Archive for the 'pictorial arts' Category

Hype: Titian and Bonasone


Here’s another one. In the latest issue of Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (vol. 77, no. 3) I have an article on Titian’s collaboration with the printmaker Giulio Bonasone in the early 1560s. Examining their collaboration not only sheds new light on Titian’s active involvement in printmaking, but also on the chronology of his paintings for Philip II and the Spanish court during these years. And then there’s the above drawing, always placed in the Titian studio but never convincingly attributed. I think I’ve made a decent case that it’s by Bonasone (with retouching just possibly by Titian himself).

Read it at your art library! TOC here.

Hype: Titian’s Venus and Adonis in prints

Giulio Sanuto after Titian, ‘Venus and Adonis’, 1559, engraving, 538 x 415 mm. Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst.


In the latest volume of the Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft the interested reader will find my article on the permutations of Titian’s famous Venus and Adonis composition in sixteenth-century prints, and through them in painting. It turns out that careful examination of the sources and the prints yields fascinating information on how the master developed this, one of his most enduring compositions through multiple versions during the course of a long career.

Here’s the abstract:

Titian’s Venus and Adonis was one of Titian’s most successful compositions and remains among his most iconic. Around a dozen painted versions are known today, the most famous being the canvas painted for Philip II around 1552–54 (Prado). Less well-known are the seven prints made of the composition in the latter half of the sixteenth-century. This article demonstrates that at least two of these were made with Titian’s approval and that they provide valuable insight not only into his work with printmakers, but also his production of replicas, reflecting as they do intermediate stages in his development of the composition through the 1550s.

More information here.

Hype: Titian caricaturing Michelangelo and Raphael painting the Pope’s Beard

No, these aren't the caricature mentioned, but they're also by Titian (and/or his assistants), and they're on the back of the Ancona Pala Gozzi.


In the latest issue of the scholarly journal Artibus et Historiae, I have an article on a caricature found on the back of a Titian canvas, seemingly depicting Michelangelo. It’s fairly speculative, I suppose, but that’s the nature of such things, and in any case it engages a number of issues — caricature, cartooning, the grotesque — that have been chronically under-examined in the history of art and the humanities in general. Oh, there’s also an extensive excursus on Pope Julius II’s beard, and Raphael and Leonardo are implicated…

Here’s the abstract:

The article examines drawings found on the back of the canvas of the recently surfaced Portrait of a Man (Girolamo Cornaro?) painted by Titian around 1511–1512. Drawn with the point of the brush, they depict a large head in profi le and two smaller figures. Loose and broad in execution, at least the former belongs to the domain of caricature. By comparison with similar drawings, on paper as well as the versos of other paintings, the drawings are here attributed to Titian. Further, the possibility that the head might be a portrayal of Michelangelo is explored, as is its value as evidence of the reception of Michelangelo’s outsize public stature and self-fashioning as an imperfect, Socratic artist whose work carried palpable overtones of the grotesque. The two figure studies, in themselves acutely Michelangelesque, are related to inventions by other contemporaries. Next, the fact that the caricature wears a beard, but no moustache, occasions an excursus on contemporary facial hair generally and specifically that of Michelangelo’s patron, Julius II. Ecclesiastical beards were a controversial issue at the time, and shaving one’s upper lip carried liturgical significance. Julius was the fi rst Renaissance pope to grow a beard, as is famously charted by Raphael in his portraits of him in the Vatican frescoes and elsewhere. By focusing on the depiction of his beard, the article sheds new light on the iconography of these pictures and potentially their confused chronology. Lastly, Titian’s drawings are examined in the context of contemporary grotesques with reference to Leonardo’s explorations of exaggerated physiognomies. On this basis, it proposes a reevaluation of Renaissance caricature.

The issue is second of two dedicated to Professor Peter Humfrey in his retirement. I am very happy to thus take part in the celebration!

Artibus et Historiae vol. 68 is available now in a specialist library near you!

The Week

The week in review

OK, I’ll try again. As should be evident, I’m not finding much time to blog these days, but I refuse to let go entirely, and who knows if times might not turn more propitious, Bunker-wise in the not-too-far future? Also, the National Gallery internet presence, which I’ve previously hinted at, is also still in the works. So, not much to say right now, but I have some links to share!

  • In-depth interview with Jean-Luc Martinez, the recently appointed director of the Louvre. Excellent, critical interview in which the director at Tribune de l’art takes his time to answer Didier Rykner’s not always easy questions. In three parts: one, two, three.
  • Pharoahe Monche interviewed. Another in-depth interview, this one with one of the greatest rap lyricists. Candid and insightful.
  • T.J. Clark on Veronese’s Allegories of Love at the National Galleries. Clark takes a close look at four wonderful pictures that just happen to be on display in one of the great exhibitions of the decade right where I work. Clark does tend to go on a little long, but it is still highly worthwhile to follow his eye.
  • How Not to Make a Graphic Novel. Fine piece by Sean Michael Robinson on the creative process as it pertains to long-form comics.
  • Raphael’s Influence on Titian 1508-1520. Kiril Penušliski examines the evidence and adds a few good observations to the evidence. Now, somebody should examine more closely Titian’s influence on Raphael…
  • At the National


    It’s been a month already, and it’s been the blast. This is my new workplace — I’m doing my best to be steward to a mind-blowing collection of Italian paintings, with some really big shoes to fill. (Wish me luck). It’s still a little unreal, not the least because I’m still segueing between Copenhagen and London, moving only in January. In between at the National.

    Kurt Trampedach RIP


    One of the great painters of his generation, in Denmark and internationally, Kurt Trampedach died a few days ago at age 70. When he was good, he painted the human condition as lonely and traumatic, but ever inquisitive and seeking. He was a close friend of my father’s, so his images came to mark my childhood, as did his voice and occasional alert presence. My best memories of him are from a childhood summer vacation spent in his mountainside home in the Basque Country, and seeing him ecstatic, wielding a huge wine glass filled with Schweppes Bitter Lemon, at the reception for the retrospective exhibition my father organized of his work at Sophienholm, Lyngby in 2001. He was talking his head off, hugging friends and strangers, high on life and art.

    Rest in peace.

    For those with Danish: My dad on his friend, Peter Michael Hornung’s fine obituary,and Peter Laugensen’s, Steen Baadsgaards excellent 1995 documentary on Trampedach’s life at that immensely fertile point in his career. Oh, and you could own the above picture.

    On Comics History and the Canon


    Just thought I’d collect links to a number of writings on comics I’ve done over the years on comics history and aesthetics, as well as some of the great or otherwise significant works that have shaped it, here and elsewhere. Hopefully it will be interesting or useful to anybody interested in the subject, not the least students that I’ve bored with it in the seminar room. Anyway, here’s an overview: Continue reading ‘On Comics History and the Canon’

    The Week

    Here in the United States we are experts in the knowledge that editorial cartooning is a dying art. In other areas of the world, however, it is an art that people die for.

    – Dr. Robert Russell

    The week in review

    The execution, earlier this year, of cartoonist Akram Raslan is another reminder of the untenable situation in Syria, of the kind we who are especially attuned to cartooning notice. As if we needed it. It is great that the deal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons so far seems to be going ahead (though, what about the chemical weapons in Egypt and Iran?), and good to see that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week. But I fail to see how the Assad regime can be regarded as anything but illegitimate by now. I realize the complexity of the situation in the region, how delicate affecting regime change would be, and the power vacuum any removal of the current despot in charge would cause, but how can one seriously contemplate having dealings with these mass murderers in the future? How will the region ever be more stable if they remain in charge? After a while, fear of change just becomes cynicism.

    Links:

  • I really shouldn’t be giving it any attention, but the new “Leonardo” find this week is symptomatic of a rising trend toward sensationalist PR stunts in the art world, where often dubious pieces are trotted out as genuine works by one of the great masters. Another example is the recent, silly attempt to upgrade a Velasquez copy at Kingston Lacy. The press clearly laps it up, but in the long run it has to be a problem for anybody taking seriously the study and facilitation of knowledge of art, as well as to the market. And it clearly makes one wary even of more serious proposals, such as that of the new, possible Titian I wrote about the other day.
  • Speaking of new finds, the sensationalist rollout of the fantastic Van Gogh discovery by the Van Gogh Museum last month is scrutinised and found wanting by Gary Schwartz.
  • And speaking of Nobel Prizes, the one for literature of course went to Alice Munro, whom I suppose is deserving and all, but when is the committee finally going to give it to Bob Dylan? Bill Wyman made the by now long stated case once again before the prize was announced.
  • Pusha T’s new album My Name is My Name, seems poised as contender for album of the year if the singles are anything to go by. The Kendrick Lamar-featured “Nosestalgia” is hot, and “Pain”, released this week is Fyah! Also, check David Drake’s pre-release analysis here.
  • If you read Danish, Louise B. Olsen’s smart and elegant essay on Krazy Kat is a nice way to celebrate the centenary of that greatest of comic strips.
  • Oh, and this article on how the city of London has become an international tax haven for real estate speculators is just a depressing peek into the workings of global capitalism, not the least to somebody like yours truly who will soon be moving to that city.
  • Newly Arisen


    In the latest issue of the Burlington Magazine Artur Rosenauer has published a previously unseen painting of the Risen Christ as an early Titian of around 1511. The painting, measuring 144 x 116,5 cm. was in the Bülow Collection in the nineteenth century until 1929 when it went to Uruguay. It is now in a private collection in Europe. A spectacular find, especially if it is indeed by Titian. It is rare that genuine pictures by such well-described great masters, especially non-portraits, surface. Continue reading ‘Newly Arisen’

    Venetian Disegno


    Totally forgot to post this here in good time. It’s been a little crazy around these parts lately. Anyway, I’m organising this colloquium in Cambridge tomorrow. If you happen to be around, and are interested in the topic (slim chances, I know!), then by all means show up!

    Stop the Motor City Sellout


    As most of you are no doubt aware, Detroit is bankrupt, and one of the worse ideas the city has for keeping its creditors at bay is selling off the treasures in the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of America’s finest art museums. Deaccessioning masterworks from the collection, or dissolving it entirely, would be a great loss to the public, and to the city: no longer the industrial hub of yesteryear, Detroit needs to redefine itself in order to remain a vibrant city and and an attractive place to live and visit. Focusing on culture and other soft capital doesn’t appear like the worst way to achieve this, and in the DIA the city has an internationally significant cultural institution and a natural node of interest in such an endeavour, it seems to me. Besides, whatever money might be raised from selling off the collection is dwarfed by the city’s debt. It would be like pissing your pants to stay warm.

    Anyway, enough pontification. Jeffrey Hamburger from Harvard University has organised an online petition to convince the city of Detroit to leave the DIA alone. I encourage you to sign it, and leave any comments you may have.

    (Such petitions can make a difference, however small. Hamburger’s petition to convince the city of Berlin to leave its collection of old masters at the Tiergarten Gemäldegalerie may not have been the deciding factor, but it cannot have had an adverse effect on the recent, happy decision not to move the collection).

    Image: The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1566), one of the great works in the DIA.

    Anonymous Venetian


    The drawing reproduced above was sold last week at Sotheby’s London. It fetched £20.000 including the buyer’s premium. Which, if the old attribution to Titian were correct, would be an amazing bargain.

    As I’ve mentioned before, Titian is hard to pin down as a draughtsman because there are so few surviving drawings securely attributable to him. This sheet is definitely in his manner, but doesn’t look like his work to me. The construction of the figure, while daring and impressively conceived, is too incoherent, with the dramatically foreshortened right leg fitting awkwardly on the body — especially the lower leg — and the feet being disporportionately small. Also the outline of the head is a little sloppily put down. A far cry from Titian’s bold, confident strokes.

    But who is it by, then? The most obvious suggestion, and one that has been made repeatedly in the literature is Jacopo Bassano, but as is generally acknowledged, this is not really a satisfying attribution either. Again, the figure is not really of his type — it has a nimble quality too it that is at a distinct remove from his stout characters, and the bodily twist depicted here is unlike his way of posing his figures. And it is too accomplished, too expressively drawn and, again, too different in kind to be by his lesser talented sons.

    I don’t have any great suggestions, but it occurred to me that the drawing might be Paduan, perhaps by Domenico Campagnola (1500-1564). A follower of Titian in his early years, he worked in Padua for most of his life and was instrumental in defining a tradition for landscape drawing derived from Titian that would reverberate for centuries. He is almost exclusively known — and very well defined — as a draughtsman in pen and ink, however, while his chalk drawings are few and far between. In this sense, there is very little to compare with, and the drawing at hand in any case seems beyond his rather pedestrian approach to the figure. But if we think about his early, extremely innovative work in printmaking in the 1510s and of the anatomically somewhat awkward, invariably contorted figures he would populate especially paintings with in the following decade, we have something that may not be totally off the mark.

    A long shot, I know, but something to think about?

    Roskilde 2013 in Retrospect

    Kendrick Lamar by Kenneth Nguyen


    It’s been two weeks now since the Roskilde Festival. Two busy weeks with lots happening. It was another good year, however, not the least for hip hop, with a program focused on coastal innovation, from Kendrick Lamar to El-P and Killer Mike to Mykki Blanco and Azealia Banks. The notable misfire was Rihanna lip synching her way through a boring set Saturday night. Anyway, our coverage at Rapspot can be sampled here, and these are my contributions: Mykki Blanco, Killer Mike and El-P, Linkoban, and Kid Koala as well as my usual rap up commentary, which I’ve just uploaded. All in Danish. I’m sorry.

    Thanks for a great festival, everyone – and props to the graff people who celebrated their 15th anniversary at the festival this year with another great burn on the festival walls.

    See you next year?

    Titian in Rome: Notes

    The Gesuiti St. Lawrence before cleaning (not even the exhibition catalogue reproduces it in its present, beautiful state)


    In what is becoming a bit of a trend hereabouts, I’m writing notes on another art show which is no longer available for viewing: this time the Titian exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, which closed several weeks ago.

    As an exhibition, it was fairly lacklustre. The kind of blockbuster whose curatorial muscle is all the justification it seeks. Drawing primarily upon Italian collections for a retrospective presentation, the show included a fair number of undisputed masterworks (e.g. the Capodimonte Paul III (1543) and Danaë (1544-1545), the Washington DC Rainuccio Farnese (1542), the Kroměříž Marsyas (1570-1576), but nevertheless managed to underwhelm at least this viewer. Additionally, one may question the wisdom of allowing the former two and the latter of these pictures to travel as much as they have in the last decade or so, where they have all appeared in three to fours exhibitions each. These are some of Titian’s supreme masterpieces and it is vital that they be conserved for posterity and not be put at risk in this way. It is great to see them, of course, but they deserve a good long rest now. If we want to see them, we should be able to travel to the collections that house them.

    Anyway, the exhibition lacked both the animation of a central idea and the kind of visual-narrative weave that can make monographic presentations so exciting. At the end of the day, the selection seemed random and included unnecessary, substandard works (such as the Bargello mosaic Portrait of Pietro Bembo by Valerio Zuccato (1542), and the Budapest Portrait of Doge Marcantonio Trevisan by the studio, (1553-1554) that detracted from the overall effect.

    The hang, though not without good ideas and thoughtful juxtapositions, similarly ended up confusing matters, mixing as it did chronological, thematic, and typological presentations, scrambling all three. Also, there was a video, sponsored by the Venetian cultural mayoralty and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which attempted to provide an overview of Titian’s career uniquely by discussing pictures in Venice and surroundings. Not an easy task, given that so much of his most important work is elsewhere, and certainly an effort unsuited to a show devoted to the entirety of the oeuvre. A symptomatic short cut.

    All this being said, it was nothing less than amazing to see five (five!) major altarpieces by the master assembled in one place. The Gesuiti St. Lawrence (1547-1559); the Ancona Pala Gozzi (1520); the Vatican Pala San Niccolò (commenced mid-1520s, finished about 1535); the Ancona Crucifixion (1557-1558); and the San Salvador Annunciation (1563-1565). Taking up the first floor, they were presented majestically along with a selection of assorted contemporaneous pictures, some to very enlightening effect. Here are some notes: Continue reading ‘Titian in Rome: Notes’

    A Titian Fragment?

    Another possible Titian is coming to the block. The picture at right will be auctioned at Christie’s, London on 2 July. It’s clearly a fragment of a picture that was once bigger, most likely a half-length portrait. Is it a Titian? Christie’s seems cautious, having set the estimate at only £400,000 – £600,000 (low for a genuine Titian), while the experts they have consulted all agree on the attribution.

    While fairly obscure, the picture is not unknown in the literature. In addition to Berenson as cited in the entry, it was included in Fischl’s and Suida’s monographs on the artist (1904 and 1933, respectively), both of whom saw in it Titian’s hand. And my former supervisor Paul Joannides published it in Studi Tizianeschi in 2006. He agrees with the attribution, dating it around 1560, although he points out that the suggestion of the shoulder at lower right is a later edition, making it appear more like a complete portrait. My colleague Chris Fischer recently saw the picture and is less convinced, describing it as dry and somewhat dull in execution, lacking the depth Titian brings to his renditions of flesh especially.

    Judging only from the reproduction, I think it looks pretty great and have no problem accepting the attribution with the natural caution that I would reserve the privilege to change my mind were I to see it in the flesh.

    Update 30 June 2013: I have now seen the painting, and it seems to me convincing as a Titian. I’m unsure about the shoulder, which Joannides as mentioned has proposed is a later addition: it is very loosely painted and does not quite cohere with the head, which seems only tenuously attached to it. It may have made more sense before the canvas was cut, however. The canvas is of the herringbone weave type, which was spun in large sections, another indication that the painting must have been considerably bigger originally. Although most likely conceived as a half-length portrait, one cannot rule out that the present picture was cut from a larger, multi-figure composition.

    The head is marvellously animated, painted in thick, confident strokes, with wonderful detailing around the left eye and temple, and pentimenti around the ear. Although fairly broadly executed, the overall impression of the face and especially the flesh parts is of the kind of tightness one sees in Titian’s work of the 1540s and 1550s, rather than the deeper glow and more dissolute contouring of his work in the late 1550s through the 1560s. This is a very fine and highly imprecise distinction, however, and I would be loath to fix a date for it. In aspects it reminds me most of such pictures as the National Gallery Vendramin Family Portrait, which was largely painted in the early 1540s, but at the same time it is sufficiently broad in parts that it could easily be of the following decade.