Tag Archives: Titian

Art and storytelling, Best Friends Forever

By Bob Hicks

The fun thing about art is that it always seems to come with a story. Not that the stories are more important than the art — at least, not usually — but they do have a way of getting a potentially esoteric subject down to the nitty gritty.

Alfred Maurer, "George Washington," Portland Art MuseumMartha Ullman West, whose tale about the painter Titian and the man-about-Europe Pietro Aretino provided the pith for our previous posting, took a break from the thickets of her book manuscript to send along another quick story, this one about the American painter Alfred Maurer, whose 1932 Cubist version of George Washington was included in a piece I wrote in this morning’s Oregonian about images of faces in the permanent collection of the Portland Art Museum. The story was a sidebar to my cover story about Titian’s La Bella, which is on temporary display at the museum. Martha’s father, to complete the setup, was the New York painter Allen Ullman, and her grandfather was the artist Eugene Ullman, so inside stories about artists flowed like wine in her childhood home.

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Titian and the Scourge of Princes

By Bob Hicks

Titian did not live starving and penniless in an unheated artist’s garret. He was wealthy and famous in his own time — more Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst, at least as far as the fame game goes, than Vincent Van Gogh.

    Pietro Aretino, first portrait by Titian, c. 1512, at the Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti in Florence.At least partly, that’s because he had a good press agent.

Mr. Scatter has been spending some time lately communing with the great Venetian High Renaissance artist, because Titian’s 1536 portrait of an unknown lady, La Bella, has taken up temporary residence in the European galleries of the Portland Art Museum. You can read about it in Mr. S’s cover story from this morning’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s most highly paid correspondent, tipped us off to the key role played in Titian’s life and career by one Pietro Aretino, a man known with less than complete enthusiasm in certain circles as “Scourge of Princes.” Historians have acknowledged Aretino also as a scabrous satirist (hence the “scourge”), a pornographer and a proto-feminist, a playwright and poet, and one of the finest art critics of his day. That’s why they called them Renaissance men.

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Beach scatter: final chapter

Nose pressed to the glass, we watch mist clouds roll wetly off the Pacific onto the beach and when we get to the point of exposing our own flesh to the elements — mostly water in various incarnations and sand — we remark that this feels like the memory of an amniotic bath, except that it’s cool not warm, even though we know that we can’t have this memory, couldn’t possibly, though we don’t abandon it because we like the metaphor, the need it expresses and our need to express it.

The visual “play” outside that window all week is why we come, every bit as much as entering those scenes ourselves, nudging long strands of kelp and other sea “trash” left at high tide or feeling that chilly north Pacific nipping at our ankles and, watch out, knees and thighs. Everyone who comes here is affected about the same way, yes? Sky, surf, land in perpetual rearrangement, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic, three elastic elements readjusting to each other. You don’t have to watch every second, that’s not necessary — but every short while you look up and locate the difference, how the pattern has changed.

I’m not sure what this has to do with Titian, or specifically the two Titians that the 7th Duke of Sutherland (only seven?) is hoping to sell to “balance his portfolio.” These are great paintings, no doubt, and the Duke is willing to sell them to the UK’s National Gallery for one-third the price they would likely bring at auction, which is estimated to be 300 million pounds. And the scrambling for money and the gnashing of teeth over the public interest in keeping the paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland, where they have lived since 1945, has been intense and reminiscent of Philadelphia’s citywide debate over the future of Thomas Eakins’ Gross Clinic, which was headed to Arkansas until $68 million was raised to keep it where it was.
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