When tones and paints come together

The central figure of "II Concerto" is perhaps more fascinating than all others in Italian painting. We see in him the personification of the spiritual and philosophic attributes of music.

Emerging out of a dark background, the body's darker mass accents the prodigiously sensitive hands and face. With fingers still pressing several keys , the clavichordist leans back and turns questioningly, eyes softened, to an attentive companion holding a lute. Opposite, a young man, elaborately costumed , plumed hat and all, listens thoughtfully, again hearing the rich chords.

Some art and music critics have interpreted "Il Concerto" to be the portrait of the Vanetian Giovanni Spinetti demonstrating the triumph of the spinet, which he had invented, over the lute. Maybe yes, maybe no. We cannot even be certain of the author, much less of what he is meant to be saying. We can be sure only that it is a masterpiece, glorifying music and the musical experience.

For centuries the painting was attributed to Giorgione, then tentatively to Titian. Very recent restorations and studies strongly support the prevailing theory that "Il Concerto" is a work by a very young Titian greatly under the influence of Giorgione.

Although the two artists were born about the same year, Giorgione is usually considered the predecessor; he was a brilliant early bloomer who before his untimely passing in 1511 revolutionized Venetian painting. Giorgione had two novel ideas; one, to produce from with color values, tints in which gradations of light and shade are incorporated; second, to treat any subject in a bright, romantic, and joyous manner. Titian had an extraordinary long career, was still painting in 1576; he carried to illustrious culmination Giorgione's concepts, along with many others initiated personally.

Recognized today as a universal and eternal genius, Titian was and remains entirely Venetian; all the city's unique charms live again in his art.

Believable men and women were painted, observed with his own open and cordial humanity. No longer, as even with Giorgione, were they lost in individual dreams. Titian's characters communicate -- with gestures, postures, attitudes, demeanors never before seen in painting. The age of action had dawned. Artists learned that forms rendered in motion brought a new sense of life. We feel this definitely in the expression and movement of the layer in "Il Concerto."

History records that in the highly elevated Venetian intellectual ambience of the early 16th century, music and painting acquired mutually corresponding values. Music assumed more colorful harmonics with improvised and unexpected modulations. Painting tended to be symphonies containing musical as well as chromatic vibrations.

This was not as strange as it sounds. Generally, Venetian artists had shown exquisite tact in their use of color; in addition to giving direct pleasure to the eye, it stimulated thought and memory as does music. Many contemporary artists were skilled musicians. Giorgione played the lute and is said to have sung "divinely." Aretino writes of Titian being a frequenter of musical evenings organized in his home. Further, Titian was either harpsichordist or violist in groups that later included Sansovino and Tintoretto. What more natural than for them to paint sonorously? Seldom has any artist orchestrated so melodiously as Giorgione.

The sovereignty of Titian results from a lasting vigor of inexhaustible invention. He coupled magical coloring to musical emotion while, with simplicity and clearness, he ascended from the true to the likely, granting to fantasy the mastership over observation. To make his images unforgettable, he conjured up and added a rare intensity of life.

"Il Concerto" graces the Galleria Palatina of the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy, having been purchased in 1654 by Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici.

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