During the outbreak of plague that finally killed him, Titian's studio was looted, and many paintings taken. What happened to them is not known. This book is an exploratory history of the artist and his world that vividly recreates the atmosphere of 16th-century Venice and Europe.
It is clear through the reading that the author researched extensively and has some background in the field, but without so much as a list of works addressed in the text it feels more like an article for a periodical a la National Geographic, than a serious book. That is, if National Geographic would publish an article of nearly three hundred pages.
The Last Days of Titian is an assorted jumble, seemingly arranged by chronology of research more than anything else, though there is a loose connection to Titian’s life. This biography was difficult to read and hard to get at what it was Hudson intended for the reader to see. He wrote as a journalist in hunt of a story, and while he may be that, his story is five hundred years gone, and his tone, style and methodology was largely inappropriate for a biography of this sort. I would not recommend this book to anyone, and would be disinclined to read anything by Hudson beyond a periodical article.
The author has at least two books here, one about Titian and another about his search for information on Titian. Unfortunately he combines it in such a way as to make it less than compelling. The author jumps from Titian’s old age to his being discovered as an artist to his old age again with the occasional interspersing of his own story. The author also has the irritating habit of asking the reader questions at just the time you start falling into the narrative. The information (if not nearly enough pictures) is all there but it could have been written better.
Full disclosure: I got this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway.
Ample amounts of navel gazing by Hudson make me doubt some of his analysis and makes the fact that so few reproductions of the paintings being included even more irksome. For instance, he portrays Marsyas in the The Flaying of Marsyas as being in the shape of an upside down cross and analogizes the mythical death of Marsyas with the death and crucifixion of Jesus. That's quite a stretch. The Flaying of Marsyas is one of the scant reproductions tucked into the book's center. I held the book upside down in one hand, peered at the reproduction, squinted my eyes all while holding a vodka martini in my other hand--I just couldn’t see it. For me, the most interesting portions are those about Phillip V. Hudson obviously adores Titian and knows his works well, but that takes the book only so far.
I do appreciate the approach that Mark Hudson takes to Art History. He writes for a wider audience than just art critics and professors. He makes no bones about the fact that he isn't writing just for them. I'd be interested in reading some of his other books that don't rely so heavily on critique of either books I haven't read or paintings I haven't seen and can't find.