Almost all the stories of the lives of the painters which we have
been listening to, until now, have clustered round Florence, the City
of Flowers. She was their great mother, and her sons loved her with
a deep, passionate love, thinking nothing too fair with which to deck
her beauty. Wherever they wandered she drew them back, for their very
heartstrings were wound around her, and each and all strove to give
her of their best.
But now we come to the stories of men whose lives gather round a different
centre. Instead of the great mother-city beside the Arno, with her
strong towers and warlike citizens, the noise of battle ever sounding
in her streets, and her flowery fields encircling her on every side,
we have now Venice, Queen of the Sea.
No warlike tread or tramp of angry crowds disturbs her fair streets,
for here are no pavements, only the cool green water which laps the
walls of her marble palaces, and gives back the sound of the dipping
oar and the soft echo of passing voices, as the gondolas glide along
her watery ways. Here are no grim grey towers of defence, but fairy
palaces of white and coloured marbles, which rise from the waters
below as if they had been built by the sea nymphs, who had fashioned
them of their own sea- shells and mother-of-pearl.
There are no flowery meadows here, but instead the vast waters of
the lagoons, which reach out until they meet the blue arc of the sky
or touch the distant mountains which lie like a purple line upon the
horizon. Here and there tiny islands lie upon its bosom, so faint
and fairylike that they scarcely seem like solid land, reflected as
they are in the transparent water.
But although Venice has no meadows decked with flowers and no wealth
of blossoming trees, everywhere on every side she shines with colour,
this wonderful sea-girt city. Her white marble palaces glow with a
soft amber light, the cool green water that reflects her beauty glitters
in rings of gold and blue, changing from colour to colour as each
ripple changes its form. At sunset, when the sun disappears over the
edge of the lagoon and leaves behind its trail of shining clouds,
she is like a dream-city rising from a sea of molten gold--a double
city, for in the pure gold is reflected each tower and spire, each
palace and campanile, in masses of pale yellow and quivering white
light, with here and there a burning touch of flame colour. She seems
to have no connection with the solid, ordinary cities of the world.
There she lies in all her beauty, silent and apart, like a white sea-bird
floating upon the bosom of the ocean.
Venice had always seemed separate and distinct from the rest of the
world. Her cathedral of San Marco was never under the rule of Rome,
and her rulers, or doges, as they were called, governed the city as
kings, and did not trouble themselves with the affairs of other towns.
Her merchant princes sailed to far countries and brought home precious
spoils to add to her beauty. Everything was as rich and rare and splendid
as it was possible to make it, and she was unlike any other city on
So the painters who lived and worked in this city of the sea had their
own special way of painting, which was different to that of the Florentine
From their babyhood these men had looked upon all this beauty of colour,
and the love of it had grown with their growth. The golden light on
the water, the pearly-grey and tinted marbles, the gay sails of the
galleys which swept the lagoons like painted butterflies, the wide
stretch of water ending in the mystery of the distant skyline--it
all sank into their hearts, and it was little wonder that they should
strive to paint colour above all things, and at last reach a perfection
such as no other school of painters has equalled.
As with the Florentine artists, so with these Venetian painters, we
must leave many names unnoticed just now, and learn first to know
those which shine out clearest among the many bright stars of fame.
In the beginning of the fifteenth century, four hundred years ago,
when Fra Filippo Lippi was painting in Florence, there lived in Venice
a certain Jacopo Bellini, who was a painter, and who had two sons
called Gentile and Giovanni. The father taught his boys with great
care, and gave them the best training he could, for he was anxious
that his sons should become great painters. He saw that they were
both clever and quick to learn, and he hoped great things of them.
`Never do less than your very best,' he would say, as he taught the
boys how to draw and use their colours. `See how the Tuscan artists
strive with one another, each desiring to do most honour to their
city of Florence. So, Gentile, I would have thee also strive to be
great; and thou, Giovanni, endeavour to be even greater than thy brother.'
But though the boys were thus taught to try and outdo each other,
still they were always the best of friends, and there was never any
unkind rivalry between them.
Gentile, the eldest, was fond of painting story pictures, which told
the history of Venice, and showed the magnificent doges, and nobles,
and people of the city, dressed in their rich robes. The Venetians
loved pictures which showed forth the glory of their city, and very
soon Gentile was invited to paint the walls of the Ducal Palace with
his historical pictures.
Now Venice carried on a great trade with her ships, which sailed to
many foreign lands. These ships, loaded with merchandise, touched
at different ports, and the merchants sold their goods or took in
exchange other things which they brought back to Venice. It happened
that one of the ships which set sail for Turkey had on board among
other things several pictures painted by Giovanni Bellini. These were
shown to the Sultan of Turkey, who had never seen a picture before,
and he was amazed and delighted beyond words. His religion forbade
the making of pictures, but he paid no attention now to that law,
but sent a messenger to Venice praying that the painter Bellini might
come to him at once.
The rulers of Venice were unwilling to spare Giovanni just then, but
they allowed Gentile to go, as his work at the Ducal Palace was finished.
So Gentile took his canvases and paints, and, setting sail in one
of the merchant ships, soon arrived at the court of the Grand Turk.
He was received with every honour, and nothing was thought too good
for this wonderful painter, who could make pictures which looked like
living men. The Sultan loaded him with gifts and favours, and he lived
there like a royal prince. Each picture painted by Gentile was thought
more wonderful than the last. He painted a portrait of the Sultan,
and even one of himself, which was considered little short of magic.
Thus a whole year passed by, and Gentile had a most delightful time
and was well contented, until one day something happened which disturbed
He had painted a picture of the dancing daughter of Herodias, with
the head of John the Baptist in her hand, and when it was finished
he brought it and presented it to the Sultan.
As usual, the Sultan was charmed with the new picture; but he paused
in his praises of its beauty, and looked thoughtfully at the head
of St. John, and then frowned.
`It seems to me,' he said, `that there is something not quite right
about that head. I do not think a head which had just been cut off
would look exactly as that does in your picture.'
Gentile answered courteously that he did not wish to contradict his
royal highness, but it seemed to him that the head was right.
`We shall see,' said the Sultan calmly, and he turned carelessly to
a guard who stood close by and bade him cut of the head of one of
the slaves, that Bellini might see if his picture was really correctly
This was more than Gentile could stand.
`Who knows,' he said to himself, `that the Sultan may not wish to
see next how my head would look cut off from my body!'
So while his precious head was still safe upon his shoulders he thought
it wiser to slip quietly away and return to Venice by the very first
ship he could find.
Meanwhile Giovanni had worked steadily on, and had far surpassed both
his father and his brother. Indeed, he had become the greatest painter
in Venice, the first of that wonderful Venetian school which learned
to paint such marvellous colour.
With all the wealth of delicate shading spread out before his eyes,
with the ever-changing wonder of the opal-tinted sea meeting him on
every side, it was not strange that the love of colour sank into his
very heart. In his pictures we can see the golden glow which bathes
the marble palaces, the clear green of the water, the pure blues and
burning crimsons all as transparent as crystal, not mere paint but
Giovanni did not care to paint stories of Venice, with great crowds
of figures, as Gentile did. He loved best the Madonna and saints,
single figures full of quiet dignity. His saints are more human than
those which Fra Angelico painted, and yet they are not mere men and
women, but something higher and nobler. Instead of the angels swinging
their censers which the painter of San Marco so lovingly drew, Giovanni's
angels are little human boys, with grave sweet faces; happy children
with a look of heaven in their eyes, as they play on their little
lutes and mandolines.
But besides the pictures of saints and angels, Giovanni had a wonderful
gift for painting portraits, and most of the great people of Venice
came to be painted by him. In our own National Gallery we have the
portrait of the Doge Loredan, which is one of those pictures which
can teach you many things when you have learned to look with seeing
So the brothers worked together, but before long death carried off
the elder, and Giovanni was left alone.
Though he was now very old, Giovanni worked harder than ever, and
his hand, instead of losing power, seemed to grow stronger and more
and more skilful. He was ninety years old when he died, and he worked
almost up to the last.
The brothers were both buried in the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo,
in the heart of Venice. There, in the dim quietness of the old church,
they lie at rest together, undisturbed by the voices of the passers-by
in the square outside, or the lapping of the water against the steps,
as the tides ebb and flow around their quiet resting-place.
Like most of the other great painters, Giovanni Bellini had many pupils
working under him--boys who helped their master, and learned their
lessons by watching him work. Among these pupils was a boy called
Vittore Carpaccio, a sharp, clever lad, with keen bright eyes which
noticed everything. No one else learned so quickly or copied the master's
work so faithfully, and when in time he became himself a famous painter,
his work showed to the end traces of the master's influence.
He must have been a curious boy, this Vittore Carpaccio, for although
we know but little of his life, his pictures tell us many a tale about
In the olden days, when Venice was at the height of her glory, splendid
fetes were given in the city, and the gorgeous shows were a wonder
to behold. Early in the morning of these festa days, Carpaccio would
steal away in the dim light from the studio, before the others were
astir. Work was left behind, for who could work indoors on days like
these? There was a holiday feeling in the very air. Songs and laughter
and the echo of merry voices were heard on every side, and the city
seemed one vast playground, where all the grown-up children as well
as the babies were ready to spend a happy holiday.
The little side-streets of Venice, cut up by canals, seem like a veritable
maze to those who do not know the city, but Carpaccio could quickly
thread his way from bridge to bridge, and by many a short cut arrive
at last at the great central water street of Venice, the Grand Canal.
Here it was easy to find a corner from which he could see the gay
pageant, and enjoy as good a view as any of those great people who
would presently come out upon the balconies of their marble palaces.
The bridge of the Rialto, which throws its white span across the centre
of the canal, was Carpaccio's favourite perch, for from here he could
see the markets and the long row of marble palaces on either side.
From every window hung gay-coloured tapestry, Turkey carpets, silken
draperies, and delicate-tinted stuffs covered with Eastern embroideries.
The market was crowded with a throng of holiday-makers, a garden of
bright colours and from the balconies above richly dressed ladies
looked down, themselves a pageant of beauty, with their wonderful
golden hair and gleaming jewels, while green and crimson parrots,
fastened by golden chains to the marble balustrades, screamed and
flapped their wings, and delighted Carpaccio's keen eyes with their
Then the procession of boats swept up the great waterway, and the
blaze of colour made the boy hold his breath in sheer delight. The
painted galleys, the rowers in their quaint dresses-half one colour
and half another--with jaunty feathered caps upon their floating curls,
the nobles and rulers in their crimson robes, the silken curtains
of every hue trailing their golden fringes in the cool green water,
as the boats glided past, all made up a picture which the boy never
Then when it was all over, Carpaccio would climb down and make his
way back to the master's studio, and with the gay scene ever before
his eyes would try, day after day, to paint every detail just as he
had seen it.
There is another thing which we learn about Carpaccio from his pictures,
and that is, that he must have loved to listen to old legends and
stories of the saints, and that he stored them up in his mind, just
as he treasured the remembrance of the gay processions and the flapping
wings of those crimson and green parrots.
So, when he grew to be a man, and his fame began to spread, the first
great pictures he painted were of the story of St. Ursula, told in
loving detail, as only one who loved the story could do it.
But though Carpaccio might paint pictures of these old stories, it
was always through the golden haze of Venice that he saw them. His
St. Ursula is a dainty Venetian lady, and the bedroom in which she
dreams her wonderful dream is just a room in one of the old marble
palaces, with a pot of pinks upon the window-sill, and her little
high-heeled Venetian shoes by the bedside. Whenever it was possible,
Carpaccio would paint in those scenes on which his eyes had rested
since his childhood--the painted galleys with their sails reflected
in the clear water, the dainty dresses of the Venetian ladies, their
gay-coloured parrots, pet dogs, and grinning monkeys.
In an old church of Venice there are some pictures said to have been
painted by Carpaccio when he was a little boy only eight years old.
They are scenes taken from the Bible stories, and very funny scenes
they are too. But they show already what clever little hands and what
a thinking head the boy had, and how Venice was the background in
his mind for every story. For here is the meeting of the Queen of
Sheba and King Solomon, and instead of Jerusalem with all its glory,
we see a little wooden bridge, with King Solomon on one side and the
Queen of Sheba on the other, walking towards each other, as if they
were both in Venice crossing one of the little canals.
There were many foreign sailors in Venice in those old days, who came
in the trading-ships from distant lands. Many of them were poor and
unable to earn money to buy food, and when they were ill there was
no one to look after them or help them. So some of the richer foreigners
founded a Brotherhood, where the poor sailors might be helped in time
of need. This Brotherhood chose St. George as their patron saint,
and when they had built a little chapel they invited Carpaccio to
come and paint the walls with pictures from the life of St. George
and other saints.
Nothing could have suited Carpaccio better, and he began his work
with great delight, for he had still his child's love of stories,
and he would make them as gay and wonderful as possible. There we
see St. George thundering along on his war-horse, with flying hair,
clad in beautiful armour, the most perfect picture of a chivalrous
knight. Then comes the dragon breathing out flames and smoke, the
most awesome dragon that ever was seen; and there too is the picture
of St. Tryphonius taming the terrible basilisk. The little boy-saint
has folded his hands together, and looks upward in prayer, paying
little heed to the evil glare of the basilisk, who prances at his
feet. A crowd of gaily dressed courtiers stand whispering and watching
behind the marble steps, and here again in the background we have
the canals and bridges of Venice, the marble palaces and gay carpets
hung from out the windows. Everything is of the very best of its kind,
and painted with the greatest care, even to the design of the inlaid
work on the marble steps.
As we pass from picture to picture, we wish we had known this Carpaccio,
for he must have been a splendid teller of stories; and how he would
have made us shiver with his dragons and his basilisks, and laugh
over the antics of his little boys and girls, his scarlet parrots
and green lizards.
But although we cannot hear him tell his stories, he still speaks
through those wonderful old pictures which you will some day see when
you visit the fairyland of Italy, and pay your court to Venice, Queen
of the Sea
As we look back upon the lives of the great painters we can see how
each one added some new knowledge to the history of Art, and unfolded
fresh beauties to the eyes of the world. Very gradually all this was
done, as a bud slowly unfolds its petals until the full- blown flower
shows forth its perfect beauty. But here and there among the painters
we find a man who stands apart from the rest, one who takes a new
and almost startling way of his own. He does not gradually add new
truths to the old ones, but makes an entirely new scheme of his own.
Such a man was Giorgione, whose story we tell to-day.
It was at the same time as Leonardo da Vinci was the talk of the Florentine
world, that another great genius was at work in Venice, setting his
mark high above all who had gone before. Giorgio Barbarelli was born
at Castel Franco, a small town not far from Venice, and it was to
the great city of the sea that he was sent as soon as he was old enough,
there to be trained under the famous Bellini. He was a handsome boy,
tall and well-built, and with such a royal bearing that his companions
at once gave him the name of Giorgione, or George the Great. And,
as so often happened in those days, the nick- name clung to him, so
that while his family name is almost forgotten he is still known as
There was much of the poet nature about Giorgione, and his love of
music was intense. He composed his own songs and sang them to his
own music upon the lute, and indeed it seemed as if there were few
things which this Great George could not do. But it was his painting
that was most wonderful, for his painted men and women seemed alive
and real, and he caught the very spirit of music in his pictures and
there held it fast.
Giorgione early became known as a great artist, and when he was quite
a young man he was employed by the city of Venice to fresco the outside
walls of the new German Exchange. Wind and rain and the salt sea air
have entirely ruined these frescoes now, and there are but few of
Giorgione's pictures left to us, but that perhaps makes them all the
more precious in our eyes.
Even his drawings are rare, and the one you see here is taken from
a bigger sketch in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence. It shows a man
in Venetian dress helping two women to mount one of the niches of
a marble palace in order to see some passing show, and to be out of
the way of the crowd.
There is a picture now in the Venice Academy said to have been painted
by Giorgione, which would interest every boy and girl who loves old
stories. It tells the tale of an old Venetian legend, almost forgotten
now, but which used to be told with bated breath, and was believed
to be a matter of history. The story is this:
On the 25th of February 1340 a terrible storm began to rage around
Venice, more terrible than any that had ever been felt before. For
three days the wild winds swept her waters and shrieked around her
palaces, churning up the sea into great waves and shaking the city
to her very foundations. Lightning and thunder never ceased, and the
rain poured down in a great sheet of grey water, until it seemed as
if a second flood had come to visit the world. Slowly but surely the
waters rose higher and higher, and Venice sunk lower and lower, and
men said that unless the storm soon ceased the city would be overwhelmed.
No one ventured out on the canals, and only an old fisherman who happened
to be in his boat was swept along by the canal of San Marco, and managed
with great difficulty to reach the steps. Very thankful to be safe
on land he tied his boat securely, and sat down to wait until the
storm should cease. As he sat there watching the lightning and hearing
nothing but the shriek of the tempest, some one touched his shoulder
and a stranger's voice sounded in his ear.
`Good fisherman,' it said, `wilt thou row me over to San Giorgio Maggiore?
I will pay thee well if thou wilt go.'
The fisherman looked across the swirling waters to where the tall
bell-tower upon the distant island could just be seen through the
driving mist and rain.
`How is it possible to row across to San Giorgio?' he asked. `My little
boat could not live for five minutes in those raging waters.'
But the stranger only insisted the more, and besought him to do his
So, as the fisherman was a hardy old man and had a bold, brave soul,
he loosed the boat and set off in all the storm. But, strangely enough,
it was not half so bad as he had feared, and before long the little
boat was moored safely by the steps of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Here the stranger left the boat, but bade the fisherman wait his return.
Presently he came back, and with him came a young man, tall and strong,
bearing himself with a knightly grace.
`Row now to San Niccolo da Lido,' commanded the stranger.
`How can I do that?' asked the fisherman in great fear. For San Niccolo
was far distant, and he was rowing with but one oar, which is the
custom in Venice.
`Row boldly, for it shall be possible for thee, and thou shalt be
well paid,' replied the stranger calmly.
So, seeing it was the will of God, the fisherman set out once more,
and, as they went, the waters spread themselves out smoothly before
them, until they reached the distant San Niccolo da Lido.
Here an old man with a white beard was awaiting them, and when he
too had entered the boat, the fisherman was commanded to row out towards
the open sea.
Now the tempest was raging more fiercely than ever, and lo! across
the wild waste of foaming waters an enormous black galley came bearing
down upon them. So fast did it approach that it seemed almost to fly
upon the wings of the wind, and as it came near the fisherman saw
that it was manned by fearful-looking black demons, and knew that
they were on their way to overwhelm the fair city of Venice.
But as the galley came near the little boat, the three men stood upright,
and with outstretched arms made high above them the sign of the cross,
and commanded the demons to depart to the place from whence they had
In an instant the sea became calm, and with a horrible shriek the
demons in their black galley disappeared from view.
Then the three men ordered the fisherman to return as he had come.
So the old man was landed at San Niccolo da Lido, the young knight
at San Giorgio Maggiore, and, last of all, the stranger landed at
Now when the fisherman found that his work was done, he thought it
was time that he should receive his payment. For, although he had
seen the great miracle, he had no mind to forgo his proper fare.
`Thou art right,' said the stranger, when the fisherman made his demand,
`and thou shalt indeed be well paid. Go now to the Doge and tell him
all thou hast seen; how Venice would have been destroyed by the demons
of the tempest, had it not been for me and my two companions. I am
St. Mark, the protector of your city; the brave young knight is St.
George, and the old man whom we took in last is St. Nicholas. Tell
the Doge that I bade him pay thee well for thy brave service.'
`But, and if I tell them this story, how will they believe that I
speak the truth?' asked the fisherman.
Then St. Mark took a ring off his finger, and placed it in the fisherman's
rough palm. `Thou shalt show them this ring as a proof,' he said;
`and when they look in the treasury of San Marco, they will find that
it is missing from there.'
And when he had finished saying this, St. Mark disappeared.
Then the next day, as early as possible, the fisherman went to the
Doge and told his marvellous tale and showed the saint's ring. At
first no one could believe the wild story, but when they sent and
searched in St. Mark's treasury, lo! the ring was missing. Then they
knew that it must indeed have been St. Mark who had appeared to the
old fisherman, and had saved their beloved city from destruction.
So a solemn thanksgiving service was sung in the great church of San
Marco, and the fisherman received his due reward.
He was no longer obliged to work for his living, but received a pension
from the rulers of the city, so that he lived in comfort all the rest
of his days.
In the picture we see the great black galley manned by the demons,
sweeping down upon the little boat, in which the three saints stand
upright. And not only are the demons on board their ship, but some
are riding on dolphins and curious-looking fish, and the little boat
is entirely surrounded by the terrible crew.
We do not know much about Giorgione's life, but we do know that it
was a short and sad one, clouded over at the end by bitter sorrow.
He had loved a beautiful Venetian girl, and was just about to marry
her when a friend, whom he also loved, carried her off and left him
robbed of love and friendship. Nothing could comfort him for his loss,
the light seemed to have faded from his life, and soon life itself
began to wane. A very little while after and he closed his eyes upon
all the beauty and promise which had once filled his world. But though
we have so few of his pictures, those few alone are enough to show
that it was more than an idle jest which made his companions give
him the nickname of George the Great.
We have seen how most of the great painters loved to paint into their
pictures those scenes which they had known when they were boys, and
which to the end of their lives they remembered clearly and vividly.
A Giotto never forgets the look of his sheep on the bare hillside
of Vespignano, Fra Angelico paints his heavenly pictures with the
colours of spring flowers found on the slopes of Fiesole, Perugino
delights in the wide spaciousness of the Umbrian plains with the winding
river and solitary cypresses.
So when we come to the great Venetian painter Titian we look first
with interest to see in what manner of a country he was born, and
what were the pictures which Nature mirrored in his mind when he was
still a boy.'
At the foot of the Alps, three days' journey from Venice, lies the
little town of Cadore on the Pieve, and here it was that Titian was
born. On every side rise great masses of rugged mountains towering
up to the sky, with jagged peaks and curious fantastic shapes. Clouds
float around their summits, and the mist will often wrap them in gloom
and give them a strange and awesome look. At the foot of the craggy
pass the mountain-torrent of the Pieve roars and tumbles on its way.
Far-reaching forests of trees, with weather-beaten gnarled old trunks,
stand firm against the mountain storms. Beneath their wide-spreading
boughs there is a gloom almost of twilight, showing peeps here and
there of deep purple distances beyond.
Small wonder it was that Titian should love to paint mountains, and
that he should be the first to paint a purely landscape picture. He
lived those strange solemn mountains and the wild country round, the
deep gloom of the woods and the purple of the distance beyond.
The boy's father, Gregorio Vecelli, was one of the nobles of Cadore,
but the family was not rich, and when Titian was ten years old he
was sent to an uncle in Venice to be taught some trade. He had always
been fond of painting, and it is said that when he was a very little
boy he was found trying to paint a picture with the juices of flowers.
His uncle, seeing that the boy had some talent, placed him in the
studio of Giovanni Bellini.
But though Titian learned much from Bellini, it was not until he first
saw Giorgione's work that he dreamed of what it was possible to do
with colour. Thenceforward he began to paint with that marvellous
richness of colouring which has made his name famous all over the
At first young Titian worked with Giorgione, and together they began
to fresco the walls of the Exchange above the Rialto bridge. But by
and by Giorgione grew jealous. Titian's work was praised too highly;
it was even thought to be the better of the two. So they parted company,
for Giorgione would work with him no more.
Venice soon began to awake to the fact that in Titian she had another
great painter who was likely to bring fame and honour to the fair
city. He was invited to finish the frescoes in the Grand Council-chamber
which Bellini had begun, and to paint the portraits of the Doges,
These portraits which Titian painted were so much admired that all
the great princes and nobles desired to have themselves painted by
the Venetian artist. The Emperor Charles V. himself when he stopped
at Bologna sent to Venice to fetch Titian, and so delighted was he
with his work that he made the painter a knight with a pension of
two hundred crowns.
Fame and wealth awaited Titian wherever he went, and before long he
was invited to Rome that he might paint the portrait of the Pope.
There it was that he met Michelangelo, and that great master looked
with much interest at the work of the Venetian artist and praised
it highly, for the colouring was such as he had never seen equalled
`It is most beautiful,' he said afterwards to a friend; `but it is
a pity that in Venice they do not teach men how to draw as well as
how to colour. If this Titian drew as well as he painted, it would
be impossible to surpass him.'
But ordinary eyes can find little fault with Titian's drawing, and
his portraits are thought to be the most wonderful that ever were
painted. The golden glow of Venice is cast like a magic spell over
his pictures, and in him the great Venetian school of colouring reaches
Besides painting portraits, Titian painted many other pictures which
are among the world's masterpieces.
He must have had a special love for children, this famous old Venetian
painter. We can tell by his pictures how well he understood them and
how he loved to paint them. He would learn much by watching his own
little daughter Lavinia as she played about the old house in Venice.
His wife had died, and his eldest son was only a grief and disappointment
to his father, but the little daughter was the light of his eyes.
We seem to catch a glimpse of her face in his famous picture of the
little Virgin going up the steps to the temple. The little maid is
all alone, for she has left her companions behind, and the crowd stands
watching her from below, while the high priest waits for her above.
One hand is stretched out, and with the other she lifts her dress
as she climbs up the marble steps. She looks a very real child with
her long plait of golden hair and serious little face, and we cannot
help thinking that the painter's own little daughter must have been
in his mind when he painted the little Virgin.
Titian lived to be a very old man, almost a hundred years old, and
up to the last he was always seen with the brush in his hand, painting
some new picture. So, when he passed away, he left behind a rich store
of beauty, which not only decked the walls of his beloved Venice,
but made the whole world richer and more beautiful.
It was between four and five hundred years ago that Venice sat most
proudly on her throne as Queen of the Sea. She had the greatest fleet
in all the Mediterranean. She bought and sold more than any other
nation. She had withstood the shock of battle and conquered all her
foes, and now she had time to deck herself with all the beauty which
art and wealth could produce.
The merchants of Venice sailed to every port and carried with them
wonderful shiploads of goods, for which their city was famous--silks,
velvets, lace, and rich brocades. The secret of the marvellous Tyrian
dyes had been discovered by her people, and there were many dyers
in Venice who were specially famous for the purple dye of Tyre, which
was thought to be the most beautiful in all the world. Then too they
had learned the art of blowing glass into fairy-like forms, as delicate
and light as a bubble, catching in it every shade of colour, and twisting
it into a hundred exquisite shapes. Truly there had never been a richer
or more beautiful city than this Queen of the Sea.
It was just when the glory of Venice was at its highest that Art too
reached its height, and Giorgione and Titian began to paint the walls
of her palaces and the altarpieces of her churches.
In the very centre of the city where the poorer Venetians had their
houses, there lived about this time a man called Battista Robusti
who was a dyer, or `tintore,' as he is called in Italy. It was his
little son Jacopo who afterwards became such a famous artist. His
grand-sounding name `Tintoretto' means nothing but `the little dyer,'
and it was given to him because of his father's trade.
Tintoretto must have been brought up in the midst of gorgeous colours.
Not only did he see the wonderful changing tints of the outside world,
but in his father's workshop he must often have watched the rich Venetian
stuffs lifted from the dye vats, heavy with the crimson and purple
shades for which Venice was famous. Perhaps all this glowing colour
wearied his young eyes, for when he grew to be a man his pictures
show that he loved solemn and dark tones, though he could also paint
the most brilliant colours when he chose.
Of course, the boy Tintoretto began by painting the walls of his father's
house, as soon as he was old enough to learn the use of dyes and paints.
Even if he had not had in him the artist soul, he could scarcely have
resisted the temptation to spread those lovely colours on the smooth
white walls. Any child would have done the same, but Tintoretto's
mischievous fingers already showed signs of talent, and his father,
instead of scolding him for wasting colours and spoiling the walls,
encouraged him to go on with his pictures.
As the boy grew older, his great delight was to wander about the city
and watch the men at work building new palaces. But especially did
he linger near those walls which Titian and Giorgione were covering
with their wonderful frescoes. High on the scaffolding he would see
the painters at work, and as he watched the boy would build castles
in the air, and dream dreams of a time when he too would be a master-painter,
and be bidden by Venice to decorate her walls.
To Tintoretto's mind Titian was the greatest man in all the world,
and to be taught by him the greatest honour that heart could wish.
So it was perhaps the happiest day in all his life when his father
decided to take him to Titian's studio and ask the master to receive
him as a pupil.
But the happiness lasted but a very short time. Titian did not approve
of the boy's work, and refused to keep him in the studio; so poor,
disappointed Tintoretto went home again, and felt as if all sunshine
and hope had gone for ever from his life. It was a bitter disappointment
to his father and mother too, for they had set their hearts on the
boy becoming an artist. But in spite of all this, Tintoretto did not
lose heart or give up his dreams. He worked on by himself in his own
way, and Titian's paintings taught him many things even though the
master himself refused to help him. Then too he saw some work of the
great Michelangelo, and learned many a lesson from that. Thenceforward
his highest ideal was always `the drawing of Michelangelo and the
colour of Titian.
The young artist lived in a poor, bare room, and most of his money
went in the buying of little pieces of old sculpture or casts. He
had a very curious way of working the designs for his pictures. Instead
of drawing many sketches, he made little wax models of figures and
arranged them inside a cardboard or wooden box in which there was
a hole to admit a lighted candle. So, besides the grouping of the
figures, he could also arrange the light and shade.
But, though he worked hard, fame was long in coming to Tintoretto.
People did not understand his way of painting. It was not after the
manner of any of the great artists, and they were rather afraid of
his bold, furious-looking work.
Nevertheless Tintoretto worked steadily on, always hoping, and whenever
there was a chance of doing any work, even without receiving payment
for it, he seized it eagerly.
It happened just then that the young Venetian artists had agreed to
have a show of their paintings, and had hired a room for the exhibition
in the Merceria, the busiest part of Venice.
Tintoretto was very glad of the chance of showing his work, so he
sent in a portrait of himself and also one of his brother. As soon
as these pictures were seen people began to take more notice of the
clever young painter, and even Titian allowed that his work was good.
His portraits were always fresh and life- like, and he drew with a
bold strong touch, as you will see if you look at the drawing I have
shown you --the head of a Venetian boy, such as Tintoretto met daily
among the fisher-folk of Venice.
From that time Fortune began to smile on Tintoretto. Little by little
work began to come in. He was asked to paint altarpieces for the churches,
and even at last, when his name became famous, he was invited to work
upon the walls of the Ducal Palace, the highest honour which a Venetian
painter could hope to win.
The days of the poor, bare studio, and lonely, sad life were ended
now. Tintoretto had no longer to struggle with poverty and neglect.
His house was a beautiful palace looking over the lagoon towards Murano,
and he had married the daughter of a Venetian noble, and lived a happy,
contented life. Children's voices made gay music in his home, and
the pattering of little feet broke the silence of his studio. Fame
had come to him too. His work might be strange but it was very wonderful,
and Venice was proud of her new painter. His great stormy pictures
had earned for him the name off `the furious painter,' and the world
began to acknowledge his greatness.
But the real sunshine of his life was his little daughter Marietta.
As soon as she learned to walk she found her way to her father's studio,
and until she was fifteen years old she was always with him and helped
him as if she had been one of his pupils. She was dressed too as a
boy, and visitors to the studio never guessed that the clever, handsome
boy was really the painter's daughter.
There were many great schools in Venice at that time, and there was
much work to be done in decorating their walls with paintings. A school
was not really a place of education, but a society of people who joined
themselves together in charity to nurse the sick, bury the dead, and
release any prisoners who had been taken captive. One of the greatest
of the schools was the `Scuola de San Rocco,' and this was given into
the hands of Tintoretto, who covered the walls with his paintings,
leaving but little room for other artists.
But it is in the Ducal Palace that the master's most famous work is
seen. There, covering the entire side of the great hall, hangs his
`Paradiso,' the largest oil painting in the world.
At first it seems but a gloomy picture of Paradise. It is so vast,
and such hundreds of figures are crowded together, and the colour
is dark and sombre. There is none of that swinging of golden censers
by white- robed angels, none of the pure glad colouring of spring
flowers which makes us love the Paradise of Fra Angelico.
But if we stand long enough before it a great awe steals over us,
and we forget to look for bright colours and gentle angel faces, for
the figures surging upwards are very real and human, and the Paradise
into which we gaze seems to reveal to our eyes the very place where
we ourselves shall stand one day.
At the time when Tintoretto was painting his `Paradiso,' his little
daughter Marietta had grown to be a woman, and her painting too had
become famous. She was invited to the courts of Germany and Spain
to paint the portraits of the King and Emperor, but she refused to
leave Venice and her beloved father. Even when she married Mario,
the jeweller, she did not go far from home, and Tintoretto grew every
year fonder and prouder of his clever and beautiful daughter. Not
only could she paint, but she played and sang most wonderfully, and
became a great favourite among the music-loving Venetians.
But this happiness soon came to an end, for Marietta died suddenly
in the midst of her happy life.
Nothing could comfort Tintoretto for the loss of his daughter. She
was buried in the church of Santa Maria dell' Orto, and there he ordered
another place to be prepared that he might be buried at her side.
It seemed, indeed, as if he could not live without her, for it was
not long before he passed away. The last great stormy picture of `the
furious painter' was finished, and all Venice mourned as they laid
him to rest beside the daughter he had loved so well.
It was in the city of Verona that Paul Cagliari, the last of the great
painters of the Venetian school, was born. The name of that old city
of the Veneto makes us think at once of moonlight nights and fair
Juliet gazing from her balcony as she bids farewell to her dear Romeo.
For it was here that the two lovers lived their short lives which
ended so sadly.
But Verona has other titles to fame besides being the scene of Shakespeare's
story, and one of her proudest boasts is that she gave her name to
the great Venetian artist Paolo Veronese, or Paul of Verona, as we
would say in English.
There were many artists in Verona when Paolo was a boy. His own father
was a sculptor and his uncle a famous painter, so the child was encouraged
to begin work early. As soon as he showed that he had a talent for
painting, he was sent to his uncle's studio to be taught his first
lessons in drawing.
Verona was not very far off from Venice, and Paolo was never tired
of listening to the tales told of that beautiful Queen of the Sea.
He loved to try and picture her magnificence, her marble palaces overlaid
with gold, her richly-dressed nobles, and, above all, the wonder of
those pictures which decked her walls. The very names of Giorgione
and Titian sounded like magic in his ears. They seemed to open out
before him a wonderful new Paradise, where stately men and women clad
in the richest robes moved about in a world of glowing colour.
At last the day came when he was to see the city of his dreams, and
enter into that magic world of Art. What delight it was to study those
pictures hour by hour, and learn the secrets of the great masters.
It was the best teaching that heart could desire.
No one in Venice took much notice of the quiet, hard-working young
painter, and he worked on steadily by himself for some years. But
at last his chance came, and he was commissioned to paint the ceiling
of the church of St. Sebastian; and when this was finished Venice
recognised his genius, and saw that here was another of her sons whom
she must delight to honour.
These great pictures of Veronese were just the kind of work to charm
the rich Venetians, those merchant princes who delighted in costly
magnificence. Never before had any painter pictured such royal scenes
of grandeur. There were banqueting halls with marble balustrades just
like their own Venetian palaces. The guests that thronged these halls
were courtly gentlemen and high-born ladies arrayed in rich brocades
and dazzling jewels. Men- servants and maidservants, costly ornaments
and golden dishes were there, everything that heart could desire.
True, there was not much room for religious feeling amid all this
grandeur, although the painter would call the pictures by some Bible
name and would paint in the figure of our Lord, or the Blessed Virgin,
among the gay crowd. But no one stopped to think about religion, and
what cared they if the guests at the `Marriage Feast of Cana' were
dressed in the rich robes of Venetian nobles, and all was as different
as possible from the simple wedding-feast where Christ worked his
So the fame of Paolo Veronese grew greater and greater, and he painted
more and more gorgeous pictures. But here and there we find a simpler
and more charming piece of his work, as when he painted the little
St. John with the skin thrown over his bare shoulder and the cross
in his hand. He is such a really childlike figure as he stands looking
upward and rests his little hand confidingly on the worn and wounded
palm of St. Francis, who stands beside him.
Although the Venetian nobles found nothing wanting in the splendid
pictures which Veronese painted, the Church at last began to have
doubts as to whether they were fit as religious subjects to adorn
her walls. The Holy Office considered the question, and Veronese was
ordered to appear before the council.
Was it, indeed, fit that court jesters, little negro boys, and even
cats and pet dogs should appear in pictures which were to decorate
the walls of a church? Veronese answered gravely that it was the effect
of the picture that mattered, and that the details need not be thought
of. So the complaint was dismissed.
These pictures of Paolo Veronese were really great pieces of decoration,
very wonderful in their way, but showing already that Art was sinking
lower instead of rising higher.
If the spirits of the old masters could have returned to gaze upon
this new work, what would their feelings have been? How the simple
Giotto would have shaken his head over this wealth of ornament which
meant so little, even while he marvelled at the clever work. How sorrowfully
would Fra Angelico have turned away from this perfection of worldly
vanity, and sighed to think that the art of painting was no longer
a golden chain to link men's souls to Heaven. Even the merry-hearted
monk Fra Filippo Lippi would scarce have approved of all this gorgeous
Art had indeed shaken off the binding rules of old tradition, and
Veronese was free to follow his own magnificent fancy. But who can
say if that freedom was indeed a gain? And it is with a sigh that
we close the record of Italian Art and turn our eyes, wearied with
all its splendour and the glare of the noonday sun, back to the early
dawn, when the soul of the painter looked through his pictures, and
taught us the simple lesson that work done for the glory of God was
greater than that done for the praise of men.