Elegant Art Jokes: TITIAN AND THE EMPEROR CHARLES V.
One of the most pleasant things recorded in the life of Titian, is the long and intimate friendship that subsisted between him and the great and good Emperor Charles V., whose name is known in history as one of the wisest and best sovereigns of Europe. According to Vasari, Titian, when he was first recommended to the notice of the Emperor by Pietro Aretino, was in deep poverty, though his name was then known all over Italy. Charles, who appreciated, and knew how to assist genius without wounding its delicacy, employed Titian to paint his portrait, for which he munificently rewarded him. He afterwards invited him to Madrid in the most pressing and flattering terms, where he was received with extraordinary honors. He was appointed gentleman of the Emperor’s bed-chamber, that he might be near his person; Charles also conferred upon him the order of St. Jago, and made him a Count Palatine of the empire. He did not grace the great artist with splendid titles and decorations only, but showed him more solid marks of his favor, by be stowing upon him life-rents in Naples and Milan of two hundred ducats each, besides a munificent compensation for each picture.
These honors and favors were, doubtless, doubly gratifying to Titian, as coming from a prince who was not only a lover of the fine arts, but an excellent connoisseur. “The Emperor,” says Palomino, “having learned drawing in his youth, examined pictures and prints with all the keenness of an artist; and he much astonished Æneas Vicus of Parma, by the searching scrutiny that he bestowed on a print of his own portrait, which that famous engraver had submitted to his eye.” Stirling, in his Annals of Spanish Artists, says, that of no prince are recorded more sayings which show a refined taste and a quick eye. He told the Burghers of Antwerp that, “the light and soaring spire of their cathedral deserved to be put under a glass case.” He called Florence “the Queen of the Arno, decked for a perpetual holiday.” He regretted that he had given his consent for the conversion of the famous mosque of Abderahman at Cordova into a cathedral, when he saw what havoc had been made of the forest of fairy columns by the erection of the Christian choir. “Had I known,” said he to the abashed improvers, “of what you were doing, you should have laid no finger on this ancient pile. You have built a something, such as is to be found anywhere, and you have destroyed a wonder of the world.”
The Emperor delighted to frequent the studio of Titian, on which occasions he treated him with extraordinary familiarity and
condescension. The fine speeches which he lavished upon him, are as well known as his more substantial rewards. The painter one day happening to let fall his brush, the monarch picked it up, and presented it to the astonished artist, saying, “It becomes Cæsar to serve Titian.” On another occasion, Cæsar requested Titian to retouch a picture which hung over the door of the chamber, and with the assistance of his courtiers moved up a table for the artist to stand upon, but finding the height insufficient, without more ado, he took hold of one corner, and calling on those gentlemen to assist, he hoisted Titian aloft with his own imperial hands, saying, “We must all of us bear up this great man to show that his art is empress of all others.” The envy and displeasure with which men of pomp and ceremonies viewed these familiarities, that appeared to them as so many breaches in the divinity that hedged their king and themselves, only gave their master opportunities to do fresh honors to his favorite in these celebrated and cutting rebukes: “There are many princes, but there is only one Titian;” and again, when he placed Titian on his right hand, as he rode out on horseback, “I have many nobles, but I have only one Titian.” Not less valued, perhaps, by the great painter, than his titles, orders, and pensions, was the delicate compliment the Emperor paid him when he declared that “no other hand should draw his portrait, since he had thrice received immortality from the pencil of Titian.” Palomino, perhaps carried away by an artist’s enthusiasm, asserts that “Charles regarded the
acquisition of a picture by Titian with as much satisfaction as he did the conquest of a province.” At all events, when the Emperor parted with all his provinces by abdicating his throne, he retained some of Titian’s pictures. When he betook himself to gardening, watchmaking, and manifold masses at San Yuste, the sole luxury to be found in his simple apartments, with their hangings of sombre brown, was that master’s St. Jerome, meditating in a cavern scooped in the cliffs of a green and pleasant valley—a fitting emblem of his own retreat. Before this appropriate picture, or the “Glory,” which hung in the church of the convent, and which was removed in obedience to his will, with his body to the Escurial, he paid his orisons and schooled his mind to forgetfulness of the pomps and vanities of life.