THE Venetian School of Painting which, with its great masters of the sixteenth century, occupies so famous a place in the history of Art, was not only very much later in its development than any other school in Italy, but was essentially different both in its condition and in its intention from any of them, and may be said to have sprung fully armed into existence in the middle of the fifteenth century really without forbears in Venice, and after a brief but very glorious existence of some two hundred years to have passed away, leaving, however, to such men as Canaletto, Guardi, and Tiepolo a remembrance, a shadow of its glory which remains as a wonderful afterglow, if we may say so, upon their work.
Unlike the schools of Florence, Siena, and Umbria, the Venetian school has little fundamentally to do with religion : it is the first, as it is the only, secular school of Italy, and its chief technical characteristic is neither the power and integrity of its drawing, nor its beauty and delight as decoration, but the splendour of its colour, its continual preoccupation with joy and with life.
The school of Florence, the school of Siena early produced each a great master who not only decided the future of painting in both those cities, but in a very real sense summed up in his own achievement what that future was to be. The work of Masaccio, of Michelangelo even, is as implicit in the frescoes of Giotto as the work of Sassetta is in that of Duccio ; but there is nothing in the early Venetians that, even in the smallest measure, prophesies the work of Giorgione, of Titian, of Tintoretto. Nor can we assert that Giorgione himself is such a prophecy, and that in the fifteen pictures which we possess from his hand all the work of Titian, of Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese really lies hid. For each of these men is himself a prophecy which is only fulfilled in the work each accomplished. Giorgione may, it is true, speak for the young Titian ; but who but Titian himself may speak for the later periods of his work? Who but Tintoretto prophesied of Tintoretto? And who but Veronese could have imagined the glory that passes under his name ? Moreover, if in Giorgione we find indeed the Giotto of the school, what are we to make of his so late appearance in 1478, two hundred years and more after the birth of Giotto and Duccio, and how are we properly to explain his forerunners, the Bellini and Carpaccio, for instance, who, if indeed he is their successor, would have been astonished at their progeny ? For the truth is that Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto are each an absolutely new impulse in painting. Fundamentally they owe nothing, accidentally even very little, to their predecessors; and if, as we have said, Titian and Tintoretto were able to find full expression because of the work of Giorgione, it is only in the way that Shakespeare and Milton may be said to owe something, though it might be difficult to assert precisely what it is, to Spenser; what they owe to Chaucer, though doubtless they owe much, it might seem impossible to indicate with any clearness. We may say the same of Venetian painting, which in more ways than one resembles very closely the work of our poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Chaucer’s debt to Italy, to Boccaccio, is as great as the debt of the early Venetians to the Byzantine masters ; but the work of Shakespeare, the work of Milton, the work of Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto are absolutely new things in the world, the result of a new impulse and a new vision, individual and personal to the last degree, owing little to any school and making little of tradition. They are the great creators in Art, and it is to them that all later masters make their appeal, save Rembrandt, perhaps, Velasquez as well as Rubens and Vandyck and Reynolds.
What, then, do we mean by ” the Venetian school ” ? If all that is greatest in the Venetian painters is in each case a new and individual effort, owing little to tradition, the Venetian school might seem to be little more than a term without real significance. Yet, in fact, the Venetian school existed for more than two hundred years; only we find that here the term school means something different from what it does in the case of the Florentines, or the Sienese, or the Umbrians : something different, but not something less fundamental or less living.
By the Florentine school we mean essentially that long line of painters who worked on the lines Giotto had laid down, who extended them and secured them, but never departed from them ; by the Sienese school we mean that line of painters who worked with the same intention and with the same effect as Duccio had worked ; and it is significant that when we come to such men as Sodoma, Girolamo di Benvenuto, Pacchia, and Pacchiarotto we no longer speak of them, Sienese though they be, as of the Sienese school, but confess at once that they have little or nothing to do with it. In Venice it is different. There is nothing essentially of Florence in Florentine painting, there is nothing absolutely of Siena in Sienese work; but we have only to think of the work of the ” Venetian school ” to remember Venice. If, indeed, it is from Giotto that the school of Florence springs, if it is to Duccio that the Sienese painters owe the whole of their art, it is to Venice, and to Venice alone, that the Venetian painters look it is she who has always prophesied of them, and without her they could never have existed at all. When we speak of the Venetian school, then, we mean, in a very precise way, the school of Venice the painters which Venice produced or, at least, made essentially her own, all of whom were born within her dominion. This definition of what we mean by the Venetian school the school which owes everything to Venice alone unites such a master as Lorenzo Veneziano with Carpaccio and the Bellini, and truly connects them all with Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese. Nor is it in any sense far fetched or even strained. For the commercial Republic of Venice was one of the strongest and one of the most vital of the States of the world during many hundreds of years, It was not merely the greatest political power in Italy, but for very many years the greatest commercial power in the world, and, as we have seen, it depended not upon any balance of power in Italy, or even in Europe, but upon both Europe and the East, to which it was the key. Its political decadence sprang at last not from any internal cause, as in Florence or Siena, but from an external misfortune which it was incapable of preventing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. And since such were the conditions, the splendid conditions of its existence, it was capable of realizing a far more intense, a far richer and more energetic personality than any of the little Republics that, hovering between a despotism and a futile democracy, were able politically to distract Italy for so long, while in culture they achieved for us so much of what is most precious in our lives today. Their energies were divided, for their civilization and their culture united at no single point. In Venice, on the contrary, civilization and culture ‘ went hand in hand, and thus when Venice expresses herself, whatever language she uses, we realize at once that we are face to face with a living personality at one with itself. It is to this personality we owe the Venetian School of Painting.
Precisely what I mean will become evident if for a moment we glance at the Republics of Florence and Venice as personalities. We shall then see at once that the great men of Florence were always greater than their city, whereas Venice was always greater than her greatest men. Florence was incapable of absorbing, often even of using, her greatest sons; she sends Dante into exile, she cannot keep Leonardo, Michelangelo she fails either to understand or to comprehend, Galileo she allows to be imprisoned. Venice, on the contrary, lets not one of her sons escape, she is so profoundly living that she absorbs their energies and they enrich her. Marco Polo she both understands and honours, he dies in her arms ; she absorbs the printers and papermakers and becomes the printing press of Italy, even the poems of Lorenzo de’ Medici are printed first at Venice. She alone of the Italian Republics is capable of producing great statesmen and politicians, but she absonbs them ; they are her servants and not her enemies. For centuries she faces the Church and keeps her liberty, like a nation ; and though the League of Cambrai at last destroyed her, she was able to meet it, and that even though she had received her death-blow long before when the treachery of Pio II overthrew Constantinople. What, then, we seem to see in Venice is a nation, the only nation in Italy, and this political and moral fact is decisive for her art, which is as national as the work of the English school of the eighteenth century.
But the Venetian school of painting is peculiar among the schools of Italy in something else beside its nationalism. It is civic rather than religious. By this I mean that it was rather the servant of the city and the citizens, of the State, in fact, than of the Church, and thus it became the first secular school of painting in Italy. There is nothing in all Venice, no series of frescoes or pictures which one may put beside the work of Giotto and his followers in S. Croce, of Ghirlandajo in S. Maria Novella. The pictures of Carpaccio in in S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni were painted for the Dalmatians in the service of nationalism rather than in the service of religion. As for the mosaics of S. Mark’s, they have nothing to do with the Venetian school of painting, are something, in fact, outside of it, and were made, after all, to decorate the chapel of the Doges. If we search for something to put beside the great fresco sequences of the Florentines, we shall find it, not in any church, but in the Doge’s Palace, where at least three series of paintings have been destroyed and replaced by the splendid work wholly of national and civic significance which we see today. And it is the same throughout the city. Not the Church but the secular guilds, the Scuole commissioned and received series of paintings. It is not to the Franciscan Church of the Frari or the Dominican Church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo that we go in search of such things, but to the Scuola di S. Rocco and the Scuola di S. Maria della Carità, now the Academy, and, above all, to the Palace of the Doges. Neither the Scuola di S. Maria della Carità nor the Scuola di S. Rocco were Regular or even ecclesiastical communities, they were lay guilds; and though the works they commissioned for the decoration of their guild houses are religious in subject, they are concerned rather with the guild and its intention than with religious teaching. Thus we see that the Venetian school of painting, wholly national in its inception, was altogether civic in its practice. The painters depended not upon the Church or the Religious Orders for their commissions, but upon the Government and the lay guilds of the people. So that in Venice we have the first great school of Italian painting which was in no way the servant of the Church.
That this great school was, in fact, to be a national school does not become evident till it was firmly established in the fifteenth century by the Bellini. The earliest work that passes under the name of Venetian, and that was largely done in the service of the Church, was for the most part the work of foreigners. This becomes evident at once if we examine the pictures collected in the Academy in their chronological order. If Niccolô Semilicolo (13511400) is a Venetian one would not be convinced of it by his Coronation of the Virgin (23) or by the smaller works in that collection from his hand. He might seem to have no connexion at all with the work of the Bellini. If in the splendid work of Lorenzo Veneziano (13571379) we seem to find something more national, especially in the beautiful ancona (20) of the Annunciation with saints and scenes from the Old Testament, which comes from the demolished Church of S. Antonio di Castello, he is but an isolated prophecy of the splendour that is to be, for in his work what we take to be Venetian might seem rather to be Byzantine, and to owe more to Constantinople than to Venice. And if we think it strange that the Byzantine tradition should be still found in Venice on the eve of the fifteenth century, we must remember the geographical position of the city, and that nationalism, which was the secret of her being, had not yet been able to express itself. Yet in a very real sense the Byzantinism of Lorenzo is a blind, but nevertheless a certain, striving for that very thing. Of that we may be certain, for Giotto had long since been in Padua, and there his work remained. Yet Venice preferred what she had long ago made her own and still found in her own buildings and mosaics to Tuscan naturalism.
Nevertheless one may be sure that even in regard to Venice Giotto did not paint wholly in vain. We find his influence in the work of Altichiero of Padua, just as we find the influence of two other schools, the Umbrian in the work of Gentile da Fabriano and the German in the work of Johannes Alemannus, whom we call Giovanni da Murano, and it is these masters, in fact, who faintly and very far off influence, as far as any foreigners were able to do, the first painters of the national Venetian school.
Paduan work, and still better, work strongly influenced by the Paduans, is to be seen in the Academy ; but it is in the beautiful altarpiece (625) of Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni da Murano that we find perhaps the finest work of these half Venetian, half-foreign masters. There we see the Madonna enthroned with her Divine Child. Her expression is cold, even insipid, and yet pensive withal. The enclosed garden in which she sits reminds us of many an old German picture, but the whole is in some subtle fashion a prophecy of something warmer and more passionate than anything Germany will know how to produce, and the spell of Venice seems already to have fallen upon men who must have felt their fetters.
But it is in the work of Gentile da Fabriano, an Umbrian, that it seems to me Venice was most fortunate in the influence from without. In all the schools of Italy she could have found no more congenial prince to awake her. The painter of the glorious Adoration of the Shepherds in the Florence Academy might seem to have been a Venetian almost without knowing it, and his work in the Doge’s Palace, where he was employed to paint the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, without doubt exercised the supreme influence upon the first master of the true Venetian school I mean Jacopo Bellini, as well as upon such masters as Antonio da Negroponte and the later masters of the Murano school.
Jacopo Bellini was active between 1430 and 1470 ; he was Gentile’s pupil, and came directly under the influence of one of the great masters of Northern Italy, Vittore Pisano of Verona, whom we call Pisanello. Pisanello worked at Venice in conjunction with Gentile da Fabriano, and these two painters may be said to have been the real founders of the Venetian school. For it is in the work of their pupils, and especially in the work of Jacopo Bellini and his pupils, that we find that school to have been established.
There remains in Venice, happily, more of the very rare work of Jacopo Bellini than anywhere else. In the Academy there is a Madonna and Child (582) which is rather disappointing, and in the Museo Civico (Sala IX, 42) a Crucifixion, while a doubtful S. Giovanni Crisogono on horseback remains in S. Trovaso. But if the Venetian character of Jacopo’s work seems rather shadowy, we are assured of it at once in the great and plentiful work of his sons, Giovanni (14301516) and Gentile (14291507).
A whole room is devoted to the work of Giovanni Bellini in the Academy, and his work is plentiful in the Museo Civico and in the churches of the city. No one in looking upon it could mistake it for anything but Venetian ; for though Giovanni was formed in Padua under the influence of Donatello, he was first his father’s pupil, and it is probable that his greatest work was done for the Doge’s Palace in his native city. What remains to us in the Academy is the six Madonna pictures and the five small allegories, and there is nothing in any one of them all that any but a master of the Venetian school could have painted. The work of his brother Gentile, who was also influenced by the Paduans, is rarer, though not in Venice. In the Academy we have four pictures: the first the picture of Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani (570), painted in 1465 ; the second the wonderfully lovely Corpus Christi Pro-cession in the Piazza (567), painted in 1496 ; the third the Miracle of the True Cross (508), painted in 1500 ; and the last the Healing by the True Cross (563), also a pageant picture. In such works as these we see how profoundly national the school was.
It is these men and their pupils who make up the school of Venice.
But here something must be said of a painter born, and as far as we know bred, in Southern Italy, who came to Venice in 1473, in the middle of the career of Giovanni Bellini. This painter was Antonello da Messina, and it was from him that, though we are unable to say how he acquired it, the Venetian painters learned to paint in oil. Only two of his works remain in Venice, an Ecce Homo in the Academy (589), and a Portrait of a Man in the Giovanelli Collection. In contact with the Vivarini and Bellini his style developed; and though it perhaps may be unjust to say that he received as much as he gave, seeing that what he gave was a new means and material in painting, he certainly became a much finer painter, especially a portrait painter, than without Venice it seems likely he would have been. As a colourist, too, and this he would owe as much to that unknown Flemish painter whom we suppose to have been his first master as from the Venetians, he has had few equals, but it is chiefly as the introducer of painting in oils that he is significant in the Venetian school.
Among the most famous of his contemponaries, whom thus far at least were his disciples, are Vittore Carpaccio, who was working from 1478 to 1522, and was the pupil and follower of Gentile Bellini and Cima da Conegliano, who worked at the same time, and was the pupil of Alvise Vivarini and the disciple of Giovanni Bellini. The greater master of the two was Carpaccio, who in the many works by him that remain in Venice shows himself as an ideal painter of genre, which, when all is said, remains the true foundation of the Venetian school. We have seen the delightful work of Carpaccio in S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni in S. Giorgio Maggiore and in S. Vitale, two pictures by him are also to be found in the Museo Civico, but his most charming and delightful works are here in the Academy, where the Sala di S. Ursula and part of the old church of the Carità is surrounded by a series of large pictures from his hand concerning the story of S. Ursula, the Breton princess whose hand was sought by the son of the King of England, and who perished, with eleven thousand virgins, under the swords of the Huns at Cologne. Nothing, I suppose, in all Venetian art is more characteristic of it at its simplest than the Dream of S. Ursula, where we see a quiet room full of the cool morning light and all the simple furniture a maid would need, and there in bed lies S. Ursula asleep, dreaming of her prince and her pilgrimage to Rome. It is as though in Carpaccio’s hands the most fantastic and improbable story of the Dark Age had become true, true to life and full of meaning, a sort of ideal reality which we shall search for in vain, I think, out of Venice. Of other works by the same master some are altogether lacking in this quality. We find it in the Healing of a Madman by the Rialto Bnidge (566), painted in 1455 ; in the Meeting of S. Joachim and S. Anna (90), painted in 1515; and in the Circumcision (44) of 1510.
Cima, too, is well represented in Venice, for beside his works in the Carmine, in S. Giovanni in Bragora, in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and in S. Maria dell’ Orto, which we have already examined, there are six of his works in the Academy : a Madonna and six saints (36), Tobias and the Angel with S. James and S. Nicholas (592), a Madonna and Child (597), a Madonna and Child with S. John and S. Paul (603), a Pietà (604), and a Christ with S. Thomas and S. Magnus (611). Less original, perhaps, than Carpaccio, Cima is nevertheless one of the greatest of Giovanni’s disciples. In him we see the other great characteristic of the Venetian school, for he is full of enthusiasm for landscape, the genre painting of out-of-doors, and in this he rivals his master. Over and over again he paints the hills of his birthplace, Conegliano, as though he loved them, and indeed with him landscape painting became one of the secure and great achievements of the Venetian school.
We have said that he was the pupil of Luigi or Alvise Vivarini. This painter (1461-1503) was of the Murano school, but he came under the influence of Giovanni Bellini, and thus entered the true Venetian school of the fifteenth century. Many works by him remain up and down Venice, while in the Academy there are four pictures of saintsS. Matthew (619), S. John (618), S. Sebastian, S. Anthony, S. John Baptist, and S. Laurence (6zr), an early work, S. Clare (593), a Head of Christ (87), a later work, and a Madonna and Child with six saints (607) of 1480.
Thus we see the Venetian school of the fifteenth century with a common origin in the Bellini, and especially in Giovanni Bellini. For we have by no means named all the brilliant painters who passed through Giovanni’s hands. We have yet to speak of Catena, a native of Treviso, whose first master was a painter of that city, Girolamo da Treviso by name. Catena, however, owes almost everything to Giovanni Bellini, in whose school he continued his education, coming later under the influence of Carpaccio, and later still under that of Giorgione.
Catena, who was active certainly from 1495-1531, but the date of whose birth is uncertain, was, in fact, one of the best pupils Giovanni Bellini ever had. His work is not plentiful in Venice, but what there is is chiefly early work; that, for instance, in the Palazzo Ducale, a Madonna with two saints and the Doge Loredan, a Madonna with S. John Baptist and another saint in Palazzo Giovanelli, a S. Trinità in S. Simeone, and a Madonna and Child in S. Trovaso. His work finds no place in the Academy. Vasari praises him for his portraits, but not one of these remains in Venice.
Another painter born at Treviso, Bissolo (1464-1528), was also a pupil of Giovanni Bellini, whom, in fact, he assisted in his work. He has not the brilliance of Catena, and is too often a disappointing pupil of his master. His work in Venice is fairly plentiful, and works by him exist in S. Giovanni in Bragora, in S. Maria Mater Domini in the Redentore, and in the Museo Civico, where is a Madonna and Child with S. Peter Martyr. The Academy possesses four of his paintings : a Marriage of S. Catherine (79), a Pietà (88), a Presentation in the Temple (93), and a Madonna with S. James and Job.
We find another follower of Bellini in Marco Basaiti, who was active from 1470-1527. He was probably a native of Friuli, and had passed through the hands of Alvise Vivarini. His work is somewhat hard and dry, yet often severe and full of dignity, but he cannot claim to be among the greater pupils of his great master. His work in the Academy consists of five pictures : a Calling of the Sons of Zebedee (39) and a Christ in the Garden (68), both painted in 1510, a S. James and S. Antony (68), a Pietà (108), S. George and the Dragon (102), painted in 1520, in which we discern Carpaccio’s influence, and a S. Jerome (39).
Such were the best masters of the fifteenth century in Venice; and while all of them may be said to proceed from the studio of the Bellini, there is not one of them who does not show the profound influence of Venice herself. This influence, which makes the Venetian the one great national school of painting in Italy, comes to its own, and is emphasized in the great painters of the sixteenth century, the true glory of Venice. They too proceed from the school of Giovanni Bellini, and thus complete the direct descent of what is, when all is said, the greatest school of painting that has ever existed in the world.
And these painters of the sixteenth century in Venice express the fundamental origins of the school in all their strength. That school, as has been said, was never religious but rather civic in its origin, and it is in these heirs of the Bellini, the great pageant painters, that we realize that fact to the fullest extent. For with Giorgione (1478-1510), the pupil of Giovanni Bellini, who came under the influence of Carpaccio, we have a new creation in Art ; he is the first painter of the true ” easel picture,” the picture which is neither painted for a church nor to adorn a great public hall, but to hang on the wall of a room in a private house for the delight of the owner. For Giorgione the individual exists, and it is for him, for the most part, he works, and thus stands on the threshold of the modern world. Born in Castelfranco, a walled town of the Veneto not far from Bassano, not far from Treviso, Giorgione lived but thirty-two years, dying of plague, as it is said, in 1510. In these short thirty-two years, however, he found time to recreate Venetian painting, to return it to its origins, and to make the career of his great fellow-pupil, Titian, whom he may be said to have formed, possible. And with the art of Titian all that was best, most fundamental, and implicit in Venetian painting came to flower. He sums up Venice, and is, in fact, to painting what Shakespeare is to literature, the greatest master of the modern world.
Of Giorgione’s work, in its subtle and serene rhythm, in its perfect reconciliation of matter and form, musical, aspiring as Pater has so well said, “towards the condition of music,” one supreme example remains in Venice,the Gipsy and the Soldier of the Palazzo Giovanelli. If the Apollo and Daphne of the Seminario be less fine, we must not fail to note what ravages time and the spoiler have worked upon it ; while the Christ bearing the Cross at S. Rocco remains a lovely, if less characteristic, picture. In the Academy, unhappily, there is but a late work by this rare and delightful master, a picture of a storm stilled by S. Mark (516), which is his in part only, and which was finished by Paris Bordone. But in the Giovanelli and the Seminario pictures we have in Venice perfect examples of those ” easel pictures ” of which he was the creator pictures which are concerned with a delightful out-of-doors and foresee so much of what is most delightful in true landscape painting, which ane yet genre pictures of the best and most ideal kind, and which were painted for the delight of private persons, to bring light into a house and to make it home.
We owe to Giorgione in great part, too, the enormous vogue of the portrait that with him began to take the world by storm. His early Portrait of a Man, in Berlin, his Portrait of Antonio Brocardo, in Buda Pesth, his Knight of Malta, in the Uffizi, his Portrait of a Lady, in the Borghese Gallery in Rome are the great ensamples which Titian followed and at last perfected.
Of his actual pupils and scholars the most important was perhaps Sebastiano del Piombo (14851547), who had already passed through the hands of Giovanni Bellini and Cima, and was later to feel the influence of quite another master, Michelangelo. Probably the best example of his work under Giorgione’s influence is afforded by his S. Chrysostom in S. Giovanni Crisostomo in Venice, but his work in S. Bartolommeo approaches it in beauty, and if the Visitation of the Academy (95) be really his, it is worthy of him at this period.
In Palma Vecchio (14801528) we have another painter, strongly influenced by Giorgione, who had passed through Giovanni Bellini’s hands. He was probably not a Venetian, but he most truly became one, as his work in S. Maria Formosa is enough to testify, though, as Morelli says of him, he always kept about him something of the mountains where he was born. Three pictures from his hand are to be found in the Academy: S. Peter Enthroned with six saints (302), Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (310), and an Assumption of the Virgin (315), a later work. And with Sebastiano is to be named another master, a pupil of Alvise Vivarini, who later came under Giorgione’s influenceI mean that delightful master, Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). Lotto nowadays owes almost all his reputation to the enthusiasm of Mr. Berenson; unrepresented though he be in the Academy of Venice, we find his strangely moving work in the Carmine there, in S. Giacomo dell’ Orio, and in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and never without some thought, I suppose, of all that Venice had revealed to him of life, of life which continually demands a God.
Nor did later painters such as Bonifazio (1510-1540) and Pordenone (1483-1540) escape the supreme influence of the great master. Bonifazio was a pupil of Palma Vecchio, but all that is really best in him he owes to Giorgione. His finest work in Venice is the Dives and Lazarus of the Academy (291), where also may be found a dramatic Massacre of the Innocents (319) from his hand, and a Judgment of Solomon (295), fine in feeling and rich in colour, which was painted in 1533, and is probably his only in part. As for Pordenone he was probably the pupil of Alvise Vivarini, but his art owes all that is good in it to Giorgione, as the works from his hand in the Academy a Portrait of a Lady (305), a Madonna and Child with saints and the Ottobon Family (323), S. Lorenzo Giustiniani and three other saints (316), and a Madonna of Carmel (323) testify.
But when all is said, when all Giorgione’s pupils have been numbered and the men who in a later time came under his influence named, when even his own work, miraculous though it often seems and altogether beautiful and to be loved, is taken into account, Giorgione’s greatest achievement was nevertheless the supreme and living work of Titian, of Titian who was his friend and who entered into his inheritance.
This is no place to begin a discussion of Titian’s achievement, for that achievement is too wide and various and too generally understood and acknowledged for any words of mine to explain or to insure it. For most of us he remains the greatest painter our world has yet produced, and one of the most human and consoling.
Born in the town of Cadore in 1477, Titian came to Venice and entered the bottega of Giovanni Bellini, yet no work we possess certainly from his hand shows him to us at this period of his life. We meet him first as the disciple and friend of his fellow-pupil Giorgione, here in Venice, in the Child Jesus with S. Catherine and S. Andrew of S. Marcuola, and more especially in the earlier work in the sacristy of the Salute, S. Mark Enthroned with four saints. The Academy possesses four of his works, but they are all of a later period, the earliest, the great Assumption, dating from 1518. This vast altarpiece, painted for the High Altar of the Frari, may be said to be the first of Titian’s works in his grand, assured style. Yet, seen as it is under a top light in the Academy, I have never been able to really to understand it or to love it as I might have done had I had the fortune to see it in that dim, vast church of the Friars, where Mary must surely have seemed indeed to soar out of the gloom of the earth into the light of Heaven, where He who is the Light of Light stretches His arms to receive her.
Another vast but more tender work, the Presentation of the Virgin, here in the Academy, was painted between 1534 and 1538 for the very hall it still occupies in the Scuola della Carità, which we now call the Accademia. Perhaps that is why we care for it so much; and though the general scheme of the work is traditional, we have only to remember what Titian makes of that small, awkward rooma very “street of palaces” to realize something of his achievement.
The S. John the Baptist (314), a work of about 1550, from the Church of S. Maria Maggiore, shows us Titian’s use, almost religious in its effect, of landscape, and just there we seem to come again to Giorgione; while in the Pietà (400) we have a work in his last wonderful manner, begun in 1573, two years before his death at the age of ninety-nine, and finished by Palma Giovane. Titian had painted this great and moving canvas for the tomb he wished to prepare for himself in the Cappella del Crocifisso in the Frari ; but before it could be finished, he died of the plague. And under this last achievement of the mighty painter Palma wrote: “What Titian left unfinished, Palma has completed with reverence, and has dedicated the work to God.”
Titian was the last of the true Venetian school ; those who came after him, great painters though they were, were foreigners like Paolo Veronese, or eclectics like Tintoretto. Yet among the followers of Titian one disciple from Treviso must be named before we speak of these two painters, though he, too, fell later under the all-pervading influence of Michelangelo.
Paris Bordone was born in Treviso in 1495, and died in 1570. He was absolutely Venetian by education, and owed everything to Titian, yet he took a line of his own, and his masterpiece, now in the Academy, the Fisherman and the Doge (320), an early work, fully justifies his fame, for it is one of the most interesting works in that collection, which also possesses his Paradise (322).
But the whole of the art of Venice after the death of Titian is, or seems to us to be, overshadowed by the heroic work, almost completely personal in its vision, of Jacopo Tintoretto, who was born in 1518, and was perhaps the pupil of Bonifazio, who passed in turn under the influence of Titian, of Parmigianino, and of Michelangelo, and yet always remained himself. It is, indeed, most characteristic of him that he is himself rather than Venetian. I do not mean that he was unmoved by his environment; far from it: he was always at the mercy of it ; but he sought to express his own personal impressions of the world, of life, of Venetian life, rather than to be, as it were, the national voice, as Titian had certainly been with such a vast success. It is characteristic of him in his great spiritual egoism and strength that he was impatient of the art of Titian. The colour of Titian yes, he cannot but accept that, but he proclaims that he will add to it the design of Michelangelo. In the attempt it seems to me he succeeded only in shadowing forth his discontent, in filling the sky with the light and darkness of his own soul, in thrusting upon man a task too large for him, insisting always that he is rather a demigod than a mortal, a demigod who is never at peace, who has despised small things, and is at home only in the midst of a vast battle of light and darkness in which Heaven, earth, and his own soul are continually involved. He has never understood how to be at peace. How differently Giorgione has regarded the world ! For him the earth, the sky, and the life of man seem to pass into a strain of music; and for Titian, even in his latest period, all is to be understood and expressed by means of beauty or character. It is only Tintoretto who sacrifices everything for energy, and, as it were, by flashes of light and darkness would reveal to us man as a kind of force, tragic and restless and unhappy upon the distracted earth. Yet he painted the beautiful and noble works in the Ante-Collegio of the Ducal Palace and in the year 1578.
But he was the child of an unfortunate age. The vast and invincible forces of disaster that threatened Italy and Venice, the cataclysm of the Reformation, the need of a new revelation in religion, appealed to him with a terrible and tragic fascination ; before the bitter and overwhelming energy of life he was compelled to express himself and to cry out in the agony of his doubt concerning it. It is this appalling struggle, most of all with himself, with the fierce egoism of his own nature, that we see, I think, in so many of his works. The Church has been challenged, and so successfully that Christianity itself seems to be involved in the disaster. So he will insist on its everlasting certainty and truth, yes, for him himself, with an almost demonic energy and force. He will, like a prophet, call up that new revelation ; and so in the Scuola di S. Rocco we see all we have loved no longer humble and poor, but overwhelming in its exaggeration. The humble and appealing figures of the Gospel story are revealed to us anew, heroic in size, filled with a terrible physical energy and strength, in an overwhelming shadow and light such as no man till then had so much as dreamed of, and all is contrived with so much actuality, so realistically, that we feel it to be unreal and even impossible. These figures with their immense torsos and limbs, their vast gestures, and pride, and strength, are Madonna, Christ and His disciples,only we do not recognize them. They fail in their appeal to us, they fail in beauty, not in energy or mastery or beautiful effects of painting, but in that beauty which is truth serene, which belongs to that perfect state which lieth in the heavens, seen there by Plato, and which S. Paul has told us is there eternal. Just this neither Titian nor Giorgione had ever willingly sacrificed, nor as I think, can any artist of any kind safely forget that it is an essential of our joy.
There are many pictures by Tintoretto in the Academy, and among them are several portraits,the Portrait of Carlo Morosini (242), the Portrait of a Senator, a Senator in Prayer (241), the Portrait of Jacopo Soranzo (245), painted in 1564, the Portrait of Andrea Capello (234), an early work, the Portraits of two Senators (244), and again of two Senators (240), and they are all of very great splendour, painted, it seems, with great swiftness and with a fine reserve. If then, when we remember Titian, these works seem less noble, and full of character though they be, to depend more upon their brilliance and a certain jewel like quality, they are only less satisfying than those which are the greatest of all.
With Tintoretto Venetian painting became both personal and eclectic, so that we can no longer regard it as the work of a national school ; in Paolo Veronese it became frankly foreign. Paolo of Verona, born in 1528, never came under the influence of any Venetian master in his youth, he accepted the Spanish invasion with a cheerfulness that recommended his art to the great international religious Orders, and Venice herself in his day seems to have put aside the fear that Tintoretto had so tragically expressed for her. At any rate, she accepted Paolo with delight. And seeing the riot of his pictures on the great coffered ceilings of the palaces and churches of the city today, who shall blame her ? Her own art was dead; she herself was mortally wounded; only in such countrymen as the Bassanesi was any virtue left ; so Paolo had his fling, and, like the great entertainer he was, he conjured up for her all her vanished pride and assured her she was still Queen of the Adriatic. And for the religious he contrived most cheerful scenes in Heaven full of mastery and delight, and with a richness and splendour that make them still among the brightest things in the world, and to which Tiepolo one day will know how to give a lightness and a laughter and indeed a life as of birds or seraphs on the wing.