Master of light still in shadow

Ti­tian: His Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Christo­pher Allen

By Sheila Hale Harper Press, 672pp, $55 (HB)

BY the mid­dle of the 16th cen­tury, Ti­tian was not just a fa­mous artist but one of the two great­est liv­ing con­tem­po­rary masters. He and Michelan­gelo were both called di­vine in their life­times. The im­por­tance of paint­ing, sculp­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture, their sta­tus as lib­eral arts rather than man­ual crafts, and the so­cial stand­ing of their prac­ti­tion­ers no longer needed to be ar­gued in Italy, although it would take un­til the fol­low­ing cen­tury for the same recog­ni­tion to be achieved north of the Alps.

The Ital­ians loved com­par­isons and con­tests: the ri­valry of Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghib­erti in Florence had been fa­mous; that of Leonardo and Michelan­gelo had passed into art the­ory and given rise to the paragone, the de­bate about the re­spec­tive mer­its of paint­ing and sculp­ture. Ti­tian and Michelan­gelo were not com­pet­ing for the same com­mis­sions, but their dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to paint­ing rep­re­sented two very dif­fer­ent con­cep­tions of the art and its val­ues.

Michelan­gelo stood for the stan­dards of draw­ing that had been devel­oped in Florence in the 15th cen­tury and per­fected in the High Re­nais­sance with Leonardo and Raphael, above all in Rome. His par­tic­u­lar ap­proach to draw­ing had been in­spired by the ex­trav­a­gant mus­cu­la­ture of late an­tique sculp­ture and, thanks to his pro­found knowl­edge of anatomy, he was able to trans­late th­ese models into the colos­sal male nudes of the Sis­tine Chapel.

Yet there was some­thing ex­ces­sive about th­ese fig­ures, and it was the more har­mo­nious Raphael who be­came, by the end of the 16th cen­tury, the great ex­am­ple for mod­ern painters and the ref­er­ence for the aca­demic teach­ing that arose in the 17th cen­tury.

The Vene­tian school had re­mained faith­ful to the Byzan­tine tra­di­tion longer than else­where and al­ways main­tained the pri­macy of

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