Master of light still in shadow
Titian: His Life
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