Tag Archive for 'Leonardo'

Christmas odds and ends


So it’s nearly Christmas and I realise that I’ve been running behind even on the self-promotion (such as it is) in here. Fear not, I’ll have you caught up in no time, or just in time to wish you a merry one.

ITEM My exhibition Michelangelo & Sebastiano, which showed at the National Gallery last spring, was nominated for Exhibition of the Year at the Apollo Awards. Although we were beaten for the award by the amazing Raphael exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, it was needless to say an honour to be considered. I am proud of the work we did, warts and all, and hope some of you had the chance to come see it.

ITEM Speaking of Michelangelo and Raphael, they are — of course — two parts of the ‘Big Three’ constellation we are currently showing in room 20 at the National. The Royal Academy generously lent us Michelangelo’s Taddei tondo for Michelangelo and Sebastiano and have let us keep it till the end of January while they’re renovating and preparing its new display in time for their anniversary. For various reasons, my full online interpretation treatment on went live a few weeks ago. You can look at it here, and you can of course watch my Facebook Live introduction — previously posted – here.

Cornelis Cort after design by Titian, The Annunciation, second state, c. 1566, engraving


ITEM I reviewed Peter Lüdemann’s Tiziano. Le botteghe e la grafica in the December issue of The Burlington Magazine. on the use of graphic media in the Titian workshop. A stimulating if slightly incoherent book, which at times skirts the difficult issues but nevertheless collates little-studied material in enlightening ways. Here are my concluding remarks:

Lüdemann’s book is a welcome
addition to the literature. In addition
to providing the first analytical overview of
print production both in Titian’s workshop
and outside it, its central argument about
collaboration is strong. Titian himself never
cut, engraved or etched, which means that
any consideration of prints relating to his
output necessarily involves his workshop
practice and his arrangements with fellow
artists, printmakers and printers. It should
be obvious to any reader of this flawed but
fascinating book that the prints, and indeed
the drawings relating to them or otherwise
analogous to their function, are a particularly
illuminating key to a better understanding
of Titian’s work as a whole.

Read it at your local art library!

ITEM Our Christmas video series at The National Gallery this year focuses on gold as its theme. I participated briefly (see above) in the section devoted to the gilding of frames, discussing with our Head of Framing Peter Schade the spectacular altarpiece frame he created for the Gallery’s Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano and Michelangelo, which debuted in the aforementioned exhibition and is now on view around the painting in the Gallery’s room 8.

Merry Christmas!

The Week

The week in review.

Sorry, I can’t let it go. Yesterday I filed an article on the media shit storm over Charlie Hebdo‘s provocation, Riss cartoon speculating that poor, dead Aylan Kurdi might have become an ‘ass-groper in Germany’, had he been given the chance to grow up in Europe. I guess this small cartoon, buried deep within an issue with David Bowie on the cover and with many other, very different cartoons (one of which is at least as offensive…) is newsworthy, in the sense that anything Charlie does these days is potentially so. But: this is a still rather marginal left-wing magazine we’re talking about and casting it as the reincarnation of Der Stürmer or whatever in the manner of many, mostly uninformed left-wing critics is not only hugely overblown, but ignorant of context. Not to mention insensitive to the multivalent qualities of even heavy-handed cartoons. Look, it’s perfectly legitimate to criticise this cartoon for bluntly furthering an anti-refugee agenda — it clearly does, whether intentionally or, more likely, not –but this is mostly because of the media treatment of it. Continue reading ‘The Week’

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!

Merry Christmas

Leonardo da Vinci, Adoration of the Magi, 1481, oil on panel, 246 x 243 cm., Florence, Uffizi.

Picks of the Week

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • ‘New’ old masters. This seems to be the season of sensational (and ‘sensational’) discoveries. Headlining is the long-lost Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, which has turned up in an American collection and will be exhibited publicly for the first time at the sure-to-be-unmissable National Gallery show in London this fall. Several highly respected specialists vouch for its authenticity and it does looks like an extraordinary painting — look at the refinement of the right hand, the translucence of the sphere and the distant expression, the almost non-presence, of Christ. It fits well into the master’s modus operandi, better than, say, that pretty drawing from a couple of years ago.

    In other news, the Italian conservator, champion of the “Buffalo Madonna,” of which I wrote a while ago, has now made another find, this time in Oxford, which he also claims is by Michelangelo. And again, it seems obvious that his optimism knows few bounds.

  • The Illustrated Wallace Stevens at Hooded Utilitarian. The next week will see more than twenty artists illustrating selected poems of that great American master. I’m willing to bet already that few of them will be as hauntingly great as Anke Feuchtenberger’s, but am very much looking forward to seeing them all.
  • Ryan Holmberg on Shimada Kazuo and Tatsumi Yoshihiro. This is a bit old now, but I would be remiss not to link to the latest, and in some ways most impressive installment in Holmberg’s series on the birth of gekiga, in which he unearths an important missing link with what went before.