Mark Hudson’s new account of the life of Titian traces the artist’s story from his origins in the remote town of Cadore in the Dolomites, to concentrate on his final days as a celebrity in the metropolitan centre of Venice. By this point, Titian was the most famous artist in Europe: in a career lasting more than seventy years, he had offered a demonstration lesson on the expressive potentials of oil painting. In his many portraits, religious and mythological works, Titian had taken Renaissance painting into fresh territory, lending it a new kind of reality which suggested truth to both external appearances and the inner emotional world. Italian Renaissance art had long been concerned with the imitation of reality, but in Titian’s hands this classically inspired credo took on a newly absolute meaning. From the outset of his career, his intensely lifelike paintings made those of his master – Giovanni Bellini – and contemporaries appear cold and stilted.
Titian’s almost magical ability to reproduce the immediate appearances of his portrait sitters, while at the same time conveying a sense of their underlying personalities, values and status, quickly endeared him to leading patrons across Europe. Though he stayed in Venice, his career became truly international in scope: