The noble altar-piece in the church of S. Giovanni Elemosinario at Venice showing the saint of that name enthroned, and giving alms to a beggar, belongs to the close of 1533 or thereabouts, since the high-altar was finished in the month of October of that year. According to Vasari, it must be regarded as having served above all to assert once for all the supremacy of Titian over Pordenone, whose friends had obtained for him the commission to paint in competition with the Cadorine an altar-piece for one of the apsidal chapels of the church, where, indeed, his work is still to be seen. Titian’s canvas, like most of the great altar-pieces of the middle time, was originally arched at the top; but the vandalism of a subsequent epoch has, as in the case of the Madonna di S. Niccola, now in the Vatican, made of this arch a square, thereby greatly impairing the majesty of the general effect. Titian here solves the problem of combining the strong and simple decorative aspect demanded by the position of the work as the central feature of a small church, with the utmost pathos and dignity, thus doing incomparably in his own way—the way of the colourist and the warm, the essentially human realist—what Michelangelo had, soaring high above earth, accomplished with unapproachable sublimity in the Prophets and Sibyls of the Sixtine Chapel.
The colour is appropriately sober, yet a general tone is produced of great strength and astonishing effectiveness. The illumination is that of the open air, tempered and modified by an overhanging canopy of green; the great effect is obtained by the brilliant grayish white of the saint’s alb, dominating and keeping in due balance the red of the rochet and the under-robes, the cloud-veiled sky, the marble throne or podium, the dark green hanging. This picture must have had in the years to follow a strong and lasting influence on Paolo Veronese, the keynote to whose audaciously brilliant yet never over-dazzling colour is this use of white and gray in large dominating masses. The noble figure of S. Giovanni gave him a prototype for many of his imposing figures of bearded old men. There is a strong reminiscence, too, of the saint’s attitude in one of the most wonderful of extant Veroneses—that sumptuous altar-piece SS. Anthony, Cornelius, and Cyprian with a Page, in the Brera, for which he invented a harmony as delicious as it is daring, composed wholly of violet-purple, green, and gold.
Francesco Maria della Rovere—Titian and Eleonora Gonzaga—The “Venus with the Shell”—Titian’s later ideals—The “Venus of Urbino”—The “Bella di Tiziano”—The “Twelve Caesars”—Titian and Pordenone—The “Battle of Cadore”—Portraits of the Master by himself—The “Presentation in the Temple”—The “Allocation” of Madrid—The Ceiling Pictures of Santo Spirito—First Meeting with Pope Paul III.—The “Ecce Homo” of Vienna—“Christ with the Pilgrims at Emmaus.”