Tudor and Stuart fashion at the Royal Collection
May 15 2013
The Royal Collection has put on yet another excellent exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in London. Hot on the heels of the superb 'Northern Renaissance', the new show 'In Fine Style - The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion' looks at the sumptuous costumes worn at court in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Says the Royal Collection website:
This exhibition explores the sumptuous costume of British monarchs and their court during the 16th and 17th centuries through portraits in the Royal Collection. During this period fashion was central to court life and was an important way to display social status. Royalty and the elite were the tastemakers of the day, often directly influencing the styles of fashionable clothing.
In Fine Style follows the changing fashions of the period, demonstrates the spread of styles internationally and shows how clothing could convey important messages. Including works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Dyck and Peter Lely, the exhibition brings together over 60 paintings, as well as drawings, garments, jewellery, accessories and armour.
There are many fine pictures on display, including Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions. This is hung next to both Charles' Garter sash, and what is thought to be one of his lace collars (though personally I suspect it is too large to have been worn by so small a man). The pictures have been hung quite low, which makes them wonderfully accesible, and you can really peer into all the details of the costume. And don't forget that thanks to the Royal Collection's enlightened policy on photography (National Gallery please take note) you can snap away to your heart's content. Regular readers won't be surprised to hear that I took the opportunity to stock up on Van Dyck details. Note the smoother modelling of the flesh that Van Dyck appears to have used for his portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria - was this highly finished technique the result of a special command from the King and Queen?
In amongst the pictures are illustrated storyboards which tell you all you need to know about the clothes of the period, and in that respect the show is notable for what is not in it: I suspect (without naming any names) that other institutions faced with mounting an exhibition on Tudor and Stuart fashion would have gone down the route of talking mannequins, clever lighting, and fancy dress boxes for da kids.
As ever with the Royal Collection there's also a faultless and lavishly illustrated catalogue, written by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds.
Update - Richard Dorment in the Telegraph calls the show 'superlative'.
Update II - a reader writes:
I keep thinking you could have been the sitter for Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions.
Renaissance conference bonanza
May 8 2013
Picture: Palazzo Vecchio
There was recently a conference held at the University of Melbourne in February 2013 on The Power of Luxury - Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime. If you missed it, fret not, for Three Pipe Problem has videos and text of the whole lot here.
This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)
May 2 2013
Regular readers will be aware of the increasing misuse of the phoney Shakespeare portrait, above, which is now regularly appearing in newspapers, books and even pub signs. The latest case in the Daily Telegraph, however, caused me to choke on my tea and swear rudely at the computer. The image above will appear in a TV series speculating on how historical figures would look today.
The infectious spread of the phoney Bard must be evidence of how, subconsciously perhaps, people want Shakespeare to look like something out of the film Shakespeare in Love, and not the plain, bald man he really was. For the record, again, the sitter is of course Sir Thomas Overbury.
April 30 2013
Here's an interesting picture that came up for auction last week in Switzerland, catalogued as 'Follower of Titian - Portrait of Gabriel Solitus', with an old inscription 'Titianus' at top right. The estimate was CHF 4-6,000, but it sold for CHF 460,000 hammer - gently helped on its way by us here at Philip Mould & Co. With premium it would have been well over the CHF 500,000 mark, or not far off £400,000, all of which is clearly not a Follower of Titian price. So what was it?
I wouldn't be surprised if we see it surface again one day as a Titian, probably of the late 1540s/early 1550s. Titian portraits don't often come on the market, and Titian 'sleepers' are even rarer, so this picture represented quite an opportunity for picture hunters like us. We went out to see it, buoyed by some pre-sale research which made the attribution to Titian very plausible. In the flesh, however, the picture was so covered in dirt, overpaint and thick varnish that it was very hard to get a grip on the overall quality, while large areas of abrasion made one wonder what original paint was left. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the book. But much of the picture was impenetrable, hence it looking like a copy at first glance, and from the photographs. The picture therefore represented a significant risk, and as a result (and despite our very encouraging research) we didn't feel confident to take the bid any further. I'm sad we missed out on it though. My hunch is it's right.
Taking loonery seriously
April 16 2013
Picture: Mona Lisa Foundation
I was recently asked to take part in a documentary on the Isleworthless Mona Lisa, which is to be shown on Channel 4. The programme would, I was told, be:
[...] a balanced programme. We'll carry out more tests and give equal attention to the painting's supporters and its detractors.
Equal attention? Why? This is not some political issue requiring partiality. It's a documentary about a not very good copy of the Mona Lisa, which some people are, fantastically, trying to say is by Leonardo. A documentary should be about facts and a search for the truth. In this case, the facts - that is, facts recognised by art historians, not 'sacred geometry', whatever that is - only point in one direction; that it's a copy. To give the picture's supporters 'equal attention' would be to seriously mislead the viewer as to the value and significance of the case for the picture.
The story is more evidence of what I shall call Grosvenor's Law of Art Discoveries: the louder they shout, the less likely it is to be right.
'Elizabeth I and her People'
April 15 2013
Picture: National Portrait Gallery/Government Art Collection
The National Portrait Gallery's 'major Autumn exhibition' will be - 'Elizabeth I and her People' (10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014). The exhibition will, says the NPG, be:
[...] the first exhibition to focus in depth on Elizabethan society. As well as gathering together important portraits of Elizabeth herself, and building on fascinating new research, the exhibition will explore the lives of men and women who lived and worked during her reign from courtiers to country gentry, explorers, bankers, physicians and lawyers, artists and writers.
The exhibition will consist of rarely or previously unseen loans from private collections as well as iconic portraits from historic houses and museum collections.
More on Mahon's £10m 'Caravaggio'
March 29 2013
The Art Newspaper has an interesting update on Sir Denis Mahon's 2006 'Caravaggio' discovery. Regular readers will remember that Sir Denis bought it at Sotheby's, where it was called 'after Caravaggio', and Sotheby's are now being sued by the then vendor. I'm reliably informed that the picture isn't in fact by Caravaggio, but a competent copy.
However, TAN reports that the picture was jointly owned by Sir Denis and Orietta Adam, his close friend, and valued for insurance and export licence purposes at £10m. Which makes one wonder what sort of inheritance tax liability was levied on Sir Denis' half-share, whoever he left it to. 40% of £5m is quite a hit, especially if the picture is indeed a copy worth not much more than the £50,000 he paid for it.
Durer in Washington
March 25 2013
The Albertina's prized collection of watercolours and drawings by Albrecht Durer goes on display in Washington today in a new exhibition. More details here.
It's still not Shakespeare (ctd.)
March 7 2013
This portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury still keeps popping up as Shakespeare in the press, this time in the Sunday Times.
Liz & Bob together at last
March 7 2013
I went to the opening of the new V&A show, Treasures of the Royal Courts, last night. The exhibition allows you, as the blurb says, to:
Experience the majesty of the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to Ivan the Terrible and the early Romanovs in a major exhibition at the V&A. From royal portraits, costume and jewellery to armour and heraldry, Treasures of the Royal Courts tells the story of diplomacy between the British Monarchy and the Russian Tsars through more than 150 magnificent objects.
A star of the show was the 'Hampden Portrait' of Elizabeth I, which was almost entirely unknown until we here at Philip Mould & Company bought, restored and published it, with the help of Tudor historian Dr David Starkey. It used to hang, unloved, in the judges' changing room at Aylesbury Crown Court. I was delighted to see Elizabeth hanging next to a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her most determined (and possibly successful) suitor. The portrait of Dudley, on loan from Waddesdon, always struck me as being, most likely, by the same artist as the Hampden portrait. I think that more than ever having seen the two pictures together last night. Not that my opinion matters very much - if you think connoisseurship is frowned upon amongst art historians, wait till you try discussing it amongst 16th Century specialists. 'Authorship' is mightily sniffed on, and there's a determination to call everything 'English School'. You can read more about the painting and its history here, and about its possible artist, Steven van Herwijck, in my British Art Journal article here.
The exhibition comes highly recommended from AHN - I greatly enjoyed it. Being a multi-disciplinary exhibition, with everything from costume to statuary, it's one of those shows which shows the great value of a good curator. So great praise then to the V&A's Tessa Murdoch, whose selection of objects gives the perfect overview of what one might have found in a Tudor diplomatic baggage train wending its way to Moscow. The fine catalogue, which has the Hampden Portrait on the front cover, is also well worth having.
Update - a reader writes:
Was wondering how they got the loan of Bob from Waddesdon but checking on the website confirmed that it’s not part of the permanent collection there – which never lends – but one of the objects on loan from the Rothschild family trusts.
I think you’ve remarked before how unhelpful it is for specialists to be averse to attributing 16th portraits to particular artists or their circle. What’s worse is the approach is inconsistent: going through the PCF records as I have done there are cases where versions of the same portrait are, depending on the view of the collection curators, are in one case given to a named artist and in another to English School – or even British School. Aargh!
Titian in Rome
March 5 2013
Picture: Palazzo Pitti
A new Titian exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (5th March - 16th June) looks to be worth a trip. From the exhibition website:
Through iconographic comparisons - particularly emblematic, among the many that the exhibition will be hosting, is a comparison between the Crucifixion from the Dominican church in Ancona, the Crucifixion for the Escorial in Madrid, and the fragmentary Crucifixion now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna - visitors will be able to gain a direct perception of the master's innovative approach and compositional structure, in an exhibition designed to convey not only his crucial role as a religious painter but also his complex career as portrait-painter extraordinary to the nobility and aristocracy of his day. [...]
The exhibition will be accompanied by the results of an extensive campaign of scientific analysis which has encompassed a large part of the artist's output. Conducted by the Centro di Ateneo di Arti Visive at the Università degli Studi di Bergamo, the campaign has achieved results of the utmost importance in defining the relationship between autograph works and workshop products, and in fully documenting Titian's technical development from the earliest days of his apprenticeship.
Five star Barocci (ctd.)
February 28 2013
This is a beautiful, thrilling and intelligent exhibition, its exegeses so self-evident that the turbid and turgid, over-explanatory and occasionally foolish catalogue is virtually superfluous. For a less formidable introduction library users should borrow Nicholas Turner’s Federico Barocci, 2000 (ISBN 2-84576-025-6) though the reproductions are appalling; I commend, too, David Ekserdjian’s Correggio, 1997 (ISBN 0-300-07299-6), for some recollection of his work is essential if one is to understand Barocci. Having seen the exhibition, the visitor might find it fruitful to look at early works by Rubens, and paintings by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni and other painters from Bologna.
Five star Barocci
February 27 2013
I got back from New York yesterday morning, and just had time to dash round the preview (above) of the new Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery. It's an excellent show, enjoyable, informative, and even revelatory. But don't just take my word for it - Richard Dorment in The Telegraph gives it five stars, and although we're only in February, says:
All I can do is plead with you to go. This is the exhibition of the year, and the way things are going we won’t see anything like it for a long time to come.
Most of us will be familiar with Barocci's work from books, and the occasional painting seen in the flesh. But this exhibition is one of those rare moments when you finally get to see a mass of paintings by an artist whose work you thought you knew, and realise that you had no idea just good they were. It's sad that Barocci has been significantly under-appreciated by art history, but wonderful that the National Gallery has made such an effort to correct this. Not many leading galleries would give an artist like Barocci such a big exhibition, and if this is a reflection of Nicholas Penny's new academic focus, then we have a great deal to look forward to during his directorship.
Barocci's head studies (which he relied on due to an illness that it made it tiring to paint large pictures without full preparation) are amongst the finest in Western art. That said, in some of Barocci's larger pictures, like the Last Supper, the overall composition suffers from the fact that so many brilliantly observed head studies have been directly translated onto the larger canvas, for they all shine out at you, and the eye doesn't know quite where to look. I went round the exhibition thinking that Barocci would have made a great portraitist, and happily in the last gallery the exhibition includes a sublime c.1571/2 portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere.
Sotheby's sued over Caravaggio attribution
February 15 2013
The Art Newspaper reports that Sotheby's is being sued over a work it sold as a copy of a Caravaggio in 2006, but which might in fact be the real thing. The vendor is apparently claiming up to £10m. The word 'might', of course, is the crucial bit here, for although the late Sir Denis Mahon said the picture was by Caravaggio, other Caravaggio scholars have said it isn't. And Sir Denis might have had a conflict of interest - he bought the picture at Sotheby's, for £50,400.
The claimant is Lancelot William Thwaytes, who consigned the work to auction in 2006; it was catalogued as The Cardsharps, “a 17th-century copy after Caravaggio’s original now in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth”. The painting had been in the Thwaytes family since 1962. According to the claim that was filed at the end of January, Thwaytes seeks unspecified damages, interest and costs relating to the price difference between the £42,000 the painting sold for in 2006 and “what its true open market value was in 2006”, had it been attributed to Caravaggio and to be determined by expert evidence. The filing includes the claim that Sotheby’s did not undertake the necessary research and analysis prior to the work’s sale.
In a statement, Sotheby’s says that its “view that the painting is a copy and not an autograph work by Caravaggio is supported by the eminent Caravaggio scholar Professor Richard Spear, as well as by several other leading experts in the field”. Other experts who have gone on the record in support of Sotheby’s view include Helen Langdon, the Italian Baroque scholar and the writer of Caravaggio’s 1998 biography, and Sebastian Schütze, a professor of art history at the University of Vienna. In reference to Mahon’s The Cardsharps, Schütze writes in his 2009 catalogue of Caravaggio’s paintings that “the quality of the execution… rather suggests the painting to be a copy”.
So far, Sotheby's case would seem pretty strong, not least because it's very hard to sue an auction house if they make a mistake over attributions. The Terms and Conditions you sign when consigning a painting for sale effectively give them carte blanche to call a picture what they like. The only thing you can sue auction houses for is negligence - that is, say they didn't bother to do even the most basic research on a painting - and that is very hard to proove. In my experience, at least, the major auction houses usually are professional and diligent in how they catalogue pictures.
However, then Sotheby's go and spoil their case by saying:
Sotheby’s adds: “Our view is also supported by the market, which gave its verdict on this painting when it set the price at £50,400 [the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium] at Sotheby’s sale in December of 2006. The catalogue in which the painting was included was distributed among the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers—had they deemed the attribution different to that given in the catalogue, the price realised would doubtless have reflected that.”
This is a spurious argument, and I can't believe that anybody senior at Sotheby's has signed off on it. Such logic would rule out any cheaply bought 'sleeper' ever being right. And, if the inverse is true, it must mean that when 'the market' bids way over estimate for a picture called, say, 'follower of Rubens', then not only is the market right that it is by Rubens, but the auction house must wrong in stating that it is by a follower.
The 'Caravaggio' in question here was offered at Sotheby's minor saleroom in Olympia, which is now closed. It was a pain in the bum to get to, and only the hardy and determined tended to go and view paintings there. So it would have been quite easy for the 'the world's leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers' to miss the painting. It used to happen a lot, but sadly, for bottom-feeding dealers like me, doesn't so much these days; high-resolution online images mean most people can inspect pretty much everything on offer at auction, no matter where it is. But in the distant days of 2006 online images weren't as good as they are now, and the Sotheby's Olympia catalogues generally only had very small printed images. You can see the original catalogue entry here. So it's just not possible to use an auction sale price as proof of a painting's attribution. For what it's worth, I remember looking at the picture - and not having a clue that it might be by Caravaggio. The attribution is now also supported by, according to TAN:
[...] Caravaggio scholars Mina Gregori and Maurizio Marini; Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums; the curator and Bolognese art expert Daniele Benati; Thomas Scheider, a writer and restorer; and Ulrich Birkmaier, the chief conservator of the Wadsworth Atheneum.
Update - a reader asks:
A very interesting article on the Mahon 'Caravaggio' - do we know where it currently is, does it form part of the Mahon estate, which I understood was willed to the Art Fund, and on a slightly different matter, what is the news on Mahon's will, which I believe still hasn't been published?
Another reader also wonders:
Interestingly the article actually says Mahon “obtained an export licence for it that gave an estimated selling price of £10m”.
I assume this was a temporary one for the exhibition in Trapani as I don’t recollect any case before the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. Unless of course there was no objection to a permanent export licence by the Committee’s expert adviser, the National Gallery, which, given the rarity of authentic Caravaggios in the UK, one would expect there to be.
And what has happened to it since? I notice that the Mahon pictures in the National Gallery have not yet been accessioned, they remain “On loan from the Personal Representatives of Sir Denis Mahon”.
Update II - I am reliably informed by someone whose opinion on attributions I trust entirely, that the picture is certainly not by Caravaggio.
The wrinkly Elizabeth I
February 14 2013
I feel I ought to point out a few things about the 'newly discovered' portrait of Elizabeth I doing the rounds, which has gone on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. The fact that it shows Elizabeth with wrinkles has been cited as evidence of its extreme rarity. From The Telegraph:
[...] Thomas Herron, an author and English professor at East Carolina University, noted that the reason for the portrait’s obscurity may lie in Elizabeth’s efforts to control her image.
And according to Anna Riehl, author of The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Queen Elizabeth I the [...] portrait is a "rare exception in not covering up the queen's flaws”.
A 1563 draft of Royal Proclamation attempted to regulate the production and circulation of the Queen's portraits, and a 1596 order to the Privy Council commanded public officers "to aid the Queen's Sergeant Painter in seeking out unseemly portraits which were to her 'great offence' and therefore to be defaced and no more portraits to be produced except as approved by [the] Sergeant Painter."
While Herron points out that “the decrees don't specify ‘ageing’ portraits or even comment on the queen's own looks in any way”, many paintings of the time presented an eternally youthful Elizabeth. Herron also notes that visitors at her court commented upon the queen’s advanced age by the 1580s and 90s - as well as her dignified and benevolent disposition. He further observed that visitors offered less flattering descriptions.
In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes this conclusion about the painting:
In the new, unvarnished portrait of Elizabeth I, wrinkles-and-all, the artist has stepped over a fine line. All the accoutrements of her glamour are there, but the painter has gone just that bit nearer to the reality behind the myth than was required to give a portrait plausibility. The result is a cruel unmasking of power. Could this have been a deliberately subversive image, hidden away in the house of some rebellious lord? Here is the fairy queen, her spell broken.
Sadly, there is little we can deduce from this picture, and certainly not enough to make speculative claims of artistic subversion. First, contemporary portraits of Elizabeth I with wrinkles are not unknown. The famous Ditchley portrait in the National Portrait Gallery shows her looking quite aged, for example, though you can't get a full sense of it from the photos. Secondly, the picture above is a not particularly good workshop painting based on a 'mask' that would have been re-used many times. The features and lines, in the process of copying, have become exaggerated. Finally, the effect of the wrinkles is exaggerated by the condition of the picture, in which a greyer ground layer is coming through pink flesh tones which have both faded and been somewhat abraded.
The 1563 proclamation referred to in The Telegraph almost certainly relates to the earliest portrait type of Elizabeth as Queen, an example of which we currently have here in the gallery. The Queen evidently didn't like these portraits, which the proclamation said 'did nothinge resemble' her. They were swiflty superseded in 1563 by the Hampden portrait (which we also once had here at Philip Mould) which was much copied, and set the pattern for the remainder of her reign.
Update - a reader writes:
Yes I thought that too about the Wrinkly Elizabeth. The 'rebellious Lord' bit was like something you'd hear from a well-meaning country house guide.
That type is curious - a highly individual Ditchley variant. I've seen a few examples - probably more than any other late type, but still fewer than you ever see of Henry VIII. Strange how rare relatively Queen Elizabeth's portrait is. Where did all these corridor pictures go?
Update II - another reader writes:
Too bad you pooh-pooh this wrinkly Elizabeth as a "not particularly good workshop painting" -- I confess with head lowered that I find it deeply poignant and oddly impressive. Ah well, that is the advantage of not having any connoisseurship expertise, perhaps!
Tudor & Stuart royal fashion at the Royal Collection
January 29 2013
Picture: Royal Collection
What's this - yet another Royal Collection exhibition to look forward to? From the Royal Collection press office:
For the Tudor and Stuart elite, luxurious clothing was an essential component of court life. Garments and accessories – and the way in which they were worn – conveyed important messages about wealth, gender, age, social position, marital status and religion. Through the evidence of portraiture, In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion traces changing tastes in fashionable attire and the spread of fashion through the royal courts of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Using paintings, drawings and prints from the Royal Collection, and rare surviving examples of clothing and accessories, it explores the style of the rich and famous of the Tudor and Stuart periods.
The exhibition will follow the current show, the epic, brilliant The Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein* (if you haven't yet seen it, you have until 14th April), and opens on 10th May.
London will be a feast of Tudor-iana this summer, as the V&A are also having a Tudor themed show, called 'Treasures of the Royal Courts'. A key exhibit will be the earliest full-length portrait of Elizabeth I, the Hampden Portrait (below), which I had the pleasure of researching when we sold it here at Philip Mould & Company some years ago. If you fancy it, you can read my article on the picture here in The British Art Journal. The V&A show is in collaboration with the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, and will also feature goodies from the courts of the 16th Century Tsars.
*by the way, I know I once promised a review of 'The Northern Renaissance', so apologies for never writing it. Damn good show though, and a typically excellent Royal Collection catalogue to go with it too.
The National Gallery's next Titian upgrade?
January 22 2013
Picture: National Gallery
Hot on the heels of the National Gallery's elevation of their 'Attributed to Titian' Portrait of a man thought to be Girolamo Fracostoro from store-room obscurity to gallery wall, I read of another possible promotion. In the latest edition of Harper's Bazaar (article not available online), National Gallery trustee Hannah Rothschild has written a piece on the above painting, The Concert, which is currently described on the NG's website as by an 'Imitator of Titian'. It has not been on display for many years.
However, the picture is currently being cleaned by NG conservator Jill Dunkerton, who thinks that it might well be by Titian. So far, de-lining (taking a later canvas off the back of the original one) has revealed a 'CR' brand, which means that the painting was in the collection of Charles I, where it is indeed listed as a Titian. Prior to that it formed part of the celebrated Gonzaga collection, which contained many Titians. X-rays have reavealed the presence of pentimenti, and paint analysis has shown similarities to Titian's known technique.
Apparently the picture is much over-painted - as indeed it would have to be for it to become a Titian. While it's certainly Titian-esque in many aspects, there are quite a few areas of the picture which at first look too weak for the master himself, such as the drawing of the hands, and the rather vacant expression of the flute player on the right. It would need quite a dramatic transformation to improve to Titian's standards. But as I've said before, it's easy for the eye to be misled by condition issues. We know that other Titians bought from the Gonzaga collection arrived in London in bad condition, and had to be restored (by Van Dyck, no less).
The Concert certainly has both good and bad elements. The central figure in the red hat looks to be very well observed, but the flute player to the right carries a rather comical air, one untypical of Titian. The diaphanous scarf(?) on the woman on the left suggests underlying technical competence, but the structure of her arm does not. We shouldn't be too distracted by her wonky gaze - one would expect dark pigments like those in the eyes to have suffered over time. Anyway, I'll look forward to seeing how the picture looks after conservation.
Update - a reader writes:
One element you haven’t mentioned and is quite striking is the garment (cloak?) of the man in the immediate foreground. If it is any sort of accurate reflexion of the original composition it is the sheer amount of the picture space it takes up. Reminiscent of the Nationals man with a blue sleeve perhaps?
Another reader writes:
It's not just the vacant expression of the figure on the far right that seems to be a problem, it's the way that his head fits into the composition. If he was taken out (or even reduced in size) the composition would improve enormously! Anything to get rid of the heavy rectangular block across the tops of their heads. It will be interesting to see what the conservator discovers.
Update II - a reader adds:
It always is slightly lamentable that the workshop is brushed aside when these stories hit popular press. Many commissions required significant workshop input - such was the great demand on his studio.
As a related curiosity, the female figure seems to be a familiar/recurring face in many works attributed to Titian and his school - although a consistently utilised model has never been conclusively identified from documentary sources.
Update III - David Packwood on Art History Today concludes:
Possibly a member of Titian’s workshop, or more likely a minor Venetian painter familiar with the conventions of Venetian painting working later in the century- they’re dating it 1580- but clueless how to weave them all together into a coherent composition.
Points of interest, but not a great painting.
National's new Titian - Waldemar not convinced
January 22 2013
Picture: National Gallery
In his Sunday Times column, art critic Waldemar Januszczak casts doubts on the National Gallery's new claims. It's worth reading his thoughts in full, but here's his main argument:
Rescued from its dark banishment in the basement, it now hangs in Room 10 of the National Gallery, surrounded by other Titians and further fine examples of Venetian painting, looking distinctly underwhelming and overpromoted. If this is a Titian, then it is not a very good one.
The first problem is the sitter’s presence, which seems small and standard when compared with the other Titian sitters in the National’s collection. There is none of the psychological force that glues you to the thoughts of the marvellous Man with a Glove on the opposite wall; and none of that fabulously brave picture-making that thrusts an elbow in your face in the nearby Man with a Quilted Sleeve.
The Burlington article admits the painting is in poor condition, which may explain a lot. Much is made of the skill shown by the artist in capturing the textures of the big fur coat, made of lynx, that the putative Fracastoro is wearing. It’s definitely the best bit of the picture. But in the next gallery, in Titian’s superb group portrait of the Vendramin family, the leading Vendramin also sports a coat lined with lynx, and in that instance the painting of the fur is beyond good — it is actually breathtaking. So swift and subtle and nuanced.
The single most un-Titiany thing about the new Titian is its background. The putative Fracastoro seems to be standing in front of a grey wall in which we see two peculiar openings: a circular one above his right shoulder and a kind of rectangular doorway above his left. This weird architectural arrangement appears nowhere else in Titian. The Burlington admits that it cannot be explained by recent overpainting. So why would Titian add such a strange background to what is otherwise an unambitious image?
Before it was hauled out of the basement, the painting was attributed to Francesco Tobido, known as Il Moro, who studied under Giorgione in Venice and worked in Fracastoro’s home town, Verona. Though he is largely forgotten today, we know that he, too, painted the syphilis doctor. Indeed, the only time I have seen a background like this before was in Il Moro’s portrait of a couple — one of whom is wearing thick fur — that hangs in the Doris Ulmann Galleries at Berea College, Kentucky.
I've been to see the picture twice now. Although I can still see the arguments for calling the picture 'Attributed to Titian', there is a nagging doubt in my mind. I think I'm going to stick to my initial response to the painting; that because of the condition we can never be entirely sure. Bit of a cop out I'm afraid...
Update - a reader writes:
On Waldemar Januszczak's doubts about the Fracastoro portrait attributed to Titian in the National Gallery, and in particular his point about the unusual architectural background: there is, or rather was, a circular window in "La Schiavona", also in the National Gallery, which was painted out by the artist.
Having seen the upgraded painting now myself I agree with your verdict that its condition means the attribution will continue to prove uncertain. Bits of it look good, but its not immediately likeable.
Titian upgraded at the National Gallery, London
January 8 2013
Picture: National Gallery
The National Gallery's recently restored and upgraded portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro (?) by Titian is the subject of an article in the new edition of The Burlington Magazine, which is worth a read (if you're a subscriber). A post-restoration image has now been added to the National Gallery website, here, but not any of the research details (the NG website in general is very thin on details). It seems from The Burlington article that Nicholas Penny thought as far back as the 1990s that the picture was a candidate for conservation and potential upgrading, a conclusion more recently reached, independently, by Professor Paul Joannides - so congratulations to them for their connoisseurial hunches.
The story has been picked up in a big splash by The Guardian today, which you can read here, and which describes the picture as 'just rediscovered'. Readers of AHN, of course, have been aware of it since April last year...
In The Guardian piece, Jonathan Jones says that the discovery:
[...] must mean the National Gallery now has the finest collection of Titians in the world – it already owned (among others) the elegantly frenzied Bacchus and Ariadne, the heartbreaking Easter landscape Noli me Tangere, and his portrait of a man with a mesmerising blue sleeve. But Penny, who is not given to hype, points out that the Museo del Prado in Madrid also has a few Titians. I think he is being modest.
Though the NG does indeed have many fine and important Titians, I think Penny is right to be modest - the Prado's collection of Titians probably is the superior one, and, it seemed to me when I saw them recently, they're mostly in better condition too.
Update - the sharp-eyed reader who initially alerted me to the upgrade writes:
Nice to have one's opinions vindicated: even if it is after 30 years! Actually my view was that the work was simply better than the Gallery thought it was: Titian attributions being moot and a very murky area.
It does strike me as remarkable that, given the National Gallery has one of the smallest collections of its type in the world and that it has been comprehensively studied for decades - starting with Martin Davies' work on the detailed and brutally honest catalogues produced during the war, so many "discoveries" have been made in recent years. Indeed, at times it seems startling.
Aside from the Titian, here are a few works that have been recently been re-examined and declared originals:
- Bellotto - Venice: The Grand Canal facing Santa Croce
- Botticelli - Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy
- Bouts - Christ Crowned with Thorns
- Canaletto - Venice, Palazzo Grimani
- Cesare da Cesto - Salome
- Ghirlandaio - The Virgin and Child
- Gossaert - The Virgin and Child
- Master of Moulins - Charlemagne and the Meeting at the Golden Gate
- Perugino - Christ Crowned with Thorns (actually attributed)
- Poussin - Nymph and Satyrs
- Reni - Saint Jerome
- Reni - Saint Mary Magdalen
- Reni - Susannah and the Elders
- Rubens - A Wagon Fording a Stream
- Strozzi - The Annunciation
- Veronese - The Rape of Europa
- Verrocchio - The Virgin and Child with Two Angels
The have been a few "losses" over the years of course but in general I would say that the Gallery is "up". And there are, I believe, more discoveries in the basement.
Meanwhile, another reader demurs:
Shocking news! This picture sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the ext siting display of undisputed masterpieces. The quality of paint and general execution is poor and it very much looks like a studio work. It's nowhere near the level of quality of any other portrait by Titian I am aware of. Titian may well have been involved in the initial 'design' but the this picture was not painted by him. Another case of wishful thinking but generating great publicity.