Tag Archive for 'Titian'

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?

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’

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.

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.

A New Drawing by Titian


Above is a detail from a drawing that I’ve published in the new issue of the Burlington Magazine as by Titian. Not many drawings by the master is known, so this is a rare occurrence. I’m convinced that it’s by him, but am interested to see and hear what others think. So, if you’re interested, do look up the article.

The drawing was brought to my attention by George Goldner of the Metropolitan Museum in New York with words to the effect of “want to see a new drawing by Titian?” Needless to say, I am very grateful that he did.

The Week


The week in review

I’ve been asked a few times about the painting that the National Gallery in London has recently cleaned and put back on display as Titian’s portrait of the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, as mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Titian of 1568. It’s a difficult one. The argument, as presented in an article in last month’s Burlington Magazine, is based partly on plausible provenance, but mostly on the fact that it it carried on the back of its frame a 19th-century note identifying its sitter as Fracastoro.

The painting is clearly Titianesque, but rather dull. As mentioned repeatedly in the press coverage, by far the most attractive area is the lynx fur worn by the sitter — compelling tactile eruption flecking through an otherwise rather bland surface. In any case, it pales in comparison with the other Titians in the same room at the National Gallery. None of this means the attribution is wrong, however: it is apparently quite damaged, which probably accounts in large part for its somewhat unconvincing appearance, and although very consistent, Titian did have bad days.

Another problem is the identification of the sitter. He looks quite different from known portraits of Fracastoro, such as the woodcut on right. The sitter in the painting is clearly slimmer of face and with a thinner, more elegant nose, but he is also clearly older in the woodcut, which might account in part for his fuller, more plump appearance. Plus, we still know very little about the extent to which, and how, painters at this time idealised, rejuvenated, and otherwise altered the appearance of their sitters . It’s an issue, which always makes identification of sitters in Renaissance (and later!) portraits difficult. The nineteenth-century label helps in this case, of course, but is far from proof, even if it repeats an older tradition.

Summing up, I don’t see any reason to disagree outright with the proposal made by the gallery, which largely convinces, but cannot help but feel a little uneasy about it.

Links!

  • TPB AFK. A lot of people are of course already unto this, and have only watched the beginning, but I’d still like to point in its direction: Simon Klose’s documentary on the Pirate Bay trial promises an important document about a important moment in the development of digital rights discourse. Youtube link.
  • Eddie Campbell on the ‘Literaries’ and reception of EC Comics. Yes! Campbell formulates much more precisely than I could important aspects of what I’ve been trying get at in my comics criticism of the past few years. A must-read for people interested in comics and how we read them.
  • David Frum on Booker T. Washington. I’ve only started digging into these stimulating posts occasioned by the publication of Robert J. Norrell’s biography of the early black American leader, but warmly recommend them. Washington has long needed the nuanced and revisionist treatment he seems to be getting now.
  • G. W. Bush, naivist painter. This is almost too weird — and good! — to be true, but these are supposed to be bathroom self-portraits by the erswhile president. His vacant expression is very well captured indeed.
  • Stephen Greenblatt on Richard III’s bones. Typically intelligent, if breezy, take on the archeological find of the week.
  • And finally, this article on the problems faced by museums when accepting gifts with stipulations from the donor is an informative read. I’ve long thought that the control exercised by donors over what happens to their collections once donated to a worthwhile institution is often counterproductive, even onerous, especially in America. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is merely one egregious example that I’ve written about in the past.