Members' Research Reports Archive
Oskar Bätschmann, University of Bern, emeritus
Samuel H. Kress Professor, 2012–2013
The works of Titian’s last period were not highly esteemed before the twentieth century. Like Vasari, many contemporaries judged that in his old age Titian was no longer able to work because of his trembling hands and that the last paintings were executed mainly by his workshop. The glorification of the last works and the late style of painters, sculptors, composers, and poets started only around 1900.
In 1892 the German poet Stefan George (1868–1933) published in the journal he edited a short lyrical drama in verse, Der Tod des Tizian (The Death of Titian), written by “Loris,” the pseudonym of the eighteen-year-old Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929). This young Austrian poet produced a remarkable literary realization of the ideas of the artist’s last work. Hofmannsthal’s brief play (quoted here in the translation of 1920 by John Heard Jr.) was performed in 1901 for the funeral service of Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) at the Künstlerhaus in Munich. Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) does not appear in the play, nor is his last work seen on the stage. A page relates the dying painter’s
When he died on August 27, 1576, Titian left his Pietà among other unfinished paintings, as his biographer Carlo Ridolfi reports, and therefore we cannot say with certainty which of these was his last work. Furthermore, it seems that in his last two decades the painter worked, in collaboration with his workshop and his son Orazio Vecellio (c. 1528–1576), on paintings that he had determined would be his last. Since the
Titian began the Pietà as a small painting and enlarged the canvas continually to a large format. Working on it he became, as Paul Joannides wrote in The Cambridge Companion to Titian (2004), “involved in a posthumous dialogue with Michelangelo.” The unfinished Pietà could not be taken either to its apparent original destination, Santa Maria Gloriosa