Book Review: Titian’s Boatman, by Victoria Blake

Publisher:  Black and White

Publication date: 26th January 2017


titians-boatman-coverThere is an epic vibrancy to Titian’s Boatman where the necessity of appreciating every morsel of life takes on new meaning as events unfold. The words wrap you in their splendour as they take you on a journey as relevant to the present as they were to the present.

The beautifully layered narration from a 16th century Venetian gondolier who tells his story of the time of disease and corruption that is partially cloaked in resentment, and for good reason. The brutally honest Titian’s Boatman tells of the ills that befell his family, the sights he endured, and the orders he willingly complied with. How this man came to know the great painter Titian as a youth and grew into boatman like his father before him is utterly compelling. The unwavering respect he offers to his masters is as intricate as the paintings of his time.

In 2011, a London gallery and an apartment in New York display these glorious, mesmerising works many centuries after the smell of turpentine and the raging tantrums have died away, like the muse who sat for them. Yet they remain as vivid and affecting as the day they were framed.

A particular canvass depicting The Man with the Blue Sleeve becomes an iconic symbol in this tale that spans centuries. The undetermined identity of the sitter and the way a painting may speak to those who care to visit it. In one case the painting actually verbalises its opinion to a thespian named Terry, and offers him some peculiar words of wisdom!

Each character is a captivating individual whose story is touched by a passion, hope, regret or desire that is present in all of them in varying degrees: The morose actor, his flamboyant director, the widowed housemaid from Cuba, our humble yet determined boatman, a successful and headstrong courtesan, and the artists whose work continues to enthral viewers who stand in awe before it.

Titian’s Boatman incorporates divine passages and glides effortlessly through the eras. His story conjures the artistry and imagination of the magicians whose brush strokes are as fluid and alive as the sitter themselves, their enigmatic essence immortalised and open for admiration and speculation. As the delicate connection of time begins to show its hand, so does the clarity that accompanies new beginnings everywhere.

A fascinating story, gracefully told. 

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher, with my thanks, and it is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

It is 1576 and Venice is in chaos, ravaged by plague and overrun by crime.

In the midst of the anarchy we find those brave souls who have chosen not to flee the city. Titian, most celebrated of Venetian painters, his health failing badly. Sebastiano, a gondolier who is the eyes and ears of the corrupted and crumbling city. And Tullia, the most notorious courtesan of the age, who must fight to retain her status as well as her worldly possessions.

In the present day, the echoes of what happened centuries earlier still ripple as the lives of ordinary people as far distant as London and New York are touched by the legacy of old Venice…

‘Travelling across time and place, this compelling intrigue captures the beauty of several Venices and the essence of Titian the city’s most scandalous genius.’
Francesco Da Mosto

‘From the squalid glamour of 16th-century Venice to modern-day London and New York, Titian’s Boatman demonstrates the power of art to bridge the years and transform lives. With fine, elegant brush-strokes, Victoria Blake has created a rich and enchanting novel.’
Rory Clements, author of Sunday Times bestseller Holy Spy



(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Victoria Blake s love of Italy and history was inspired by her father, the historian Robert Blake, famous for his pioneering biography of Benjamin Disraeli. She grew up in Queen’s College, Oxford where he was the Provost. After studying history at Lady Margaret Hall she subsequently worked in law, publishing and bookselling.

She is the author of an Oxford-based crime series featuring the PI Sam Falconer and has written two true crime books for the National Archives, one on Ruth Ellis, and one on Florence Maybrick. Her historical novel Far Away was shortlisted for the Historical Society Novel Indie Award 2016.



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