New light on Titian's studio

September 7 2016

Image of New light on Titian's studio

Picture: National Gallery

I've seen some tantalising tweets from The Burlington Magazine on an article on Titian's workshop practice in their new September edition:

In our new issue, a previously unpublished 16th century treatise sheds new light on Titian's studio.

The treatise reveals both the techniques used by Venetian artists & the interests of collectors at that time.

Read more about the treatise in 'A visit to Titian's studio' by Michel Hochmann.

That's about it; there's no further information on the magazine's site. You need to either buy the single article here, for a whopping £15, or the magazine itself, for £25.

Now, as a free marketeer I'm relaxed about publications charging for content. But £15 for a single, academic art historical article strikes me as almost ridiculous. First, Especially when you consider that The Burlington Magazine is actually operated as a charity, by The Burlington Magazine Foundation, and describes itself as:

The Burlington Magazine is a charitable, non-profit-making scholarly magazine.

I can't immediately see how - in this age of expected free access - charging so much for a single article really helps art historical scholarship. Indeed, the fee inhibits The Burlington's central mission. Also, The Burlington website stresses on its page for contributors (for whom, as far as I can see, payment is not obviously offered) that museums should supply illustrations for free, because the magazine is charitible and scholarly.

Surely the magazine should trial a different charging model - whether it be increased online advertisting revenue from free access, or a lower pricing structure. Perhaps if they charged just £1 an article they'd sell more than 15 times the amount they do now.

The most recent accounts, to the end of 2014, show that the Foundation had an income of £165,000.

Update - a reader writes:

Of course just because it’s a charity doesn’t mean it doesn’t need revenues.

I don’t know if they still do, but the Burlington used to pay contributors £50 for an article (which, as a percentage of the minimum hourly wage, is only just higher than the 0 most of us receive), which I and no doubt others waived. But this seems much less objectionable than the terms of the contributors’ contract which was introduced several years ago and which is the reason why I no longer contribute: it transfers all the risk for copyright, defamation etc. (nontrivial in this age in which so many experts now refuse to authenticate valuable art) onto the contributor. I could go into a huge amount of detail on this [...], but in short and in my opinion the value transfer between contributor and magazine through these indemnities far exceeds any fees.

Both Shone and Spalding [the current and previous editors] dug their heels in over this. No doubt they felt that the Magazine shouldn’t run the risk of bankruptcy over a contributor’s opinion. But the legal risks (however remote) may well be far more than the contributor can pay, so they are on the hook anyway with secondary liability, and if they are serious they should insure (which contributors mostly can’t).

Let’s hope the new editor takes a more enlightened view.

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