TITIAN: The Triumph of Love (mid-1540s)

TITIAN: The Triumph of Love (mid-1540s)

Titian's 'Triumph of Love' at the National Gallery

This exhibition will showcase Titian’s painting 'The Triumph of Love' (probably mid-1540s), following its recent rediscovery and cleaning

21 July – 20 September 2009

Last exhibited in 1960, it has since remained out of sight in a private collection. Moreover, the painting's true quality was obscured by dirty varnish and overpaint, leading to doubts being cast on its authorship.

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, acquired 'The Triumph of Love' in 2008 through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) with an additional grant from independent charity The Art Fund and other private donations made to the Ashmolean. The painting was brought to the National Gallery to be conserved.

Research by Ashmolean curator Catherine Whistler has traced its provenance back to the famous Venetian patrician and art collector Gabriel Vendramin, a friend and patron of Titian. Vendramin had a room in his family palace in which he displayed works by Titian, and this would have once been the location of 'The Triumph of Love'. The research also revealed the painting’s function as a ‘cover’ for another painting – a female portrait. As such it represents an extremely rare survival of the type.

Cleaning has shown that beneath the dirt and overpaint is a picture of extremely high quality and masterful creativity. In 'The Triumph of Love' Cupid is represented with his bow and arrows taming a crouching lion, depicting the theme – familiar from Classical art and literature – of love’s conquest of the wilder passions. The commission allowed Titian to use his skill and inventiveness to create a playful image for his friend. Removal of the overpaint has restored the imaginative illusionism of the original composition by revealing a fictive round window frame – out of which the lion is about to leap. Examination with infrared reflectography has brought to light Titian’s free and spontaneous under-drawing, where he has repeatedly rethought the details of the composition.

With 'The Triumph of Love' as its central focus, the National Gallery exhibition explores the relationship between Italian Renaissance portraits and their painted covers and reverses. Covers like 'The Triumph of Love' were known as ‘timpani’; their function was to protect and conceal. In addition, their often enigmatic imagery was intended to act as an interpretative introduction to the picture beneath, inviting witty or learned conversations. Another Titian painting from the Gallery’s collection, which may itself have functioned as a cover, 'An Allegory of Prudence' (about 1550–65), will also be on display in Room 1.

The painted reverses of portraits on panel represent an earlier stage in the tradition and acted as a gloss on the depiction of the sitter. Like ‘timpani’ they often featured mottos or heraldic emblems but also allegorical imagery. 'The Triumph of Love' will be exhibited alongside two rarely seen painted portrait reverses from the National Gallery’s own collection. The reverses of 'A Lady In Profile' (about 1490) by a follower of Botticelli that depicts an allegorical scene, and Jacometto’s 'Portrait of a Man' (probably 1475–98), which is painted with an inscription from Horace’s Odes, allow the viewer to examine and consider the role that painted reverses played in Renaissance portraiture.

Titian’s ‘Triumph of Love’ will have huge appeal to a wide public when it is permanently exhibited with the Renaissance displays in the transformed Ashmolean Museum, which will re-open in early November 2009.

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