Decoding Animals in Art History, From Immortal Peacocks to Lusty Rabbits
'Arguably the most audacious print ever made.'
(Grand Scale: Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian, ed. L. Silver and E. Wyckoff, Dallas Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 2008.)
Inspired by central Italian battle designs, especially the equestrian conflict of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari, Titian's Submersion of Pharaoh's Army in the Red Sea, with its great sweep of figures around a central void, powerfully develops aspects of the Venetian tradition. In the woodcut the sea itself, in a very real sense the major protagonist, appropriately dominates the center of the design; for all its figural dynamics, the Red Sea is in effect a monumental stormy seascape - a pictorial theme of obvious interest in Venice.
The Red Sea reveals in its monumental conception and in every detail as well the imagination of the master in full and searching control. Titian took the Biblical text, Exodus 14, and gave full pictorial realization to its dramatic narrative. The divisions between the individual blocks have been used as coordinates against which to plot the narrative action. The drowning army of Pharaoh and the distant city, representing Egypt, are contained within the left half of the composition; horizontally extended across that field, their rhythms are measured by the vertical accents of the towers and spires, and their agitation is further commented on by the great cloud moving over the sky - the divine presence that had protected the Israelites who, safely landed and turning back in relieved celebration, are confined to a single vertical strip of blocks at the extreme right. Between the opposing figural groups lies the sea, and the third vertical strip of blocks is reserved almost exclusively for those waters, here in transition from destructive turbulence at the left to their gentle lapping at the shore on their right.
At the bottom of this zone only a few, very select details intrude. Most significantly, the arm of Moses thrusts out over the waters; his hand, holding its rod and set in calculated isolation against the sea, performs the crucial act of the drama: 'And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon the chariots and upon their horsemen.' [Exodus 14:26]. Below the outstretched arm of the Hebrew leader is a defecting dog, a motif probably without precedent in Italian Renaissance art, startling in its crudity as well as in its central placement and apparently violating, to say the least, any sense of classical ideality or decorum. Yet it can hardly be merely a whimsical joke for it is set in such pointed juxtaposition to the divinely inspired gesture of Moses. Indeed, it can only be interpreted as a complimentary sign of disdain towards the Egyptians. It may comprise, moreover, a contemporary reference. When Titan was designing the woodcut, Venice was barely surviving one of the most terrible crises of its history, the war with the League of Cambrai. One anecdote tells of the retreat of imperial troops through the mountains of the Valsugana: to show their scorn for the foreign invaders the inhabitants were said to have bared their buttocks to the fleeing German soldiers. Thus it might be that the Egyptians in the Red Sea, dressed in contemporary armor, were intended to recall the invading mercenaries from the north and that the subject was read in allusion to the recent survival of the of the Venetian's themselves against overwhelming odds.
The fundamental distinctions of separate areas within the design notwithstanding, Titan's Red Sea impresses above all by its remarkable unity; while appreciating the special qualities and meanings of the various details, we are always aware of the totality of the image. And that large unity is essentially a function of Titian's drawing. The giant sweep of the forms across the several blocks, especially the 'rolling pillar of the cloud' and the sea itself, establish the narrative impulse of the composition, and as the darkness of the left yields to brightness, that movement culminates at the extreme right, in the solid gravity of the magnificent cliff that overhangs the shore. As one would expect of Titian, light and dark patterns provide the basic organizational element, on a large scale in the sky and on a more minutely differentiated level below. Titian's drawing, inventing new formal combinations for diverse mimetic functions, creates truly impressive effects of tidal movement in the waters, of tonal distance in the architecture, of granite mass in the rock; and the whole space is filled with wind-swept atmosphere.
Although always keenly aware of Dürer's example, Titan forged for himself a new kind of graphic vocabulary. He seems to have drawn across the entire surface himself, either in a full-size cartoon or, more probably, on the block itself, this is most clearly suggested by the great pen strokes of which the cloud is constructed. His use of cross-hatching, literally fluid in in its effects in the rendering of rippling waves, achieves an extraordinarily abstract richness in the synthetic structures of the great rock.
We are extremely grateful to Professor David Rosand for his assistance in cataloguing this lot, and for permission to quote extensively from Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, International Exhibitions Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1976, co-authored with Michelangelo Muraro.
Signature: The complete woodcut printed from 12 blocks, circa 1514-1515, on 12 sheets of laid paper, without watermarks, a very good, strong impression of this extremely rare and highly important monumental woodcut, printing with much relief, with narrow margins, trimmed to or just into the borderline in places, various repairs and touches of pen and ink, framed
D. Rosand and M. Muraro, Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, Washington, 1976, no. 4 (another impression illustrated).
J. Martineau and C. Hope (eds.), The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, London, 1983, no. P19 (another impression illustrated).
D. Landau and P. Parshall, The Rennaissance Print 1470-1550, New Haven and London, 1994, pp. 74, 75 (another impression illustrated.)
PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Franz Ritter von Hauslab (1798-1883), Vienna, with his stamp on the verso (Lugt 1247), from whom acquired by
Princes of Liechtenstein.
with Richard Zinser (circa 1883-1983), Forest Hills, New York.
with Nicholas G. Stogdon, Middle Chinnock, Somerset, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Known for his expressive brushwork, brilliant color, and hazy, atmospheric effects, Renaissance painter Tiziano Vecelli, called Titian, along with Giorgione, was the founder of arte moderna, a nuanced style characterized by dynamic asymmetry and non-hierarchical compositions that broke from the work of his master, Giovanni Bellini. After Giorgione and Bellini died, Titian introduced many innovations and was the considered the master of Venetian painting. Titian's 1548 painting Equestrian Portrait of Charles V established equestrian portraiture as a new genre that referenced both the Roman tradition of equestrian sculpture and the medieval representations of Christian knights. One of Titian’s most famous paintings is The Rape of Europa (1562), which introduced a powerful diagonal structure—almost baroque in its blurred lines, swirling color, and vibrant brushwork. After a very successful career with many prestigious commissions, Titian died of the plague that swept Venice in 1576.
Italian, 1488-1576, based in Venice, Italy
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