Friday, October 27, 2017

From the archives: Picture talk on Titian

First posted October 2014. Lydia was thirteen, doing AO Year 8.

A Teacher's Notes for Titian's "Equestrian Portrait of Charles V" (also called "Emperor Charles V on Horseback" or "Charles V at Mühlberg.")  (Lesson adapted from this Parents' Review Article by K.M. Claxton, 1915.)

1.  Ask the student what she knows about Titian. 

Possible answers:  Titian was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice.  He was believed to have lived to be 100, but he was more likely about 90 years old when he died. He painted religious art and portraits of princes and emperors all over Europe.

2.  What is the painting?  
Created between April and September 1548 while Titian was at the imperial court of Augsburg, it is a tribute to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, following his victory in the April 1547 Battle of Mühlberg against the Protestant armies. (Wikipedia article)
3. Who was Charles V?  See "Subject" in this article from The Guardian (really useful). 

4. The history of the picture:  
Some sources say that Titian was the official court painter for Charles V., but he seems to have had a special freedom to travel and to paint other subjects, and he is described as almost more of a personal friend of the Emperor.  Read this passage from Titian's Portraits through Aretino's Lens, by Luba Freedman: "Certainly Titian was not the only artist ever to have been admitted to the court and to have become a favourite of rulers, but his close relationship with the emperor was unusual for the time...Aretino opines that this privilege was bestowed on Titian not only because of his talent in painting but also because of his virtuous agent of the Duke of Urbino..also reported that Titian had become the august favourite and even had a room near the emperor so he could converse privately with his patron. That this privilege was exceptional can be seen in a letter of Nov 10, the skeptical Giovanni Della Casa: “Messer Titian has spent a long time with His Imperial Majesty painting his portrait, and seems to have had plenty of opportunities to talk with him, while he was painting and so on"...In thinking about the relationship between Titian and Charles V, one should keep in mind...that he had priority over most persons in attendance upon the emperor, for he was an independent citizen of the Venetian Republic, and as such served Charles only by special invitation. Titian was in no sense a court painter dependent on imperial favor. His independence may have played a part in his unique approach to portraying the emperor."

5.  After studying the picture for several minutes, the student describes it out loud. 
6.  Then we read a few appreciative words on the life and energy displayed, on the beauty of the forms, and on the beautiful shading of the picture.

"The portrait in part gains its impact by its directness and sense of contained power: the horse's strength seems just in check, and Charles' brilliantly shining armour and the painting's deep reds are reminders of battle and heroism." (Wikipedia article)  See also the "Distinguishing Features" section of the article from The Guardian. I especially like the part about "Charles V rides out of the woods, across a sweeping landscape, in front of one of Titian's most unforgettable skies..." 

7.  The student draws the chief lines of the composition.

8. A final note:  Titian's seventeenth-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi recounts an anecdote concerning their relationship..."It is told of Titian that while he was painting the portrait, he dropped a brush, which the emperor picked up, and bowing low, Titian declared: 'Sire, one of your servants does not deserve such an honour.' To this Charles replied: 'Titian deserves to be served by Caesar.'"  Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret painted this scene in 1808 ("Charles V Picking Up Titian's Paintbrush"). (Quote and painting found here.)

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