From The Lives of the Artists, by Giorgio Vasari, 1550

TIZIANO WAS BORN at Cadore, a little township situated on the Piave and five miles distant from the pass of the Alps, in the year 1480, from the family of the Vecelli, one of the most noble in that place. At the age of ten, having a fine spirit and a lively intelligence, he was sent to Venice to the house of an uncle, an honored citizen, who, perceiving the boy to be much inclined to painting, placed him with Gian Bellini, an excellent painter very famous at that time, as has been related. Under his discipline, attending to design, he soon showed that he was endowed by nature with all the gifts of intellect and judgment that are necessary for the art of painting; and since at that time Gian Bellini and the other painters of that country, from not being able to study ancient works, were much nay, altogether given to copying from the life whatever work they did, and that with a dry, crude, and labored manner, Tiziano also for a time learned method. But having come to about the year 1507, Giorgione da Castelfranco, not altogether liking that mode of working, began to give to his pictures more softness and greater relief, with a beautiful manner; nevertheless he used to set himself before living and natural objects and counterfeit them as well as he was able with colors, and paint them broadly with tints crude or soft according as the life demanded, without doing any drawing, holding it as certain that to paint with colors only, without the study of drawing on paper, was the true and best method of working, and the true design. For he did not perceive that for him who wishes to distribute his compositions and accommodate his inventions well, it is necessary that he should first put them down on paper in several different ways, in order to see how the whole goes together, for the reason that the idea is not able to see or imagine the inventions perfectly within herself, if she does not reveal and demonstrate her conception to the eyes of the body, that these may assist her to form a good judgment.

Besides which, it is necessary to give much study to the nude, if you wish to comprehend it well, which you will never do, nor is it possible, without having recourse to paper; and to keep always before you, while you paint, persons naked or draped, is no small restraint, whereas, when you have formed your hand by drawing on paper, you then come little by little with greater ease to carry your conceptions into execution, designing and painting together. And so, gaining practice in art, you make both manner and judgment perfect, doing away with the labour and effort wherewith those pictures were executed of which we have spoken above, not to mention that by drawing on paper, you come to fill the mind with beautiful conceptions, and learn to counterfeit all the objects of nature by memory, without having to keep them always before you or being obliged to conceal beneath the glamor of colouring the painful fruits of your ignorance of design, in the manner that was followed for many years by the Venetian painters, Giorgione, Palma, Pordenone, and others, who never saw Rome or any other works of absolute perfection.

Tiziano, then, having seen the method and manner of Giorgione, abandoned the manner of Gian Bellini, although he had been accustomed to it for a long time, and attached himself to that of Giorgione; coming in a short time to imitate his works so well, that his pictures at times were mistaken for works by Giorgione, as will be related below. Then, having grown in age, practice, and judgment, Tiziano executed many works in fresco, which cannot be enumerated in order, being dispersed over various places; let it suffice that they were such, that the opinion was formed by many experienced judges that he would become, as he afterwards did, a most excellent painter. At the time when he first began to follow the manner of Giorgione, not being more than eighteen years of age, he made the portrait of a gentleman of the Barberigo family, his friend, which was held to be very beautiful, the likeness of the flesh colouring being true and natural, and all the hairs so well distinguished one from another, that they might have been counted, as also might have been the stitches in a doublet of silvered satin that he painted in that work. In short, it was held to be so well done, and with such diligence, that if Tiziano had not written his name on a dark ground, it would have been taken for the work of Giorgione.

Meanwhile Giorgione himself had executed the principal facade of the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, and by means of Barberigo there were allotted to Tiziano certain scenes on the same building, above the Merceria. After which work he painted a large picture with figures of the size of life, which is now in the hall of M. Andrea Loredano, who dwells near S. Marcuola. In that picture is painted Our Lady going into Egypt, in the midst of a great forest and certain landscapes that are very well done, because Tiziano had given his attention for many months to such things, and had kept in his house for that purpose some Germans who were excellent painters of landscapes and verdure. In the wood in that picture, likewise, he painted many animals, which he portrayed from the life ; and they are truly natural, and almost alive. Next, in the house of M. Giovanni D'Anna, a Flemish gentleman and merchant, his gossip, he made his portrait, which has all the appearance of life, and also an “Ecce Homo” with many figures, which is held by Tiziano himself and by others to be a very beautiful work.

The same master painted a picture of Our Lady with other figures the size of life, of men and children, all portrayed from the life and from persons of that house. Then in the year 1507, while the Emperor Maximilian was making war on the Venetians, Tiziano, according to his own account, painted an Angel Raphael with Tobias and a dog in the Church of S. Marziliano, with a distant landscape, where, in a little wood, S. John the Baptist is praying on his knees to Heaven, whence comes a radiance that illumines him; and this work it is thought that he executed before he made a beginning with the facade of the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi. Concerning which faade, many gentlemen, not knowing that Giorgione was not working there any more and that Tiziano was doing it, who had uncovered one part, meeting with Giorgione, congratulated him in friendly fashion, saying that he was acquitting himself better in the facade towards the Merceria than he had done in that which is over the Grand Canal. At which circumstance Giorgione felt such disdain, that until Tiziano had completely finished the work and it had become well known that the same had done that part, he would scarcely let himself be seen; and from that time onward he would never allow Tiziano to associate with him or be his friend.

In the year after, 1508, Tiziano published in wood-engraving the Triumph of Faith, with an infinity of figures; our first Parents, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Sibyls, the Innocents, the Martyrs, the Apostles, and Jesus Christ borne in Triumph by the four Evangelists and the four Doctors, with the Holy Confessors behind. In that work Tiziano displayed boldness, a beautiful manner, and the power to work with facility of hand; and I remember that Fra Sebastiano del Piombo, conversing of this, said to me that if Tiziano had been in Rome at that time, and had seen the works of Michelagnolo, those of Raffaello, and the ancient statues, and had studied design, he would have done things absolutely stupendous, considering the beautiful mastery that he had in coloring, and that he deserved to be celebrated as the finest and greatest imitator of Nature in the matter of color in our times, and with the foundation of the grand method of design he might have equalled the Urbinate and Buonarroti. Afterwards, having gone to Vicenza, Tiziano painted the Judgment of Solomon in fresco, which was a beautiful work, under the little loggia where justice is administered in public audience. He then returned to Venice, and painted the facade of the Grimani. At Padua, in the Church of S. Antonio, he executed likewise in fresco some stories of the actions of that Saint, and for that of S. Spirito he painted a little altarpiece with a S. Mark seated in the midst of certain Saints, in whose faces are some portraits from life done in oils with the greatest diligence; which picture many have believed to be by the hand of Giorgione. Then, a scene having been left unfinished in the Hall of the Great Council through the death of Giovanni Bellini, wherein Frederick Barbarossa is kneeling at the door of the Church of S. Marco before Pope Alexander IV, who places his foot on Barbarossa’s neck, Tiziano finished it, changing many things, and making there many portraits from life of his friends and others; for which he was rewarded by receiving from the Senate an office in the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, called the Senseria, which yields three hundred crowns a year. That office those Signori are accustomed to give to the most excellent painter of their city, on the condition that he shall be obliged from time to time to paint the portrait of their Prince or Doge, at his election, for the price of only eight crowns, which the Prince himself pays to him; which portrait is afterwards kept, in memory of him, in a public place in the Palace of S. Marco.

In the year 1514 Duke Alfonso of Ferrara had caused a little chamber to be decorated, and had commissioned Dosso, the painter of Ferrara, to execute in certain compartments stories of Jineas, Mars, and Venus, and in a grotto Vulcan with two smiths at the forge ; and he desired that there should also be there pictures by the hand of Gian Bellini. Bellini painted on another wall a vat of red wine with some Bacchanals around it, and Satyrs, musicians, and other men and women, all drunk with wine, and near them a nude and very beautiful Silenus, riding on his ass, with figures about him that have the hands full of fruits and grapes; which work was in truth executed and colored with great diligence, insomuch that it is one of the most beautiful pictures that Gian Bellini ever painted, although in the manner of the draperies there is a certain sharpness after the German manner (nothing, indeed, of any account), because he imitated a picture by the Fleming Albrecht Diirer, which had been brought in those days to Venice and placed in the Church of S. Bartolommeo, a rare work and full of most beautiful figures painted in oils. On that vat Gian Bellini wrote these words:


That work he was not able to finish completely, because he was old, and Tiziano, as the most excellent of all the others, was sent for to the end that he might finish it; wherefore, being desirous to acquire excellence and to make himself known, he executed with much diligence two scenes that were wanting in that little chamber. In the first is a river of red wine, about which are singers and musicians, both men and women, as it were drunk, and a naked woman who is sleeping, so beautiful that she might be alive, together with other figures; and on this picture Tiziano wrote his name. In the other, which is next to it and seen first on entering, he painted many little boys and Loves in various attitudes, which much pleased that lord, as also did the other picture; but most beautiful of all is one of those boys who is making water into a river and is reflected in the water, while the others are around a pedestal that has the form of an altar, upon which is a statue of Venus with a sea-conch in the right hand, and Grace and Beauty about her, which are very lovely figures and executed with incredible diligence. On the door of a press, likewise, Tiziano painted an image of Christ from the waist upwards, marvellous, nay, stupendous, to whom a base Hebrew is showing the coin of Caesar; which image, and also other pictures in that little chamber, our best craftsmen declare to be the finest and best executed that Tiziano has ever done, and indeed they are most rare. Wherefore he well deserved to be most liberally recompensed and rewarded by that lord, whom he portrayed excellently well with one arm resting on a great piece of artillery; and he also made a portrait of Signora Laura, who afterwards became the wife of the Duke, which is a stupendous work. And, in truth, gifts have great potency with those who labor for the love of art, when they are uplifted by the liberality of Princes. At that time Tiziano formed a friendship with the divine Messer Lodovico Ariosto, and was recognized by him as a most excellent painter and celebrated in his Orlando Furioso:

. . . E Tizian che onora
Non men Cador, che quei Vinezia e Urbino.

HAVING THEN RETURNED to Venice, Tiziano painted on a canvas in oils, for the father-in-law of Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, a naked shepherd and a country girl who is offering him some pipes, that he may play them, with a most beautiful landscape; which picture is now at Faenza, in the house of the said Giovanni. He then executed for the high altar in the Church of the Friars Minors, called the Ca Grande, a picture of Our Lady ascending into Heaven, and below her the twelve Apostles, who are gazing upon her as she ascends; but of this work, from its having been painted on cloth, and perhaps not well kept, there is little to be seen. For the Chapel of the Pesaro family, in the same church, he painted in an altarpiece the Madonna with the Child in her arms, a S. Peter and a S. George, and about them the patrons of the work, kneeling and portrayed from life; among whom are the Bishop of Paphos and his brother, then newly returned from the victory which that Bishop won against the Turks. For the little Church of S. Niccolo, in the same convent, he painted in an altarpiece S. Nicholas, S. Francis, S. Catharine, and also a nude S. Sebastian, portrayed from life and without any artifice that can be seen to have been used to enhance the beauty of the limbs and trunk, there being nothing there but what he saw in the work of nature, insomuch that it all appears as if stamped from the life, so fleshlike it is and natural; but for all that it is held to be beautiful, as is also very lovely the Madonna with the Child in her arms at whom all those figures are gazing. The subject of that picture was drawn on wood by Tiziano himself, and then engraved by others and printed.

For the Church of S. Rocco, after the works described above, he painted a picture of Christ with the Cross on His shoulder, and about His neck a cord that is drawn by a Hebrew; and that figure, which many have believed to be by the hand of Giorgione, is now the object of the greatest devotion in Venice, and has received in alms more crowns than Tiziano and Giorgione ever gained in all their lives. Then he was invited to Rome by Bembo, whom he had already portrayed, and who was at that time Secretary to Pope Leo X, to the end that he might see Rome, Raffaello da Urbino, and others; but Tiziano delayed that visit so long from one day to another, that Leo died, and Raffaello in 1520, and after all he never went. For the Church of S. Maria Maggiore he painted a picture with S. John the Baptist in the Desert among some rocks, an Angel that appears as if alive, and a little piece of distant landscape with some trees upon the bank of a river, all full of grace.

He made portraits from life of the Prince Grimani and Loredano, which were held to be admirable; and not long afterwards of King Francis, when he departed from Italy in order to return to France. And in the year when Andrea Gritti was elected Doge, Tiziano painted his portrait, which was a very rare thing, in a picture wherein are Our Lady, S. Mark, and S. Andrew with the countenance of that Doge; which picture, a most marvellous work, is in the Sala del Collegio. He has also painted portraits, in addition to those of the Doges named above (being obliged, as has been related, to do it), of others who have been Doges in their time; Pietro Lando, Francesco Donate, Marcantonio Trevisano, and Veniero. But by the two Doges and brothers Paoli* he has been excused recently, because of his great age, from that obligation. Before the sack of Rome there had gone to live in Venice Pietro Aretino, a most famous poet of our times, and he became very much the friend of Tiziano and Sansovino; which brought great honour and advantage to Tiziano, for the reason that the poet made him known wherever his pen reached, and especially to Princes of importance, as will be told in the proper place.

Meanwhile, to return to Tiziano’s works, he painted the altarpiece for the altar of S. Piero Martire in the Church of SS. Giovanni e Polo, depicting therein that holy martyr larger than life, in a forest of very great trees, fallen to the ground and assailed by the fury of a soldier, who has wounded him so grievously in the head, that as he lies but half alive there is seen in his face the horror of death, while in another friar who runs forward in flight may be perceived the fear and terror of death. In the air are two nude Angels coming down from a flash of Heaven’s lightning, which gives light to the landscape, which is most beautiful, and to the whole work besides, which is the most finished, the most celebrated, the greatest, and the best conceived and executed that Tiziano has as yet ever done in all his life. This work being seen by Gritti, who was always very much the friend of Tiziano, as also of Sansovino, he caused to be allotted to him a great scene of the rout of Chiaradadda, in the Hall of the Great Council. In it he painted a battle with soldiers in furious combat, while a terrible rain falls from Heaven; which work, wholly taken from life, is held to be the best of all the scenes that are in that Hall, and the most beautiful.

And in the same Palace, at the foot of a staircase, he painted a Madonna in fresco. Having made not long afterwards for a gentleman of the Contarini family a picture of a very beautiful Christ, who is seated at table with Cleophas and Luke, it appeared to that gentleman that the work was worthy to be in a public place, as in truth it is. Wherefore having made a present of it, like a true lover of his country and of the commonwealth, to the Signoria, it was kept a long time in the apartments of the Doge; but at the present day it is in a public place, where it may be seen by everyone, in the Salotta d'Oro in front of the Hall of the Council of Ten, over the door. About the same time, also, he painted for the Scuola of S. Maria della Carita Our Lady ascending the steps of the Temple, with heads of every kind portrayed from nature; and for the Scuola of S. Fantino, likewise, a little altarpiece of S. Jerome in Penitence, which was much extolled by the craftsmen, but was consumed by fire two years ago together with the whole church.

It is said that in the year 1530, the Emperor Charles V being in Bologna, Tiziano was invited to that city by Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici, through the agency of Pietro Aretino. There he made a most beautiful portrait of his Majesty in full armor, which so pleased him, that he caused a thousand crowns to be given to Tiziano; but of these he was obliged afterwards to give the half to the sculptor Alfonso Lombardi, who had made a model to be reproduced in marble, as was related in his Life.

Having returned to Venice, Tiziano found that a number of gentlemen, who had taken Pordenone into their favor, praising much the works executed by him on the ceiling of the Sala de’ Pregai and elsewhere, had caused a little altarpiece to be allotted to him in the Church of S. Giovanni Elemosinario, to the end that he might paint it in competition with Tiziano, who for the same place had painted a short time before the said S. Giovanni Elemosinario in the habit of a Bishop. But, for all the diligence that Pordenone devoted to that altarpiece, he was not able to equal or even by a great measure to approach to the work of Tiziano. Next, Tiziano executed a most beautiful altarpicture of an Annunciation for the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli at Murano, but he who had caused it to be painted not being willing to spend five hundred crowns upon it, which Tiziano was asking, by the advice of Messer Pietro Aretino he sent it as a gift to the above-named Emperor Charles V, who, liking that work vastly, made him a present of two thousand crowns; and where that picture was to have been placed, there was set in its stead one by the hand of Pordenone. Nor had any long time passed when Charles V, returning to Bologna for a conference with Pope Clement, at the time when he came with his army from Hungary, desired to be portrayed again by Tiziano. Before departing from Bologna, Tiziano also painted a portrait of the above-named Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici in Hungarian dress, and in a smaller picture the same man in full armor; both which portraits are now in the guardaroba of Duke Cosimo. At that same time he executed a portrait of Alfonso Davalos, Marchese del Vasto, and one of the above-named Pietro Aretino, who then contrived that he should become the friend and servant of Federigo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, with whom Tiziano went to his States and there painted a portrait of him, which is a living likeness, and then one of the Cardinal, his brother. These finished, he painted, for the adornment of a room among those of Giulio Romano, twelve figures from the waist upwards of the twelve Caesars, very beautiful, beneath each of which the said Giulio afterwards painted a story from their lives.

In Cadore, his native place, Tiziano has painted an altar picture wherein are Our Lady, S. Tiziano the Bishop, and a portrait of himself kneeling. In the year when Pope Paul III went to Bologna, and from there to Ferrara, Tiziano, having gone to the Court, made a portrait of that Pope, which was a very beautiful work, and from it another for Cardinal S. Fiore; and both these portraits, for which he was very well paid by the Pope, are in Rome, one in the guardaroba of Cardinal Farnese, and the other in the possession of the heirs of the above-named Cardinal S. Fiore, and from them have been taken many copies, which are dispersed throughout Italy. At this same time, also, he made a portrait of Francesco Maria, Duke of Urbino, which was a marvellous work; wherefore M. Pietro Aretino on this account celebrated him in a sonnet that began :

Se il chiaro Apelle con la man dell’ arte

Rassembro d’ Alessandro il volto e il petto.

There are in the guardaroba of the same Duke, by the hand of Tiziano, two most lovely heads of women, and a young recumbent Venus with flowers and certain light draperies about her, very beautiful and well finished; and, in addition, a figure of S. Mary Magdalene with the hair all loose, which is a rare work. There, likewise, are the portraits of Charles V, King Francis as a young man, Duke Guidobaldo II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Julius II, Paul III, the old Cardinal of Lorraine, and Suleiman Emperor of the Turks; which portraits, I say, are by the hand of Tiziano, and most beautiful. In the same guardaroba, besides many other things, is a portrait of Hannibal the Carthaginian, cut in intaglio in an antique cornelian, and also a very beautiful head in marble by the hand of Donato.

In the year 1541 Tiziano painted for the Friars of S. Spirito, in Venice, the altarpiece of their high altar, figuring in it the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, with a God depicted as of fire, and the Spirit as a Dove; which altarpiece becoming spoiled in no long time, after having many disputes with those friars he had to paint it again, and it is that which is over the altar at the present day. For the Church of S. Nazzaro in Brescia he executed the altarpiece of the high altar in five pictures; in the central picture is Jesus Christ returning to life, with some soldiers around, and at the sides are S. Nazzaro, S. Sebastian, the Angel Gabriel, and the Virgin receiving the Annunciation. In a picture for the wall at the entrance of the Duomo of Verona, he painted an Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, with the Apostles on the ground, which is held to be the best of the modern works in that city.

In the year 1541 he made the portrait of Don Diego di Mendoza, at that time Ambassador of Charles V in Venice, a whole-length figure and standing, which was very beautiful; and from this Tiziano began what has since come into fashion, the making of certain portraits of full length. In the same manner he painted that of the Cardinal of Trento, then a young man, and for Francesco Marcolini the portrait of Messer Pietro Aretino, but this last was by no means as beautiful as one of that poet, likewise by the hand of Tiziano, which Aretino himself sent as a present to Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, to whom he sent also the head of Signer Giovanni de’ Medici, the father of the said Lord Duke. That head was copied from a cast taken from the face of that lord when he died at Mantua, which was in the possession of Aretino; and both these portraits are in the guardaroba of the same Lord Duke, among many other most noble pictures.

The same year, Vasari having been thirteen months in Venice to execute, as has been related, a ceiling for Messer Giovanni Cornaro, and some works for the Company of the Calza, Sansovino, who was directing the fabric of S. Spirito, had commissioned him to make designs for three large pictures in oils which were to go into the ceiling, to the end that he might execute them in painting; but, Vasari having afterwards departed, those three pictures were allotted to Tiziano, who executed them most beautifully, from his having contrived with great art to make the figures foreshortened from below upwards. In one is Abraham sacrificing Isaac, in another David severing the neck of Goliath, and in the third Abel slain by his brother Cain. About the same time Tiziano painted a portrait of himself, in order to leave that memory of himself to his children.

The year 1546 having come, he went at the invitation of Cardinal Farnese to Rome, where he found Vasari, who, having returned from Naples, was executing the Hall of the Cancelleria for the above-named Cardinal; whereupon, Tiziano having been recommended by that lord to Vasari, Giorgio kept him company lovingly in taking him about to see the sights of Rome. And then, after Tiziano had rested for some days, rooms were given to him in the Belvedere, to the end that he might set his hand to painting once more the portrait of Pope Paul, of full length, with one of Farnese and one of Duke Ottavio, which he executed excellently well and much to the satisfaction of those lords. At their persuasion he painted, for presenting to the Pope, a picture of Christ from the waist upwards in the form of an “Ecce Homo,” which work, whether it was that the works of Michelagnolo, Raffaello, Polidoro, and others had made him lose some force, or for some other reason, did not appear to the painters, although it was a good picture, to be of the same excellence as many others by his hand, and particularly his portraits. Michelagnolo and Vasari, going one day to visit Tiziano in the Belvedere, saw in a picture that he had executed at that time a nude woman representing Danae, who had in her lap Jove transformed into a rain of gold; and they praised it much, as one does in the painter’s presence. After they had left him, discoursing of Tiziano’s method, Buonarroti commended it not a little, saying that his coloring and his manner much pleased him, but that it was a pity that in Venice men did not learn to draw well from the beginning, and that those painters did not pursue a better method in their studies. “For,” he said, “if this man had been in any way assisted by art and design, as he is by nature, and above all in counterfeiting the life, no one could do more or work better, for he has a fine spirit and a very beautiful and lively manner.” And in fact this is true, for the reason that he who has not drawn much nor studied the choicest ancient and modern works, cannot work well from memory by himself or improve the things that he copies from life, giving them the grace and perfection wherein art goes beyond the scope of nature, which generally produces some parts that are not beautiful.

TIZIANO, FINALLY DEPARTING from Rome, with many gifts received from those lords, and in particular a benefice of good value for his son Pomponio, set himself on the road to return to Venice, after Orazio, his other son, had made a portrait of Messer Battista Ceciliano, an excellent player on the bass-viol, which was a very good work, and he himself had executed some other portraits for Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino. Arriving in Florence, and seeing the rare works of that city, he was amazed by them no less than he had been by those of Rome. And besides that, he visited Duke Cosimo, who was at Poggio a Caiano, offering to paint his portrait; to which his Excellency did not give much heed, perchance in order not to do a wrong to the many noble craftsmen of his city and dominion.

Then, having arrived in Venice, Tiziano finished for the Marchese del Vasto an Allocution (for so they called it) made by that lord to his soldiers; and after that he took the portrait of Charles V, that of the Catholic King, and many others. These works finished, he painted a little altarpiece of the Annunciation for the Church of S. Maria Nuova in Venice; and then, employing the assistance of his young men, he executed a Last Supper in the refectory of SS. Giovanni e Polo, and for the high altar of the Church of S. Salvadore an altarpiece in which is a Christ Transfigured on Mount Tabor, and for another altar in the same church a Madonna receiving the Annunciation from the Angel. But these last works, although there is something of the good to be seen in them, are not much esteemed by him, and have not the perfection that his other pictures have. And since the works of Tiziano are without number, and particularly the portraits, it is almost impossible to make mention of them all; wherefore I shall speak only of the most remarkable, but without order of time, it being of little import to know which was first and which later. Several times, as has been related, he painted the portrait of Charles V, and in the end he was summoned for that purpose to the Court, where he portrayed him as he was in those his later years; and the work of Tiziano so pleased that all-conquering Emperor, that after he had once seen it he would not be portrayed by other painters. Each time that he painted him, he received a thousand crowns of gold as a present, and he was made by his Majesty a Chevalier, with a revenue of two hundred crowns on the Chamber of Naples. In like manner, when he portrayed Philip, King of Spain, the son of Charles, he received from him a fixed allowance of two hundred crowns more; insomuch that, adding those four hundred to the three hundred that he has on the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi from the Signori of Venice, he has without exerting himself a fixed income of seven hundred crowns every year. the same Charles V and King Philip Tiziano sent portraits to the Lord Duke Cosimo, who has them in his guardaroba. He portrayed Ferdinand, King of the Romans, who afterwards became Emperor, and both his sons, Maximilian, now Emperor, and his brother. He also portrayed Queen Maria, and, for the Emperor Charles V, the Duke of Saxony when he was a prisoner. But what a waste of time is this? There has been scarce a single lord of great name, or Prince, or great lady, who has not been portrayed by Tiziano, a painter of truly extraordinary excellence in this field of art. He painted portraits of King Francis I of France, as has been related, Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, the Marquis of Pescara, Antonio da Leva, Massimiano Stampa, Signer Giovan Battista Castaldo, and other lords without number.

In like manner, besides the works mentioned above, at various times he has executed many others. In Venice, by order of Charles V, he painted in a great altarpiece the Triune God enthroned, Our Lady and the Infant Christ, with the Dove over Him, and the ground all of fire, signifying Love; and the Father is surrounded by fiery Cherubim. On one side is the same Charles V, and on the other the Empress, both clothed in linen garments, with the hands clasped in the attitude of prayer, among many Saints; all which was after the command of the Emperor, who, at that time at the height of his victories, began to show that he was minded to retire from the things of this world, as he afterwards did, in order to die like a true Christian, fearing God and desirous of his own salvation. Which picture the Emperor said to Tiziano that he wished to place in the monastery wherein afterwards he finished the course of his life; and since it is a very rare work, it is expected that it may soon be published in engravings. The same Tiziano executed for Queen Maria a Prometheus who is bound to Mount Caucasus and torn by Jove’s Eagle, a Sisyphus in Hell who is toiling under his stone, and Tityus devoured by the Vulture. These her Majesty received, excepting the Prometheus, and with them a Tantalus of the same size (namely, that of life), on canvas and in oils. He executed, also, a Venus and Adonis that are marvellous, she having swooned, and the boy in the act of rising to leave her, with some dogs about him that are very natural. On a panel of the same size he represented Andromeda bound to the rock, and Perseus delivering her from the Sea-Monster, than which picture none could be more lovely; as is also another of Diana, who, bathing in a fount with her Nymphs, transforms Actaeon into a stag. He also painted Europa passing over the sea on the back of the Bull. All these pictures are in the possession of the Catholic King, held very dear for the vivacity that Tiziano has given to the figures with his colors, making them natural and as if alive.

It is true, however, that the method of work which he employed in these last pictures is no little different from the method of his youth, for the reason that the early works are executed with a certain delicacy and a diligence that are incredible, and they can be seen both from near and from a distance, and these last works are executed with bold strokes and dashed off with a broad and even coarse sweep of the brush, insomuch that from near little can be seen, but from a distance they appear perfect. This method has been the reason that many, wishing to imitate him therein and to play the practised master, have painted clumsy pictures; and this happens because, although many believe that they are done without effort, in truth it is not so, and they deceive themselves, for it is known that they are painted over and over again, and that he returned to them with his colours so many times, that the labour may be perceived. And this method, so used, is judicious, beautiful, and astonishing, because it makes pictures appear alive and painted with great art, but conceals the labor.

Tiziano painted recently in a picture three braccia high and four braccia broad, Jesus Christ as an Infant in the lap of Our Lady and adored by the Magi, with a good number of figures of one braccio each, which is a very lovely work, as is also another picture that he himself copied from that one and gave to the old Cardinal of Ferrara. Another picture, in which he depicted Christ mocked by the Jews, which is most beautiful, was placed in a chapel of the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, in Milan. For the Queen of Portugal he painted a picture of a Christ scourged by Jews at the Column, a little less than the size of life, which is very beautiful. For the high-altar of S. Domenico, at Ancona, he painted an altar-piece with Christ on the Cross, and at the foot Our Lady, S. John, and S. Dominic, all most beautiful, and executed in his later manner with broad strokes, as has just been described above. And by the same hand, in the Church of the Crocicchieri at Venice, is the picture that is on the altar of S. Lorenzo, wherein is the martyrdom of that Saint, with a building full of figures, and S. Laurence lying half upon the gridiron, in foreshortening, with a great fire beneath him, and about it some who are kindling it. And since he counterfeited an effect of night, there are two servants with torches in their hands, which throw light where the glare of the fire below the gridiron does not reach, which is piled high and very fierce. Besides this, he depicted a lightning-flash, which, darting from Heaven and cleaving the clouds, overcomes the light of the fire and that of the torches, shining over the Saint and the other principal figures, and, in addition to those three lights, the figures that he painted in the distance at the windows of the building have the light of lamps and candles that are near them; and all, in short, is executed with beautiful art, judgment, and genius.

In the Church of S. Sebastiano, on the altar of S. Niccolo, there is by the hand of the same Tiziano a little altarpiece of a S. Nicholas who appears as if alive, seated in a chair painted in the likeness of stone, with an Angel that is holding his mitre; which work he executed at the commission of Messer Niccolo Crasso, the advocate. Tiziano afterwards painted, for sending to the Catholic King, a figure of S. Mary Magdalene from the middle of the thighs upwards, all dishevelled; that is, with the hair falling over the shoulders, about the throat, and over the breast, the while that, raising the head with the eyes fixed on Heaven, she reveals remorse in the redness of the eyes, and in her tears repentance for her sins. Wherefore the picture moves mightily all who behold it; and, what is more, although she is very beautiful, it moves not to lust but to compassion. This picture, when it was finished, so pleased . . . Silvio, a Venetian gentleman, that in order to have it, being one who takes supreme delight in painting, he gave Tiziano a hundred crowns: wherefore Tiziano was forced to paint another, which was not less beautiful, for sending to the above-named Catholic King.

There are also to be seen portraits from life by Tiziano of a Venetian citizen called Sinistri, who was much his friend, and of another named M. Paolo da Ponte, for whom he likewise portrayed a daughter that he had at that time, a most beautiful young woman called Signora Giulia da Ponte, a dear friend of Tiziano; and in like manner Signora Irene, a very lovely maiden, skilled in letters and music and a student of design, who, dying about seven years ago, was celebrated by the pens of almost all the writers of Italy. He portrayed M. Francesco Filetto, an orator of happy memory, and in the same picture, before him, his son, who seems as if alive; which portrait is in the house of Messer Matteo Giustiniani, a lover of these arts, who has also had a picture painted for himself by the painter Jacopo da Bassano, which is very beautiful, as also are many other works by that 3assano which are dispersed throughout Venice, and held in great price, particularly his little works and animals of every kind. Tiziano portrayed Bembo another time (namely, after he became a Cardinal), Fracastoro, and Cardinal Accolti of Ravenna, which last portrait Duke Cosimo has in his guardaroba; and our Danese, the sculptor, has in his house at Venice a portrait by the hand of Tiziano of a gentleman of the Delfini family. There may be seen portraits by the same hand of M. Niccolo Zono, of Rossa, wife of the Grand Turk, at the age of sixteen, and of Cameria, her daughter, with most beautiful dresses and adornments. In the house of M. Francesco Sonica, an advocate and a gossip of Tiziano, is a portrait by his hand of that M. Francesco, and in a large picture Our Lady flying to Egypt, who is seen to have dismounted from the ass and to have seated herself upon a stone on the road, with S. Joseph beside her, and a little S. John who is offering to the Infant Christ some flowers picked by the hand of an Angel from the branches of a tree that is in the middle of a wood full of animals, where in the distance the ass stands grazing. That picture, which is full of grace, the said gentleman has placed at the present day in a palace that he has built for himself at Padua, near S. Giustina. In the house of a gentleman of the Pisani family, near S. Marco, there is by the hand of Tiziano the portrait of a gentlewoman, which is a marvellous thing. And having made for Monsignor Giovanni della Casa, the Florentine, who has been illustrious in our times both for nobility of blood and as a man of letters, a very beautiful portrait of a gentlewoman whom that lord loved while he was in Venice, Tiziano was rewarded by being honored by him with the lovely sonnet that begins:

Ben vegg’ io, Tiziano, in forme nuove L’ idolo mio, che i begli occhi apre e gira (with what follows).

Finally, this excellent painter sent to the above-named Catholic King a Last Supper of Christ with the Apostles, in a picture seven braccia long, which was a work of extraordinary beauty.

In addition to the works described and many others of less merit executed by this man, which are omitted for the sake of brevity, he has in his house, sketched in and begun, the following: the Martyrdom of S. Laurence, similar to that described above, and destined by him for sending to the Catholic King; a great canvas wherein is Christ on the Cross, with the Thieves, and at the foot the ministers of the crucifixion, which he is painting for Messer Giovanni d'Anna; and a picture which was begun for the Doge Grimani, father of the Patriarch of Aquileia. And for the Hall of the Great Palace of Brescia he has made a beginning with three large pictures that are to go in the ornamentation of the ceiling, as has been related in speaking of Cristofano and his brother, painters of Brescia. He also began, many years ago, for Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara, a picture of a nude young woman bowing before Minerva, with another figure at the side, and a sea in the centre of which, in the distance, is Neptune in his car; but through the death of that lord, after whose fancy the work was being executed, it was not finished, and remained with Tiziano. He has also carried well forward, but not finished, a picture wherein is Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the Garden in the form of a gardener, with figures the size of life; another, also, of equal size, in which the Madonna and the other Maries being present, the Dead Christ is laid in the Sepulchre; likewise a picture of Our Lady, which is one of the best things that are in that house, and, as has been told, a portrait of himself that was finished by him four years ago, very beautiful and natural, and finally a S. Paul who is reading, a half-length figure, which has all the appearance of the real Saint filled with the Holy Spirit. All these works, I say, he has executed, with many others that I omit in order not to be wearisome, up to his present age of about seventy- six years. Tiziano has been very sound in health, and as fortunate as any man of his kind has ever been; and he has not received from Heaven anything save favours and blessings.

In his house at Venice have been all the Princes, men of letters and persons of distinction who have gone to that city or lived there in his time, because, in addition to his excellence in art, he has shown great gentleness, beautiful breeding, and most courteous ways and manners. He has had in Venice some competitors, but not of much worth, so that he has surpassed them easily with the excellence of his art and with his power of attaching himself and making himself dear to the men of quality. He has earned much, for he has been very well paid for his works; but it would have been well for him in these his last years not to work save as a pastime, so as not to diminish with works of less excellence the reputation gained in his best years, when his natural powers were not declining and drawing towards imperfection. When Vasari, the writer of this history, was at Venice in the year 1566, he went to visit Tiziano, as one who was much his friend, and found him at his painting with brushes in his hand, although he was very old; and he had much pleasure in seeing him and discoursing with him. He made known to Vasari Messer Gian Maria Verdezotti, a young Venetian gentleman full of talent, a friend of Tiziano and passing able in drawing and painting, as he showed in some landscapes of great beauty drawn by him. This man has by the hand of Tiziano, whom he loves and cherishes as a father, two figures painted in oils within two niches, an Apollo and a Diana.

Tiziano, then, having adorned with excellent pictures the city of Venice, nay, all Italy and other parts of the world, deserves to be loved and revered by the craftsmen, and in many things to be admired and imitated, as one who has executed and is still executing works worthy of infinite praise, which shall endure as long as the memory of illustrious men may live.

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The boy not only equalled his master, but ... brought back to life the true art of painting

The Life of Giotto

Giorgio Vasari, 1550
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Giorgio Vasari, The ArtistsPortrait of Giorgio Vasari

Giorgio Vasari

The first art historian

1511 – 1574

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