An Unknown Titian?

Apparently the picture above was sold at auction in Switzerland last week. It went for €460,000 at hammer, which is a hell of a lot for a picture described as copied after Titian in the sales catalogue. Clearly several bidders suspected it might be the real thing.

Brendor Grosvenor of Philip Mould informs us that the picture is extremely dirty, which makes fair judgement difficult, as does the inferior digital reproduction. My immediate reaction was that it looks like the so-called Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione in Dublin, a picture which is usually dated 1523, because we know that Castiglione (1478-1529) visited Venice that year. The identification of the sitter in the picture, however relies mostly on what is clearly a later annotation at top right. The likeness, if compared to confirmed portraits of Castiglione such as the famous one by Raphael, is slight, and stylistically the Dublin picture looks to me to be from around 1530 or even somewhat later.

Returning to the picture at hand, it shows the same conception of figure: not only is the sitter posed very similarly, with an opening toward a landscape at left, but the device of him looking into space, as if in thought, with a proud, slightly elevated demeanor seems to me to be something Titian developed around this time, and would later take to great heights in his humanist portraits of the following decades.

That being said, the picture does not immediately strike me as by the master himself. The handling of colour in the face especially seems to me a little to dry and overbaked, with none of the vibrancy of Titian. The hand looks better though and the rest of the picture is impossible to judge.

I may of course be entirely wrong: working from a reproduction is unreliable at the best of times and this particular image is exceptionally muddled, as apparently is the painting itself. Also, Titian’s quality of finish did vary, as is evident from the recently upgraded Portrait of Gerolamo Fracastoro at the National Gallery — an attribution that I’m coming around to, even if the picture is discouraging in terms of its quality. Lastly, the painting may have been retouched by a later hands, as often happens — especially with damaged pictures.

I do not know who Gabriel Solitus of Ferrara was and have not had the time to look him up. Obviously, any serious investigation of the painting would have to take into account this identification, which was presumably added to the painting by somebody other than the artist in a cartouche at upper right, reproduced separately at the auctioneer’s entry for the painting. Incidentally, the Dublin portrait carries its annotation in the same area.

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