Titian : the last days

by Mark Hudson

Hardcover, 2010




New York : Walker, 2010


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kimsbooks
I'm off to a slow start with this one, learning more about the prejudices of a particular writer than of Titian. But the book is long and I have many chapters to cover; perhaps I will find more than I have so far...
LibraryThing member dpbrewster
Not an art history or even a history book, but rather a travelogue on Hudson's mostly failed attempt to track down facts and place to illuminate a story on Titian's last days during the Venetian plague.
LibraryThing member antiquary
This is a splendidly vivid book, and compelling reading. I had at least 2 other books I should have read first, but I read this book almost non-stop over a weekend. That said, it has some flaws. It begins and ends with Titian's last days, but most of it is a rather episodic popular biography of the artist, from his youth in Cadore (wonderful description of the mountain village where he grew up) through his successes as an artist in Venice and renaissance Europe as a whole (it is stressed that in his later days he was much more focused on international clients like the Hapsburgs than on Venice) down through his controversial late paintings to his death (perhaps from fever, though amidst a great plague). Each episode is introduced by a narrative of the author's travels in search of Titian material. While these have the same vivid observation as the rest, they tend to be mildly depressing (Venice is seedy, Spain is bureaucratic and does not appreciate Titian, an exhibit in Paris does not do Titian justice, etc.) and I think they could well have been omitted. The author trained as an art historian before becoming a journalist, and the book is full of detailed and, as far as I can tell as a layman, perceptive descriptions of Titian's paintings. (I noticed a few minor errors, such as the date of Frederick Barbarossa.) One serious lack is that there are no illustrations in the book to show the paintings which are discussed, though most are available elsewhere. Overall, though, it does make Titian come alive as a a man and an artist, ambitious, grasping, but undeniably great.… (more)
LibraryThing member koboldninja.5
The subject matter for this book is fascinating; Venice at the height of its power and the portrait of Titian make for a great premise. But that is not what the book is about, and in a real way the main character is not Titian, but rather Mark Hudson, right along with the gripping dialogue between himself and various personages he met while researching the book. Although the kernel of thought that prompted the investigation might have been trying to recreate what happened in Titian’s last days, that was not the book that Hudson wrote. A more apt title would be ‘Investigating Titian: fact, recollection and reputation.’ Then the title would at least describe the subject matter and forewarn the potential reader.

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.
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LibraryThing member atelier
This study of the artist Titian is an interesting examination of his life and work. An important figure in the history of European painting, his work is examined in detail. A fine biography, highly recommended.
LibraryThing member doomjesse
If ever there was a Venetian artist that deserved a book about him to be written Titian is it. Unfortunately this book doesn’t live up to its subject.
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Irishcontessa
I was really looking forward to this book and so was very disappointed in it when it turned out not to meet my expectations. The book should have been called "My Search for the Last Days of Titian" as the author spends just as much time writing about the process of his search and research as he does about Titian's life and work. That is not what I look for in a book on an artist but obviously others will be perfectly happy having those details included. The book also skips around a great deal from the beginning of Titian's painting career to the end then the middle and back to the beginning, at all times asking how old was he really? I prefer linear books so that was also a feature I did not appreciate though others might.

Full disclosure: I got this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway.
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LibraryThing member constantreader23
Although I was expecting a more academic approach to Titian's painting, I really appreciated the very personal treatment of the subject. The author engaged me with his combination of travel essay and commentary on the artist. Mr. Hudson provided a prespective that developed my comprehension of Titian.
LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
Can you imagine attending an entire semester’s worth of art history classes only to have the professor discuss in excess of fifty paintings while showing you reproductions of only 5? Then you’ve already experienced the droning that is Titian: The Last Days. That characterization is overly harsh since the writing is actually quite good in some places. The lack of color pictures, or the less expensive but also less expressive alternative of black whites, is probably more the fault of the publisher than the writer, but the outcome for the reader is the same: Mark Hudson’s book is not nearly as captivating as it could be. The title misleads since the book isn't just about Titian's last days, as the book merely starts and ends with them.

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.
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