Of Dogs and Men: Titian and the Print Vernacular

Fig. 1. Anonymous woodcutter (after design by Titian), Submersion of the Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea (ca. 1517), woodcut on twelve blocks, state II/II, ca. 123 x 223 cm. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Titian’s woodcut Submersion of the Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea is a meditation on man’s place in nature. Confluent with the Biblical narrative it represents, its figures are enveloped in a raging storm, which swallows the advancing army at left while it lulls and disperses toward the right, allowing the Israelites to clamber safely to the rocky shore. Sunlight illuminates the sky from behind the craggy rock above them, suggesting a God’s-eye perspective on dramatic human events (Fig. 1).

Titian’s greatest achievement as a print designer, the 12-block Red Sea was designed, cut and probably published in 1517.1 It stands with his grand painted compositions of the time as a prime example of his heroic conception of storytelling and landscape. It is rendered with a sweeping, slashing line, in large part likely drawn directly onto the woodblocks for the anonymous cutter to carve in a remarkably rough, expressive manner.

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  1. David Rosand and Michelangelo Muraro, Titian and the Venetian Woodcut (Washington DC: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1976), no. 4. For more on the date, see Matthias Wivel in Bastian Eclercy and Hans Aurenhammer, Titian and the Renaissance in Venice(New York: Prestel, 2019), 104–7, no. 31. []