Tag Archive for 'Titian'

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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.
  • Titian in Print Quarterly


    The latest issue of Print Quarterly (vol. XXIX, no. 2) features an article by yours truly on the Titian’s woodcut St. Roch (above). I went full retard on this, getting my fingers dirty in the Venetian State Archive and such. You should check it out.

    Here’s the opening paragraph:

    Titian’s designs for woodcuts of the early decades of the sixteenth century are remarkably varied in terms of subject, composition and purpose. The large St Roch is an interesting case for it was published with the insignia of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. The artist is recorded among the chapter brethren of this institution in 1528 and may well already have been a member there when he executed the design. The woodcut was evidently made to help raise funds for the construction of the Scuola’s new headquarters — a rare early surviving example of a devotional print produced for the purpose of institutional promotion. Although its composite design and blend of image and text make it unique in Titian’s graphic oeuvre, it has received less scrutiny than his other woodcuts. This article considers the available evidence in an attempt to elucidate the particulars of its creation and iconography, proposing an earlier date than the traditional one and inserting it into the context of Titian’s engagement with the heroic male figure in his work of the late 1510s.

    Erik Fischer 1920-2011

    Yesterday I received the sad news that the great oak of Danish art history Erik Fischer has died. More thorough obituaries will surely be forthcoming, so I just want to note briefly how important his work and example has been to myself as an art historian.

    Fischer’s distinctions and honors are many: among other things, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 1991, became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2000, and, already a knight of the Order of Dannebrog, was awarded its special Cross of Honor in 1997. This is because he, arguably more than anybody else of his generation, put Danish art history on the international map as a great humanist, scholar and teacher of the old school.

    Never particularly prolific in terms of publications — he seemed perpetually plagued by a perfectionist writer’s block — the work he did publish is exemplary, both for its erudition, its sensitivity and its originality. His explication of the scientific worldview of Danish Golden Age painter C. W. Eckersberg (1783-1853) was the first really to begin explaining that painter’s remarkable approach to a nature in which he saw the divine, and his analyses of the painter’s almost obsessive geometric approach to composition application of perspective are eye-opening; even if somewhat hard fully to believe, they lay bare the deliberation of a highly reflexive artist, and suggested how, in this, some of the most rational image-making conceivable, lies a rare surreal poetry. Continue reading ‘Erik Fischer 1920-2011′