Tag Archive for 'Titian'

Titian Behind Closed Doors at the BBC


The BBC2 documentary Titian Behind Closed Doors, directed by Matthew Hill, aired on the BBC on Saturday night. It’s a treatment of Titian’s relationship with Philip II, the king of Spain, and the series of mythological paintings, the so-called poesie, that he painted for him. It coincides with our now-shuttered exhibition, Titian Love Desire Death, at The National Gallery. I was involved in pitching it to the BBC and gave an interview for it, but have not otherwise been involved. I recommend taking a look if you’re interested in the subject — it covers a lot of ground on a complex and rich topic. If you have access to the BBC iPlayer, you can watch it here for the next twenty-odd days.

Titian at the National Gallery


Before the world went sideways, I was working on an exhibition, Titian Love Desire Death, uniting seven masterpieces of mythological paintings by Titian (about 1488-1576) at the National Gallery. We managed to open the exhibition on 16 March. Three days later it closed along with the rest of the Gallery which was one of the last European institutions of its kind to do so. We have no idea when we will be able to reopen again and therefore whether we will be able to share this extraordinary collection of paintings with the public before they have to be packed and shipped onwards. I wrote about this situation for Apollo Magazine last week.


Titian called these pictures poesie in order to emphasise the inspiration he had taken from classical poetry and the ambition to have them work as visual poems. The group of six canvases were executed for Philip of Habsburg, King Philip II of Spain from 1556, between about 1551 and 1562, while a seventh was never sent and only completed towards the end of the artist’s life. The six have not been seen together since, probably, the 1570s, and the seventh has never been displayed with the rest of the group. This was a dream project, not just of mine but any Titian or Italian renaissance enthusiast for generations.


I have been privileged to play a part in its realisation and hope you will want to take a closer look, if not in person at the National Gallery, then perhaps at one of our partnering venues: the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museo del Prado in Madrid or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, to where the paintings will tour, if all goes well and the pandemic doesn’t get in the way of that too. And if not there, then perhaps virtually — we will doing our best to share our knowledge and appreciation online over the next months, in part under the #MuseumFromHome tag. Also, there will be a documentary dedicated to Titian and the poesie, in which I participate, broadcast on BBC 2 on 4 April and I believe Mary Beard will be featuring the works on Front Row Late sometime soon as well. Will post links in here when and if.

Our exhibition film is based on the BBC’s footage, a taster of which can be seen in the following short video on the paired Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto:

Here is a Facebook Live I did on 16 March, before we opened to the public. It was done under the worrying shadow of Covid-19 so bear with the slight incoherence. In the run-up to the exhibition my colleagues and I also did a series of FacebookLives on the individual paintings — they can be accessed here.

A creative decision that we made early in the process and which I was particularly happy with was to reframe Philip’s six pictures in matching frames in order to harmonise the display. Handcarved in the National Gallery framing department by Peter Schade, our Head of Framing and his team, they are based on the original sixteenth-century frame around Titian’s late Pietà at the Accademia in Venice. Check out this nice video the Gallery produced on the project:

They *are* such wonderful paintings.

Titian Upgrade at Apsley House


Over at Apollo Magazine‘s website I provide my assessment of a picture of Orpheus, which has recently been restored in the process plausibly been associated with Titian. Go, read.

Titian’s shitting dog


That got your attention, I hope? Yes, Titian drew a shitting dog, which he inserted into one of the most monumental compositions of his early years, the twelve-block woodcut of the Submersion of Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea (c. 1517), right next to the figure of Moses! (detail above) In the latest issue of Art in Print, I examine the meaning and sources of this coarse insertion into what on first sight seems a grad and heroic composition, but — while it is certainly that — upon further inspection is inflected with a realism that is almost unprecedented in Venetian Renaissance art, informed as it must be by Titian’s possibly traumatic experiences of war during the struggle of Venice against the powerful League of Cambrai. Read more at your local art library or, if you’re a subscriber or would like to become one, online right here.

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!

Celebrating Paul Joannides

It was a great pleasure, in the run-up to Christmas, to announce the publication of the latest issue of the art history anthology Artibus et Historiae, which is a special issue dedicated to Professor Paul Joannides, formerly of the University of Cambridge, now Emeritus.

I was one of the guest editors of this project, working with a group of Paul’s former students and friends to put together a publication that we thought he would enjoy, a Festschrift to mark his retirement a few years ago, but beyond that of course his significance as a scholar and teacher in his field. It was all kept a secret and took about two years. We’re proud of the publication and happy in this way to honour a great teacher, mentor and person.

The list of contributors includes many of Paul’s friends and colleagues, some who have known him for most of their lives and some who only got to know him in recent years, as his last students. The list of contents can be perused through the link above.

I managed to contribute an article myself. Here’s the abstract: Continue reading ‘Celebrating Paul Joannides’

Merry Christmas from the National Gallery

This is the kind of thing that helps me cope. Apologies for any awkwardness!

What I’ve been up to


It seems increasingly meaningless these days, right? Yet, these are some of the things I’ve been up to over the last month or so.

ITEM at Apollo Magazine online a few weeks ago, I wrote an appreciation of the great Harewood Titian drawing (above), which is currently under temporary export bar and risks leaving the UK for an overseas home if a matching offer isn’t met before 20 December.

ITEM In the latest National Gallery Technical Bulletin (vol. 37), Chris Fischer, Rachel Billinge and I analyse new technical evidence concerning Fra Bartolommeo’s Virgin Adoring the Child with St Joseph in the National Gallery’s collection. Newly recorded infrared reflectograms reveal underdrawing that straddles the gap between his disciplined Florentine training and the flowering lyrical undercurrent in his work that was stimulated so decisively by his visit to Venice in 1508. We also publish a series of replicas/copies of the composition, including the one in Brescia and a previously unknown one in a private collection, both probably made in his San Marco workshop. The issue also contains articles on Dutch seventeenth-century flower painting, Daubigny and Van Gogh. Consult at your art library or wait till the content is made available online.

ITEM The latest volume of Studi Tizianeschi (no. IX) contains my review of Tom Nichols’ flawed but occasionally stimulating book Titian and the End of the Venetian Renaissance. But don’t get it for that — the issue contains Paul Joannides’ and Jane Turner’s long-awaited and magisterial examination of Titian’s and his workshop’s many versions of the quintessential Venus and Adonis composition, a material that would pose a heroic challenge to any Titian connoisseur. There are other interesting articles on Titian-related matters too, naturally. Again, check it out at your library or order here.


ITEM a couple of my comics reviews have been published in Information (in Danish). Firstly, it concerns the Danish omnibus-like edition of Simon Hanselman’s bleakly funny and deranged comics about Megg, Mogg and Owl (above). It predates last year’s Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, but pretty much every strip he made prior to that is in it. Next up is Drømme i tynd luft (‘Dreams in Thin Air’), a comics documentary on the formation of the first Tibetan national football team told by the Danish idealist who helped it happen, Michael Magnus Nybrandt and illustrated by the talented Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen. It’s a fascinating story, but the comic lacks dramatic and psychological interest, despite a few inspired passages. Anyway, even if you don’t read Danish, you may be able soon to see for yourself, as several international editions are in the works.

ITEM Oh, and I’m back writing story notes in the Fantagraphics Carl Barks series, which is of course fantastic fun. In the latest book, I wrote about the so-called ‘Donald Duck Rants about Ants’ — a true horror comedy steeped in 1950s paranoia as only Barks can do it. But, you know, get it — and the series — for the comics.

Bacchus and Ariadne: the Long and the Short


Serendipity would have it that two separate digital initiatives at the National Gallery had me talking about one of my favourite paintings in the collection, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, for two consecutive weeks. One was our #PaintedLovers campaign for the Valentine’s Day season, which consisted of a series of very short and (hopefully) to the point expositions on selected paintings with love as their theme by myself and colleagues (above). The other is a new initiative, #NGYouChoose, where the public votes for paintings in the collection to receive more in-depth facilitation from the curatorial staff. This consists of a public lecture of half an hour or so that is then posted to the Gallery’s YouTube channel (below).

It was a fun exercise, and hopefully the lectures and videos have been useful to some of you. I’ve got to admit, however, how difficult I find it to talk to a camera. This is particularly evident in the #PaintedLovers video, where I was ad-libbing a presentation where everything had to be on point, i.e. clear, devoid of mispronounciations, uhs, digressions, etc. I come across (to myself, at least) as mannered and robotic. As such it is a pretty good reminder that I need to loosen up when speaking into the dark glass.


The #NGYouChoose lecture was also improvised — which is the way I tend to prefer it — and its lack of tight coherence shows it, but at least I feel more relaxed. I am talking to an audience that is right there, and that helps. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that the camera mercilessly captures every nervous head scratch, every superfluous gesture, and my incessant shifting of feet. I get sea sick watching it.

Sorry, this is mostly a bit of autocriticism. If nothing else, I hope it will help me do better videos in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy at least some of what I have to say on this terrific painting. Do let me know, and thanks for watching.

Hype: Titian’s Early Portrait of a Man in Copenhagen


And they keep coming… although this is probably the last one in a while. Part of my core research as a fellow at Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen centred on the early Titian portrait of an elderly man (above), which is on long loan to the gallery from Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. That the sitter might just be his teacher, the great painter Giovanni Bellini, doesn’t make this sensitive portrait less interesting. The results of my research, and — crucially — that of restorer Troels Filtenborg, are now published (in Italian) for all to see in the storied journal Arte Veneta, published by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice.

Here’s the English abstract:

The article provides a thorough examination of the Portrait of a Man by Titian in the collection of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, on permanent loan to Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Its provenance is laid out in unprecedented detail. A thorough technical examination reveals that the portrait was painted on top of another, cancelled one, showing a figure dressed in a red garment. It further reveals that the landscape view at left was added to what was originally a plain background. The painting’s attribution to Titian, which has been occasionally disputed, is considered and affirmed with reference to the technical evidence as well as comparable works in his oeuvre. This also provides a likely date of completion around 1512. Lastly, it is proposed that the first, overpainted sitter may have been the Venetian senator Andrea Loredan di Nicolò, for whom Titian worked his early years. As for the person portrayed in the finished picture, the long-standing if controversial hypothesis that he may be the painter Giovanni Bellini is discussed. While this identification impossible to affirm conclusively, the authors consider the arguments in favour sufficiently strong that it should not be dismissed.

The volume can be acquired directly from The Fondazione Cini, as well as from Mondadori. Or any self-respecting art library, I should think, for those understandably reluctant to fork out the big bucks.

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!

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’

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?