Reviews for Titian : His Life

Booklist Reviews 2012 November #1
*Starred Review* In her excellent biography, Hale charts Titian's stylistic development through the story of his life and of the century in which he became the most famous artist in Europe. The book includes interesting chapters on the principal characters and historical events. Only half of Titian's 500-600 precious paintings survive; the rest were destroyed by vandalism, theft, fire, flood, shipwreck, earthquake, and war. Titian had intelligence, poise, and wit, and he displayed a forceful, self-assured, shrewd and charismatic personality. His art revealed genius for drama and mystery, a balance of dramatic force and deep feeling, and penetrating understanding of human nature. He had an unrivaled mastery of using blacks, whites, and flesh tones; modeling with light and shade; and creating exquisitely painted hands, and an interest in the personality and status of his sitters. Hale's thorough research, judicious examination of evidence, lucid narrative style, and perceptive and illuminating interpretations of the major works are worthy of her great subject. Her detailed descriptions effectively evoke the paintings' iconographic meaning. She writes of The Assumption, Titian's Virgin is propelled upward to heaven as though by her own spiraling momentum and is surrounded by a swarm of cavorting baby angels. And she concludes, If the Venus of Urbino is about flirtation and the Farnese Danaë is about the moment of penetration, the Danaë Titian, painted for King Philip, is about the climax of passion. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 October #1
A learned but not entirely compelling portrait of the great Venetian painter. Hale's (The Man Who Lost His Language, 2002, etc.) goal is to capture Titian (1488/90–1576) and his 16th-century world, where employment meant staying in the good graces of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Clement VII or Philip II of Spain. Being a genius didn't hurt either; Titian could even manage to miss deadlines--a battle scene commissioned in 1516 didn't arrive until 1538--because the result was a masterpiece: realer than real life, an improvement on nature. The facts alone attest to an intense life, and facts alone seem to be Hale's specialty. She's from the throw-nothing-away school of biography, where minor transactions receive as much attention as major battles; as a result, Titian frequently gets lost in the so-called bigger picture. He isn't even the most interesting character. That would be his best friend Pietro Aretino, a pornographer, flatterer and would-be cardinal who literally died laughing. Hale is better at capturing Titian's art than his life; she expertly shows how he worked--mixing colors, applying "transparent glazes and semi-opaque scumbles" to create "a cool, hazy subdued effect"--and astutely describes the paintings. The subject of Charles V on Horseback, for example, is "masterful, thoughtful, weary, earnest, certain of his purpose but unsure of his ability to achieve it in the time left to him." The author also asks probing questions about his art, such as the violent Flaying of Marsyas: "Did he want to discover what lay beneath the living flesh that his contemporaries said he painted not with pigments but as though with real, trembling skin?" While not the big, dramatic narrative Titian deserves, Hale's biography frequently rewards the patience it demands. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #2

In this monumental book, Hale (The Man Who Lost His Language: A Case of Aphasia) sets forth what may become the definitive biography of Tiziano Vecellio (c.1480-1576), better known as Titian. Following an apprenticeship with fellow Venetian master Giovanni Bellini, Titian painted frescos, altarpieces, mythological stories, portraits, and more over the course of a career spanning seven decades--many of the works for emperors, kings, noblemen, and high-ranking members of the Catholic Church. Hale examines Titian's life and career within the cultural, economic, political, and social contexts of 16th-century Venice and Italy. As she details his ambitious rise through Venetian society, she also tells the broader story of the artist's stylistic evolution and the world he lived in. The author examines all the available contemporary accounts of Titian's life and work, as well as including recent research. VERDICT This impressive, ambitious, scholarly, interdisciplinary, and somewhat overwhelming (because of its size and the breadth of its historical coverage) book straddles academic disciplines, including art history, history, and literature. Strongly recommended.--Cheryl Ann Lajos, Free Lib. of Philadelphia

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #1

Drawing upon her experience as research assistant to the celebrated Renaissance historian John Hale (her late husband), Hale frames her first foray into historical scholarship by tracing one artist's life to inform an epic biography of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Compelling and well-researched, the book follows the career of Titian, an "explorer in paint," whose popularity reaches from the 16th century until today. Vivid descriptions of Renaissance Venice read like a firsthand account of food halls where "caged birds... sang among the fruit and vegetables" and citywide pageants that, "like prostitutes, outclassed and outnumbered" those in other cities. Hale presents Titian as a rural-born homebody who witnessed the intrigue of foreign courts and encountered greats such as Michelangelo, architect Jacopo Sansovino, and baroque painter Tintoretto. If anything gets short shrift, it's the paintings themselves. One is left wondering, for example, why the Annunciation painting in Treviso "doesn't really work." Hale's research benefits from recent cleanings and restorations of Titian's work, but she imparts her own expertise, for instance, in surmising that Titian's son, Orazio, may have been the painter of the portrait of Pietro Bembo in Rome. Fully aware of our need to believe in artistic genius, Hale (The Man Who Lost His Language) successfully utilizes Titian's career as a touchstone for events that carried Venice away from the Middle Ages and into the early modern period. Two 16-page color inserts. Agent: Anne Engel. (Nov.)

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