Monthly Archive for June, 2013

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’

Remembering Kim Thompson

Photo taken by the author at SPX in 2004


I was incredibly saddened to learn of Fantagraphis co-publisher Kim Thompson’s death last week. At age 56 it is early to go and my deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues. He shall be sorely missed, not the least within the field of comics where he made his mark.

Although I’ve written a proper obituary in Danish over at Nummer9, so much has been written about him online in English over the weekend that I won’t bore you with a translated version and instead merely refer you to the obituary up at the website of the magazine he helped shape, The Comics Journal, as well as to Tom Spurgeon’s helpful collection of links and selected works. Here are a few short personal reminiscences instead:

I didn’t know Kim well, but met him three or four times over the last ten to twelve years. I guess our common Danish heritage had some say, if nothing else in the projects we ended up collaborating on. In any case, it was a joy to hear him speak the language in his melodious, nineteen-fifties accent, preserved since his childhood as if in amber. Anyway, we collaborated on a few bits and pieces. He accepted (and even translated!) my first interview — with David B. — for The Comics Journal #275 back in 2005 and two years ago he accepted for publication at Fantagraphics the Nordic anthology I was editing, Kolor Klimax.

The book was financed by the Finnish Comics Society, but Kim’s swift acceptance of the project was a deciding factor in its success. I of course sent him samples of the content in advance, but he clearly trusted that I would put together a book that met his standards and not only took it on, but didn’t interfere with its production. The descriptions I’m now reading all over about his hands-off editorial style therefore ring true. It seems to me that his quality control lay in the initial selection of projects to take on — something he was clearly skilled at — after which he let people do their own thing, getting involved only in the copy editing, for which he had a unfailing eye. One thing he reminded me of with Kolor Klimax was the difference between English and continental European separation of numbers: the former employs full stops whereas the latter uses commas. Confusing the two is a common error with Nordic people otherwise proficient in English, he wrote to me.

We discussed a number of other projects, including ones on two of his favorite artists: Storm P. and Franquin. Whether these will ever see the light of day is now doubtful, of course. I would assume better chances for the former, however. Franquin, as Kim would often point out, simply does not seem to click with American readers, much to his bafflement. As things happened, our last ‘collaboration’, was on the Tardi feature in the latest Comics Journal (#302), for which I was given space to write about the masterwork 120 Rue de la Gare as a kind of coda to his career-spanning, revelatory and very human interview with Tardi. It was an honor, just as it has been a honor to know, however superficially, this kind, intelligent and hard-working man whose spark was a vital one in comics.

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.

Thanks for a Great Festival

Late Sunday crowd

Continue reading ‘Thanks for a Great Festival’