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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 30 July 2017
Excellent text, but a book like this really needs a better complement of reproductions to do the subject justice.
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on 2 December 2012
This book is really good value. Pictures are great and it really contains plenty of information. A really good buy as a present for an art enthusiast.
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on 3 August 2013
The author clearly faced obstacles in writing Titian's life due to the gaps in the records. We have a great idea of his working life, but due to his seemingly self-controlled, private personality and lack of personal correspondence (his letters are nearly always to patrons, flattering for commissions or nagging for payment, and rarely in his own unschooled handwriting), it's impossible at this distance to know much about the man himself. Remarkably, no one is even aware of his second wife's name. He seems to have managed to be the most famous artist of his times without ever showing much of his inner self except through his work.

That doesn't, of course, prevent Sheila Hale from giving an extremely thorough account of his career and artistic development. It's always difficult to be exhaustive without being exhausting, especially when charting a career which lasted more than half a century, and there are sections where the casual reader can be tempted to skip ahead, but patient reading rewards those who want to better understand the paintings and their subjects. If you've ever stood spellbound before his penetrating portraits or gorgeous classical scenes bursting with lively colour, then reading about how they came to be, and how the artist achieved his remarkable effects, is fascinating, and adds rather than subtracts from the magic of the paintings themselves. Hale structures the book into lengthy Parts covering phases in Titian's career, further organised into shorter chapters which delve into a particular aspect of either his work, the history of the times, or the story of particular people (patrons, family members, and artists) whose paths crossed with Titian. Most of the time, the chapters are attached to one or a group of works, and will include an explanation of the background to their creation, the techniques used, and, often, the reaction of patrons and contemporaries. This means it is fairly straightforward to follow in a linear fashion, but certainly possible to navigate to the section on a particular work if you are so inclined.

An inevitable consequence of the lack of gossip and scandal attached to Titian (compared to Caravaggio or Michelangelo's reputations) is that Hale broadens her focus and gives us an enormous amount of information about contemporaries, and about the Venice and Northern Italy of the time. Titian's close friend the poet Pietro Aretino is a character who leaps from the page, being talented, funny, irreverent, and arrogant to the point of hubris. Various ambassadors and aristocrats describe the city, the man, and the era. Angry satires, pleas for payment, rude curses, subtle diplomatic letters, and vulgar gossip fly back and forth. Aretino, Titian, and the architect Sansovino, who were close friends, come to life through this trail of written material, and Hale is an expert guide, always able to contextualise and explain what's happening in their careers and in Europe as a whole at the time. One of the book's great strengths is that you could probably skip everything about Titian himself and still find it interesting and informative on the politics, art, and daily life of Venetians in the 16th Century.

A great if lengthy read. I felt like I learned a lot about Titian's work , but also a lot about how artists worked in the period, and the crossovers between art, religion, politics, and commerce in the period, which can be bafflingly complex. Despite the difficulties, something of his personality seems to shine through, too: charming, hard-working but wilful, loyal to his friends but sometimes a tyrant to his family, and a bit of a wheeler-dealer, who also happened to paint stunningly beautiful pictures and never quite gave a patron exactly what they expected. Fascinating.
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VINE VOICEon 26 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Although this is a very well researched and scholarly account of the life of Titian it is not a dry academic tome but a highly readable and enjoyable book. I was particularly keen to read Hale's work as my interest in Titian had recently been sparked afresh when my `local' ,the Walker Art Gallery was included in the recent UK tour of Titian's truly stunning Diana and Actaeon. For its visit the painting was hung at comfortable eye level with a row of chairs in front of it which gave the viewer an excellent opportunity to become immersed in a masterpiece by an artist who was probably in his seventies when he produced it. The work, one of a series of three, is packed with interest. One of the highlights is the splash of red merging with a lovely blue revealed as Actaeon pulls aside a curtain of the deepest red and exposes not just the naked Diana and her beautiful nymphs but one of the skies for which Titian is so famous - a sky of that deep blue which no other artist has ever quite achieved. My only regret is that I hadn't read the book before Diana and actaeon moved on to another Gallery because Hale's biography has not only given me far more `tools' with which to appreciate Titian but has increased my admiration for him. Hale's work is packed with details and interest whilst the footnotes [so sensibly at the back of the book instead of distractingly at the foot of the page], are almost as interesting as the book itself. I particularly valued the fact that the author gives an overview not just of the history of Venice and the surrounding countries but of the complex class system operating in the city. Along with quotations from eminent art historians Sheila Hale has included a number of fascinating contemporary accounts which gives a real flavour of how Titian was viewed in his own time. It was very amusing to find that the stories of Titan's childhood genius echo those of so many of the artists in Visari's account of the `great artists'. Stupidly, but probably I am not alone, I had not realised that the artist Venice claims as its 'own' was not,along with many of his fellow artist friends a native Venetian.
I was surprised at just how many illustrations were included in the book and even more surprised when a glance at the reviews on Amazon I noticed a plethora of complaints about the lack of illustrations in this book. If a reviewer has the equipment to post a review on the Amazon site s/he must also have available the internet on which, with very little effort, can be found beautiful reproductions of any of works by Titian the complainers wished to examine. One of the reasons it has taken me rather longer than usual to post this review is that I have found myself moving from the book to internet to wallow, with increased appreciation [thanks to Hale], in a full screen image of works by Titian. Along side an increased understanding of Titian there is much to learn and enjoy in this book about Titian's contemporaries and friends. Venice has always been and remains the most beautiful city in the world - as Hale reveals the people who have lived in it are as fascinating as its wonderful buildings and canals.fjs
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I mention the following because here am I about to give fulsome praise to an art book I've chosen to review, despite two previous purchasers having panned it; and because Vine reviewers are not infrequently accused of giving 5 stars to duff books out of gratitude to Amazon and the publishers, for giving them "free stuff"...

I accept for review only works compatible with my interests, and months have sometimes gone by without my accepting any at all. But books on art are so rarely offered for review on Vine, that when one does appear, I accept it indiscriminately; although disappointment has mostly followed - as my one and two star reviews of two of the only three art books I have ever previously been sent for review will show.

But here at last is a fourth, and I suspect that the reason why it only appeared on the Vine programme five months after it was published, rather than, as is more usual, before or upon publication, was in the hope of eliciting some rather more objective reviews to balance the two seemingly misguided reviews herein. (As an aside, may I suggest that when a work of potential interest is disappointingly found to rate little more than a cursory dismissal from a reviewer, a glance at the reviewer's profile page and other reviews could help in deciding whether those views are necessarily relevant to you personally. And vice versa, of course.)

I read art history for enlightenment and entertainment, not to acquire learning; my capacity for study dissolved into brain-dust long ago. Thus, the most important quality for me is "readability". One reviewer complains that this book reads like a PhD thesis; which is indeed true of too many art history publications - I've laboured through a good few of those - so I rather feared the worst; but nothing could have been further from the truth.

The author entirely avoids the trap of excessive quotations and page footnotes (few things are more destructive of readability) as well as the other grosser demonstrations of intellectualism - the average reader for pleasure won't need a dictionary to hand, for example. And although it isn't written in novelese, being more a straightfoward, narrative account of the life and times of its subject, it is nevertheless beautifully written. But if you don't already understand that (a) Venetian society was immensely sophisticated and complex and (b) you require to exercise at least a bit of brainpower and mental stamina to consume 850 pages of social, political and art history - which is obviously going to be loaded with detail - then it clearly isn't for you. Only the length is intimidating; my attention was held from page one, and tired old eyes gave out each night long before brain.

The other reviewer who complained that it was more about Titian's milieu than about Titian obviously failed both to read the book description, and to connect with the book's length, despite which it now only costs £13.50 from Amazon - an absolute bargain by any standards. You don't get masses of artwork in 850 pages for this price, (although there are 33 quite respectable, glossy illustrations), nor can you reasonably expect an author to fill 850 pages exclusively with an artist's oeuvre, technique and love-life...

This work is, quite properly, as much an entertaining and impressively informative history of Titian's times, as of his life, and is presented as such (those who wallowed in Sky's "The Borgias" series will find familiar names here). True, the first 100 pages do indeed confine themselves almost entirely to setting the scene for the arrival and education of the young Titian, and all the better for that. The picture painted throughout of 15th/16th century Venice and all those characters whose lives touched that of Titian, directly or indirectly, is, in fact, half the worth of the book - for without that kind of context, personal information about the prime character has little value.

Authorities on Titian and Venetian history abound, as do volumes of reproductions of his paintings, but this monumental work - requiring many, many years of study in the making - is without doubt a notable addition to our knowledge of the painter and his times by a true scholar, seemingly unassailably complete in itself as a narrative and a historical record, and deserving of the utmost respect. The reviews quoted by the publisher from the press are (for once !) more reflective of the book's worth and distinction than the two brief dismissive reviews here.

Since writing the above, a third reviewer has complained that he couldn't "visualise the paintings" from the author's prose - having, like the other two, foolishly failed to notice that the book's title is "Titian: His Life" - NOT "Titian: His Paintings"...Incomprehensible. I'm almost beginning to think there's a plot...
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I love this modern age when books may be ordered over the ether; it means that living in a quiet hamlet, such as Hemsby, does not impede one's ability to read the best literature available. It does, however, have one problem: the books are not always as one imagines them to be.

I saw the title, "Titian His Life" and I expected one of those books crammed with good illustrations and half a dozen words. when it arrived, thanks to a postie with a newly acquired hernia, I was amazed. This is a serious piece of historical biography and my first thought was, "Do I, as an interested party, rather than a serious student of the arts, want to read such a hefty biography?"

Fortunately, I am a tight wad and, having bought it, I was not about to waste my money: thank goodness for meanness! This is one of the best books that I have had the privilege of reading in many a month. Not only does one get a detailed, but never boring biography of Titian, but also an insight into life in sixteenth century Europe. This book adds to my understanding of both the history of the period and the significance of, not just Titian, but also the other luminaries of the age.

I would imagine that this book would be considered essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of painting, but if that is not you, please do not be put off from undertaking this monster book: it is an effort that will reward all who so do and I would like to thank Sheila Hale for a fortnight of pure pleasure!
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VINE VOICEon 14 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book suceeds admirably in not only detailing Titian's life but also putting into context the times he lived in. To say the book is exhaustive is something of an understatement and some may find that it tells them more than they ever wished to know about the subject. Others will find the opposite. It depends how interested you are in the man and Venice in this era. As I'm not a great fan of his paintings and knew nothing of his life prior to reading this I found it a little too detailed but that's a purely subjective view.

Overall I enjoyed the book but docked one star because of the paucity of illustrations. I can't quite understand the logic of referring to pictures that are not shown in the book - well I can, as it probably concerns copyright issues. The problem is solved with Google images, if you've got an Ipad to hand whilst reading but it's still rather annoying.
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VINE VOICEon 5 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sheila Hale has clearly done an enormous amount of research to bring this volume to fruition. Running to some 730 or so pages with additional index, bibliography, and perhaps most useful of all, an alphabetical city by city list of where to find the works, this is a very thorough study. Entitled Titian, His Life, this is somewhat at variance with the content which is much more than a straightforward biographical study and more an overview of art, life and politics in Renaissance Italy in general and the Venetian empire in particular.

Sometimes Ms Hale gets carried away with extraneous detail, which some judicious editing might have avoided, however I personally enjoyed all the myriad of facts that are inserted along the away, although this sometimes means Titian is absent for quantities of pages at a time. Most of what Sheila Hale has to impart is of such interest that this is a minor caveat. More problematic are the illustrations which are not linked to the text, and this is an irritation that I could have done without.

Outwith her specialist subject she can be questioned on her information. Did Raphael die of overwork? Contemporary critical opinion would suggest otherwise. In the main, however, this is a fascinating study which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and can heartily recommend to art enthusiasts and admirers of Titian and indeed of that Renaissance period in particular.
John Aitken
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VINE VOICEon 20 June 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A very good introduction to Titian and the period - I notice one reviewer criticised this for having too much history, it is an art history book!
Illustrations are pretty good but too few and I suppose the book would have been better larger to accommodate larger illustrations.
Remarkably this is the first biography since the nineteenth century, so it is also readable.
A fascinating and exhaustive (not exhausting though) book.
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VINE VOICEon 10 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Titian seems to be one of those Renaissance artists most often overlooked or dismissed as not quite being top rank. This, I think, has a lot to do with what modern audiences expect from artists' lives. An artist should either live a dark and racy life (see Caravaggio), or be a jack-of-all-trades dabbling in everything from the human body to the helicopter (Leonardo da Vinci) or have an interesting sexuality (Michelangelo) to keep the biographers busy and to fire the imagination of the readers.

This romantic concept of what it means to be an artist is a bit of a modern construct, though: successful Renaissance artists were businessmen (and occasionally businesswomen) with studios filled with employees finishing off paintings or knocking out copies of the artist's biggest successes. An artist had to get commissioned to produce work and that meant pitching for business. It was more 'Dragons' Den' than romantic fantasy. Titian was one of those artists: an incredible talent who, as this biography points out, was a canny businessman as well as a fantastic painter.

Titian is also one of those artists about whom little is known. In situations like that a writer can go the Girl With a Pearl Earring route and invent a story around the bare bones of the facts or the writer can flesh out the story by giving as much colour and background as possible. Sheila Hale chooses to do the latter and with that has written a book that is not only a biography of an artist but also a book about the period in which the artist lived. Hale really manages to root Titian, so you don't feel that he was some genius dropped in from another planet but as a product of his era and a man skilled and intelligent enough to make the era work for him.

This isn't an easy read, though: although it's written very clearly, Hale does not insult her reader's intelligence. It's a very dense read with as many facts and figures included as exist about Titian's work. I really had to concentrate to follow the book, but I would say, if you're someone who has managed to get through Wolf Hall successfully, this book will be no problem. Illustrations are well-chosen and give some flavour of how incredible the paintings are, but I defy anyone to finish this book and not want to rush to the nearest museum or art gallery lucky enough to own a Titian to see on 'in the flesh'.
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