Christ And The Adulteress (1508-10) Titian

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Absurd comparisons can be telling. Try this. "He had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river.

"'Bother,' said Pooh, as it floated under the bridge, and he went to get another fir-cone. But then he thought he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, so he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped away beneath him... and suddenly there was his fir-cone slipping away too.

"'That's funny,' said Pooh. 'I dropped it on the other side'."

This is the origin of Poohsticks. (Sticks soon replace fir-cones.) It's strange that this elemental game should have been created only in the early 20th century. It's not so strange that Pooh's revelation should hold various basic lessons about the mind and the world.

For example, played as a competitive race between two dropped sticks Poohsticks demonstrates the power of delay. You could play the game without a bridge, with only a stream and a marked finish line, and it would work just as well. But the sticks would stay in view all through – and without the element of vanishing, the interval of invisibility, there would be no tension, no waiting, no surprise result.

Played with a solo stick it's equally enlightening. It teaches the continuousness of things, how something that has disappeared can reappear elsewhere. But it also teaches the discontinuousness of things. Something that's expected to appear may not appear when or where it's expected. However much you might try to gauge the speed and direction of your Poohstick, you will fail. It always arrives out of nowhere.

It shouldn't be surprising that Poohsticks has analogies with pictures either. It's a very visual game. It involves things vanishing and appearing, things going behind something else and emerging again. Pictures are made up of things overlapping other things. They're a tissue of hidings and showings. And occasionally something emerges from behind something else with no cue or apparent connection. The "out of nowhere" effect is one of painting's tricks.

The work on this page, Christ and the Adulteress, is a sumptuous Venetian painting with a changeable history. It was once credited to Giorgione. Now it is normally thought to be by Titian. The subject has been disputed too. It looks like Christ and the adulteress, though a few have seen Daniel and Susannah. But, most seriously, the painting has been literally carved up.

A copy by another artist shows what, roughly, it originally looked like. A narrow strip has been cut off across the bottom. More drastically, the whole figure of a standing soldier has been removed from the right side – you can still see the tip of his knee, in blue and white hose, just poking in. Most of this soldier remains lost, but a section with his head and shoulders has turned up, and is in Kelvingrove too. Fortunately no slices have been taken from the top.

The scene, Christian-Venetian, has divided loyalties. It has its figurative drama, a relay of turns and gestures, telling a story of accusation and repentance, rebuke and forgiveness. It is also a surface of rich material delights, a quilting of colours and textures, folds and gleams, whose pleasures seem indifferent to subject matter. The accusing man is just as gorgeously clothed as the accused woman, and Jesus himself hardly less.

But it is one small detail that becomes the emotional and sensational high point of the painting. It isn't directly a part of this human business. It's the background. The only bit of background that – as it stands – the picture has. (The surviving section of the soldier shows that in the original there was also a distant glimpse of the sea at the very right side.) In other words, it's that green grassy knoll, with trees and sheep, that appears above the woman's head.

It appears out of nowhere. We can suppose that somehow this mound of ground is continuous with the green grass verge of the foreground. But there is no visible path between them, nor are the two divided areas near enough to establish a smooth pick-up between them. This foreground disappears behind the group of figures, and so conclusively that when it reappears at the top of the picture, behind their heads, you aren't expecting it. There is a visual delay. It vanishes. It suddenly emerges. Poohsticks.

Other factors intensify this knoll. It provides the picture's maximum contrast between light and shade: the dark edges of building and cap against its bright green. It shows a little idyll of sheep, which have all kinds of significance in Christian parables and classical pastoral. It is a pillow of softness, on which the woman, leaning inward and slightly backwards, seems to be laying her head – a gesture that goes with the rather somnambulistic action of the whole scene, and seems to give her a blessing. But it's the pause, the interval, the effect of delay and sudden appearance, that gives this detail its piercing force.

About the artist

Titian (1485-c1576) recently made a surprising appearance in British politics. The issue came down to how long he had lived. We don't know, is the answer. But in his long life he discovered the full powers of oil painting, using it with unprecedented sumptuousness, tenderness, sexiness – and unprecedented roughness and bleakness. He turned his hand to religious ecstasy and pagan orgies, pampered nudes and meditative portraits, and in old age developed the first "late style" in European art – free and unfinished-looking, barely articulate, "painted more with his fingers than his brushes", as contemporaries said, made of "broad and bold strokes and smudges, so that from nearby nothing can be seen". Perhaps Mr Brown would say the same.

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'