TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

The Concert

c. 1510
Oil on canvas, 87 x 124 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

In this famous composition by Titian, the half-length portraits of three men are gathered together to play music: in the center an elegantly dressed man with a dark blue fur-trimmed cloak is focused on playing the spinet, a small sixteenth century harpsichord. His hands are still outstretched in the position of the chord on the keys, while his head and gaze are angled left towards the Dominican monk, another musician, who is touching his companion's shoulder to get his attention having taken down his own instrument, a viola da gamba, which now rests at his side. Outside this silent and reciprocal exchange of glance is the young singer on the left, an almost imperceptible smile upon his face and donning a feathered cap, an exquisite and coveted accessory associated with boldness and virility.

It is difficult to attribute historical identities to the three figures, who some critics have suggested refer to well-known musicians of the time while others believe are imaginary faces created by Titian to animate a very popular pictorial subject, "Concerts"; this theme was widely explored in the cultured environments of the northern Italian courts from the late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, where musical instruction formed an essential part of a gentleman's education. Music, or rather playing music together is clearly the overarching theme of the painting, whose sounds seem almost audible to the viewer observing the mannerisms and gestures of the three figures.

Cardinal Leopoldo bought this picture in 1654 as a Giorgione and for centuries it has been assigned to him. It was at the end of the nineteenth century that Morelli proposed the attribution to Titian, which, in spite of a recent return to giving it to Giorgione, is generally accepted as the more persuasive, naturally placing it in Titian's Giorgionesque period, that is to say his early years.

This painting has been considered a work by the young Titian only since it was last restored in 1976. The faces of the figures at the sides are badly damaged. Only the centre figure and the garment of the figure on the right display his masterful use of colour. Pictures of musicians were frequently painted in the 16th century. However, it was very rare for such an intimate relationship between the musicians to be depicted. The youth on the left draws the observer into the scene, thus including him in the web of glances and touches.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Francesco Bendusi: Pass'e Mezze Dito Il Romano