Art, Art History, Art Museums

Britain Rescues Two of its Treasures from the Dustbin of Art History!

Two great paintings which had long languished in the shadows have now been restored to full autograph status, thanks to research and a conservator’s careful hand.

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The National Gallery’s Titian

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Tiziano Vecelli (“Titian”) ca. 1488/1490–1576
“Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro”
National Gallery, London

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London’s National Gallery, had, since the 1920’s, believed one of its holdings to be a 16th-century copy created ‘after Titian’, both chronologically and artistically. As a result, the painting had always been placed in out-of-the-way galleries or behind the scenes.  The portrait had been given to the National Gallery in the 1920s by the German-born chemist Ludwig Mond, the founder of Imperial Chemical Industries.

But thanks to its restoration and cleaning, the painting is now fully attributed to Titian and has been moved into the prominent Room 12, where it hangs together with the artist’s “Bacchus and Ariadne“, and Palma Vecchio‘s “Portrait of a Poet.”  The painting features the Italian poet Girolamo Fracastoro – best known for his poem on syphilis – which was identified thanks to a strip of paper once stuck on the bottom left of the canvas.

A National Gallery spokesperson explained that Titian – ‘the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice’ – is now ‘thought to have painted the work in the 1520s’, and told of its rather nomadic existence to date, saying; ‘It has been in many rooms since joining the National Gallery collection in 1924’. Newly labelled, it now sits alongside the Gallery’s other works by the master painter. [artlyst.com and other sources]

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Woburn Abbey’s Rembrandt

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Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Old Rabbi”
Woburn Abbey, Woburn, Bedfordshire, England

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A newly-authenticated Rembrandt masterpiece has been revealed for the first time at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.

Until recently the original oil painting entitled “Portrait of an Old Man” or “The Old Rabbi” had hung in a private room at the home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford.  Now on public display, visitors to Woburn Abbey will have an unparalleled opportunity to view this ‘new’ Rembrandt up close.

Professor Ernst van de Wetering, acknowledged as a world authority on Rembrandt, was invited to Woburn last year to study the portrait.  His conclusion was that the quality and style of work proves it could only have been painted by the Dutch old master, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.

Woburn Abbey General Manager Jonathan Irby said:

“This is a discovery and a fine addition to the Abbey’s wonderful collection of Dutch art. We are very excited about bringing this exquisite painting into the public eye, especially since visitors will be able to get within a few inches of it.  The opportunity to discover a ‘new’ Rembrandt will provide an even more memorable day for our visitors in 2012.”

The first written reference to the painting in the Abbey records is in 1791, showing it was cleaned that year.  Along with two other portraits, it was initially accepted as a Rembrandt.  Over time, studies of the three portraits resulted in uncertainty.  However, curatorial staff believed “Portrait of an Old Man” had virtues that made it stand out as something special.

As Professor van de Wetering has highlighted:

“This painting is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive evocations of dignity in old age. The way the light makes the figure emerge from the dusky space and illuminates the wrinkled skin of the face, and the hands resting on a stick, makes it an outstanding specimen of Rembrandt’s art.”

It is therefore implied that this is more than a study of old age.  It is believed that the Woburn picture and a painting in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair.  Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case.  This, along with the similarities of design and biblical style – the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains – has led to the suggestion from Professor van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.  [The Woburn Abbey website]

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