the most obstinate man in Venice


Titian is a magnificent, perplexing, near-impossible biographical subject. This is the first Life since 1877, and uses unpublished material amassed over decades by Titian scholar Charles Hope. But even with these fresh sources, and using her own background as a historian of Venice, Hale struggles against the odds. Almost nothing is recorded of Titian’s personal life – we don’t know the name of his second wife, or the date when a beloved daughter predeceased him. The only certain self-portraits depict a thin-faced old man with a white beard, in opulent black, wearing a gold chain – every inch the establishment figure. Yet Titian’s radically expressive, vigorous, direct works, delivering what Hale calls “the shock of recognition that we are looking at a kind of truth that few other painters have communicated”, urge psychological speculation. And he lived so long, and changed his style so remarkably – from the radiant, minutely realised early masterpieces such as the Villa Borghese’s “Sacred and Profane Love” and the National Gallery’s “Bacchus and Ariadne”, to the tonally rich, freely painted mature oeuvre (“Danaë”, “Diana and Actaeon”), then the final tragic visions – that it is hard for a viewer today not to read in those transformations resistance to the status quo and inner turmoil.

more from Jackie Wullschlager at the FT here.