The condition of Titian

August 28 2012

Image of The condition of Titian

Picture: National Gallery

Regular readers may remember that when the National Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland succeeded in buying Titian's Diana & Callisto, I wondered if we could now restore the picture. In particular, I focused on Diana's head, above, which seems to have lost an important area of shadow in the outline, causing her head to vanish into the background. As a focal point of the picture, this can surely never have been what Titian intended. As ever, it is the darker colours, those made with softer pigments, that have suffered from abrasion and over-cleaning. By contrast, the flesh tones, which are mized with lead white, a very hard pigment, have laste better. 

So I was interested to see this weekend at Knole, in Kent, a 17th Century copy of the picture by an unknown artist. The copy was hung in quite a dark room, and I could not form any firm opinion on who painted it, nor take anything other than the below rubbish photo. But the you can quite clearly see how Diana's profile should be seen in the original. The National Trust's excellent collections database has a better photo of the whole copy, and that of Diana and Actaeon, here

Update - a reader writes:

In the Museo del Prado Website you can find a High Quality Image of  17th Century copy of the picture by the spanish painter and son in law of Velázquez, Martínez del Mazo, possibly painted for Prince Baltasar Carlos chamber in Royal Alcazar of Madrid.

See what a difference that little outline makes?

Another reader writes:

One wonders how much the artist responsible for the copy recreated what was missing already.

Perhaps not as much as Rubens, whose full size version I would love to see – it’s at Knowsley Hall and may one day come into public ownership.

You can see an image of the Rubens copy here at Bridgeman, and also on the Yale Books website - where it is incorrectly labelled as by Titian! There is something unmistakeably Rubensian about some of the faces in the Rubens copy. And can I just say that the mis-labelling of a Rubens as a Titian by Yale Books is an example of what happens in a connoisseurship-free world...

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