Lend, lend, lend!
April 11 2013
Are oil paintings put at unnecessary risk by lending to exhibitions, and moving them about it? Short answer, no. But lots of people think they are. So I was surprised to read, following my rather unkind appraisal of the Museums Association 'vision' document, Museums 2020, that the MA agrees with me. Page 19 of Museums 2020 says:
Museums can take greater risks in the way they use and share collections. Handling and lending rarely cause significant harm.
This is true, and worth emphasising in light of a recent article in The Art Newspaper suggesting that, because of the risk of damage, museums should lend less often. Blake Gopnik says we need far fewer exhibitions, and cites:
[...] the physical risks run by works of art every time they are moved; as recently as 2008, at the National Gallery in London, a panel painting was dropped and broken as workers took down the great “Renaissance Siena” show. We also have to worry about the wear and tear that will diminish every well-travelled picture or sculpture. (Conservators wouldn’t fill in condition reports on every loan if there had never been a thing to note on their forms.)
Well, it's now 2013, so the National Gallery's dropped picture debacle was five years ago. Of all the major exhibitions in the world, one damage every five years is, I would say, not enough to argue for fewer exhibitions, the activity around which is the life-blood of any museum. In my experience of moving (lots and lots of) pictures, there is very little risk of damage or ‘wear and tear’, because - and here's the great secret everyone - these things are pretty damn tough. Much tougher than us, in fact.
The fuss made over loans and handling by conservators has reached levels of new silliness. Did you know, for example, that curators at one of London's major museums aren't actually allowed to pick up and move paintings? To move a picture, a curator has to book a team of art handlers. I once watched another London museum use 12 people to hang a single painting. All this costs money, of course, and leads to unnecessary strictures on the handling and lending of objects.
What is especially curious about the increasing nervousness over art handling is the varying approach taken by museums. Some museums are still happy with a relaxed and common sense approach to loans. For a recent loan exhibition here at Philip Mould & Company the most valuable item arrived, via the Underground, in a curator's handbag. In the same exhibition, however, another object cost more to transport than every other exhibit combined. It had to be flown first class, in a large crate, and accompanied by a specialist courier who was put up in an expensive hotel for three days each side of the journey. It was a miniature. And then there's the inconsistency of museums keeping objects in a cold basement, but demanding that they be housed in a permanently stable environment with the temperature at 21 degrees and the humidity at 50%, were it ever to be put on public display.
Now it is hard to disagree with the idea that we must be as cautious as possible with the handling of museum objects. And yet if preservation was our sole aim, we would never display anything. Some museum conservators would undoubtedly prefer it this way. But we must strike a balance between care and display, and I would argue that we have lately gone too far in the wrong direction. The result is that exhibitions have become harder, and more expensive, to mount. At some institutions there is now almost a presumption not to lend objects. The procedures to approve a loan are so tedious and time consuming that for many curators it's not worth the effort. The captive grip of the museum basement is getting stronger and stronger.
Update - Michael Savage, aka The Grumpy Art Historian, disagrees, and wonders why we need exhibitions at all.
This Easter, I am wearing...
March 30 2013
Happy Easter everyone!
Update - a reader writes:
hahahahah omg that shirt is great!!
'That's a good nose'
March 20 2013
In this clip from the 1969 film, 'The Magic Christian', Peter Sellers is the art collector from hell, while John Cleese plays a (fairly typical?) dealer or auction house expert.
An expensive restoration
March 15 2013
Picture: Worcester Art Museum/TAN
Emily Sharpe in The Art Newspaper reports that a pair of Hogarths belonging to The Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts is to be restored thanks to a grant from the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund. Good for TEFAF for making the donation, but I'm surprised at the figures involved - EUR 25,000, and for pictures described by the museum as being 'in pretty good condition'. A further $20,000 is required to restore the frames.
That's a lot of money. Way more, for example, than it cost to restore the Van Dyck recently unearthed at the Bowes Museum.
Why connoisseurship matters (ctd.)
March 14 2013
Pictures: The Bowes Museum/BG/Your Paintings
Thanks for all your emails and comments about The Culture Show programme. It was fun to make, and I'm always glad to have a chance to evangelise about two of my favourite subjects; Van Dyck and connoisseurship. I promised a more detailed note about the picture, so here goes. I’m afraid it’ll be a little rushed, so don’t expect a Burlington type write-up.
I'll start with condition. At first sight, the picture looked a bit of a mess, and it was easy to see why it had been passed over as a copy for many years. One of the most disfiguring aspects of the portrait was the sitter's left eye, which did not seem to point in the right direction. With a portrait, small damages in a face can make the viewer question the whole image. We tend to look at portraits almost as human faces - and if the eyes are wonky, we assume that the whole portrait must be, in effect, also wonky.
However, as is often the case with condition issues, things looked worse than they in fact were. The wonky eye in question, which at first I thought had been over-painted, was merely missing a dark glaze over the pupil, and a tiny white highlight. Both of these had been cleaned off in a previous campaign of over-zealous restoration. Delicate glazes and pigments like those in an eye on a portrait can be easy to accidentally remove. Possibly, this was done centuries ago, for cleaning pictures used to be the job of the house keeper. Sliced potatoes, stale urine, and worse were used to wipe down paintings, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Wipe too vigorously, off comes a highlight, and suddenly an eye loses its direction.
Elsewhere in the picture, it was the usual story of old layers of dirt and varnish making the paint strokes and colours unreadable. There were also a few holes and some areas of abrasion. Although the picture had been over-cleaned it had not (and this is most unusual) been 'restored'. That is, there were no layers of old over-paint covering the losses and holes. Often, areas of old over-paint can be very hard to remove, especially if applied in oil. Even more fortunately, the picture was unlined, which meant that the original surface of the canvas was actually in excellent condition. I don't recall dealing with an un-lined Van Dyck before. Consequently, the paint layers had not been pressed or flattened in an old lining process (they used to use hot irons to bond the two canvases together, therefore melting and flattening the paint), and all the impasto was just as the artist had intended it. The picture had a fine texture, especially in the drapery. So despite appearances, the painting was in relatively good condition.
There was, however, one area where it had been dramatically altered by a later intervention, and this was in the curious grey, oval additions at the top and bottom. I've not seen these on a Van Dyck before, and again they must have been another reason to doubt the painting in the past. It was fairly easy to see that the edges were additions, especially at the bottom of the picture, as the remains of the sitter's sleeves were visible beneath the later paint. Our paint analysis also confirmed that, at the top, the grey background extended underneath the oval, and so we could safely rule out any question of the oval being original to the picture. In the past, it was not uncommon for owners to add ovals like this if a portrait was intended to be hung as part of a decorative set, perhaps in an architectural feature. When we cleaned the picture, it was decided to leave the oval additions on. It might have been possible to remove them, but they formed part of the picture's history. Below you can see a not very good effort by me at removing them on Photoshop, to give you an idea of how the portrait would originally have looked.
Cleaning the picture was a delicate but enjoyable experience. I was lucky that the Bowes Museum entrusted the picture to our care, and we were able, with Simon Gillespie's help, to use all our experience of conserving Van Dycks (over 20 so far, and many more studio works) to full advantage. Unless you really know what you're dealing with, cleaning Van Dycks can be a fraught business, given the extremely complex and delicate glazes he used. It is very easy to get things wrong, especially in areas with darker pigments like the hair. (If I may say so, the case demonstrates how sometimes the art trade and commercial restorers can have a greater understanding of how to conserve a painting than the museum world. Because we're portrait specialists here at Philip Mould & Company, with a particular expertise in Van Dyck, we have dealt with, researched and restored more Van Dycks in the last few years than a museum conservator might do in a lifetime.) Simon and I decided that the best approach would be to intervene minimally, and so where possible we have left on a layer of the oldest, possibly original, varnish over the whole picture. After the cleaning, there was some re-touching required, for example in areas of abrasion in the drapery, and most notably in the sitter's left eye, where a highlight was replaced. Fortunately, we had a useful guide for any re-touching with a good quality studio copy of the picture at Lamport Hall (below).
Although the picture was of an unidentified sitter when John Bowes bought it in 1866, curators at the Bowes museum had more recently suggested Olivia Porter (d.1663) as an identification, by comparing it to other portraits of her by Van Dyck. And they were right. The copy at Lamport Hall had originally been acquired in the late 17th Century as an unknown sitter, but was subsequently identified as Dorothy, Countess of Leicester. However, some further research, including a trip to the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery and some help from Olivia Porter's descendants, allowed us to prove conclusively that the Leicester identification was wrong, and that the sitter was indeed Olivia (or Olive, as she called herself). Olive was the wife of Van Dyck's closest friend in England, Endymion Porter, one of Charles I's key courtiers. Porter was the only person whom Van Dyck painted himself with [below, Museo Prado]. Olive was a lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, and later, in 1637, converted to Catholicism with such zeal that she was eventually ordered to leave the country by Parliament.
The Bowes picture was of such high quality that I think we can safely say it was done from life. The portrait was not only exceptionally well painted (as Professor Christopher Brown said, ‘this is Van Dyck at his best’), but carried real authority in terms of characterisation and overall human presence. It's dangeours to be subjective about these things, but it feels as if it was someone Van Dyck knew intimately, and liked. The sketchy and unfinished nature of the drapery further suggests that the picture was conceived as a portrait from life, probably done with the intention of being able to use the likeness in the other portraits of Olive that Van Dyck was to paint. The same head, with a slightly different direction of gaze, was used again by Van Dyck in a larger three quarter length portrait now at Syon House (below, Duke of Northumberland collection), a picture which has been in the Northumberland collection since at least 1652.
The late Sir Oliver Millar, author of the section of the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne devoted to the artist's English works, dated the Syon House picture to c.1637, which I would agree with, and which also seems a most likely date for the Bowes Museum picture. Given Van Dyck's own strong Catholic faith, it is interesting to speculate whether the portraits of Olive done at this time were in any way linked to her conversion. Van Dyck also painted a group portrait of her with her husband and child [Private Collection - a copy (perhaps that recorded as being made by Mary Beale in 1672) is at Dunham Massey], but this is more difficult to date. A less securely identified portrait of Olive by Van Dyck was formerly at Shrubland Park. Two smaller copies of the Bowes picture exist, on panel. One was formerly at Balnagowan Castle, and was later sold at Christie’s as a portrait of Henrietta Maria, and the other remains in the private collection of Olive's descendants.
After filming was over, I was subsequently alerted (again by Olive's descendant) of another important likeness of her at Lacock Abbey. This portrait, above, is an early copy probably by Theodore Roussel (1614-1689) after the head of Olive in Van Dyck's group portrait of her with her family. The Lacock Abbey copy is important because Van Dyck’s original group portrait is in bad condition (even George Vertue in 1751 records this fact), and consequently the likenesses are not reliable as the picture has been substantially over-painted*. So the Lacock Abbey copy, done soon after the original was completed, is another useful guide to what Olive looked like. For more information on Olive's life and the history of some of her portraits, the best source is Gervas Huxley's ‘Endymion Porter: the Life of a Courtier’ (London, 1959).
John Bowes bought the portrait of Olive in Paris in 1866, from one of his regular dealers, Madame Lapautre. A receipt records that he bought it with another portrait then attributed to Van Dyck, of Henrietta Maria. The Henrietta Maria picture is also still at the Bowes Museum, but has sadly been very heavily over-cleaned, and badly restored (many years ago). It is hard to tell the quality due to the paint loss, but I would say that it was probably painted in Van Dyck’s studio. The earlier history of Olive’s portrait was unknown, but I found the remains of a wax collector’s seal (below) on the back of the un-lined canvas.
It's hard to make out from the photo, but what you can see is a coronet, the top of a shield with 'mascles' or lozenges, and part of the chain of the order of the Holy Spirit, France's highest order of chivalry (as denoted by the tiny ‘H’ in the chain). All of these combined meant that I was looking for a titled (the Coronet) member of the Rohan family (a coat of arms with nine mascles, since the shield was undivided) who was a member of the order of the St Esprit. With help from Dr. Clive Cheeseman, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms, and Hervé, Baron Pinoteau of the Académie Internationale d'Héraldique, we were able to establish that the arms belonged to either Henri, 2nd Duc de Montbazon (d.1654) (below, with his arms in the engraving), or his son Louis (d.1667).
Hopefully, further research in any Montbazon archives might yield further clues, but it was decided not to do this in the programme. What the wax seal does tell us, however, is that the picture was in France by the middle of the 17th Century. It is likely, therefore, that the Porters took the painting with them when they fled England into exile after Charles I lost the Civil War, and probably sold it soon afterwards. We know that the Porters were in dire financial straits when in exile. The supposition is that the picture remained in France until John Bowes bought it in Paris in 1866.
You can see a larger image of the cleaned painting here on the Your Paintings website. In addition to Professor Christopher Brown, the attribution to Van Dyck is also supported by the Rev. Dr. Susan Barnes, a renowned Van Dyck scholar who was one of the original authors of 'Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings' (New Haven and London, 2004)
* Incidentally, if you own the group picture, and would like some advice on possibly restoring it...
Cleaning test fun
March 13 2013
Top marks if you can spot the artist.
Update - we've had bids for Francis Hayman and Thomas Lawrence so far. Nope!
Update II - the right answer comes in within the hour, via Twitter, from the Rowntree Clark gallery. It's by Sir Peter Lely. An early picture, 1650s. Well done!
Test your connoisseurship
March 8 2013
Picture: Bowes Museum
The picture above belongs to the Bowes Museum, and will be the subject of a Culture Show Special presented by Alistair Sooke tomorrow, Saturday, on BBC2 at 6.30pm. Long called a copy 'after Van Dyck', is it in fact by him? Watch tomorrow to find out...
But in the meantime, I invite you to hazard a guess on the attribution. Let me know if you would stake your reputation on the above pre-conservation photo, and say whether it is or is not by Van Dyck (as I, er, have). Or is it attributable to the range of options we have with an artist like Van Dyck; 'studio of Van Dyck', or 'Van Dyck and Studio'? Or is it even an out of period, 18th Century copy? In which case, have I made the biggest blunder of my career?
PS - As loyal readers of AHN, it is your duty to spread the word about the programme!
Update - a reader writes:
I assume that it is not a later copy.
IMO not by Van Dyck, studio of Van Dyck or Van Dyck and studio. Surely if it had been anywhere near Van Dyck’s studio it would have a more interesting background. It looks English. The fictive oval frame invites the idea of Cornelius Johnson, but the style doesn’t match him.
You don’t say what the support is – presumably canvas rather than panel.
The neckline is low, and there is little sign of lace. Could the costume be second half of the 17th century? The uninteresting background makes me rule out Lely and its probably not Wright either.
Ellis Waterhouse’s Painting in Britain has some small black and white illustrations of work by a painter by the name of John Scougall. I know nothing about him, but that’s my guess.
It is on canvas.
Update II - another reader writes:
Update III - a reader goes for half and half:
The head on the 'Van Dyck' looks to be better than the very poorly painted lower body and costume,I'd plump off a unfinished portrait by Van Dyck? but finished by an inferior hand.
All no's so far. Another:
The angle of the shoulders looks too sharp for the proportion of the face and the rest of the body. The mis-balance suggests overpainting.
Update IV - at last, a reader takes the plunge:
I'd venture to say it does indeed have a very good chance!
A framer in action
March 8 2013
Picture: Anthony Gregg
Our framer, Anthony Gregg, sent us this photo, to check the section of a frame he's making for us. It's a nice image of a craftsman in action, so I thought I'd put it up here.
Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales
March 4 2013
Picture: St Cadoc's Church/Jane Rutherfoord
I learn via the Society of Antiquaries of a project in Wales to uncover a rare series of 15th Century wall paintings from the Church of St Cadoc's, Llancarfan. More details here.
The importance of understanding condition
March 4 2013
Picture: Spear's Magazine
Regular readers will know that I often bang on about the importance of understanding a picture's condition, particularly when it comes to making attributions. In a recent edition of Spear's Magazine, dealer Ivan Lindsay counsels that anyone buying at auction needs to be sure of condition too:
It’s worth being cautious about restoration when it comes to auction rooms. The leading auction rooms, particularly as they develop their rapidly growing private sales (dealing) business, go to considerable lengths to advise their clients that buying at auction is so easy that they shouldn’t feel the need to seek any independent advice before buying. They are wrong.
In the Daily Telegraph in October, Orlando Rock, deputy chairman of Christie’s, offered up a detailed guide on how to buy art at auction. It is all very reassuring to know that, despite any misgivings you may have had about the art world, it is in fact a nice cosy place and the leading auctions are a ‘transparent and fair platform’ that offer goods at fair prices with the ‘stamp of long-term quality and value’. And that buying art at auction is ‘accessible, affordable, personal and fun’. I would add ‘nerve-racking, opaque, confusing and often expensive’.
Rock does mention that condition is an issue and suggests that, if you feel the need, you can ask for a condition report from one of the in-house experts. However, these should not be relied on. A good restorer can make a painting that is in bad condition look fine to all but the trained eye. They can also be very good at disguising their work. The old expression that you do not find out what you have bought in the art world until you try to sell it is never truer than when it comes to condition.
If experienced dealers always feel the need to seek the advice of an independent third-party restorer before they buy, then that should tell private clients what they should be doing. Restorers are mainly generous with their time and often have to attend the major sales on behalf of clients. By seeking such advice, collectors will save themselves plenty of expensive mistakes, and it is sound practice to take the time to get to know a good restorer and make him part of your team.
February 26 2013Pic: PCF
When a member of the Talbot family had to sell an octagonal portrait of Henry VIII to fund repairs they were struck with a problem - they had no octagonal potrait to fill the plaster frame attached to the wall. They did however have a three-quarter length and a knife...
What would the conservators say, Ma'am?
February 24 2013
Much amusement here in the UK at the revelation that the Queen, seen here greeting the Australian High Commissioner, is partial to an electric fire. The audience room above has a fine pair of Canalettos in it, as well as a Gainsborough full-length. But doubtless the Queen has someone on hand to make sure the fire is switched off at night.
UK museums act on thefts and vandalism
February 18 2013
Interesting story in The Independent about a new network established to tackle museum thefts:
A new national organisation has been set up to allow museums and galleries to share their experiences of criminal behaviour with the police and each other, as they look to beef up security in the wake of ongoing threats to their collections.
A spate of high-profile thefts and vandalised work has left cultural institutions across the UK “on edge”, according to Vernon Rapley, the driving force behind the National Museum Security Group (NMSG), which has a reach of 800 institutions.
The group met for the first time on Tuesday in London. Representatives from about 70 institutions based around the country discussed threats facing galleries, museums, libraries and archaeological sites – and what they could do to protect themselves.
Mr Rapley, the head of security and services at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, described the group as a “self-circulating co-operative”, adding: “If the police authorities wanted to contact everyone in the museum security business in the UK they could do it at the touch of a button.”
Congratulations to the V&A, who are the main backers of the Group.
Prado discovers rare early 15thC panel
February 12 2013
Video: Museo Prado
The Prado has restored a newly discovered early 15thC panel showing Louis I d'Orleans. From the Prado website:
Shown to the public for the first time, the Museo del Prado is presenting The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis I d’Orléans (1405-1407/1408), a previously unpublished work acquired by the Museum in 2012. Following a lengthy process of restoration it will now be placed on display in the permanent galleries and represents a major contribution to the field of Early French Painting. The aesthetic and pictorial merit of the painting, recently restored with the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola, combined with the rarity of works from this school, make this panel a unique example of enormous historical importance given that it is the only known panel painting to depict Louis d’Orléans. With a possible attribution to Colart de Laon, Louis’ painter and valet de chambre, the panel will be presented in a special display until 28 April in Room 51A, alongside X-radiograph and Infra-red reflectograph images of it and a video that shows the different stages of its restoration.
Face found in the Ghent Altarpiece
February 10 2013
Video: Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage
The above video is in Dutch, but is pretty self-explanatory: a face has been found in the underdrawing of Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece. Is it a cheeky self-portrait?
A sleeper awakes...?
February 2 2013
For me, the highlight of the New York Old Master sales was the above small oil on panel described as 'Follower of Rubens' at Sotheby's, with an estimate of $30,000-$50,000. The sitter was identified as 'Possibly Clara Serena Rubens', the artist's daughter, and was being deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum. After a protracted bidding battle between what seemed to be at least half a dozen bidders, the picture sold for $626,500.
The picture shone out from the wall at the viewing, and I'm not surprised that more than one person had the same idea as Philip Mould and I - that this was by no mere follower of Rubens. What could have appeared at first glance to be a poorly drawn face was in fact a wonderfully observed informal portrait of a seemingly self-conscious but relaxed young girl. The shadowing and reflected light on the right hand side of the face and neck, for example, were masterly. The key here was the informality of the picture, which, in its sketchy application (especially in the drapery) set it apart from Rubens' better known and more finished head studies. The fact that it was partly obscured by several layers of old varnish, particularly in the hair and background, also made the quality of the work hard to read at first. But enough people were convinced to take it to a higher level, and I'm not surprised it made a high price.
You might say, however, that if it was so apparently by Rubens, why did it not fetch more? The answer lies in the - how shall I put this? - unsettled nature of Rubens scholarship at the moment. The Rubenianum is a fine and glorious body, but it is known for its multi-headed approach to its cataloguing - that is, it is unlike the Rembrandt Research Project, where a single figure of tested connoisseurial ability, Ernst van der Wetering, is the ultimate arbiter of attributions. As a result, a number of surprising attributional calls are made on Rubens as scholars with varying thresholds of what is and isn't a Rubens publish works on seperate areas of the artist's work. Therefore, the picture at Sotheby's will be a difficult one to 'get through', as we say in the trade, and thus carries a greater commercial risk. Plus, there is the fact that this picture was deaccessioned by the Met - as big an institution as they come - as a copy of a lost original, presumably with the agreement of the current crop of Rubens scholars, and with the views of important names such as Julius Held, who in 1959 first questioned the previously accepted attribution to Rubens, behind it. So the buyer of the picture is necessarily going to put a lot of noses out of joint if he or she does prove that it is by Rubens - almost as many as me for writing this post, in fact.
Still, it's all good fun, and art history will be the ultimate winner for the picture getting greater attention. I don't think, by the way, that Sotheby's were wrong to put the picture in as by a follower of Rubens. First, I and the other bidders may well be wrong (though I don't mind saying here that I think it certainly is by Rubens, and the winning bidder will have to excuse me for not publishing here all our research on the picture). Second, if the Metropolitan Museum and five decades of Rubens scholarship have said it is not by Rubens, then it's hardly up to Sotheby's to tell the Met where it might be going wrong. The picture will be an interesting one to follow, and gives a timely reminder here in the UK on (as I have highlighted many times) the perils of deaccessioning.
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.