TITAN’S BOATMAN by Victoria Blake
Renaissance Venice was an extraordinarily beautiful, brutal, corrupt and compelling city, a melting pot pulsating with painters, merchants, patricians and courtesans. La Serenissima was a place where one in five of the population was reputedly a prostitute; a city where the nuns were as likely to proposition you or throw stones at you, as to pray for you. This was a city which belonged to the rat as much as the swallow.
Titian’s Boatman begins in the year 1576 when Venice has been ravaged by eighteen months of plague. Titian, one of the greatest painters of the age, a man who has painted Emperor, Pope, Doge and King is in his nineties and going blind. He refuses to leave the city and his son Orazio stays behind to look after him. Both men die and Titian’s estranged son, Pomponio, a priest, returns to the city to discover that his father’s studio has been ransacked and paintings are missing.
Titian’s Boatman imagines what happens next. It follows Sebastiano da Canal, a gondolier, and his search for revenge against the man who has brought about the terrible mutilation of his beloved father. It also depicts the vivid characters that Sebastiano conveys around the labyrinthine canals of the Republic. Amongst these are the licentious Pietro Aretino, Titian’s greatest friend and publicist, a pornographer, propagandist, blackmailer and poet and also Tullia Buffo, a famous courtesan. Returning to Venice at the same time as Pomponio, she finds her ‘Paradise of Venus’ has been stripped bare by thieving servants and that she, like the city she loves, is going to have to rise from the ashes.
Interwoven with these stories of Renaissance Venice, Titian’s Boatman tracks some of the stolen paintings to contemporary times. In New York, over four hundred years later, Aurora Famosa, venerates a painting of St Sebastian that hangs in the apartment that she cleans every week. It brings back memories of her childhood in Havana before she and her brother escaped from Castro’s Cuba. Contacted one day by the police she is informed that her employers, the Pereiras are under surveillance and that the painting may be collateral in a drug deal. Meanwhile in London, Terry Jardine, an actor rehearsing The Winter’s Tale, stands in front of his favourite painting in The National Gallery, Titian’s The Man with the Blue Sleeve. Much to Terry’s alarm and confusion, the man in the painting starts to speak to him, announcing his impending death.
Titian’s Boatman is a story of resurrection, redemption and revenge. Ultimately it is a story for anyone who has ever stood in front of an exquisite work of art and been filled with wonder.