Conservators working on three paintings once owned by the Duke of Wellington have made discoveries that reveal them to be autograph works by Titian and his studio. All three paintings were part of the Spanish Royal Collection and given to the first Duke of Wellington, but were for a long time believed to be copies made after the Venetian master’s death.
This is the latest in a series of recent Titian discoveries that include Risen Christ,Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro, and Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist, which was originally sold as a work by a follower for £8,000 by Christie’s, before being put up for auction by Sotheby’s as a fully attributed work with a guide price of $4-6m. Boodle Hatfield LLP advised the claimant in the legal case arising from the discovery of the Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist which settled out of court.
These latest discoveries, Titian’s Mistress (c.1560), A Young Woman Holding Rose Garlands (c.1550), and the Danaë (c.1553), were assumed to be copies because of their poor condition. Once conservators from English Heritage, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and the Hamilton Kerr Institute removed the surface dirt, the overpaint and varnish, they were able to reveal the paintings’ true quality. Titian’s original signatures in Roman capital letters were discovered on Titian’s Mistress and A Young Woman Holding Rose Garlands. It is believed that the faces are by Titian himself, while other sections were completed by assistants in his studio.
Speaking to the Guardian, the restorer working on ‘Titian’s Mistress’ described removing the grime and overpainting to uncover the ‘TITIANUS’ signature as a ‘once-in-a-career’ moment.
Danaë, which shows the eponymous mythological princess being seduced by Jupiter who appears in the form of a shower of gold, is the most important of the three, according to English Heritage, who now look after the paintings. It was painted for the Spanish King Philip II as part of a series of mythological paintings.
English Heritage say that conservation was necessary as the two paintings of young women had been converted from rectangles to ovals in the 18th century, and then re-converted to rectangles, with consequent damage which was later covered by black overpaint, while the Danaë had been reduced in height. In all three, Titian’s artistry was also hidden beneath decades of yellow varnish.
An X-ray of ‘Titian’s Mistress’ also revealed an underlying painting of a woman that is almost identical to paintings made by later followers of Titian. These X-rays will be displayed alongside the three paintings when they go on display to the public for the first time this summer.
The exhibition will run from 1 July 2015 to the end of October at Apsley House in London, which is still home to the Wellington family.