For nearly three hundred years after Titian's death in 1576 nobody had any doubt that Titian was born in 1476 and died nearly one hundred years old. This date had been given inferentially some seven years after Titian's death by the well-informed Florentine antiquary, Raffaello Borghini; eight years before Titian's death his friend Giorgio Vasari, Vite, 1568, gave 1480 as the year; in 1622 the writer of Tizianello's Un breve compendio della vita di Tiziano confirmed Borghini's date, 1477. Tizianello was a remote cousin of Titian's and son of his assistant, Marco Vecelli. Tizianello and his author should have known the facts. Ridolfi (1612-1680) must have known such associates as Verdizzotti and Palma Giovane. He was fully conversant with the Venetian tradition. His acceptance in Le maraviglie, 1648, of Tizianello's date of 1477 gave it universal currency until 1871 and
the appearance of Crowe and Cavalcaselle's A History of Painting in North Italy. As a casual observation in the life of Giorgione, III, p.1, we read, "Giorgione was born before 1477, Titian after 1480," and in Cavalcaselle's note 2, "there are reasons for believing that Titian's life was shorter than modern annalists have thought."
We may only surmise the motives for changing an established date without offering a shred of evidence. But it seems that Crowe and Cavalcaselle wanted a Titian young enough to hold the traditional relation of pupilage to Giorgione. This appears pretty clearly in their recantation in their Titian,1877, I, p. 38. Cavalcaselle had meanwhile published Titian's letter of 1571 to Philip II in which the artist says he is ninety-five years old. It never occurred to the skeptical Cavalcaselle that Titian might not know his own age or might lie about it. So he accepted 1477 as now proved, and in the interest
of clarifying the Giorgione problem suggested that Giorgione and Palma Vecchio were probably born earlier than we have supposed. The motive was plainly to keep Titian junior by several years to those painters who where supposed to have formed him.
This instance is profoundly instructive. It shows that as careful a scholar as Cavalcaselle in the interest of his view of Giorgione's development was capable, as convenience served, of lopping a few years off Titian's age or adding as many to Giorgione's and Palma Vecchio's. What would a less cautious and learned critic do in like
This question was answered in Sir Herbert Cook's sensational article in the nineteenth century for January, 1902- Did Titian Live to be Ninety-nine Years Old? This author, in his Giorgione, 1900, had recently published the longest list of Giorgiones on record and was
under vigorous attack for many of his attributions. Many of the disputed pictures were generally regarded as Titians. If it could be proved that Titian was too young to have painted them, it would help confirm Cook's generous list of Giorgiones. So he proceeded to argue that Titian was born, not in 1477, but ten years later. All this, of
course, I assume to have been in the wishful thinking of the unconsciousness of an eager pan-Giorgionist.
Of the cardinal document, Titian's own letter of 1571 to Philip II stating his own age to be ninety-five, Cook made short work. It was a begging letter to get arrears of pay. Titian pretended an immense old age to put himself in a pitiful position before the king. As for the corroborating evidence of two Spanish officials at Venice, Titian had deceived them as to his age. Such was Cook's short way with the weighty positive evidence of Titian's birth at 1577. The merit of Cook's argument will be discussed later.
As positive evidence for Titian's birth about 1490 Cook cited certain vague and really contradictory expressions in Lodovico Dolce's Dialogo della pittura, 1557, which declared Titian to have been very young when he painted the Fondaco frescos, 1508 and the Assumption in 1518. To this evidence Cook added a number of statements of Vasari (who had actually given 1480 as Titian's birth year) which, if they are taken literally, made him some 13 years younger at his death than the traditional ninety-nine years. To these arguments Cook added one ex silentio. We had no sure record of Titian's activity till the document of 1511 concerning the frescos at Padua. It will be easy to show that this is simply a misstatement of the real situation, and that the absence or the scarcity of documents for Titian's beginnings is readily accounted for by the exceptional nature of his training.
The late Dr. Gronau, Repertorium XXIV, no. 6, published a rejoinder in which he had no difficulty in exposing the flimsiness of all Cook's positive arguments. It should have settled the matter once for all in favor of the traditional date of 1477, but unhappily Gronau opposed a very mild to a fighting article-an error which I shall try not to repeat. Cook published a surrejoinder in Repertorium, XXV, no.1. The whole polemic is conveniently reprinted in the second edition of Cook's Giorgione, 1904, and in all subsequent reissues.
Cavalcaselle apparently returned in his last years to a position which involves lengthening the life of Giorgione and shortening that of Titian, for a note from his manuscript additions to A History of Painting in North Italy, first published by Dr. Borenius in his new edition of 1912, III, p. 1, n. 2, cites Dolce and Vasari for a date
much later than 1477 for Titian's birth. Borenius, III, p. 2. n. *, in an editorial note guardedly approves the position.
M. Hourticq, in his La Jeunesse de Titien, Paris, 1919, naturally grasped at Cook's hypothesis, for it enabled him to push out of Giorgione's lifetime a number of Giorgionesque paintings which he ascribed to Titian. The argument was that if all these pictures were Titians, and Titian was born as late as 1490 then virtually all the contested pictures must have been painted after Giorgione's death.
Dr. Suida, in his Titien, Vienna and Paris, 1936, Introduction, does not commit himself, but gives much weight to the argument for the later date.
Most amazingly as generally sound a scholar as Prof. Tietze in Titian, Paintings and Drawings, Vienna, 1937 states without qualification that Titian was born "about 1488", thus consecrating as a fact what at best is a very questionable hypothesis.
Inevitably the brilliant amateur, M. Duncan Phillips, in The Leadership of Giorgione, Washington, 1937, p.16, having lot of very Titianesque pictures to ascribe to Giorgione, is fully convinced by Sir Herbert Cook's arguments.
Dr George Richter, in his recent monumental work, Giorgio da Castelfranco, Chicago, 1937, p. 15, finds Dolce's statement a strong argument against the traditional date of Titian's birth.
Now if, as I shall be able to prove, the date of 1477 is correct, for twenty years the study of the Giorgione problem so far as Titian is concerned has been conducted on the basis of a false chronology for Titian, with the result that error has been added to error and
confusion has been outconfounded. It seems to me that the too ready acceptance of Cook's alluring hypothesis as fact suggests that most of our art historians are entirely untrained in historical method, hence have no objective check upon their subjective, stylistic intuitions. Clearly it makes all the difference in the world whether Titian was a mere lad or a trained painter in the last years of Giorgione's life. If he was a mere lad, very few of the contested pictures before 1510 can be by his hand; if he was a trained painter, then many Giorgionesque pictures must be by Titian, and we may entertain the
hope that early Titians will still emerge to eke out the at best scanty list of his works before 1510. In short, the settling of the problem of Titian's birth year one way or the other carries with it radically different approaches and expectations as regards the border line between Titian and Giorgione.
Since the problem is simply one of historic evidence, I shall merely present in chronological order, with brief comment, first the evidence for Cook's date of about 1488-1490, and then the evidence for the traditional date of 1477. Here I shall be able to present some evidence not considered by Gronau. At this stage I shall keep clear of
inferences and implications. My endeavor is simply to establish a fact.
The evidence that Titian was born somewhere about 1490 is as follows:
1. Lodovico Dolce, in his Dialogo della pittura, 1557, states that Titian was a youngster, "giovanetto", when in 1507 he received the commission to paint on the Fondaco (Dialogo, Florence, 1735, p. 286). In good Italian usage a young man would cease to be a giovanetto and become a giovane in his early twenties. However Dolce obligingly defines his term by adding that Titian was hardly twenty (a pena venti anni), loc. cit.
This is a very early age for a painter whose training, as we shall see, was retarded, to receive a commission of such importance, but Dolce was a familiar of Titian's circle and in a way to learn facts. If he used such terms as giovanetto with awareness of their chronological implications, his testimony would be indeed weighty.
2. But in 1518, the year the Assumption was finished, when Titian by Dolce's own reckoning is thirty-one, he was still a giovanetto-twice so designated, pp, 286, 288. Dolce is merely using the term carelessly, and without chronological implications, in order flatteringly to emphasize Titian's precocity. So far is Dolce from checking his chronology that he seems to set the Assumption, actually finished ten years later, immediately after the Fondaco frescoes. As he writes "not long after" (non passò molto).
Dolce remarks erroneously, p. 288, that the Assumption was the first public work that Titian painted in oil, and that he did in the shortest possible time-pochissimo tempo. But the Assumption was actually in hand for two years. The pochissimo tempo is merely a compliment to Titian's dexterity. This nest of misstatements shows first the carelessness of Dolce in making apparently categorical statements, next that Titian had not supervised Dolce's copy.
Since Dolce is Cook's star witness, a word on his competence is necessary. He was born in 1508, early orphaned and educated through the generosity of patrons. Fairly early he developed talent as a hack writer of all sorts. Before the Dialogo he had written no less than seven books of the most various sort: Sacripante, a metrical romance in Ariosto's vein, 1536; Aretino, A Pleasing Dialogue in which Aretino Speaks in Defence of Unlucky Husbands, 1542; a translation of the
Greek romance of Achilles Tatius, 1546; a treatise on etiquette for ladies, 1547; a translation of the Metamorphoses of Ovid in ottava rima, 1549; Observations on the Italian Language, a grammatical treatise, 1552; A Method of Improving the Memory,1552.
It was then an energetic literary jack-of-all-trades who in 1557 decided with the Dialogo once more to cash in on his acquaintance with the celebrated Aretino. No doubt it gives a true idea of Aretino's views on art; indeed it is one of the more interesting critical works of the Italian Renaissance. No claim is made by Dolce that either Aretino or Titian was in any way responsible for the Dialogo. Indeed the absence of a sonnet by Aretino-he was prodigal of them-is
significant. It suggests that Dolce's position in the circles of Aretino and Titian was that of a tolerated journalist moving among his betters. He was doubtless good company, and his versatile pen had publicity value.
The Dialogo was Dolce's single adventure in the field of the fine arts-a potboiler to utilize his acquaintance with Titian and Aretino. When Dolce uses such terms as giovanetto he means only that the event took place a long time ago. The Assumption was finished nearly forty
years before the Dialogo was published, the Fondaco frescoes nearly fifty.
As to Cook's suggestion that Titian would have corrected Dolce's errors, I doubt if the Titians of this world ever take the time and pains to read the Dolces. Had Titian read the Dialogo, he would
probably have accepted the loosely used giovanetto as meaning long ago. It so happened that I published my first book of a literary sort when I was forty-four, three years older than Titian, supposing him born in 1477, when he finished the Assumption. Now if I should ever be
lucky enough to attract a Dolce, and he should write that I was a youngster when I published The Collectors in 1912, I would let it pass. To sixty-nine, forty-four seems giddy youth.
3. Once more Dolce mentions Titian as "very young", p.296. "So Titian, still very young (molto giovane), the Senate made him a proper provision; and he painted on the wall [of The Hall of the Grand Council] many times mentioned by me the Story of Frederick Barbarossa..."
It is characteristic of Dolce's entire disregard of chronology that this notice follows immediately upon that of Titian's Peter Martyr, painted in 1530. The provision for the Barbarossa was made about 1522. At thirty-five, on Dolce's own reckoning, Titian was molto giovane. As before, the expression meant to its writer only long since. If we are justified in taking molto giovane literally as equivalent to giovanetto and a pene venti anni.(see Dolce, Notice t) then we must carry Titian's birth forward to 1502-a date surely late enough to satisfy even Sir Herbert Cook and Mr. Duncan Phillips.
It should be clear that Dolce's statement of Titian's youthfulness-through a span of seventeen years, 1507-1522-had no real chronological significance for him and, despite Cook's faith in such
statements, can have no chronological significance for us.
4. Vasari (ed. Milanesi, VII, p. 428) writes of Titian's portrait of Barbarigo which could be mistaken for a Giorgione: "In the beginning when he began to follow the manner of Giorgione, being no more than 18 years old", Vasari follows with an account of the frescoes of the Fondaco, which apparently he believes followed the portrait immediately. The inference is that Titian was born in 1489 or 1490.
But at the beginning of his Life of Titian Vasari says Titian was born in 1480. If he really means this, he dates the Barbarigo portrait, probably the so-called Ariosto at London, and the Fondaco frescoes (1507-8) in 1497 or 1498. Of course he did not mean anything of the sort, he merely did not take pains to work out a consistent chronology. He thinks of dates one at a time, and not as parts of a chain.
5. Vasari (ed.Milanesi, p.459) on the information gained at Venice in 1566, seems to state that Titian was seventy-six years old in that year, hence born in 1490. The notice includes a long list of Titian paintings "up to his age of about 76". A little earlier Titian is described as vecchissimo. Again Vasari failed to catch the inconsistency of this notice with the 1480 which he had stated as the year of Titian's birth.
I am at a loss to account for Vasari's exact figure of 76, which does not tally with any probable date for Titian's birth. But the conditions for Vasari's visit to Venice in 1566 were such as to make any confusion not merely possible but very probable. Called to paint the scenery for Aretino's comedy, La calandra, Vasari in 1541-2 had spent the best part of a year in Venice. He had not yet conceived the project of the Lives, but was already taking notes on his own account.
What he thus gathered constituted the very inadequate treatment of the Lombard and Venetian artist in his first edition, 1550. Here Titian received a complimentary paragraph containing really no specific information.
In the spring of 1566, to gather material for his impending second edition, Vasari made a flying trip thorough Lombardy and the Veneto. Within about four weeks he visited Parma, Piacenza, Modena, Milan, Brescia, Mantua, Verona, Padua, Venice, and Ferrara, vigorously taking notes and arranging with correspondents for the forwarding of information. A modern Morellian must envy him his energy and his speed.
He cannot have been more than four or five days in Venice, from May 21 to 25. (Kallab, Vasaristudien, Vienna, 1908, p.125; Regesten 418-20). These were days crowded with note-taking and sight-seeing, but of course he found time to visit his old friend Titian, whom he found very old, vecchissimo, but actively at work. Verdizotti vas with Titian, probably other visitors. The conditions were bad for a very inaccurate interviewer such as was Vasari. I imagine either at Titian's home or elsewhere in Venice he heard someone say Titian was eighty-six, ottantasei, years old, failed to make a note at the time, later in Florence was of unsure memory and generously gave Titian the benefit of the doubt by ten years. The triple rhyming of ottantasei-settantasei would make such confusion easier, either through hearing the number wrong in the first instance or blurring it in memory with similar sounding numbers. But we hardly need to seek hypothetical and perhaps far fetched explanation for an error of some years in a date by Vasari. Kallab has shown statistically that in all such exact dates the chances of Vasari being right, or nearly so, are somewhat worse than even.
It remains only to show how carelessly statements of Titian's youthfulness are made by writers who knew better. For example Sansovino, in Venetia città nobilissima, 1581, p.83 b, describes the ceiling decorations made for S. Spirito, now in the Salute, as made "in the first vigor of his [Titian's] youth" (nel primo vigor della sua gioventù). This absurd statement was written less than five years after Titian's death by a man who knew him. The ceiling was painted in 1543-4, when Titian, according to the shortest estimate, was about fifty-five. Sansovino is merely praising in a blundering way the extraordinary energy of these designs.
Ridolfi, in 1648, took over Tizianello's date of 1477, and on the whole makes his chronology for Titian consistent therewith. But he too slips up in the matter of youthfulness when he says (ed. Hadeln, I, p.177) that Titian painted an Annunciation for the cathedral of Treviso "in his blooming youth" (nella sua fresca età). The precise date of the Annunciation is uncertain, but it falls between 1515 and 1520, when, for Ridolfi, Titian was between thirty-eight and forty-three. It should be hardly necessary to observe that these literary allusions to youthfulness are for serious chronology of no evidential value whatever.
The evidence that Titian was born in 1477 or not much later is as follows:
1. Altarpiece of St. Peter with Bishop Baffo, Antwerp.
In 1501 Bishop Jacopo Pesaro was appointed by Alexander VI Admiral of the Papal Galleys. In 1502 he beat the Turkish fleet at Leukadia (Ithaca). Since this picture has in it no hint of a victory, merely representing the Admiral-Bishop receiving his colors from St. Peter, it presumably celebrates the appointment, is a votive offering in hope of victory. A nearly contemporary inscription names Titian as the painter, and circumstantially identifies the patron, Bishop Baffo. No one, so far as I know, has doubted it is a Titian.
It can hardly have been finished later than 1502, for there is no celebration of the notable victory. The style is in general Bellinesque and there is no suggestion of Giorgione's influence, which again dates the picture in the early years of the sixteenth century.
Now if Cook be right in thinking that Titian was born no earlier than 1488, then Titian must have been at most 14 years old when he painted this picture, which, as we used to say in the geometry class, is impossible. Hourticq, seeing the difficulty, dates the picture after 1510, which brings it into impossible proximity to such Giorgionesque Titians as the St. Mark Enthroned, the Tribute Money, and Sacred and Profane Love. Hourticq is alone in this opinion and is sure to stay
Considered as the work of a very talented disciple of Giambellino, of a painter approaching twenty-five, the picture finds a reasonable stylistic and chronological place.
If I were a lawyer pleading a case I could rest my plea here, feeling that unless someone could prove the votive altar piece of Bishop Baffo was not a Titian, or was painted many years later than 1502, I had proved my point. But I have promised the reader all the evidence, and he shall have it.
2. In 1566 Titian told Vasari that in 1507, "the year when the Emperor made war on Venice", he himself painted a Tobias and the Archangel for S. Marciliano, Venice (Vasari, ed. Milanesi, VII, p. 430). The accuracy of the reminiscence is guaranteed by its being tied to the unforgettable year of the war. There are problems concerning the picture which lie apart from our purpose. I may merely say that I agree with the late Baron von Hadeln and others as seeing the picture in the vivacious Tobias and the Archangel now in S. Caterina.
Now if Titian was born no earlier than 1488 we must suppose that at nineteen at most, and when merely an assistant of Giorgione, he was famous enough to secure a rather important commission from a church. While this is not impossible, it is most unlikely, and the notice favors rather the earlier than the later date for Titian's birth.
3. On July 6, 1542, Pietro Aretino wrote to Titian congratulating him on the portrait of Clarice Strozzi.
"Certo che il penel' vostro ha riserbati i suoi miracoli nella maturità della vecchiezza" (Lettere, Paris, 1609, II, p. 288).
This is a highly important and virtually conclusive notice. Aretino, himself just fifty years old at the writing, knew Titian intimately, and of course knew his age. Under these circumstances to describe a vigorous painter in the early fifties, the prime of a painter's career, as performing miracles "in the fulness of age", would be simply absurd. It would be an entirely appropriate compliment to a painter friend in his sixty-sixth year.
4. In a letter of October 5, 1544, Titian writes to Charles V that he would deliver certain pictures in person, "but that my age and the length of the journey forbade such a course" (Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Titian, II, p. 103).
According to Cook's date Titian was at most fifty-six years old at this time. According to the traditional dating he was sixty-seven. Not too much should be made of this notice, but since the emperor was Titian's friend and presumably knew his age and energy, it would have been a pretty thin and obvious excuse to offer for Titian to allege his fifty-six years as an obstacle to making an October journey. But if Titian were sixty-seven years old the excuse would have seemed
entirely reasonable to the emperor.
5. Writing to Cardinal Granvella, in 1548, Titian speaks of his "vechia età" and later adds "if God gives me some years more" (se Idio me dona per qualche anno) he will paint much for Granvella (Austrian Jahrbuch, VII, 1885, p.222).
Of course a quizzical or self-pitying man may call himself old and moribund any time after fifty, but there is no reason to suppose Titian either self-pitying or quizzical. In the second edition of Cook's Giorgione, p.141, Gronau justly remarks, "such expressions [are] more applicable to a man of sixty-eight and seventy-one respectively than to one of only fifty-six and fifty-nine." It should be added that Granvella was a friend, and probably knew Titian's age.
6. In the Paolini sale, New York, December, 1912, lot 116, was sold a self-portrait of Titian. On the back of a portfolio held by the painter was an apparently cotemporary inscription:
TITIANVS VECELLIVS F. Aetatis sua 84, 1561
This self-portrait, which carried Dr. Gronau's certificate, and approved itself to my eyes, was in the Renier collection in the seventeen century, Crowe and Cavalcaselle Titian, II, p. 65. I
understand it is now in the Melbourne Gallery. So far as I know it has only been published in the catalogue of the Paolini sale, where the inscription, which I verified carefully in 1912, is illegible in the half-tone cut. The same composition had been used in a woodcut by a German engraver, Giovanni Bello, for which Aretino reluctantly furnished a sonnet in 1550. (See Tizian, in Klassiker der Kunst, p. xxii, for a reproduction of the woodcut) Titian liked the composition and reused for his picture the working drawing, introducing the statue of a pudic Venus. We seem to have here Titian's own testimony as to his age, or are we to suppose that he had a chronic habit of
exaggerating it by ten years? This is the most haggard of all the self-portraits by Titian. It suggest a man in extreme old age, rather in the middle eighties than in the middle seventies.
7. The Spanish envoy, Garcia Hernandez, writing October 15, 1564, from Venice to Philip II says Titian, "according to people who have known him for many years is going on to ninety (va çerca de los 90) but does not seem it" (Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Titian, II, p. 535).
This, according to traditional reckoning, makes Titian three years older than he actually was. But here it should be noted that Hernandez had taken the pains to consult several old acquaintances of Titian and that his ninety is frankly an approximation-a very reasonable one for a man as old as eighty-seven. It is impossible to imagine that a number of Venetians who had known Titian for "many years" were a dozen years wrong as to his age.
8. Thomas de Cornoça, Spanish consul, who wrote to Philip II on December 8, 1567, that Titian "with his eighty-five years will serve you to the death."
Taken literally this calls for Titian's birth in 1482. What seems likely is that the consul picked up a current round figure which underestimated Titian's age by about five years. In general the neighborhood guess as to the age of a very old person is subject to several years error and is usually expressed in round numbers. In a recent gathering of Princetonians I found a spread of seven years in giving the age of a venerable colleague, and most guesses were short by several years.
9. Vasari in the second edition, 1568, of his Vite (ed. Milanesi, VII, p. 420)writes at the beginning of his Life of Titian that he was born in 1480.
This seems to be a reasonable round number which Vasari picked up in his hurried visit to Venice in 1566. All his other notes are inconsistent with this date, as we have seen. He evidently was at no pains to keep his chronology straight.
10. Vasari (ed. Milanesi, VII, p. 431) writes that in "1508 Titian published in woodcut the Triumph of Faith." The hairdressing, costumes and style show that the date is right by a year or so. This remarkable processional composition is most readily studied in Tietze's Titian. Ridolfi (ed. Hadeln, I, p. 156) adds that the "Triumph of Christ" was drawn "around the room of the house taken by him [Titian] at Padua." Ridolfi's tradition, which there was absolutely no reason for
inventing, is to be accepted as true.
That a youngster hardly twenty could have designed so vigorous and complicated a design as that of the Triumph of Faith is highly unlikely. It is as improbable that a young painter of about twenty, of poor parentage, was prosperous enough to rent a house in a strange city and settled enough to decorate it somewhat elaborately. These notices are important for the development of Titian, as I shall try to show later they are more compatible with an age of thirty or so than
with one of twenty.
11. Titian wrote to Philip II, August 1, 1571, that he himself was in his "last years" (ultima età-mistranslated by Cook as "old age"-and ninety-five years old (Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Titian, II, p. 538).
Cook seems to discount the reiterated statement on the ground that it is in a begging letter and calculated to excite the king's pity. This is the principal argument for discrediting Titian's testimony and the corroborative Spanish evidence (see 7 and 8).
Now, would it have made any difference to a debtor monarch of forty-two whether his painter creditor represented himself as eighty-five or ninety-five? Either age would simply have been immensely old to him. To suppose that Titian expected to gain anything by so exaggerating his age is to suppose him silly and senile. There is no evidence that he was either. On the contrary he was conducting delicate business negotiations in his last years of his life, 1575 and 1576. Abundant corroboration has been already given for believing that Titian did the natural thing, and told the truth.
12. Raffaello Borghini, learned and careful Florentine author, in his Il riposo, 1584, p. 529, writes that Titian died of old age in plague time, "at ninety-eight or ninety-nine". Borghini's account of the last days and burial of Titian confirms within a year the traditional date of Titian's birth, and differs considerably in details from the Venetian accounts. The late Baron von Hadeln suggests that Borghini had independent and more accurate sources of information (Ridolfi, ed. Hadeln, I, p.209, n. 2).
Borghini's testimony written less than eight years after Titian's death is that of an exceptionally careful and competent witness. It must be drawn from Venice, with which he was well acquainted. There was no literary source from which a figure giving Titian's age could
13. In 1622 Tizianello, a distant cousin of Titian and son of his assistant, Marco Vecelli, dedicated to the art-loving Countess Arundel Un breve compendio della vita di Tiziano. It was written by a gentleman, unfortunately not named, whom some identify with Titian's young friend and casual amanuensis, Verdizzoti, author and amateur painter. However that be, Tizianello's Anonymous had taken the pains to go to Cadore, gives a correct location and description of the Vecelli house, and a correct and somewhat elaborate genealogy of the Vecelli family. He may easily have had access to written records now lost. We should regard this writer as a credible witness for the date 1477, first given explicitly in his pages. His sponsor, Tizianello should have known correctly the family history from his father. Marco, Titian's assistant for many years, who died in 1611, when Tizianello, who published the Compendio eleven years later, must have been old enough to hear the family legend with pride. We have no evidence of Tizianello's birth, but since his father Marco was born about 1545, the date of Tizianello's birth should be well before 1600. Rather late evidence sets Tizianello's death in 1650.
Under the circumstances Tizianello's Anonymous, despite the late date, should be regarded as an exceptionally credible witness.
So much for the positive evidence that Titian was born either precisely in 1477, or only a few years later. I do not see how disinterested persons used to weighing historic evidence can doubt that 1477 is the date. Unhappily rather few disinterested persons tackle the Giorgione problem.
To summarize the arguments pro and contra , the evidence for Titian's birth about 1490 consists solely of vague allusions to his youthfulness when he painted certain pictures plus a date by that very untrustworthy biographer, Vasari. The evidence for Titian's birth in 1477 is given by some six competent witnesses, all but one his contemporaries, and it substantiated by reasonable inferences from the dates of his early pictures, from his own statements in familiar letters, from expressions of his intimate friends. Finally, for that date we have a probably contemporary inscription on a self-portrait. And in his own word a letter to his king. All this positive evidence is clear and consistent; all the negative evidence is ambiguous and, if taken literally, so inconsistent as to move Titian's birth about within a span of no less than fifteen years. If Dolce (Notice 3) really means that Titian was very "young" in 1522 he means that Titian was born in 1502. In short, Dolce can be used as a witness only by deciding subjectively when he means business by his "giovanetto", and ignoring all the other cases in which he plainly does not mean
In concluding the argumentative part of this essay, I feel there has been a frightful waste of time and words. If our art critics and art historians were historically trained and approached their problem objectively, such an article would be entirely superfluous, for the issue was closed by Gronau thirty-five years ago. However, if I shall have persuaded one Giorgionist to stop before committing himself to a hypothetical position, to look at such historic evidence as concerns his problem, to listen modestly to the rules of logical demonstration, my labor will not have been in vain. Failing that, and fearing that some successor may have to write this article again after another thirty-five years, at least I have traced, I hope not too tediously, the natural history of a very robust error.
Corroboration for the traditional date of Titian's birth is found in the fact that no tenable chronology or development for Titian can be worked out for a date ten or twelve years later. Hourticq has tried and signally failed. The fact both misstated and overemphasized by Cook and his followers that our notices for Titian are suspiciously tardy finds ready explanation in the circumstances that his first apprenticeship was with a mosaicist, Sebastiano Zuccato. It was an episode that would have held him back six or seven years in his training as a painter, so that Giorgione, his contemporary within a year, must have been independent painter six or seven years earlier than Titian.
So far as I know, the significance of this apprenticeship as a mosaic worker has passed unnoticed. Dolce, p.282, writes that at nine Titian was sent to Venice to an uncle who promptly articled him to Zuccato, from whom he passed successively to Gentile Bellini, Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione. Borghini (1584, p.524) and Tizianello's Anonymous (1022, p. 2) who did not know of the apprenticeship with Zuccato, write that Titian began at ten with Giovanni Bellini. The Anonymous qualifies with a prudent incirca-about ten. We may for working purposes accept Dolce's nine years, which he probably had from Titian.
We must imagine a little nine year old lad of poor parents becoming junior factotum in a mosaic worker's shop. He would have swept the place, sorted the glass cubes into their trays, handed them as asked to the worker on the scaffold; after a time he may have been allowed to set the cubes in gold background, and to break the glass rods carefully into cubes. Mosaic workers are rarely designers and Zuccato's shop was not exceptional. After a normal apprenticeship a youngster would have learned little of painting, and indeed of drawing, beyond enlarging working drawings on the plaster by the squaring process. In short, one could learn thoroughly the elaborate technical processes of making mosaics without much furthering a career as a painter. A poor boy beginning at nine is likely to have served out a full apprenticeship of seven years. He is unlikely to have had the initiative or the opportunity to effect an escape. We are justified, I feel in supposing that Titian was with Zuccato from 1486 to 1493, leaving him for Gentile Bellini to begin all over again as a painter's apprentice. Meanwhile Giorgione must have nearly finished his apprenticeship with Giovanni Bellini.
Dolce (p. 284) is our sole witness for Titian's study with Gentile. But it was nothing he would have invented, and presumably he had the information from Titian. He tells us that Titian disliked the dry and strained manner of his new master, which is probable; and that Gentile disapproved the freedom of Titian's draughtsmanship, which is improbable, for a boy of sixteen just out of a mosaic worker's shop could hardly have developed any reprehensible looseness in drawing.
Dolce says nothing about the duration of this apprenticeship, but the implication is that it was brief. It was, however, long enough to leave a permanent effect upon Titian's method of construction. After thirty years I recall vividly a memorable five minutes with Bernard Berenson, in which he showed me how Titian's construction on the whole remained linear, Gentilesque, depending much on the edge and the color spot, whereas the construction of Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione, driving ultimately from Antonello da Messina, was rounding up and shading process, with relatively little dependence on the line, edge, and color spot. We may reasonably suppose Titian was with Gentile Bellini for a couple of years, 1494 and 1495. Meanwhile Giorgione, now
nineteen years old had probably left Giovanni Bellini and set up his own shop.
With Giovanni Bellini Titian probably finished out a normal period of apprenticeship, going on his own about 1500, at twenty-three. It can hardly have been earlier, and it may well have been one or two years later. I believe a careful scrutiny of Giovanni Bellini's pictures of about 1500 would show traces of Titian's hand. I have suggested it in my Venetian Painters, p.118, for the landscape in the Baptism at Vicenza. But since there must have been many assistants in Giovanni Bellini's shop the problem is far more ticklish for one who doesn't need a Ph. D.
The St. Peter with Bishop Baffo, of about 1502, is probably the first important commission that came to Titian. In any case it is surely the earliest evidence of his activity. Titian was about twenty-five years old, and since for practically all this time he had been in pupilage, there would in the nature of the case be no written records of his work. For the succeeding eight years, up to Giorgione's death in 1510, we have all the records to be expected for the early career of any Renaissance painter-the Barbarigo portrait (Vasari), the Fondaco frescoes, 1507-8 (numerous witnesses and a document); the design for the woodcut, The Triumph of Faith, and a mural version thereof in a house in Padua (Vasari and Ridolfi) and in 1511the record of the payment for the frescoes in Padua in the Scuola del Santo. In short, under the circumstances, the records concerning Titian's early activity are rather exceptionally abundant than, pace Sir Herbert
Cook, suspiciously scanty. How lucky we should be if we had an equal amount of information about the early days of Antonello da Messina or Giovanni Bellini!
All early biographers are so agreed in making Titian a pupil of Giorgione that I suggest an alternative view with all diffidence. But it does seem to me that a needy and ambitious young painter getting towards thirty and fed up with three apprenticeships is much more likely to have gone on as a paid assistant. The date is uncertain, but the limits are 1502, when the votive picture for Baffo is still Bellinesque and entirely untinged by Giorgione's influence, and 1507, when Titian was sufficiently indoctrinated in Giorgione's methods to be allotted a wall of the Fondaco. It seems probable to me that Titian was with Giorgione as early as 1505. That he left Giorgione in 1508 as a result of Giorgione's jealousy over the Fondaco frescoes, and moved
to Padua, is at least highly probable, as I have earlier shown.
I am trying only to erect the historical and dialectical framework within which the problems of Titian's beginnings must be considered if there is any security in the conclusions. It is apart from my original purpose to draw a list of Titian's paintings before 1510. Some day I may undertake that delicate task. Meanwhile, I am certain that cautious criticism will build up a considerable list of Titians before 1510. I have just written out my own list, and it runs to sixteen items. Since it is an improvised affair-with, however about thirty years of casual reflection behind it-to divulge it here would highly indiscreet. But if there are anything like sixteen Titians which can reasonably be dated between 1502 and 1510 we are much better informed concerning his beginnings than we are with regard to the early career of most Renaissance painters. So much of the argument ex silentio.
Finally as a matter of methodology, no one should attack the problem of Giorgione until he has thoroughly and impartially settled to his own satisfaction the problem of early Titians. The reverse procedure has only produced and can only produce deplorable confusion.