Tuesday 14 April 2015

Déjà vu Titian

 Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio, or Titian in English

My loyal readers, to whom I am most grateful, will remember that last year I ran a series of posts about classical painters and their famous masterpieces. It was a successful series with a number of readers contributing suggestions for paintings to be critiqued by myself - a self-proclaimed art critic. More suggestions welcome!

One such artist we studied together is Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio, or Titian in English. He was famous for his mastery of the paintbrush as you can see from his self portrait above painted in about 1567.

Now one thing I need to say as your advisor in such artistic matters is that in my opinion this could not possibly be a self-portrait of the grand master. This is because the painting is done in profile.

At the time when Titian is supposed to have painted it they did not have cameras; and the only way that he could have known what he looked like is by looking at a mirror face on - full frontal. There is no way he could have looked at his profile in a mirror and paint the masterpiece at the same time. Not unless he had the paint brush firmly stuck in his ear and he painted by standing sideways to the canvas. Either that, or someone else painted the picture which would not make it a self-portrait.

Please contain your self-amazement at my prowess a little longer as I go on.

One of Titian's famous paintings is "Venus and Organist and Little Dog" painted in 1550 (ten to four in the afternoon for those of you unfamiliar with the 24 hour clock).

I really cannot imagine what possessed Titian to paint such a scene. Portrays of nudes have long been common amongst famous painters and photographers. So asking a model to lie down naked on a bed would not have been that difficult for a master like Titian. Suggesting that she has a little dog by her side would have been easy too. But how exactly did he manage to convince her it would be a good idea to have a man sitting beside the bed playing with his organ? And its not as if the man is playing casually looking at the music sheet in front of him. No, this guy knows the tune by heart, so he is leaning backwards to have a good look at something more interesting. Her bracelet perhaps! And she doesn't seem to mind.

I wonder how many times they had to pose for him like that. And with an open window behind her so that the gardener could have a good look whilst mowing the lawn. 

Now what I've discovered in my research on your behalf is that Titian must have really enjoyed painting this particular scene. So much so that no sooner he had finished he tried painting it all over again. See below.

This time he made the colours more vivid in order to bring out all the mastery of brush strokes for which he was so famous. He used the same model of course and convinced her that it would be more pleasing to the eye of the beholder (i.e. his) if she were to lose a bit of weight. (Compare the two pictures).

He also asked her to look up to a little Cupid character rather than down at the dog as previously.

Unfortunately he could not convince the man (a different person wearing different clothes and with no sword) to look forward whilst playing his organ. He too prefered to lean back and admire the bracelet which the model is wearing. That's his excuse and he is sticking to it!

Can you see the gardener in red by the trees on the left?

Not quite satisfied with this version of events, Titian had another go as we can admire below.

In this picture he added a different dog to the scene and asked the same model to lean slightly more forward. She must have felt a little cold by now because she asked to be covered (somewhat modestly) with a very tiny transparent curtain netting to keep her warm. Note that the little Cupid seems friendlier in this picture and seems to have a wandering hand compared to before. No wonder the dog is upset; with his jaw dropping he is asking what's all this about!

In this painting Titian uses yet another much younger man to play the organ. This is because the other two had to retire with a stiff neck having to look backwards. Despite being warned this fellow too claims that he is only admiring the model's necklace (not bracelet). Likely story! (Note how his eyes point at a different direction compared to the previous two paintings).

You'll also notice that Titian has changed the background from a garden to an open plain with a whole village in centre stage so that the inhabitants can also have a good look with their binoculars.

Yet, not totally satisfied with his efforts, our master had another go at the same painting.

On the face of it, (that is if you are looking at the face of any of the characters), this appears to be a totally different painting. But it is not.

The same model, having got enough of the dogs all over her bed, and various organists ogling her, insists to Titian that they must go away.

"I will not pose nude with organists looking at me!" she says as she takes her clothes off. 
Titian agrees and gets rid of the dog and replaces the organist with a lute player.

Drat! The silly woman should have been more specific.

To be fair, the lute player is much younger than all of the organists before him, so he is less likely to get neck cramp sitting in that twisted position. The model is holding a stick in her hand in case the amourous lute player comes too close. And her legs are well positioned to give him a good kick in the kidneys, just in case.  

You'll note that Titian changed the background scenery once again.

But this was not enough. Titian wanted to try one more time.

But this time the model finally has her way. She insists that there are no men at all sitting there watching her rude bits. She agrees to dispense with the net curtain covering her as long as the Cupid fellow keeps his hand well away ... or else.

"And keep the dog well away by my feet!" she tells Titian.

He agrees. But asks, "Can I have my pet pigeon on the window behind you?"

"Oh OK ..." she answers, "as long as he doesn't fly and peck at my backside!"

And here you have it. Titian's famous painting of Venus and Coo Coo his pet pigeon.

As you'll appreciate, dear readers, one has to wonder whether Titian painted all these paintings himself, (the model appears to be the same in all of them), or whether he painted one scene and other painters painted the rest.

If that were the case, then all the copies are just imitations of the one the master himself painted. But which is which? How can we tell which one is the original?

I don't know.

In order to find out whether it is possible to paint just like Titian I thought I'd give it a go. Not to be outdone I searched for my paint brush and palette of colours; I hired a model to pose for me, and promised her that there would be no organists or lute players ogling at her every aspect.

She agreed.

I hope you like the end result of my efforts ....


  1. OH GOODNESS, Victor. WHAT an imagination!

    1. I really can't understand why Titian painted the same scene so many times, Lulu. Either that, or others copied his style.

      God bless.

  2. Victor, your appreciation of these master pieces is brilliant. If the experimental painting is done by you, I guess you can add T V to your name as a suffix.

    1. Thank you for your comment Charles. The final experimental painting is mine with some great help from Rembrandt. See: http://timeforreflections.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/whats-this-rembrandt.html

      God bless.

      P.S. You can follow my series on the great masters by clicking Fun and Giggles at the top of this page then clicking on their names.

  3. Hi Victor! What a crazy thing! So many paintings of the same thing, just one little change. It's almost like it's all a painting exercise, trying to get it right.
    I love how you pointed out the model lost weight. So funny! Or maybe he decided to just paint her smaller so she'd come back? If I realized I looked that big, I wouldn't pose again!

    Still giggling,

  4. I researched these paintings Ceil, and cannot understand why Titian had to paint the same (or similar) scene over and again. Unless as you say it was a painting exercise.

    God bless.

  5. Hahahahahaha!!! That was so funny. I love this series and I'm glad it's back. :)

    1. Looking forward to your suggestions for critiques Manny.

      God bless.

  6. Dearest Victor,
    That is a very interesting variety of looks.
    The final one with those onlookers is priceless!

    1. Intriguing why Titian had this scene painted so many times. An odd scenario.

      I'm glad you liked my version, Mariette.

      God bless you.

  7. And you didn't get in trouble. There must be real protecting angels..... Just sayin'
    Sherry & jack

    1. Hey, it's nice to see you here Jack. Sorry you're still having difficulties commenting here. Many thanx.

      God bless you and Sherry.

  8. I was lost in space for awhile, but I am back Hope this posts....

    1. Yep ... posted all right. Many thanx my friends.

      God bless, Jack & Sherry.



God bless you.