Titian’s Shepherd and Nymph (c.1575-6)

Do you study self-portraits and images of artists at work? You should do, and remember the poses. For centuries artists have represented an alter ego as though a painter sitting in a similar pose. In Titian's painting of a shepherd and nymph, the boy sits in the foreground and to the side just like an artist at his easel with his leg extended (see comparisons below). With his head wreathed like a poet, he is a "painter" using a pipe as his brush to depict his "painting" of a reclining nude. Pipes and brushes are both long and thin and in morphing together they link music's art with the visual poetry of painting.1

Click next thumbnail to continue







 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Titian, Shepherd and Nymph (1575-6) Oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Bottom L: Detail inverted of Michel Lasne's etching of Abraham Bosse's The Amorous Painter (17th cent.)
Bottom R: Detail inverted of Hans Burgkmair's The "Weisskunig" in a Painter's Studio (16th cent.)

Click image to enlarge.

As historians know Titian borrowed the nude's pose (above) from a print of Giulio Campagnola's Reclining Nude (below), the tonality of which has always been considered a high point of early printing.2 Once again, as previously with Edouard Manet3, we are faced with the question, why would Titian use another artist's figure and not invent one himself? Was he not creative enough that day? Of course, he was. He reused the pose intentionally because Campagnola's nude was an admired work of art and she remains so in Titian's painting. The shepherd is painting her. 

Click next thumbnail to continue
 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Titian's Shepherd and Nymph (1575-6)
Bottom: Giulio Campagnola, Reclining Nude (1513) Engraving with stipple.

Click image to enlarge.

This image is just part of the long tradition of the clothed artist-as-attendant "painting" a naked female. One popular type within it, the reclining nude first painted by Giorgione around 1510, soon became identified with the artwork itself.4 However, the painting-in-the-painting must be self-representational too. Thus, though the nymph's body faces inwards, she turns to "paint" her own figure with a hand so large it must signify Titian's own.5 Why, though, is the upper right quadrant of the picture so bare? 

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Titian, Shepherd and Nymph (1575-6) 

Click image to enlarge.

Difficult to recognize, I admit, but the deer on its hind legs reaching up a tree trunk seems to form Titian's own features. He "looks out" of the background (top 4 images). It is, for instance, similar to how Titian fused his "face" into the Pope's hand (bottom), as recently revealed on EPPH, and also into the principal hand of The Vendramin Family (to be published soon).6The scene is, of course, in Titian's mind which is why his features also stare out of a landscape in Venus and Cupid with a Partridge (c.1550), very like how it happens here.7 There are numerous examples in his oeuvre. Titian, furthermore, often identified with animals (and humans) who strain to reach upwards.













 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top and center L: Detail and diagram of Titian's Shepherd and Nymph
Top and center R: Self-portrait detail of Titian's Entombment (1559)
Bottom: Detail of  the Pope's hand from Titian's Pope Paul III and His Grandsons with Self-portrait inset.

Click image to enlarge.

Also of note is the furry paw hanging over the youth's shoulder. Like the paw of the fur she lies on, it refers to the shape and texture of a painter's brush and the symbolism of touch in art as well. Since the boy "paints" himself as a woman (androgyny), it may be the same paw twice: in the studio and the painting. On a deeper level, though, the doubling reflects like most art the dualities of our own lives.8
 

Captions for image(s) above:

Titian's Shepherd and Nymph (1575-6)

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Picasso used the same musical metaphor in Faun Flutist (1947). See EPPH entry (29th Sept. 2010).

2. Marcantonio Raimondi also used the same figure from Campagnola's print for his engraving The Dream of Raphael. Patricia Emison, “Asleep in the Grass of Arcady: Giulio Campagnola’s Dreamer”, Renaissance Quarterly 45, Summer 1992, pp.271-89; Dagmar Korbacher, "Poetic Printmaking: Arcadia and the Engravings of Giulio Campagnola", Art in Print 4, No. 5 retrieved online, Feb. 6th 2015. 

3. Edouard Manet used a motif taken from a print by Goya for his scene of the bull-fight in his Mlle V. in the Costume of an Espada (1861) now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. There, too, critics have wondered why Manet's creativity did not allow him to invent the scene himself. It seems almost certain that his reason was similar: the bull-fight represents an artwork by a Spanish painter. See EPPH entry (2005).

4. Christ's figure on the Cross had long been used for a similar purpose by earlier artists. See the EPPH entry "Mengs’ Christ on the Cross (1761-9), Goya’s and Francis Bacon’s too" (6th June 2012)

5. Differences in scale, like the nymph's hand, are often used to signify that one is the artist, the other within the pciture itself. In addition, she glances over her shoulder like an artist looking at her motif which is, of course, Titian himself looking at her. See EPPH's Over the Shoulder Poses (25th Feb. 2011).

6. See the 110+ examples under the theme Veiled Faces, currently four of which are by Titian.

7. See the EPPH post "Titian is a Dog" (30th Jul. 2011). Not yet published, EPPH's entry on Titian's Venus and Cupid with a Partridge (c.1550) should also be available soon.

8. Among those dualities are our internal and external lives but also, more importantly, the "life" we lead as an individual and that we share in as part of Nature. See also the theme Pointing and Touch.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 06 Feb 2015. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.