Melville and Titian’s Women
Melville’s attentiveness to Titian’s paintings as a young man in London in 1849 continued, and intensified, during his travels through Italy in 1857. Melville noted individual paintings by Titian at the Sciarra and Doria Pamphili galleries in Rome, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, at the Accademia in Venice, and at the Palazza Madama in Turin (109, 115, 118, 122). His eye for Titian’s women, whether Magdalens or Venuses or living Italians, remained strong throughout. At the Sciarra Gallery in Rome he noted “A Lady by Titian—The crimson and white sleeves—The golden haze of his pictures (Danae)” (NN J 109). The woman in sleeves was then known as Titian’s Bella Donna, which the 1858 edition of Murray’s Handbook of Rome and its Environs called “one of Titian’s finest portraits” (263). Now at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, the painting is currently attributed to Palma il Vecchio and entitled Portrait of a Young Woman Known as “La Bella”; the “crimson and white sleeves” pale in comparison to the bright red fabric that covers her shoulders and bares her neckline (Wethey 2: cat. X-10; Pérez-Jofre, color plate p. 162). The “golden haze” in Titian’s Danae is Melville’s phrase for coloristic blur of the shower of gold suspended over Danae’s unclothed body (Titian’s original was in a Naples museum Melville had visited two weeks earlier; J 102, 104, 478; Wethe 3: cat. 5).
At the Doria Pamphili Palace on March 10 Melville noted “Two portraits of Raphael” and “One of Titian’s women.” The latter must have been the palace’s copy of Titian’s Saint Mary Magdelene in Penitance, whose original he would soon be seeing in Florence, for Melville went on to note: “profuse brown hair on Magdalen—Thought I detected a resemblance between it & his portrait of his wife—only the Magdalen idealized” (NN J 111). The brown hair over the bare breasts is indeed the most striking feature of this painting. Even Wethey, usually quite circumspect, says of the original in the Pitti Gallery, “the sensual appeal of the female nude was the artist’s unmistakable intention in this luxuriant work” (Wethey 1: cat. nos. 120, 122).
At the Pitti Palace and Uffizzi Gallery in Florence Melville’s “excess of pleasure” was extreme. The delights were so numerous, they were “idle to enumerate.” Melville did record in his journal that he was “charmed with Titian’s Venus” at the Uffizi (J 114-16). This is the celebrated Venus of Urbino (fig. 3) that Titian had painted for the court of Eleanor, the Duchess of Urbino, in 1538, a copy of which Melville had seen at Hampton Court eight years earlier.