24 JULY 1869, Page 18

TITIAN'S COUNTRY.* Rustrisr has said, in a passage to which

Mr. Gilbert takes a slight exception, that Titian whenever he wanted to paint a landscape betook himself to the glens and forests of Cadore. It is certain, at all events, that Titian was born there, that he paid constant visits to his early home, that he made many studies from its scenery, that some of his pictures were painted for churches in that neighbourhood, and that tradition links his name with many works and places in a way which does not stand the test of destructive criticism, or cannot be satisfactorily identified. We may therefore wonder that so few tourists should have trod in the footsteps of the great painter. Even Mr. Gilbert passed once within a mile or two of Cadore, looked at it longingly, and sacrificed it to "the seductions or tyrannies of voiturier travelling." But he has now discovered it as he and Mr. Churchill discovered the Dolomites, and his delightful sketches of the surrounding valleys, the forests in which Titian studied his trees, the beds of the mountain torrents spanned by daring bridges, the peaks which on some twenty days of the year may be seen from Venice, will attract the public to his book, and convert many of his readers into followers.

Mr. Gilbert begins with an account of Titian's house in Venice. The proverbial difficulty of access to the inside of it led him to gain a peep at the garden from one of the neighbouring buildings. From hence Titian commanded a view of the range of mountains which rose between him and his birthplace, and he introduced them into that masterpiece of his which so lately perished by fire, the "Peter Martyr." It is said, too, that a certain round- leafed tree in that picture grew in a small court of this house. Another interesting association revived by Mr. Gilbert is the story of Titian's "Magdalen," painted for Philip II. A neighbour's daughter was acting as a model, and the painter kept her so long a time in a constrained position that at last she burst into tears. "Unluckily the incident was so appropriate to the subject that, far from shortening, it only prolonged the sitting, while the ruthless old painter, going himself without his dinner, transferred it to his canvas." Many such memories cluster round the house in which was passed a large part of that laborious life extending over almost a century, and it is much to be regretted that the present inmates do not admit visitors. Much ringing at the bell and many knocks at a garden door only lead to an answer that everybody is particularly occupied, or that the signora does not receive. Perhaps the best excuse for this aversion to any knocking at the door is that one of Titian's successors in the house was so frightened by these sounds that he leapt out of window, fell on his bead, and died almost immediately ; and though he did this in the dread of a visit from the " sbirri," we may fairly con- clude that the noise was occasioned by the tourist of the period. The house at Cadore in which Titian was born has an inscription to that effect and is open to the public, but Mr. Gilbert did not care to "pry into the fusty interior." Indeed, it is nothing more than a cottage, and it has lately become a tavern. The real objects of interest connected with Titian, either in Cadore or Venice, are of a more permanent kind than houses. The City of the Sea pre- serves his works, though, as the fire at the Church of SS. Giovanni e Paulo showed, she has not always done that effectually. His native place, the country which surrounds it, and the way to it which he traversed almost yearly, supplied him with those scenes that made him, according to Mr. Gilbert, the first interpreter of Nature.

If we wished to discuss the views Mr. Gilbert has put forward, both about nature and Titian's rendering of her, we might find many points of disagreement. It is significant that Mr. Gilbert, who finds a grave sadness in Titian's work, should be impressed

* Cadore, or Titian's Country. By Josiah Gilbert, one of the Authors of The Dolomite Mountains." London: Longman& 1869. with the pathos of nature. Mr. Gilbert disputes the statement that Titian delights especially in the vigour and joy of existence, and in the same manner he ascribes to natural beauty a predomi- nance of shade, an indulgence in deep and sombre colours re- lieved by rare evanescent sparkle. So far, at least, Mr. Gilbert is consistent. On the subject of natural beauty, too, it would be hard to argue with one who has studied scenery with such minute- ness, and who paints in words. But he leaves out of sight the fact that Titian was much more than a landscape-painter. If we were to look in Titian's works for the "grave, intent, almost sad expression," which Mr. Gilbert detects in the portraits of him, we ought to be able to turn with moat confidence to his religious pieces. There, if anywhere, would be the place for deep feeling. The mythological works must, of course, be left out of the question. A man does not paint Venue, and Flora, and Bacchus, and Antiope, from any instinct of sadness. But are Titian's reli- gions pieces marked by any of those characteristics which Mr. Gilbert finds in his landscapes? Take the "Assumption" at Venice, the "Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple" from the same gallery, the great picture in the Church of the Fran, the great picture in the Vatican, the "Tribute Money" at Dresden, even the "Peter Martyr." Grandeur, beauty, dramatic truth, vigour, expression, are to be found in all of them, but they keep the eye and the mind too active for that brooding which beat harmonizes with melancholy. The sombre wood in the "Peter Martyr," the cloud tinged with a direct reflection from the martyr's heaven, the angels with the palm branch of victory, are subdued and thrown back by the sublime gesture of the flying monk. It is quite true, as Mr. Gilbert says, that the landscape tells the story. "The murder in the foreground would have little to say to us but for the whispering forest, the lonely mountains, and the brooding sky." But while the feeling is thus conveyed, the painter has been careful not to lose sight of the action, and it is the combination of both which forms his triumph.

We can trust Mr. Gilbert more implicitly when he takes us to the successive points in his journey, and shows us how and what they contributed to Titian's landscapes. From the villa which Titian -owned at Ceneda we are shown the distant Julian Alps standing out in opal clearness under a ragged canopy of cloud, and a flood of golden light poured over the plain which spreads to the distant bell tower of St. Mark's. On the slope behind the house in which Titian was born Mr. Gilbert pictures to himself and to us how the boy painter, his fingers stained perhaps with flower juices, watched the sunsets of 400 years ago, and saw, as you may see now, those strange stark shapes, the pyramids, obelisks, and towers of Monte Marmarolo, shooting into the sky or piercing the cloud- wreaths." The grandeur of the scenes no doubt furnished Titian with some of his wildest backgrounds, though Mr. Gilbert is more precise in fixing the actual point from which they were taken.- As the great wood near Ceneda furnished studies of beech and oak, and the hill of Manza mountain distances, so the upland scenery near Belluno was rich in quiet homesteads removed from the troubles and disturbances of the plains, yet not overshadowed by the peaks and powers of the air. We must let Mr. Gilbert describe Titian's treatment of these giants :-

"He was great in mountains, and that he was so forms his chief claim to greatness in landscape art. He, almost the first of painters, seems to have felt the abounding expressiveness of mountain lines, and to have rendered with a firm hand their strength and beauty, whether displayed in isolated aspiring forms, or as they stand grouped in graceful opposition. More than that ; he first led the way in that appreciation of mountains, as among the grandest symbols that nature offers of power, mystery, dura- tion, majesty, and the like, which, if not unrecognized in the earliest poetry, had yet slumbered through many ages of culture, and is dis- tinctively a modern passion. As, for instance, I doubt if there is an earlier example than in Titian of a dark, distant, jagged mountain out- line, vividly relieved by a glowing evening sky. Or again, of that strik- ing effect of distance, isolation, and mystery, produced by the apparition of a mountain summit peering from behind nearer ranges of hills, when peak or crest lifted in air, and bright with beams from some hidden source of light, seems to give sudden hint of some strange unknown region in the far beyond. Of such ghost-like but luminous shapes, Titian offers frequent instances. If, too, the gloom of forests charmed him he was eminently susceptible to the gloom and awfulness of mountains, which, alien alike to classic and mediteval taste, are so grateful to the modern ; and it was surely not only for the convenience of deep purples and rich blues, that his mountain forms so often sweep darkly along the horizon, like a visible thunder-peal, but that he felt their solemn grandeur. And it must have been from the same appreciation that he made so much of the fellowship between clouds and mountains. Other painters had dealt in mountain shapes of, delicate blue reposing in pure ether, and for clouds scattered a few woolly patches in the void above. Titian, a mountain man, and better taught, brought the vapours down among his hills, gave them involution and coherence, wrapped them round his mountain peaks, or piled them into vast competing bulks far into the sky. In a word, without the delicate observation of Turner, or of Turner's great Expounder, he was habitually conscious, as wed of the poetryas of the artistio capabilities latent in the interaction of these two great landscape powers, and composed' mountain and cloud together, each answering to each like the parts of a chorus. And again there was in Titian a perception of that physiognomy of mountains which gives them person- ality, and makes them almost instinct with emotion. Sometimes he places them in sphinx-like attitudes of repose, embodiments of enormous passive force ; sometimes they writhe and twist like hooded giants struggling to be free from bonds. Or he sets them as tutelary powers to preside over some gentle scene, or nestling village. For Titian regarded them lass as enemies than friends ; not as a lowlander shrink- ing from their awfulness, but as a mountaineer, familiar with, almost welcoming their terror, because conscious of their encompassing strength. The valley among hills, with its sequestered human life, knd walls, and towers, and roofs sheltered beneath some giant mass, or clinging confid- ingly to its sides, is a scene he often dwells upon."

As the main interest of this work centres in Titian, we run the risk of doing scanty justice to Mr. Gilbert himself. Yet though he has sacrificed the independence of most of his descriptions to a faithful analysis of Titian's landscapes, and the freedom of much of his route to a pilgrimage in Titian's footsteps, he makes the best of these self-imposed conditions. Towards the end of the volume he turns away from Cadore and visits some strange German colonies, being received with wonder in places where no Englishman had ever trod before, and being knocked up at three in the morning by the Austrian police, who knew by intuition that his companion had forgotten his passport. And whether on the track of Titian or striking out a route for himself, Mr. Gilbert is worthy to be followed. Perhaps some of his readers will revolt at his long dis- quisition on the history of Cadore, and on the battle which forms the subject of a lost but memorable picture. Mr. Gilbert gives us a facsimile of the original design for this picture, which he bought at Dr. Wellesley's sale, and a study for the chief figure in it marked by considerable expression, though somewhat feeble in drawing. All this belongs to the Titianesque part of the book, and that insists on engrossing our attention. Yet even here the plan is Mr. Gilbert's own ; the ideas are his, though he makes use of a great name to give some of them a little more weight than belongs to them ; and he is solely answerable for artistic criticism of a high order, for the good humour which carried him smoothly along his journey, and for the possession of "such a pencil, such a pen," as make us long to accompany him in the flesh, after having already accompanied him in the spirit.