Hans Dieter Huber
The Concept of the Viewer in Venetian Art and Art Theory.

I

In my analysis I have concentrated on a special city in Italy, on Venice and there especially on one building,the huge Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Three famous altarpieces still exist there in their original frames and in their original setting, for which they were ordered and executed.The original relation between the altarpiece and its setting allows me to draw certain conclusions about the specific situation in which an artwork is effective- and for which it was intended by the painter to be in precisely that way effective . In an original architectural setting we are able to specify the aesthetic strategies a painter uses to affect his viewers or worshippers.

One of the most famous paintings in such an original environment is Giovanni Bellini´s Pesaro Triptych painted for the sacristy of the Frari Church in Venice. Located in the apse of the sacristy [Abb.1+2] it is signed and dated 1488.1

It is a relatively small-sized panel for individual devotion especially designed for the members of the Pesaro family. While the design of the gilded frame closely anticipates the so-called "Venetian Window" of the sixteenth century, it corresponds to the architectural structure of the sacristy. The side panels bear allusions to the structure of "side aisles" and the "central choir", which terminates in a barrel vault closed by a semidome.

The intended vanishing point of the painting lies exactly on the upper horizontal edge of the throne. If we interprete this observation as an intentional strategy of the artist to locate and centre the implied viewer or worshipper in a certain position before the painting, he must stand five steps lower than the depicted scene.

When the real viewer approaches the apse of the sacristy in front of the triptych,his line of vision lies exactly on the intended vanishing point of the painting. This means that the intended and the real vanishing point converge for a real viewer who stands in the chapel. The two worlds, the painted and the real, the sacred and the secular,precisely meet and coincide during the physical confrontation with the beholder.

It is possible to reconstruct the intended distance from the perspective construction and the size of the panel. The painting affects the viewer in such a way that he locates himself through physical approach and the process of seeing in a certain axial position and at a certain distance before the altarpiece. The specific form of location is triggered by the central axis of the painting.

Behavioural sciences have described the imitation of the bodily position of another person as a symmetrical echoing of posture.[Abb.3].I am convinced that this subtle and unconscious mechanism of the non-verbal synchronization of bodily position and movement can also be observed in the perceptual participation of a beholder in the depicted scene. Desmond Morris who has analyzed this imitation of bodily position writes:

If two friends talk with one another, they normally adopt similar bodily positions. If they are especially intimate and share the same beliefs on the theme at hand, then their bearing becomes still more similar,and to such an extent, that one thinks they are copied from each other.2

This type of relation between viewer and artwork can be described as a very direct one. It obliges the beholder to adopt a certain form of physical approach, perceptual behaviour and empathic participation. It is a direct face-to-face confrontation with the religious subject.

Another important consistency of internal pictorial elements with the external environmental setting can be observed in the construction and realisation of a coherent system of light and shadows. Giovanni Bellini intended this pictorial subsystem to coincide exactly with the actual lighting conditions existing in the Pesaro Chapel.

Bellini conceived the internal lighting system of the painting in precise consistency and accordance with the external lighting conditions of the chancel. To verify this we must take into account that the "east end" of the Frari church looks south-west. The main quantity of light enters the chapel from the left side window of the apse which is precisely the south window. A much lesser quantity of light enters from the right side, that is to say from the west.

Bellini took these preexisting lighting conditions of the chapel into account when he painted the triptych just as he constructed the distance and the horizon of the painting in accordance with an approaching real beholder. The painted system of light and shadow is embraced, supported and reinforced by the environmental setting. Bellini opens up a dialogue between the reality of painting and the reality of architecture and viewer which had never been realised before in such a consistent conception. Painted light and real light act consistently together to affect the viewer.

It becomes clear that the convergence of internal and external light increases the degree of perceptual deception of the eye. It increases the reality and liveliness of the religious subject. That this strategy was a very well known, is shown by Cennino Cennini´s statement which dates from about 80 years earlier:

if, when you are drawing or painting figures in chapels or painting them in other difficult places,it happens that you cannot control the lighting to your purpose, give the modeling to your figures or design according to the arrangement of the windows in these places, since it is they that must provide the lighting. And so,
following the lighting, whichever side it is coming from, apply your modeling and shadow after this system. ... And if the light pours from one window larger than the others in the place, always accomodate yourself to this brighter light; and you should systematically study and follow it, because if your work fails in this, it will have no modeling and it will turn out to be a simple thing with little mastery.3

In the Madrid Codices, which date from 1492 onwards, Leonardo da Vinci argued in precisely the same direction. He wrote that

the figures become more graceful if they are rather set in universal light than in particular and small lights, because light which is extensive,but not strong embraces the relief of the bodies; and the works which are made with such a light at some distance appear with grace and those who are painted with small lights receive a great amount of shadows and works with such shadows at some distance always appear only coloured.4

The effects of this coherence result in greater plasticity and vividness of the painted forms and contours .They allow the viewer or contemplator to detach the figural scene from the surface conditions of the panel. This method of accomodation of the pictorial system to an external architectural setting facilitates meditative adoration and empathic participation of the viewer/worshipper.

To summarize our results, two main strategies affecting the viewer can be found in the Pesaro triptych by Giovanni Bellini:

1.) The convergence of the intended vanishing point of the panel with the real viewpoint of the beholder affects his self-location and centres the the viewer face-to-face in front of the altarpiece. Since the triptych is composed symmetrically the self-location of the viewer follows this symmetricality through an unconscious imitation of bearingand he centers himself in the central axis of the Sacristy and the Chapel. This type of Sacre Conversazioni confronts the viewer frontally. It leads to a synchronization of the bodily position of the beholder with the represented frontality of the figural scene.

2.) The convergence of the depicted system of light and shadow with the real lighting conditions of the chapel lead to a greater illusion of the figural scene and hence facilitate the detachment of the holy event from the surface conditions of painting. This effect is supported by the relief of the gilded altarframe, which is continued into the painted space with exactly the same type of carved pillars and capitals.


II

During the first few years of the century new variations of the Holy Conversation were developed by younger artists who introduced a new type of asymmetrical compositions. They formulated their aesthetic criticism of the traditional type of representation. This visual criticism found its verbal counterpart with a time delay of ten to twenty years. The first observations on this aesthetic turning point can be found in treatises especially on poetry and literature theory as in Pietro Bembo´s "le Prose" (1525), Baldassare Castiglione´s "Il Cortegiano" (1528) or Bernardino Daniello´s "La Poetica" from 1536. From these treatises they entered into an aesthetic discussion and criticism especially of the old style of painting. The writers suggested thatthe old type of painting as represented by Giovanni Bellini,Alvise Vivarini, Cima di Conegliano and Vittore Carpaccio was dead, cold and without liveliness and modeling. In his treatise on painting, Paolo Pino, a Venetian painter, made the following statement:

[the painter] should not try to press all facts of the world into one panel, and also [he should not try to] design the panel with such an extreme diligence, that he composes all in black and white,like Giovanni Bellini used to, because its useless effort to cover everything with colours.5

He reproached the older tradition with having painted with too much diligence ('con troppa diligenza'), which means with too much carefulness and assiduity ,which in the final analysis "kills" the painting. During his whole lifetime Giovanni Bellini invented and realized symmetrical solutions of Sacre Conversazioni which confront the adoring viewer directly and face-to-face. The Virgin Mary is represented "in maestá". She is always located in the central axis of the painting flanked by different saints and donors.In his complete work no asymmetrical compositions of this subject can be found. The criticism of Bellini´s altarpieces in San Giobbe and San Zaccaria [ABB] became manifested in Francesco Sansovinos dialogue on all the notable and beautiful things in Venice ,written in 1561. He criticizes the panels in the following words:

In their time they had been highly estimated ... their style was very diligent and they painted the smallest details, but they went much too hard in their heavy diligence, so that the figures in their quality appeared to be without nuances and without much modeling.6


The once highly esteemed abilities of diligence, assiduity and studiousness were replaced by new aesthetic demands like facility and ease of making.7

It is said also to have been proverbial among some very excellent painters of antiquity, that over diligence is harmful, and Protogenes is said to have been censured by Apelles because he did not know when to take his hand from the tablet.
8...You see how ungraceful a rider is who strives to sit bolt upright in the saddle after the manner we are wont to call Venetian,- as compared with another who seems not to be thinking about it, and sits his horse as free and steady as if he were afoot.9


This concept plays a central role in aesthetic discussion. As a quality of the painting it stands behind the concepts of grace (gratiá) and delight (diletto..). Only through facility and a certain nonchalance, runs the argument, do grace and delight become possible in a painting.

Facility involves the artist´s capacity to develop his natural judgement without recourse to the labored acquisition of skills or to the ostentatious demonstration of his proficiency.10 The effort and the art should not be seen in an artwork .They should remain invisible in order not to limit the aesthetic enjoyment and pleasure of the spectator. A certain nonchalance is therefore required by the artist to finish his work.

Baldassare Castiglione was one of the first who formulated these new aesthetic ideas in a broad and detailed conversation:

But having before now often considered whence this grace springs,(...),I find one universal rule concerning it, which seems to me worth more in this matter than any other in all things human that are done or said: and that is to avoid affectation to the uttermost and as it were a very sharp and dangerous rock: and, to use possibly a new word, to practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought. From this I believe grace is in large measure derived,because everyone knows the difficulty of those things that are rare and well done, and therefore facility in them excites the highest admiration: while on the other hand, to strive and as the saying is to drag by the hair,is extremely ungraceful,and makes us esteem everything slightly,however great it be.11

The most general rule for getting gracious effects is the consistent avoidance of affectation and artificiality and the use of a certain proper nonchalance, which arises from a conscious attitude and a certain state of inspiration during the execution of the work. In contemporary treatises on rhetoric and poetry one finds the same attitude to avoiding everything that is tiresome and oversatiating in order to secure the maximal aesthetic enjoyment and to reinforce the persuasive powers of the rhetorical or literary work.12
III

The artists themselves were the first to transform their new ideas of too much diligence into visible arguments.In the comparison of two details from Bellinis Pala di San Giobbe and from Titian´s Bacchus and Ariadne [Abb.4+5] the aesthetic difference becomes obvious. The older tradition of Bellini, Cima di Conegliano and Alvise Vivarini worked with an equally sharp focus and a high precision in the rendering of even the smallest details. This overall sharpness of focus affects the process of vision. It takes much longer to scan all the details step by step and to integrate them into a cognitive representation of the whole. The process of perception of such paintings can be described as a permanent movement of the eye over the pictorial surface in order to identify the various details and to detect new ones. It implies a constant change of attention within the visual field at a constant distance. The pictorial elements posess an equally distributed sharpness of rendering. They have been designed and worked out at and for a very precise distance.

Titian´s elements on the contrary appear much more reduced in their details. Different parts are painted at different levels of sharpness and detail. The expression of the faces is mostly depicted very precisely as a cue for the beholder to participate in the internal states of the figures. On the contrary the fingers of the hands, parts of the flesh and the drapery are depicted with a certain indeterminacy of rendering. The cloth of Ariadne is painted very flat and succinct.

The new idea is to provide different levels of sharpness of representation to direct the perceptual process of the beholder in certain preformulated directions. The reduction of details of clothing,garment and decor goes hand in hand with an enrichment of the expressiveness of the movements of the depicted figures.The sharpness of details is transformed into the richness of internal states. Through a broad range of different degrees of sharpness the viewer is given a greater perceptual freedom in constituting the image with his perceptual and cognitive powers. The concept of intended nonchalance leads to a new perceptual experience and aesthetic behaviour of the beholder.

From 1509 - 1511 the young Sebastiano del Piombo painted the new altarpiece for San Giovanni Chrisostomo. [Abb.6] The essential innovation is the placement of the main saint in profile at the corner of a colonnade, which is very much foreshortened. The altarpiece is a combination of the traditionally frontal with a new profile composition. The foreground is composed "in maestá " , the traditional arrangement of a Sacra Conversazione . The pavement and the steps seem to lead to the throne of the Virgin. But the middle and the background have been altered radically. The main person,San Giovanni Chrisostomo,is represented in profile. He is sitting at the corner of a foreshortened colonnade. Behind him, a distant look into a landscape has therefore become possible.

The Italian language has a special preposition to describe such a spatial situation: "accanto a ", which can be translated as "at the corner of" or "besides". This new asymmetrical solution of a Sacra Conversazione I would like to call the 'accanto'-type in order to indicate its contrast to the traditional representation "in maestà' .It shows a holy person in profile seated outside at the corner of a church or building surrounded by other saints or donors. Together with this innovation in compositional structure the background has undergone a transformation from the interior of a church to the exterior of its facade. This allows for additonal representation of topographical issues as further symbolic cues for iconographical meaning. The holy event no longer takes place in the painted barrel vaults of a churchlike interior but at the public exterior of a building.

The shift from the 'maestá' to the 'accanto' type implies a transformation of the subject matter from the private devotional space to the public self-representation of the Venetian Republic. It is a combination of a votive picture with donors and the traditional type of a Sacra Conversazione. It indicates a change in the self-consciousness of the patrons and the donors who used this new developed 'accanto'-type for an extended public self-representation.

One of the most prominent urban accanto situations in Venice is the look from the Molo to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the other side of the great bacino. [Abb.7] The west facade of San Giorgio Maggiore precisely shows its semiprofile to the viewer who stands in front of the Palazzo Ducale at the Molo. This famous ,often painted and photographed urban situation is no result of occasional urban planning. It is a conscious attempt to formulate an architectural setting which expresses the self-representation of the Republic of Venice of which the bacino is the architecural core. This very prominent urban situation in Venice was always present for the artists.

The comparison with an early painting of Titian, St. Mark surrounded by St. Cosmas, St. Damin,St. Roch and St. Sebastian [Abb.8], painted at exactly the same time as Sebastiano del Piombo for the Church of Santo Spirito in Isola, shows a certain affinity in composition. As in the case of Sebastiano del Piombo´s altarpiece this painting is a combination of a frontal composition with a lateral composition. St. Mark is seated on a high socle against the open and cloudy sky. He is holding a huge book in his right hand. On his left side three grey columns with Corinthian capitals are depicted. They influence the compositonal balance of the whole painting and give it a dynamic tension. The vanishing point lies over the pointing left hand of St. Damian. In comparison to Bellini´s San Giovanni Chrisostomo altarpiece of 1513 [Abb.9]the line of vision is much higher. The viewer is almost equally entitled to participate in the depicted holy scene. In Bellini´s last altarpiece the implied viewer is located much lower than the holy figures. This is an indication of the radical change in the appreciation and involvement of the worshipper in the participation of the holy event. But the implied distance between viewer and painting in Titian´s altarpiece is much larger than in Bellini´s. In the older type of Sacre Conversazioni there exists a strong hierarchical difference between worshipper and holy scene . The viewer is presented to the holy event at a very short distance, which reinforces the feeling of direct physical confrontation. Many details of equal sharpness are painted for looking around and for a step-by-step-recognition during the process of viewing and meditating. In Titian´s St. Mark the overall detailing of clothing, background and architecture is reduced in favour of a greater concentration and accentuation of the paintings own qualities like the surface, the cubic organisation of spatial relations, its figural movements, the closed contours, lights, shadows, coloring. The reduction of details leads to a new ordering of the composition and to a new kind of visual narration.

Paolo Pino had expressed this concentration on essential aesthetic effects of the painting in his treatise:

I very much like the declaration of the subject matter to include only a few figures, decorated with various garments and dresses, ligaments, knots, trinkets, veils, armours and other ornaments (...),in order to give such charm and gravity to the work, that it inspires admiration in the beholder.13


IV

In the years from 1516 to 1526 Titian painted two of his most influential altarpieces for the Frari Church in Venice. From 1516-18 he executed the Assunta for the high altar and from 1519-26 the Madonna di Cà Pesaro for a side chapel of the nave.

The Assunta exhibits the new direction of accomodating the scale of a panel to the preexisting conditions of the architectural setting. The efforts resulted in a new conception of viewing and contemplating. Carlo Ridolfi in his "Meraviglie dell´ arte" has reported an interesting discussion between Titian and the commissioner of the Fratri Minori, Fra Germano del Casale:

It is said that Titian worked this panel in the convent of the said friars, with the result that he was molested by their frequent visits. He was often asked by Fra Germano, curator of the work, whether these apostles were not too large. It gave him no little trouble to correct their incomprehension and he gave him to understand that the figures had to be proportioned according to the vast space [luogo vastissimo], in which they have to be seen and that they will appear smalle, which is to their advantage.14

That Titian indeed took the relation between the artwork and its architectonical setting into precise account as an integral part of his whole system of visual argumentation,becomes apparent from existing documents which concern the adaptation of the pictorial system to the concrete space, for which they were ordered. 15

For the viewer who enters the church through the main entrance [Abb.10], the Virgin immediately appears as the center of the whole interior of the church, though the panel cannot be seen at full extent from the entrance situation. The apostles and the Virgin appear to be framed by the entrance arch of the choir screen,which was built by Pietro Lombardo in 1475. Through this effect the panel itself seems to be located nearer to the viewer, as it in fact is. If the beholder continues to advance up tothe choir the figures of the high altar appear detached from their surface since it is not possible to judge their distance and their actual size because of the choir screen which hides the relevant perceptual cues for this information. The real distance between choir screen and altar can be experienced only step by step. Exactly half-way between entrance and choir screen the beholder reaches a point, from which the altarpiece with its entire frame can be seen at its full extent through the choir screen. [Abb.11] The upper arch of the altarframe appears as a circle drawn from the same centric point as the arch of the choir screen. The center of this circle lies exactly in the region of the head of the Virgin. The Assunta seems to unify all vanishing lines of the church in the surface of the painting.

That this concentration indeed was one of the intentional strategies of Titian from the beginning on seems very probable. We have many indications that Titian himself designed the altarframe which was constructed in marble by Lorenzo Bregna16. It is dated 1516,which signifies that the frame must have been finished before the painting began. This was no unusual procedure in Venice at that time.

In the high altar frame [Abb.12] the same acanthus arabesques are reproduced with slight modifications as in the older arch of the choir screen . They establish a direct visual relationship between viewer,choir screen and high altar. The relief of the altarframe repeats the architecture of the choir screen and thereby relates it to the older sculptural reliefs of the screen. The godfather of the altar painting seems to be covered and replaced by the crucified Christ over the entrance arch. Crowning the triumphal arch of the altarframe stands the figure of the resurrected Christ, flanked by the primary saints of the church, St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padova.

If the beholder continues the approach, the real dimensions of the high altar suddenly become apparent. The choir screen seemingly appears as a barrier in contrast to which the altarpiece seems to take a step backwards. The broad barrier of the choir screen then influences the perceptual behaviour of the viewer in that it invites him to stop his approach and to look around. The space of the church no longer appears as a centralized and directed visual field, but as an undirectional environment. This spatial experience of a bilateral widening of space to the right and the left can be perceived when the beholder passes from the third transept to the fourth [Abb. 13]. This is also the standpoint where the Madonna di Ca´Pesaro can be seen for the first time [Abb.14].

V

Titian´s concept of the viewer can be characterized as that of an active and moving beholder. He approaches, advances , moves to the side and back and forth and experiences the image in an active process of movement and perception, of analyzing and constructing. Titian indeed was aware of the complex relationship that exists between size, scale and colour of the artwork and its presentation in an architectural setting which influences the behaviour and the attitudes of a viewer or worshipper. Regarded as a certain type of visual argumentation we might argue that Titian extended the realm of visual argumentation into the three-dimensional architectural space of the entire environmental setting. The architectural environment becomes an extended universe of visual discourse. For the first quarter of the sixteenth century this was an absolutely new concept without any precedents. Titian altered the preexisting architectural conditions which normally guide the viewer´s orientation and transformed them into a strongly effect-orientated visual conception.

The concept of the viewer undergoes a radical innovation. Bellini had conceived the viewer at a certain distance and at a certain level of a central axis before the painting. This type of visual argumentation implies a static viewer which is located at a given distance and at a single point of view.

Titian conceives the viewer as a moving and walking subject who advances and walks around in space. This is a totally different viewer concept. The concept of a moving beholder implies that the artwork shall be seen from different distances and from different viewpoints. It implies that viewing happens in time and that the aesthetic experience is constituted of different looks and glances. The monocular central perspective system of Bellini, Cima di Conegliano and others has been superseded by a binocular polyperspective model of viewer location and viewer movement.

The late Max Imdahl has interpreted this development in the following words:

That (...) the optical organisation of space can no longer be restricted to a single position of a viewing subject, signifies an increase in spatial autonomy. On the other hand the subject is freed from the constraint of being restricted to a fixed position. The increased autonomy of space in polyperspectivism correlates with an increased freedom of the subject from space and with an increased power over it.17

In his architectural treatise of 1567 Pietro Cataneo clearly demonstrated that visual perception is a selective process and thus requires time.

Note that in whatever thing one looks at / one cannot see all its parts at a glance but one judges with the eye one part at a time so that seeing the head of a man one cannot judge the mouth, the eyes, the nose and its other parts at a glance but if one wishes to judge the nose one will fix the eye on that and thus it will be necessary to repeat the process for all the parts one by one...18

The historical source of this twofold conception of the process of vision is the voluminous treatise 'De aspectibus' of the Islamic scholar Alhazen (965-1039).19 Alhazen divided the process of vision into two parts: a first glance at the visual field (aspectus) lacks precision and hardly gives any information about details and properties of objects. An exact knowledge of the whole is only gradually possible from a series of individual observations (intuitio ).

...the understanding of visible things will take place in two ways: there is both superficial comprehension at the first glance, and also comprehension arrived at by scrutiny."20

According to Alhazen the beholder is not always conscious of the physiological events, because the motion of the eye takes place so rapidly that for the most part they pass unnoticed.

This motion will be very quick and for the most part will be invisible because of this velocity21

This account of the process of vision seems very modern to us .Today in Cognitive Psychology, these two kinds of vision, 'aspectus' and 'intuitio', would be defined as preattentive processes and focal attention. Ulric Neisser has defined the preattentive processes of vision as functioning unconsciously, quickly, coarsely, globally, and in a parallel mode, whereas the processes of focal attention function consciously, slowly, in detail and in a sequential mode. The preattentive processes isolate certain attributes and properties of the visual input material and control the following processes of focal attention. According to Neisser

the preattentive processes mark off units,provide fragmental cues and control simple reactions; focal attention builds on that prepared basis of complex structured objects or movements.

Alhazen´s theoretical system with its integration of physiology and psychology of vision into the tradition of geometrical optics became the paradigm for the literature on perspective from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.22 In 1505, Jean Pélerin (Viator) formulated several important ideas concerning the viewing of pictures relative to the movement of the beholder.[Abb.15+16] These ideas are closely related with some of my previous remarks on frontal and lateral types of compositonal arrangement. He writes:

Furthermore one must always take account of the various views presented by objects including buildings. For one sees them straight on or at an angle, that is to say from in front or from a corner. And one may see them symmetrically or asymmetrically and from ground level or from above and (...) from close and from afar.23

Viator conceived the visual field as a cone [Abb.17]. which is able to embrace the seen object totally or partially depending on the direction of seeing and the distance of the beholder. [Abb.18] Thomas Frangenberg has pointed out that Viator´s treatise and his illustrations

make it clear that he is not discussing eye rotation as described by Alhazen. Instead he is considering a change in the actual spatial relationship of the viewer to the scene that is viewed, a movement of the beholder´s body not of his eye24

These two different types of viewing through moving around, from in front and from a corner, correspond to our two types of compositional arrangement, the di faccio type and the accanto type. From these two modes of symmetrical and non-symmetrical viewing , Viator develops two types of perspective construction, the central perspective and the bifocal perspective. Again I cite Frangenberg:

The artist must choose between these positions in relation to the scene and by so doing determine in which way the picture will have to be constructed25

By the beginning of the sixteenth century the ideas of a bifocal perspective, of a process of vision as a process of time and of the movement of the beholder and the alteration of the visual field through his movement clearly had been defined and formulated and were ready for use.

I have no direct confirmations that Titian himself could have known these theories of vision. But Leonardo da Vinci for instance or Leone Battista Alberti knew them precisely . We must not undervalue his intellectual capacities or the close relationship of perspectivists, painters, architects, orators,poets and musicians in Venice at that time. The circle of interrelations was much closer than we would assume today. We can take it as given that these new aesthetic and perspectival ideas were intensely discussed and disputed among artists,architects and their circles. Whereas art theory in Venice remained at the beginning of the sixteenth century for nearly fifty years at the level of a conversational topic,of oral ideas and arguments that were ,in the middle of the century collected and codified by Paolo Pino, Ludovico Dolce ,Christoforo Sorte and others.

VI

After finishing the Assunta, Titian executed from 1519-26 the altarpiece of the Madonna di Cà Pesaro in commision for the funerary chapel of Jacopo and Francesco Pesaro in the Frari church. [Abb.19] The painting is worked on canvas and measures 485x 270 cm. It shows the Madonna with her child,seated on a socle or base before two huge columns, flanked by St. Peter,Francis and St. Anthony of Padova. St. Peter turns his attention to the left side where the adoring donor of the work, Jacopo Pesaro is kneeling. Behind him an armoured soldier, who wears the papal colors, guides two prisoners, a turk and a negro as an offering towards the throne of the virgin. He holds a red banner, with the victor´s laurel affixed at the top, which shows the Pesaro arms and those of Pope Alexander VI. These pictorial elements commemorate Jacopo Pesaro´s role in the Christian victory over the turks at Santa Maura on 30 August 1502,almost 25 years before Titian completed the altarpiece. Opposite Jacopo Pesaro further members of his family are kneeling. A young boy, Leonardo Pesaro26, is looking out of the pictorial space and directly confronts the viewer.

The most striking feature of Titian´s Pesaro Madonna is the asymmetry of its composition, setting the Virgin and child off center.27 At first glance, it seems as if the virgin is turning her attention away from the worshipful viewer and towards a preferred individual,namely Jacopo Pesaro himself. An event seems to be taking place in which the viewer can participate only from outside, as a viewer and not as an participant. Staale Sinding-Larsen has therefore argued that the asymmetrical spatial construction with a vanishing point which lies outside of the painting, signifies the exclusion of the viewer from the depicted space. The relation of the altarpiece to the viewer was said to lie in the disclosed representation of participation instead in participation itself.

But it seems necessary to me to discuss this question more thoroughfully. When the viewer approaches the nave from the main entrance he sees the Pesaro altarpiece from an oblique view when he passes from the third to the fourth transept. [Abb.13] As we have already recognized, the viewer at this point enjoys a certain latitude of unrestricted movement. The extraordinary solution of Titian´s composition has more to do with establishing a certain relation between the depicted space of the painting and that of the church than with the exclusion of viewers participation. 28 The horizon lies very low and roughly corresponds to the real line of sight of a person which is standing on the steps of the altar. But the vantage point lies on the left side of the altar. One´s first contact with the painting is therefore from an oblique angle. It is exactly at this point of movement when the viewer passes the third transept to the fourth that he recognizes the Pesaro Madonna. My thesis is now that Titian exactly accomodated the design of the altarpiece for such an oblique angle of vison.

David Rosand has argued that because of its position on the wall of the lateral nave of the church the Pesaro Madonna functions both as a wall painting, continually visible from a variety of angles as one passes down the nave and as an altarpiece, to be approached frontally on a central axis when one worships at the Pesaro altar.29

We must clarify this statement precise. The asymmetricality of the depicted architecture, which I have defined as an 'accanto a'-composition, is foreshortened only in its left parts. The right side of the architecture is parallel to the pictorial plane. These parts are not foreshortened. They lie orthogonally to the plane of projection and parallel in direction of the church-nave. This bears important consequences for an oblique viewing point and for our later interpretation. The vanishing point of the perspective construction lies beyond the frame of the picture to the left side of the wall. It is not designed to make us look in this direction, but it is intended to define our relation ,our relation as implied viewers to the figural composition of the picture. According to the laws of perspective theory an excentric vanishing point at the extreme left side does not signify that the implied viewer looks to the left. On the contrary, it signifies that he looks from an extreme left point of view to the right. The vanishing point does not define or prefix any direction of viewing. It only determines an intended and hypothetical point of view which the real viewer can take in or not. But it also seems clear from the laws of perspective that a viewer who takes in the place of the intended viewpoint, at the implied height and the implied distance, is capable of enjoying the aesthetic experience of an optimal spatial depth and illusional plasticity.

When a viewer takes in the implied point of view on the left side of the Pesaro altar he indeed is able to partake of a very surprising aesthetic experience. [Abb.20] The spatial composition changes radically: The Virgin with its child is undoubtedly the center of the whole composition. The pictorial space is not disconnected with the real space, but provides a depicted additional wing to the church. From the first glance , the depicted world seems to open up spatially. The altarpiece no longer disconnects itself from the viewers environment as an oblique and excentric perspective construction, but seems to constitute a rectangular additional wing of the church.

This spatial transformation through moving and changing the viewpoint is not easy to demonstrate with slides. It can only be experienced in front of the original. When we project the slides sideweise back to front the difference between the two spatial appearances become obvious even in the reproduction.The frontal reproduction appears flat and the oblique reproduction to possess depth. The huge columns seem to stand one after the other rectangularely to the painting´s surface whereas in the frontal view the columns seem to stand besides each other in the same pictorial plane.

Staale Sinding-Larsen´s argument concerning the disconnectedness of pictorial space with real space cannot be upheld. In the oblique view Jacopo Pesaro and the Virgin are far from being equivalent. A close relationship is now established between the donor who approaches the Virgin from the left side and the viewer who stands on the left side of the painting. When viewed from an oblique position, the asymmetrical position of the Madonna on the extreme right egde of the pictorial field does not at all restrict her compositional value. Both as an object of adoration of the depicted Jacopo Pesaro and the real viewer, her dominating role inside the composition is reinforced. When we take in the implied point of view, the relationship between donor, St. Peter and Virgin appears lesser intimate and more open to a viewer´s participation.

That this oblique view is implied by the painting itself, can be confirmed by the fact that from this angle of vision the moldings of the altar frame appear to be continued within the pictorial space. In Bellini´s Frari-triptych the architecture of the frame was precisely continued within the pictorial field. This effect disappears in frontal reproductions of the altarpiece, for they are mostly taken from a point of view which lies very much higher than the line of sight of the implied viewer. The point of vision of the reproduction lies in the middle of the painting to avoid edge distortions. The photograph must have been taken from a scaffolding. That is why the huge colummns appear so disproportionate. The scale of the columns is rather a problem of distortion through reproduction than of adequate or inadequate view points. Thomas Puttfarken has interpreted the distinct relation betwen the real and the painted architecture of the altar, which even imitates the color and veining, as a strong confirmation that the visual connection between painted space and real space was intended; - a type of connectedness which reveals itself only in the oblique view from the implied eye point.30

In a frontal position before the altar the viewers perceptual participation in the holy event runs through the figures of Francesco and Leonardo Pesaro from the right ot the left, to Jacopo Pesaro , and from there again back to the right, to the Virgin with her child. The perceptual participation and the religious involvement is mediated twice: through the donors and through St. Peter and St. Francis. This is a more indirect and distant form of participation than in the oblique view, where the Virgin directly adresses the viewer via the back of Jacopo Pesaro and without the involvement of the mediating saints. The logic of visual narration depends on the point of vision. Viewing frontally, the beholder experiences a different kind of participation. He is the spectator from outside who looks at the representation of a historical event.

Summarizing our observations concerning the Pesaro altarpiece, we can state that the pictorial organisation of the painting allows for different modes of viewing and of perceptual participation. It has these possibilities built into its visual structure. In this painting, we can find a dialectical situation of visual argumentation which allows the viewer to constitute different visual versions depending on his point of view. He has to reconcile these different versions of his perceptual participation, the frontal one with the oblique one actively and consciously.This dialectical situation of perceptual involvement indicates a fundamental turn in the relationship of the artwork towards its viewers. Titian´s Pesaro-Madonna implies a moving beholder, who is able to take in different points of view and to constitute different versions of his perceptual participation in the visual narration. As a last step, a process of cognitive synthesis, the viewer or worshipper can transform the divergent perceptual versions into a cognitive model of the whole event in which the single perspective glances and views are suspended in favour of an all-encompassing aesthetic and religious experience.



1 Giles Robertson, Giovanni Bellini,Oxford 1966,p.87
2 Desmond Morris: Der Mensch mit dem wir leben. Ein Handbuch unseres Verhaltens,München 1978.S.126
3 Cennino Cennini,Cap. 9.,zit. nach Baxandall, S.121
4 Leonardo, Madrid Codex II,f.25v :"Le figure aranno più gratia posste ne´ lumi universali che particolari e picoli, perchè li gran lumi non potenti abracciano li rilievi de´ corpi, e ll´ opere fatte in tali lumi apparisscano da lontano con gratia e cquelle che sson ritratte a´ llumi picoli, pigliano gran somma d´onbra, e ssimile opere, fatte con tale onbre mai aparisscan da llochi lontani altro che tinte."
5 Paolo Pino,zit. n.Barocchi,I,761
6 Francesco Sansovino, Dialogo di tutte le cose notabile e belle che sono in Venetia. Venice 1556 [1561],f.17r
7 Vasari,Le vite. Proemio alla terza parte
8 Il Cortegiano I,28: "Dicesi ancor esser stato proverbio presso ad alcuni eccellentissimi pittori antichi, troppo diligenzia esser nociva, ed esser stato biasmato Protogene da Apelle, che non sapea levar le mani dalla tavola."
9 ibd.,I,27: "Vedete come un cavalier sia di mala grazia, quando si sforza d´andare cosi stirato in su la sella, e, come noi sogliam dire, alla veneziana, a comparazion d´un altro, che paia che non vi pensi, e stia a cavallo cosi disciolto e sicuro come se fussi a piedi."
10 Roskill 21
11 Castiglione,S.53 (I.xxvi)[Hervorhebungen durch den Autor] "Ma avendo io gia piu volte pensato meco onde nasce questa grazia,...,trovo una regola universalissima, la qual mi par valer circa questo in tutte le cose umane che si facciano o dicano piu che alcuna altra; e cio è fuggir quanto piu si pò, e con un asperissimo e pericoloso scoglio, la affetazione, e per dir forse una nuova parola, usar in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l´arte, e dimostrar cio che si fa e dice venir fatto senza fatica e senza pensarvi. Da questo credo io che derivi assai la grazia: perchè delle cose rare e ben fatte ognun sala difficultà, onde in esse la facilità genera grandissima maraviglia; [*] e,per lo contrario, il sforzare,e, come si dice, tirar per i capegli, dà summa disgrazia, e fa estimar poco ogni cosa,per grande ch´ella si sia. Però si puo dir quella esser vera arte, che non appare esser arte;né piú in altro si ha da poner studio, che nel nasconderla: perché se è scoperta,leva in tutto il credito, e fa l´omo poco estimato." [*] : An dieser Stelle des Originalmanuskriptes des Cod. Laurenziano befindet sich ein von Castiglione gestrichener Passus,der aber sichtbar geblieben ist und später in Kapitel XXVII,26-29 auftaucht." "e ne gli animi di chi vede imprime una opinione che chi cosa facilmente (e senza fatica) fa bene: sappia molto piú di quello che fa e quella cosa ancor che sa, se vi ponesse e studio e fatica, potesse far (farla) molto meglio."
12 Bembo, Le Prose S.113
13 Paolo Pino,Zit. nach Barocchi,I,762
14 Ridolfi, (Hg. von Hadeln),1914,Bd. I,S.163
15 For instance.the Bacchanals for the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d´Este, were executed 1518 after the Assunta in precise consistence with the lighting system of the "Camerino d´ Alabastro" as Charles Hope has convincingly pointed out. (Charles Hope, The Camerino d´Alabastro, in: Art Bulletin 113,(1971),S.645) In a letter to King Phillip II Titian asked: "let me understand the light after the quality and condition of the halls or rooms in which they have to be set(put) up. "

We already have noted that the consistency of internal and external lighting systems is not a totally new innovation but can be traced back to the beginning of the 15th century. But the extraordinary scaling of the figures and the size of the panel is an absolutely new dimension in Venice and without any precedents.
16 Rosand Anm.20,S.57
17 Max Imdahl,Überlegungen zur Identität des Bildes, in :Poetik und Hermeneutik VIII.Identität,1979,S.201
18 Pietro Cataneo,L´architettura,Venice 1567,VIII,p.179
19 Thomas Frangenberg: The Image and the Moving Eye.Jean Pélerin (Viator) to Guidobaldo del Monte. Journal of the Warburg and courtauld Institutes,Vol. 49,1986,S.151
20 Alhazen,II,64-ed. Risner(1572) S.67,zit. nach Frangenberg 152
21 Alhazen,II,42-Risner 57
22 Frangenberg 153
23 Viator,p.A iiii r . zit. nach Frangenberg 156
24 Frangenberg 156
25 ibd.
26 Goffen 126
27 Rosand 58
28 Rosand
29 Rosand 59f.
30 Thomas Puttfarken: Tizians Pesaro-Madonna:Maßstab und Bildwirkung, in: Wolfgang Kemp (Hrsg.),Der Betrachter ist im Bild, Köln 1985,S.80



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