His statement argues that the latest and unfinished works of the artist should be reassessed with more appreciation than the works completed during his mature period, as they enable the viewer to understand the trace of the under painting and the original intention of the artist, not necessarily because of the virtue of incompleteness and ultimo that they spellbound the viewer. Pliny the Elder’s statement seems to be valid explaining artists’ old-age style, especially for the ones who had a long career like Michelangelo and Titian.
The old-age style is not necessarily limited to the aesthetic style, which the artists from the same period perhaps shared in common, but it also refers to the latest phase of the artistic career of the artists who were active for a long time. Therefore, each old-age style of them is obviously differentiated in terms of their perception, ideal, and background. However, Pliny’s statement is not thoroughly suitable, but sound feasible for reassessing their art historical values. He warns on the contradiction of giving the works the biased credits for only being latest and unfinished, which would be false impression on the contrary.
Michelangelo and Titian, whose time frames partially overlap to each other, certainly built up the established fames based on the long artistic career incomparable to their contemporaries. The old-age style literally refers to the style of the artist in his old age, but we should not limit the meaning of this temporal phase as the word ‘old’ explicitly connotes. Apparently, the term gives a sense and expectation that those work will be somewhat less refined, polished, vital, perhaps aesthetically regress compared to the ‘mature’ style of the artist that established an honor to add the suffix ‘-schi’ to the end of their names.
Although the works they created are static and permanent objects, their artistic styles that dominated the period are in flux. The old-age styles of the high Renaissance artists predict the forthcoming of the Maniera and Baroque generation, and demonstrate the senile sublime, freely emancipated from aesthetic vanity, emotionally touching, and revealing much enhanced psychological depth. The latest works of Michelangelo, the two frescoes at the Pollini chapel in Rome he worked for almost a decade, close the long painting career of him.
Although these works were completed officially, they imply non-finito aspect enhanced by the medium, which began to be noticeable since the Last Judgment. The Conversion of Saul, executed first about two decades before his death, became the center of controversy immediately and got negative reception from the contemporaries. What Michelangelo depicted is far from the classical physical beauty and the artist engaged with his own perception to the episode.
The vision of Christ is exclusively shown to the anti-Christian Saul, as he becomes temporarily blind and gains insight instead. The artist explicitly illustrated the very internal experience of Saul and placed it above the earthly space parallel to the troops who fear the unknown voice from the sky. A newly suggested diagonal along with light and darkness enhance the dramatic tension from the left top to the foreground center connected by the beam of the God. The compact figures shown in each zone are the continuation of Michelangelo’s terribilita.
In the latter fresco, Crucifixion of Saint Peter begins to show the bold diagonal, which gives almost a proto Baroque aspect. Saint Peter with the upside down cross and the void surrounding him occupy the central picture plane. Although there is no strong suggestion of the light source other than sunset, the surrounding figures, especially their features, are in shade and less individualized. As they focus the center scene like mere spectators, the overall composition of the painting engages the viewer’s attention to be concentrated to the center as well.
The heroic torso of Peter fights against the gravity by lifting himself up and delivers the pain caused by the four nails on each feet and hands. He throws a daring gaze to the outward, invites the viewers into the pictorial space. The shallow space, as if the figures would spill into our space, no more retains the high Renaissance balance and harmony, as well as the figures somber and gracelessness suggests the end of its era with the negation to the fixed beauty.
The contrast of light and dark of Michelangelo is not as radical as the later phase of Leonardo foreshadowing the tenebroso of the next century but enough to inform that he as well acknowledge to the limit of the high Renaissance style and gradually shift to the new style. As these works are Michelangelo’s last effort in the art of painting finished about a decade before his death, they deserve Pliny the Elder’s statement as the example fits into the artist’s old-age style.
Not necessarily the artist weakened physically, but crucial as the works suggest that the artist perhaps had reached the pinnacle of his mature style, being free from the obligation to maintain his signature style. Pieta, the last work of Titian, which was left unfinished due to the death of the artist in 1576, perhaps is more feasible for Pliny the Elder’s statement as the example which is unfinished, and delivers the ‘sorrow for the hand that perished at its work’ due to the physical deterioration of the artist.
Titian’s mature style based on the Tuscan monumentality and Venetian colorito tradition enabled him to achieve international success from the early career. Titian’s figures, which were very palpable and articulated with sfumato begin to possess terribilita as he moves towards the later period, the tension and fear overwhelm in the pictorial space. His works executed in the last decade of his life, such as Flaying of Marsyas and Pieta, explicitly demonstrate the radical change in the artistic style.
Despite the tragic subject, Titian narrates the scene without any pity. His brushstroke handling different textures are somewhat minimized, rather showing rough and hazy painterliness, and the conventional palette suggests the radical changed in its tonality, which is no longer vivid or individualized; these intense styles almost foreshadow the later style of Rubens and Rembrandt. The Pieta also conveys the same dramatic tension, not as much as overwhelming like the former work but represent the subdued grief and agony.
Against the background architecture, marble nave with pediment, and two statues looking out of the pictorial space, four figures are arranged in almost like statues sculpted for a pediment. Moses and figures form a bold diagonal, balanced with a putto holding torchlight on the other side, yet conventional composition of Titian. Among the figures in a grief over the death of Christ, only Magdalena is stand out as a true protagonist whereas others are static and silent in subdued grief; she evokes the vivid drama into the painting with her explicit expression about to cry out and theatrical pose.
However, the most striking changes in the latest Titian’s are the tonality and brushstrokes, which are totally different from the old-age style of Michelangelo in terms of its artistic style and later appear in the latest style of Rembrandt. Perhaps it is due to the old-age that caused the bold and hazy brush strokes and change in his palette. Nevertheless, Titian was able to sublime his physical defect into the artistic style that is more grandeur, and filled with dramatic tension.
If Pliny’s ideal is the art in flux, these latest and unfinished works of old-aged masters should be praised more than the previous works in their oeuvre although the mature works reached the artistic pinnacle of the style of the time and the latest works with innovation suggested the foreshadowing of the later style. The artist’s work is a response to the style of the current and the great artists who we remember as old masters and whose styles never remained static.
Their works suggest innovation, and the styles were in flux; they learned, influenced, and built their own styles. Especially Michelangelo and Titian had a long artistic career that enabled them to reach the pinnacle and experience limit of the high Renaissance style. We see the grace and virtue of the old-aged master, who lacks the strength to leave the refined brush strokes or represent the subtle tonality, but whose work is free from all the obligations of the long-time practiced convention.