Part 4 out of 4
Venice, lies the little town of Cadore on the Pieve,
and here it was that Titian was born. On every side
rise great masses of rugged mountains towering up
to the sky, with jagged peaks and curious fantastic
shapes. Clouds float around their summits, and the
mist will often wrap them in gloom and give them
a strange and awesome look. At the foot of the
craggy pass the mountain-torrent of the Pieve roars
and tumbles on its way. Far-reaching forests of
trees, with weather-beaten gnarled old trunks, stand
firm against the mountain storms. Beneath their
wide-spreading boughs there is a gloom almost of
twilight, showing peeps here and there of deep
purple distances beyond.
Small wonder it was that Titian should love to
paint mountains, and that he should be the first to
paint a purely landscape picture. He lived those
strange solemn mountains and the wild country
round, the deep gloom of the woods and the purple
of the distance beyond.
The boy's father, Gregorio Vecelli, was one of the
nobles of Cadore, but the family was not rich, and
when Titian was ten years old he was sent to an
uncle in Venice to be taught some trade. He had
always been fond of painting, and it is said that
when he was a very little boy he was found trying
to paint a picture with the juices of flowers. His
uncle, seeing that the boy had some talent, placed
him in the studio of Giovanni Bellini.
But though Titian learned much from Bellini, it
was not until he first saw Giorgione's work that
he dreamed of what it was possible to do with
colour. Thenceforward he began to paint with that
marvellous richness of colouring which has made his
name famous all over the world.
At first young Titian worked with Giorgione, and
together they began to fresco the walls of the
Exchange above the Rialto bridge. But by and by
Giorgione grew jealous. Titian's work was praised
too highly; it was even thought to be the better of
the two. So they parted company, for Giorgione
would work with him no more.
Venice soon began to awake to the fact that
in Titian she had another great painter who was
likely to bring fame and honour to the fair city.
He was invited to finish the frescoes in the Grand
Council-chamber which Bellini had begun, and to
paint the portraits of the Doges, her rulers.
These portraits which Titian painted were so
much admired that all the great princes and nobles
desired to have themselves painted by the Venetian
artist. The Emperor Charles V. himself when he
stopped at Bologna sent to Venice to fetch Titian,
and so delighted was he with his work that he made
the painter a knight with a pension of two hundred
Fame and wealth awaited Titian wherever he
went, and before long he was invited to Rome that
he might paint the portrait of the Pope. There
it was that he met Michelangelo, and that great
master looked with much interest at the work of the
Venetian artist and praised it highly, for the colouring
was such as he had never seen equalled before
`It is most beautiful,' he said afterwards to a
friend; `but it is a pity that in Venice they do not
teach men how to draw as well as how to colour.
If this Titian drew as well as he painted, it would
be impossible to surpass him.'
But ordinary eyes can find little fault with
Titian's drawing, and his portraits are thought to be
the most wonderful that ever were painted. The
golden glow of Venice is cast like a magic spell
over his pictures, and in him the great Venetian
school of colouring reaches its height.
Besides painting portraits, Titian painted many
other pictures which are among the world's masterpieces.
He must have had a special love for children,
this famous old Venetian painter. We can tell by
his pictures how well he understood them and how
he loved to paint them. He would learn much by
watching his own little daughter Lavinia as she
played about the old house in Venice. His wife
had died, and his eldest son was only a grief and
disappointment to his father, but the little daughter
was the light of his eyes.
We seem to catch a glimpse of her face in his
famous picture of the little Virgin going up the
steps to the temple. The little maid is all alone,
for she has left her companions behind, and the
crowd stands watching her from below, while the
high priest waits for her above. One hand is
stretched out, and with the other she lifts her dress
as she climbs up the marble steps. She looks a very
real child with her long plait of golden hair and
serious little face, and we cannot help thinking that
the painter's own little daughter must have been in
his mind when he painted the little Virgin.
Titian lived to be a very old man, almost a
hundred years old, and up to the last he was always
seen with the brush in his hand, painting some new
picture. So, when he passed away, he left behind
a rich store of beauty, which not only decked the
walls of his beloved Venice, but made the whole
world richer and more beautiful.
It was between four and five hundred years ago that
Venice sat most proudly on her throne as Queen of
the Sea. She had the greatest fleet in all the
Mediterranean. She bought and sold more than any other
nation. She had withstood the shock of battle and
conquered all her foes, and now she had time to deck
herself with all the beauty which art and wealth could
The merchants of Venice sailed to every port and
carried with them wonderful shiploads of goods, for
which their city was famous--silks, velvets, lace, and
rich brocades. The secret of the marvellous Tyrian
dyes had been discovered by her people, and there
were many dyers in Venice who were specially
famous for the purple dye of Tyre, which was
thought to be the most beautiful in all the world.
Then too they had learned the art of blowing glass
into fairy-like forms, as delicate and light as a bubble,
catching in it every shade of colour, and twisting it
into a hundred exquisite shapes. Truly there had
never been a richer or more beautiful city than this
Queen of the Sea.
It was just when the glory of Venice was at its
highest that Art too reached its height, and Giorgione
and Titian began to paint the walls of her palaces
and the altarpieces of her churches.
In the very centre of the city where the poorer
Venetians had their houses, there lived about this
time a man called Battista Robusti who was a dyer,
or `tintore,' as he is called in Italy. It was his little
son Jacopo who afterwards became such a famous
artist. His grand-sounding name `Tintoretto'
means nothing but `the little dyer,' and it was given
to him because of his father's trade.
Tintoretto must have been brought up in the
midst of gorgeous colours. Not only did he see the
wonderful changing tints of the outside world, but
in his father's workshop he must often have watched
the rich Venetian stuffs lifted from the dye vats,
heavy with the crimson and purple shades for which
Venice was famous. Perhaps all this glowing colour
wearied his young eyes, for when he grew to be a
man his pictures show that he loved solemn and dark
tones, though he could also paint the most brilliant
colours when he chose.
Of course, the boy Tintoretto began by painting
the walls of his father's house, as soon as he was old
enough to learn the use of dyes and paints. Even
if he had not had in him the artist soul, he could
scarcely have resisted the temptation to spread those
lovely colours on the smooth white walls. Any
child would have done the same, but Tintoretto's
mischievous fingers already showed signs of talent,
and his father, instead of scolding him for wasting
colours and spoiling the walls, encouraged him to go
on with his pictures.
As the boy grew older, his great delight was to
wander about the city and watch the men at work
building new palaces. But especially did he linger
near those walls which Titian and Giorgione were
covering with their wonderful frescoes. High on the
scaffolding he would see the painters at work, and
as he watched the boy would build castles in the air,
and dream dreams of a time when he too would be a
master-painter, and be bidden by Venice to decorate
To Tintoretto's mind Titian was the greatest man
in all the world, and to be taught by him the greatest
honour that heart could wish. So it was perhaps the
happiest day in all his life when his father decided to
take him to Titian's studio and ask the master to
receive him as a pupil.
But the happiness lasted but a very short time.
Titian did not approve of the boy's work, and
refused to keep him in the studio; so poor, disappointed
Tintoretto went home again, and felt as if all
sunshine and hope had gone for ever from his life. It
was a bitter disappointment to his father and mother
too, for they had set their hearts on the boy becoming
an artist. But in spite of all this, Tintoretto did
not lose heart or give up his dreams. He worked
on by himself in his own way, and Titian's paintings
taught him many things even though the master
himself refused to help him. Then too he saw some
work of the great Michelangelo, and learned many
a lesson from that. Thenceforward his highest ideal
was always `the drawing of Michelangelo and the
colour of Titian.
The young artist lived in a poor, bare room, and
most of his money went in the buying of little pieces
of old sculpture or casts. He had a very curious
way of working the designs for his pictures. Instead
of drawing many sketches, he made little wax models
of figures and arranged them inside a cardboard or
wooden box in which there was a hole to admit
a lighted candle. So, besides the grouping of the
figures, he could also arrange the light and shade.
But, though he worked hard, fame was long in
coming to Tintoretto. People did not understand
his way of painting. It was not after the manner
of any of the great artists, and they were rather
afraid of his bold, furious-looking work.
Nevertheless Tintoretto worked steadily on, always
hoping, and whenever there was a chance of doing
any work, even without receiving payment for it, he
seized it eagerly.
It happened just then that the young Venetian
artists had agreed to have a show of their paintings,
and had hired a room for the exhibition in the
Merceria, the busiest part of Venice.
Tintoretto was very glad of the chance of showing
his work, so he sent in a portrait of himself and also
one of his brother. As soon as these pictures were
seen people began to take more notice of the clever
young painter, and even Titian allowed that his work
was good. His portraits were always fresh and life-
like, and he drew with a bold strong touch, as you
will see if you look at the drawing I have shown you
--the head of a Venetian boy, such as Tintoretto
met daily among the fisher-folk of Venice.
From that time Fortune began to smile on Tintoretto.
Little by little work began to come in. He
was asked to paint altarpieces for the churches, and
even at last, when his name became famous, he was
invited to work upon the walls of the Ducal Palace,
the highest honour which a Venetian painter could
hope to win.
The days of the poor, bare studio, and lonely, sad
life were ended now. Tintoretto had no longer to
struggle with poverty and neglect. His house was a
beautiful palace looking over the lagoon towards
Murano, and he had married the daughter of a
Venetian noble, and lived a happy, contented life.
Children's voices made gay music in his home, and
the pattering of little feet broke the silence of his
studio. Fame had come to him too. His work
might be strange but it was very wonderful, and
Venice was proud of her new painter. His great
stormy pictures had earned for him the name off `the
furious painter,' and the world began to acknowledge
But the real sunshine of his life was his little
daughter Marietta. As soon as she learned to walk
she found her way to her father's studio, and until
she was fifteen years old she was always with him
and helped him as if she had been one of his pupils.
She was dressed too as a boy, and visitors to the
studio never guessed that the clever, handsome boy
was really the painter's daughter.
There were many great schools in Venice at that
time, and there was much work to be done in decorating
their walls with paintings. A school was not really
a place of education, but a society of people who
joined themselves together in charity to nurse the
sick, bury the dead, and release any prisoners who
had been taken captive. One of the greatest of the
schools was the `Scuola de San Rocco,' and this was
given into the hands of Tintoretto, who covered the
walls with his paintings, leaving but little room for
But it is in the Ducal Palace that the master's
most famous work is seen. There, covering the
entire side of the great hall, hangs his `Paradiso,' the
largest oil painting in the world.
At first it seems but a gloomy picture of Paradise.
It is so vast, and such hundreds of figures are crowded
together, and the colour is dark and sombre. There
is none of that swinging of golden censers by white-
robed angels, none of the pure glad colouring of
spring flowers which makes us love the Paradise of
But if we stand long enough before it a great
awe steals over us, and we forget to look for bright
colours and gentle angel faces, for the figures surging
upwards are very real and human, and the Paradise
into which we gaze seems to reveal to our eyes the
very place where we ourselves shall stand one day.
At the time when Tintoretto was painting his
`Paradiso,' his little daughter Marietta had grown
to be a woman, and her painting too had become
famous. She was invited to the courts of Germany
and Spain to paint the portraits of the King and
Emperor, but she refused to leave Venice and her
beloved father. Even when she married Mario,
the jeweller, she did not go far from home, and
Tintoretto grew every year fonder and prouder of
his clever and beautiful daughter. Not only could
she paint, but she played and sang most wonderfully,
and became a great favourite among the
But this happiness soon came to an end, for
Marietta died suddenly in the midst of her happy life.
Nothing could comfort Tintoretto for the loss of
his daughter. She was buried in the church of Santa
Maria dell' Orto, and there he ordered another place
to be prepared that he might be buried at her side.
It seemed, indeed, as if he could not live without her,
for it was not long before he passed away. The last
great stormy picture of `the furious painter' was
finished, and all Venice mourned as they laid him to
rest beside the daughter he had loved so well.
It was in the city of Verona that Paul Cagliari, the
last of the great painters of the Venetian school, was
born. The name of that old city of the Veneto
makes us think at once of moonlight nights and
fair Juliet gazing from her balcony as she bids farewell
to her dear Romeo. For it was here that the two
lovers lived their short lives which ended so sadly.
But Verona has other titles to fame besides being
the scene of Shakespeare's story, and one of her
proudest boasts is that she gave her name to the
great Venetian artist Paolo Veronese, or Paul of
Verona, as we would say in English.
There were many artists in Verona when Paolo
was a boy. His own father was a sculptor and his
uncle a famous painter, so the child was encouraged
to begin work early. As soon as he showed that
he had a talent for painting, he was sent to his
uncle's studio to be taught his first lessons in
Verona was not very far off from Venice, and
Paolo was never tired of listening to the tales told
of that beautiful Queen of the Sea. He loved to
try and picture her magnificence, her marble palaces
overlaid with gold, her richly-dressed nobles, and,
above all, the wonder of those pictures which
decked her walls. The very names of Giorgione
and Titian sounded like magic in his ears. They
seemed to open out before him a wonderful new
Paradise, where stately men and women clad in the
richest robes moved about in a world of glowing
At last the day came when he was to see the city
of his dreams, and enter into that magic world of
Art. What delight it was to study those pictures
hour by hour, and learn the secrets of the great
masters. It was the best teaching that heart could
No one in Venice took much notice of the quiet,
hard-working young painter, and he worked on
steadily by himself for some years. But at last his
chance came, and he was commissioned to paint the
ceiling of the church of St. Sebastian; and when this
was finished Venice recognised his genius, and saw
that here was another of her sons whom she must
delight to honour.
These great pictures of Veronese were just the
kind of work to charm the rich Venetians, those
merchant princes who delighted in costly magnificence.
Never before had any painter pictured such
royal scenes of grandeur. There were banqueting
halls with marble balustrades just like their own
Venetian palaces. The guests that thronged these
halls were courtly gentlemen and high-born ladies
arrayed in rich brocades and dazzling jewels. Men-
servants and maidservants, costly ornaments and
golden dishes were there, everything that heart
True, there was not much room for religious feeling
amid all this grandeur, although the painter
would call the pictures by some Bible name and
would paint in the figure of our Lord, or the Blessed
Virgin, among the gay crowd. But no one stopped
to think about religion, and what cared they if the
guests at the `Marriage Feast of Cana' were dressed
in the rich robes of Venetian nobles, and all was as
different as possible from the simple wedding-feast
where Christ worked his first miracle.
So the fame of Paolo Veronese grew greater and
greater, and he painted more and more gorgeous
pictures. But here and there we find a simpler and
more charming piece of his work, as when he
painted the little St. John with the skin thrown
over his bare shoulder and the cross in his hand.
He is such a really childlike figure as he stands
looking upward and rests his little hand confidingly
on the worn and wounded palm of St. Francis, who
stands beside him.
Although the Venetian nobles found nothing
wanting in the splendid pictures which Veronese
painted, the Church at last began to have doubts
as to whether they were fit as religious subjects to
adorn her walls. The Holy Office considered the
question, and Veronese was ordered to appear before
Was it, indeed, fit that court jesters, little negro
boys, and even cats and pet dogs should appear in
pictures which were to decorate the walls of a
church? Veronese answered gravely that it was
the effect of the picture that mattered, and that the
details need not be thought of. So the complaint
These pictures of Paolo Veronese were really
great pieces of decoration, very wonderful in their
way, but showing already that Art was sinking lower
instead of rising higher.
If the spirits of the old masters could have
returned to gaze upon this new work, what would
their feelings have been? How the simple Giotto
would have shaken his head over this wealth of
ornament which meant so little, even while he
marvelled at the clever work. How sorrowfully
would Fra Angelico have turned away from this
perfection of worldly vanity, and sighed to think
that the art of painting was no longer a golden
chain to link men's souls to Heaven. Even the
merry-hearted monk Fra Filippo Lippi would scarce
have approved of all this gorgeous company.
Art had indeed shaken off the binding rules of
old tradition, and Veronese was free to follow his
own magnificent fancy. But who can say if that
freedom was indeed a gain? And it is with a sigh that
we close the record of Italian Art and turn our eyes,
wearied with all its splendour and the glare of the
noonday sun, back to the early dawn, when the
soul of the painter looked through his pictures, and
taught us the simple lesson that work done for the
glory of God was greater than that done for the
praise of men.