Canada's only Titian goes on display

January 6 2013

Image of Canada's only Titian goes on display

Picture: CBC/NGC

Last summer, I reported on the restoration of the only Titian in public ownership in Canada. It had been called a copy of an original in the Prado, but conservation by the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) has led them to reassess the attribution. Now the picture has gone on display, as well as online. CBC has the story:

When the NGC bought the painting in 1928, it was believed to be a Titian. Letters between the bishop and Barbaro confirmed its history.

But there is another painting of Daniele Barbaro in Spain’s Prado Museum and scholars were divided on whether both works were by Titian or if the NGC portrait was a copy by one of his acolytes. In 1991, the two paintings were compared side-by-side at a specially arranged meeting and experts decided the NGC was not by the Venetian master.

But a recent restoration revealed the sensitivity and skill used in painting the NGC portrait.

Stephen Gritt, NGC director of conservation and technical research, arranged to work with an expert at the Prado to compare the two paintings again. X-ray images showed the underlying images, including ways that the painter had adjusted the collar height and repainted the sitter’s prominent nose.

"I spent an afternoon in front of a light-box with the Prado's technical documentalist,” Gritt said in a statement.

“By painstakingly comparing subtle features of execution as revealed on the X-ray, we were able to demonstrate that while the paintings were painted more or less at the same time, the Ottawa canvas was the one with all the thinking in it, the one that leads the way," he said.

The conclusion was that the paintings were painted side by side, but that the NGC’s portrait was the one where Titian had worked out details such as colour and composition, and it was most likely finished with Barbaro present.

Hmmm. It's hard to be sure from the not particularly good photo on the NGC website, but I think I still prefer the version in the Prado, the attribution of which there can be no doubt at all. The one in Canada seems a bit hard and plastic in its handling, and less sure in its drawing. You can read more details here from the NGC's press release.

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