In the epic biography Titian: His Life, journalist Sheila Hale illuminates the life of both the Renaissance painter and the history of Venice.
Why did you choose to write about Titian?
Titian was suggested to me by the publisher of a previous book that I had written. He knew that I knew Venice very well [from living there often] and that I was interested in painting. I also happen to be a close friend of Charles Hope, the pre-eminent Titian scholar. He’s spent his entire professional career hunting down documents relating to Titian in the archives of Europe, and he never publishes them. And so I went to him and said, “Will you share your unpublished documents with me?” And he said yes.
Is writing a biography different from journalism?
I read quite deeply about Titian, but I also worked with scholars and said, “What do you think, what are you reading, what are you writing about Titian?” So I suppose you could say that’s a journalistic way of working. More is known about Titian, his personality, his family, his relationship with his patrons, than any other Renaissance artist except Michelangelo. So that was another reason that I decided to do it as a biography.
Did anything about Titian surprise you?
Dealing with Titian chronologically, and in relation to Venice and to the other artists who were working around him, I began to value him more and more. I could see what he was doing that was so amazingly original. I was slightly surprised by Titian’s discretion about his sex life, because he’s always been considered “the sexy painter” because of the nudes and his treatment of flesh, which was extraordinary and unprecedented. He clearly was a very discreet man, and I find that quite attractive about him. Or maybe he was just monogamous. We just don’t know. His personality shines through [his letters], but they’re about business and money.
Did you have an ideal reader in mind for this book?
It would have been my late husband, I suppose. He always wanted me to write more than I did. I also had in mind people who were curious enough about Titian and about the period to want to read what was getting to be an increasingly long book. John [Hale’s late husband] wrote scholarly articles and books, but he could also talk about history to the general public. That’s the duty of anybody who’s done this kind of research. I suppose I was my ideal reader in a way. I wrote a book that I would’ve wanted to read.