Doges, it appears,—at any rate the Doges who reigned during Titian’s long life—had no sense of humour, or they could not have permitted this kind of self-glorification in paint. Both here and at the Accademia we shall see picture after picture in which these purse-proud Venetian administrators, suspecting no incongruity or absurdity, are placed, by Titian and Tintoretto, on terms of perfect intimacy with the hierarchy of heaven. Sometimes they merely fraternize; sometimes they masquerade as the Three Kings or Wise Men from the East; but always it is into the New Testament that, with the aid of the brush of genius, they force their way.
Modesty can never have been a Venetian characteristic; nor is it now, when Venice is only a museum and show place. All the Venetians—the men, that is,—whom one sees in the Piazza have an air of profound self-satisfaction. And this palace of the Doges is no training-place for humility; for if its walls do not bear witness, glorious and chromatic, to the greatness of a Doge, it is merely because the greatness of the Republic requires the space. In this room, for example, we find Tiepolo allegorizing Venice as the conqueror of the sea.
And now for the jewel of art in the Doges’ Palace. It is in the room opposite the door by which we entered—the ante-room of the Sala del Collegio—and it faces us, on the left as we enter: the “Bacchus and Ariadne” of Tintoretto. We have all seen the “Bacchus and Ariadne” of Titian in our National Gallery, that superb, burning, synchronized epitome of the whole legend. Tintoretto has chosen one incident only; Love bringing Bacchus to the arms of Ariadne and at the same moment placing on his head a starry coronal. Even here the eternal pride of Venice comes in, for, made local, it has been construed as Love, or say Destiny, completing the nuptials of the Adriatic (Bacchus) with Venice (Ariadne), and conferring on Venice the crown of supremacy. But that matters nothing. What matters is that the picture is at once Tintoretto’s simplest work and his most lovely. One can do nothing but enjoy it in a kind of stupor of satisfaction, so soothing and perfect is it. His “Crucifixion,” which we shall see at the Scuola of S. Rocco, must ever be this giant painter’s most tremendous achievement; but the picture before us must equally remain his culminating effort in serene, absolute beauty. Three other mythological paintings, companions of the “Bacchus,” are here too, of which I like best the “Minerva” and the “Mercury”; but they are far from having the quality of that other. I have an idea that “The Origin of the Milky Way,” in the National Gallery, was painted as a ceiling piece to go with these four, but I have no data for the theory, beyond its similarity in size and scheme. The other great picture in this room is Paul Veronese’s sumptuous “Rape of Europa.”
[Illustration: BACCHUS AND ARIADNE FROM THE PAINTING BY TINTORETTO In the Doges’ Palace]