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.