merits of the respective designs, were no less
moved. They told him with indignation that they had
met to inspect designs and choose one which pleased

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 28 of 35)