A British journalist diligently pursues the story of Titian (circa 1488–1576), who arrived in Venice as a child and became the city’s most celebrated artist.
Telegraph and Guardian contributor Hudson employs a variety of strategies and tones in this remarkably engaging story. He is at times the pedagogue, the dazzled fan, the nervous tourist, the frustrated scholar, the disgusted critic (especially with verbose and pretentious art historians). The author says he developed a blunt aesthetic when he was a young art student: “Did the painting give me a buzz or not?” Most of Titian did, and by the end of this entertaining journey, readers will be abuzz as well. Although the narrative is generally chronological, the author frequently steps aside to sketch social and cultural history, geography (Titian was from a mountainous region to the northwest) and political intrigue. Hudson provides copious information about the patronage system of Titian’s day, and about how the artist, like building contractors of today, accepted more commissions than he could execute in timely fashion and so perfected not just the craft of painting but of appeasement of impatient patrons. The author also examines Titian’s mentors, specific paintings (e.g., The Venus of Urbino, a sexy work that alarmed and delighted Mark Twain) and sequences of paintings—including the final group of mythological pieces, the poesie, based on stories in Ovid, among them The Death of Actaeon. Hudson does not neglect the artist’s personal life, filling us in on what’s known about his love life and his children. Most captivating, however, is the author’s own journey, from Venice to Spain to Czechoslovakia and elsewhere to follow the story of the great Italian painter.
Intense passion and humble scholarship infuse this personal odyssey of discovery with arresting power.