Tiziano. Le botteghe e la grafica

 P. Luedemann

Alinari Editore
Year: 2016
Pages: 288

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A glance at one of the approximately forty sheets whose attribution is unquestioned provides sufficient evidence that Titian’s rather scarce graphic output is no obstacle to an appreciation of his great draughtsmanship. Yet one must ask: what were the functions of drawing for Titian’s art in general and, above all, for his atelier, correctly defined as an “image factory” and intentionally organized as a family business from the outset? 

In order to formulate a number of answers to such a broad question – one which has not yet been addressed in depth, nor in any consistent way – the author has sought to avoid the shallows of an approach which merely focuses on attribution, highlighting instead a series of particularly meaningful events marking Titian’s extraordinary career which lasted longer than half a century. In this way we discover that already from his early years of professional activity, Titian only rarely turns to the use of preliminary drawings in the execution of his frescoes and paintings, whether on canvas or wood; instead, his interest in draughtsmanship shows him assign to his drawings a less conventional, a more autonomous role. 

Titian turns to the use of drawings as models for his sophisticated engravings, realized by the exquisite technical skills of collaborators such as Marcantonio Raimondi and Giulio Campagnola, as well as for his ambitious woodcuts – among them, the gigantic Triumph of Christ – while at the same time introducing a new independent art typology: meticulously executed landscape compositions. These are often entrusted by Titian to a very young and talented Domenico Campagnola and are designed to satisfy an emerging private art collecting vogue. 

Titian’s maturity, a period when Titian – particularly as portrait artist – is becoming the most beloved courtly painter in the whole of Catholic Europe, may at first appear somewhat less interesting. The impression that the new investiture inclines Titian to reduce his involvement in print production, leaving him content with a more conservative approach to drawing – conventionally utilized in the preparatory process – is in fact a deceiving one. If one looks closer, one realizes that Titian’s commitment to graphic work – probably including his participation in the illustrative project for Andreas Vesalius’ anatomic treatise, De humani corporis fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) – is far from receding into secondary place; on the contrary, that commitment becomes ever more part of his myriad entrepreneurial activities aimed at obtaining favour from patrons such as Pope Paul III Farnese and his family, as well as the Habsburg sovereigns: Charles V and Philip II.

Titian remains faithful to this philosophy through the last decades of his life, when his main efforts lie in securing a future for both his atelier and his second-born son, Orazio, while he is also focused on taking back control over the print production of his own works. At least in part, this print production is travelling on a more or less clandestine path due to the initiative of several oftentimes unscrupulous specialists in the burin technique – among whom, Giulio Bonasone, Jacopo Caraglio, Giulio Sanudo, along with Giovanni Battista and Giulio Fontana. The engravings Titian produces in collaboration with the Dutch engraving specialist and draughtsman Cornelis Cort, with whom he has formed a business partnership, are derived, with manifold and meaningful variations, from famous paintings by the ageing Titian himself, and clearly serve the twofold purpose described above. Parallel to this activity, a few drawings appear which are on a par with Titian’s great pictorial masterpieces and are among some of the most personal and touching creations from the Master’s latter years. 

 Translation by Laura Orsi and Marianne E. Ryde