Titian’s and Melville’s Men with a Falcon
After Melville returned from the Mediterranean in 1857, it is perhaps not surprising that the artistry of Titian was very much in play in Clarel, the epic poem about the Holy Land published in 1876, American’s centennial year. In Clarel, Melville was trying to evaluate his own nation’s evolving psyche as seen through Middle Eastern culture at the time of Christ, during the European crusades in the Middle Ages, through the eyes and minds of the Italian Renaissance, and during the post-Darwinian thought and capitalistic colonialism of the late Victorian age. The explicit allusion to Titian in Battle-Pieces, the book of poems about the American Civil War that Melville published in 1866, is perhaps more surprising.
Titian appears in the opening stanza of “Commemorative of a Naval Victory.” Melville’s opening lines support the proposition that sailors can be “gentle” and “refined” as well as “strong” by declaring that “The hawk, the hound, and sworded nobleman / In Titian’s picture for a king, / Are of hunter or warrior race” (NN PP 135-36). In 1966, Hennig Cohen was the first to note that “the hawk, the hound, and sworded nobleman” are all clearly visible in Titian’s The Man with the Falcon, a painting from a private collection that had been engraved in 1811 (Cohen, Battle-Pieces, 160-61, 284; Wethe 2: cat. 28). The painting Melville alludes to is now in the collection of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, and identified as Portrait of Giorgio Cornaro the Younger with a Falcon (fig. 6).