Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
August 12, 2008
Maria H. Loh Titian Remade: Repetition and the Transformation of Early Modern Italian Art Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007. 272 pp.; 24 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780892368730)
Peter Humphrey Titian: The Complete Paintings Bruges: Ludion, 2007. 408 pp.; 400 color ills. Cloth $150.00 (9780810994096)

These two publications represent opposite ends of the spectrum of approaches to art history today and are clearly intended for different audiences. While Maria Loh approaches Padovanino’s “remaking” of Titian’s compositions in the early seventeenth century with the stated goal of “wrenching the writing of art history from a discourse that secures privileged seating for its ‘great masters’” (14), Peter Humphrey’s volume is the first in a series projected by Ludion called the “Classical Art Series,” with forthcoming volumes on Bruegel, Vermeer, Velasquez, and Van Eyck. Loh’s focus is on copies or repetitions (of compositions by Titian and his contemporaries) by a Titian follower. Humphrey‘s catalogue omits “paintings that appear to be largely or wholly by Titian’s assistants or followers” (28). Loh’s text constantly assumes a sophisticated scholarly audience that enjoys word play; Humphrey’s straightforward language is accessible to a wider public.

Humphrey’s introduction (11–26) provides a clear narrative of Titian’s life, work, travels, and patrons, with a useful emphasis on the last aspect. The author states up front: “Some three hundred items are catalogued in the present Complete Titian, but if all the paintings that originated in his busy workshop were to be included, that already large total might easily be doubled” (12). The catalogue that follows, in roughly chronological order, features good-sized color images (in most cases) and does not pretend to be a catalogue raisonné. Most entries are cross-listed to numbers in Harold Wethey’s three-volume monograph with full catalogue of 1969, 1971, and 1975. The short text that accompanies each image provides updated commentary that is necessarily, given the format, selective. The text may mention an altered dating, bring in information about damaged condition, or a cleaning, comment on the commission, or interpret the subject. Questions of attribution are noted particularly among early works, with reference to shared or disputed authorship with Giorgione, and among mature to late works concerning workshop assistance. Humphrey briefly states divergent views, often not taking a position himself beyond including the work. The entries include references to some recent scholarship. The catalogue proper is followed by a one-page “Chronology of Titian’s Career” (370) with “Artistic and Historic Background” dates provided on the opposite page. There follows an English translation of Vasari’s “Life of Titian,” a bibliographical note, the bibliography, and a topographical index.

The volume has wide margins and spacious layout; in most cases the image and text together occupy a full page. The quality of the color plates is, however, variable, and in some cases it appears that old images (perhaps made before a recent removal of yellowing varnishes) have been used. Plates that are too yellow include that of the altarpiece of the Assunta of 1518 in the Frari, where the exquisite balance of blue with the reds, yellows, and white of the original is lost in the reproduction. Another example is the plate of the Pentecost of 1545–46 in the Church of the Salute. Reproductions that are too dark include that of the St. Lawrence of 1548 in the Gesuiti and the Annunciation of the 1560’s in San Salvador. This unevenness is unfortunate because color images of consistently good quality would have enhanced the usefulness of the volume as a supplement to Wethey’s catalogue, with its good black-and-white photographs. An unexpected omission is the powerful version of Tarquin and Lucretia (probably 1568–75), now in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Bordeaux, which was included in the recent exhibition L’Ultimo Tiziano (click here for review). Humphrey includes lost works known from prints, drawings, or painted copies by publishing copies of the missing works and “cataloguing” the original (illustrated by the identified copy) within the chronological sequence. This helpful system is repeated with the inclusion of thumbnail images to illustrate the translation of Vasari’s “Life of Titian.”

With copies we return to the very different emphasis of Loh, who uses Titian’s well-known making of replicas in his workshop and the reuse of his images by followers as a framework for methodological propositions. Alessandro Varotari (1588–1649), known as Padovanino and an avowed imitator of Titian, is the initial focus of her study, which broadens to encompass early seventeenth-century literary culture and its intersection with painting. Loh thus chooses a period often regarded as one of the weaker moments in Venetian art history. She employs frequent quotations from Marco Boschini’s Carta del navegar pittoresco of 1660, in which Boschini, who was friends with Padovanino, presents Padovanino and his role of re-presenting Titian in a highly favorable light.

In setting out to “write a history, using Padovanino as an example, about artistic decisions and engaged spectatorship in early modern visual culture” (7), Loh begins by defining her terms. As she proceeds, she sometimes creates words that she defines in parentheses. Her key term is “repetition,” which is seen as distinct from repetitious and as bearing a more positive meaning. She seeks to avoid a linear history and posits an interactive relationship in time, using a “rhizome” rather than a tree as a model. She defines rhizome as “a root structure with multiple overlapping chronologies and no discernible point of origin” (10). She stresses, thus, interactions between artists and works over time. More specifically she depicts a sophisticated culture in the early seventeenth century that appreciated creative “remakes” and enjoyed quotations.

She, perhaps excessively, finds this culture different from the Renaissance, during which, of course, artists quoted (and competed with) not only antiquity but predecessors and contemporaries. She sees a connection between the shop system of the late Renaissance in Venice and the positive attitude toward copies in the early Seicento mainly in terms of the greater impact exerted by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese through the existence of multiples.

Loh’s book employs her earlier research on copying and repetition by Seicento artists (seen in her Art Bulletin article of 2004 [86, no. 3 (September): 477–504]) to create a more abstracted and theoretical argument. At the same time the author does not hesitate to use adjectives that are critical, referring at one point to the “abstract, claustrophobic space of late Tintoretto and Palma Giovane” (13) and shortly thereafter to “a magnificent expanse of rich sienna-colored material” (17) in Padovanino’s version of the Sleeping Venus of 1625. At the center of the examples selected by Loh, and featured on the book jacket, are the Sleeping Venus (usually dated between 1507 and 1510) in Dresden, Titian’s Venus of Urbino of the 1530’s in the Uffizi, and Padovanino’s Sleeping Venus in a private collection. Padovanino’s painting paraphrases the Dresden picture, not Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Although (as Humphrey notes on page 12) a minority of scholars attribute the Dresden painting to Titian alone, the Dresden painting has long been assigned to Giorgione, with the majority of scholars agreeing with the testimony of the sixteenth-century writer Michiel that the nude is by Giorgione and the landscape by Titian. In Jaynie Anderson’s monograph on Giorgione (Giorgione: The Painter of Poetic Brevity, Paris and New York: Flammarion, 1997, 225–26), the technical analysis of the painting (M. Giebe, “Die Schummernde Venus von Giorgione und Tizian. Bestandaufnahme und Konservierang-neu Ergebnisse der Röngenanalyse”, in Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, 1992, 91–108) is reviewed and found to support the traditional attribution. Specifically the evidence shows that Titian reworked both landscape and bedding, modifying Giorgione’s painting in these areas. Earlier, such key scholars as Johannes Wilde (Venetian Art from Bellini to Titian, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974, 72–74) and Sydney J. Freedberg (Painting in Italy, 1500-1600, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, 85) had seen Titian’s hand in these areas. Loh chooses to treat the painting as completely by Titian.

While this choice may suit her purpose in making an elegant argument, it is not necessary to her thesis, and it is disconcerting. Loh’s justification that Titian came to be “perceived” as the “inventor of the Dresden type—the sleeping female nude” (23) is questionable, since in the literature Giorgione has usually been seen as the “inventor” of the reclining nude, the first to recreate the ancient type in oil painting, apparently for private patrons. (David Rosand wrote concerning Giorgione’s Three Philosophers (circa 1508–10) and Sleeping Venus: “Both . . . initiate a new kind of image, elaborating the type and role of figures in a landscape” [“Giorgione, Venice, and the Pastoral Vision,” in Robert Cafritz et al., eds., Places of Delight: The Pastoral Landscape, Washington, DC: The Phillips Collection, 1988, 48].) If Loh’s argument is that repetitions were both acceptable and creative, why omit antique reclining nudes known to the Renaissance via cameos, reliefs, and coins; why exclude Giorgione from the exchange; and why ignore technical evidence and the testimony of connoisseurs from Giovanni Morelli to Wilde and Freedberg? (None of these authors is included in the bibliography; Morelli’s “cavalier attribution to Giorgione” is mentioned on page 22, but the reference is to later sources; Anderson is cited, but not Giebe. The damaged condition of the Dresden painting [summarized by Anderson], which was transferred to a new canvas in 1843 after the putto at the right, described by Michiel as Titian’s addition, was covered due to its poor condition in 1837, is not discussed.)

Loh sometimes relies on secondary sources instead of going to available primary sources, leading to at least one over-interpretation. She tells the story of how Veronese’s brother Benedetto Caliari informed the patron Jacopo Contarini of the roles taken by himself and his nephews in making a commissioned picture, concluding: “Thus, from the collaboration of Veronese’s brother and two sons, an autograph ‘Veronese’ was produced without any direct contribution of the master” (21). Her reference is to Beverly Brown’s essay “Replication in the Art of Veronese,” Retaining the Original: Multiple Originals, Copies and Reproductions, Studies in the History of Art XX (1989): 111–26); Brown’s source is a letter from Benedetto to Contarini that has been published twice, by Gaye in 1840 and in Pietro Caliari’s Paolo Veronese of 1888. Although undated, the letter has to have been written by Benedetto as head of shop after Veronese died unexpectedly at age 60; Benedetto was thus assuring the patron that the hands of all of Veronese’s heirs were endeavoring to keep Paolo’s “genio” alive. (This is the understanding of Caliari, 1888; Rosand, Veronese and His Studio in North American Collections, Birmingham and Montgomery, AL: Birmingham Museum of Art & Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1972, cited by Brown; and the present writer [“Collaboration and Replicas in the Shop of Paolo Veronese and his Heirs”, Artibus et Historiae XXVIII, no. 55 (2007): 73–86.) Loh’s text does not mention that after Veronese’s death his brother and sons formed a corporation to fulfill existing obligations and accept new commissions, the products being signed “Haeredes Pauli Caliari Veronensis.” She might more accurately have used this example in service of her argument.

Loh posits a role for Padovanino in fostering “neo-Venetianism” in Seicento Italy via his copies of Titian’s Bacchanals (taken in 1614 in Rome), thus “remaking” the sunny images of Titian’s early work. Padovanino’s further essays in a style modeled chiefly on early Titian are explored, with emphasis on the Triumph (ca. 1614–20) in Bergamo (which also references images by other masters) and his Self Portrait with Titian’s bust (ca. 1625–30) in Padua, with which Loh begins both her introduction and conclusion. The earlier Triumph, in format and size similar to the Bacchanals, was installed with Padovanino’s copies of Titian’s three Bacchanals in his residence in Padua. Giovanni Bellini’s Feast of the Gods of 1514, modified by Titian circa 1529, was excluded from the new series. Loh interprets the Triumph as an allegory of Padovanino’s own success. Boschini’s poetic Carta is the most constant Seicento source used, but Loh employs other writings of the period and later art and literature, employing quotations sometimes as parallels to or as models for her own system. In the process Loh creates a picture of a cultural ambience in the early Seicento that was enamored with the Venetian Cinquecento. She sees this generation of painters as highly interested in their Cinquecento predecessors and as optimistically confident of surpassing them. Ironically, given the author’s desire to avoid an art history focused on the great masters, it was Padovanino and the writers of his time who looked precisely to the grand Triumvirate of painters in the late Cinquecento in Venice—Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese—as models.

Loh makes a case for the positive value assigned to repetition in the early Seicento, and one can hardly deny that repetition, revival, and visual exchanges occur repeatedly in art history. That copies and creative repetitions were appreciated in the Cinquecento and Seicento is known. A different approach might have looked in depth at the role of patrons and the developing role of agents or dealers in pushing for replicas in the late Cinquecento and early Seicento. Recent concrete, rather than theoretical, studies of replicas by Titian and his workshop include: Miguel Falomir’s essay “Titian Replicas” in the Prado Tiziano exhibition catalogue (Falomir Miguel, ed., Tiziano, Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, 77–92) on the physical and documentary evidence concerning Titian’s workshop process in making replicas and an essay by Robert Wald in the catalogue for L’Ultimo Tiziano (“La Danae di Tiziano a Vienna: osservazioni su esecuzione e repliche nella bottega di Tiziano,” Sylvia Ferino-Pagden and Giovanna Nepi Sciré, eds., Venice: Marsilio, 2008, 125–33) with a double-page spread that illustrates eight versions of Titian’s Danae, neatly picturing compositional modifications and (after the first three) varied quality. Perhaps Loh’s contribution can be found in seeing and showing the enjoyment and admiration of copying by Seicento painters and critics. Her text itself enters into the spirit that she assigns to her “engaged spectator” of the Seicento “who took pleasure in the redundant and predictable as well as in the redundant and unexpected,” addressing herself to “an audience attentive to the possibilities of double meanings and upon whom allusions would not be lost” (142).

Diana Gisolfi
Professor, Department of Art History, Pratt Institute