In his story, Lucas was sitting in front of Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece in the church of the Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari).
As I sat one day looking at this picture, a small grey and white cat sprang on my knee from nowhere and immediately sank into a profound slumber from which I hesitated to wake it. Such ingratiating acts are not common in Venice, where animals are scarce and all dogs must be muzzled.
Whether or not the spirit of Titian had instructed the little creature to keep me there, I cannot say, but the result was that I sat for a quarter of an hour before the altar without a movement, so that every particular of the painting is photographed on my retina.
Six months later the same cat led me to a courtyard opposite the Sacristy door and proudly exhibited three kittens.
Sigh. I haven’t met any cats or kittens during my many visits to the Frari, but I have read that in the former monastery next door (now the Venetian Archives), there’s a much loved colony of cats who keep the mice from nibbling away all the ancient documents of the Republic.
Here's the painting Lucas was looking at when the kitty jumped in his lap.
Titian painted it for the Frari in 1519-26, and it’s called the Pesaro altarpiece (or the Pesaro Madonna) after the noble and wealthy Venetian family who commissioned the painting (the crowd of people hanging out below the Madonna and saints are members of the Pesaro family).
I tend to think of it as the Frari’s “other Titian” since I am much more in love with his Assunta, but this one is a masterpiece too and in fact, many art historians think it’s the better of the two Frari Titians because it was so revolutionary to set the action on an angle and the perspective is so masterful.
It IS a gorgeous painting (and the colors are much much better in real life than they are in this scan). I love the little Pesaro boy who is looking right at us from the bottom right corner, and the Madonna is so very beautiful (Titian’s wife, Cecilia, who died young, was the model for her). And I really love the cherubs at the top – the contrast between that cute fat angel butt and the cross they are carrying is just perfect.