cover image Titian: His Life

Titian: His Life

Sheila Hale. Harper, $39.99 (864p) ISBN 978-0-06-059876-1

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 [Venice’s] 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.)