Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If music be the food of love, play on

Tiziano Vecelli, who we know as Titian, was in his early twenties when he painted Three Ages of Man. Could he already be thinking about old age and death? I don't think so, but more of that in a minute.

What he was surely thinking about was -- well, check out the young woman on the left of the painting (click to enlarge) and you'll get the picture.

But he no doubt wanted a lofty theme, and give him this: His three ages of a "man" included women too.

Three ages, three triangles.

On the right, in a sweet pyramid, two infants sleep, watched over by Cupid, the god of love. The gender of the infants is indeterminate, but we can safely say we have a little girl cuddling on top of a boy -- the lovers on the left as babies. Already, Cupid is prodding them into amorous activity. Age of man number one.

In the near background, an old geezer -- Father Time? -- slumped into his own triangle, contemplates two skulls, which again must be those of our pastoral pair. Memento mori. Dust to dust. Age of man number three.

Titian would live into his mid-eighties, a grand old life for someone in the 16th century. When he painted this picture, in 1551-12 or so, death was probably far from the young artist's mind; it was more likely his unknown patron who needed to be reminded of our ultimate fate. Or me, at age seventy-five.

But who among us forgets age of man number two, the first flush of adulthood, vigor, beauty, the thrill of sex? We have caught our young lovers in a post-coital moment. They have made love and music. He, the shepherd, exhausted, fading into shadows. She, a shepherdess, in radiant deshabille, is ready for another go, her myrtle wreath a symbol of everlasting love. Her left hand on the phallic flute is about as naughty a metaphor as you are likely to find in Renaissance art. One thinks, for example, of Botticelli's similar but incongruously more chaste Venus and Mars.

Who, I ask you, would not fall in love with Titian's shepherdess? The luminous skin, the rosy cheeks, the expression both innocent and eager? She is not Madonna, Magdalen, or classical goddess, the tropes of the age, but only herself, the girl next door.

And who, at age seventy-five, does not remember the apex of the arc of life?