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Titian's London "Allegory" and the three beasts of his "selva oscura"

Simona Cohen
Renaissance Studies
Vol. 14, No. 1 (MARCH 2000), pp. 46-69
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24412750
Page Count: 24
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Titian's London "Allegory" and the three beasts of his "selva oscura"
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Abstract

This study presents evidence for a new interpretation of Titian's London Allegory, based on the well-documented literary and artistic tradition of the human/beast analogy and evidence of Titian's repeated use of moralistic animal metaphors to reinforce veiled levels of meaning. An important source for the image of the animal triad associated with concepts of moral transgression are the three beasts of Dante's Inferno, interpreted by commentators as spiritual obstacles to purgatory and redemption. Related triads were illustrated in quattrocento Franciscan art and in an Allegory by Bronzino. Bodiless animal heads were used to represent vices in Venetian art. Emblematic compendia of the late sixteenth century also show that the medieval animal symbols were still mirroring human morals. Although Titian's Allegory was begun in the 1540s, when he was in his early to mid-fifties, the elderly head of the final version, identified as a self-portrait, and the animals were added more than twenty years later, when Titian was in his seventies. These new elements were interconnected in a new conception that fundamentally altered the original pictorial statement. Preoccupation with issues of sin and penitence in his late works in general, and in the Allegory in particular, are linked to the religious upheavals of the Catholic Reformation, the Council of Trent, and the establishment of the Inquisition in Venice.

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