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?

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