The National Gallery's next Titian upgrade?

January 22 2013

Image of The National Gallery's next Titian upgrade?

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.

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