Museums Spain

Prado confirms Titian attribution

Third version of St John the Baptist turns up in Spanish church

The Prado's St John the Baptist by Titian, after restoration

Curators at the Museo del Prado in Madrid believe they have unearthed a work by Titian, which was on loan to a church in Almería in southern Spain from 1886 until 2007. The museum confirmed the attribution, which we reported in our November issue (The Art Newspaper, November, p1).The work, originally thought to have been a copy, depicts John the Baptist; two other versions of the saint by Titian are in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, around 1530 to 1532, and the monastery of El Escorial, north-west of Madrid (around 1565 to 1570). The newly attributed painting dates from around 1555. It has undergone extensive restoration and is due to go on display in the Prado's Jerónimos Building alongside the two other versions (until 10 February 2013).

Miguel Falomir, the head of the department of Italian and French paintings up to 1700 at the Prado, spotted the painting in the church while researching a catalogue raisonné of Titian’s works. The newly attributed work entered the Prado's collection in 1872 via the Museo de la Trinidad and was credited to “an anonymous Madrid School artist of the 17th century”. Fourteen years later it was sent to the parish church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Cantoria, Almería, where it remained until Falomir's visit. The version in the El Escorial monastery was donated by Titian’s patron, King Philip II, in 1577.

A Prado spokeswoman says: “In the catalogue of the exhibition "Titian" held at the Prado in 2003, Falomir... proposed that the present [newly attributed] painting could be a copy of a now lost Baptist by Titian. In the light of this suggestion in 2007, the museum embarked on a study of the work, reaching the conclusion that it was not a copy but an original by Titian.”

John the Baptist was one of the artist's most popular religious topics while the painting provides proof of how Titian repeated his compositions. “The [newly attributed work] provides information on the other two versions of the subject, strengthening the arguments for the autograph status of the El Escorial painting which has been recently questioned,” says the spokeswoman.

Speaking before today's announcement, Bendor Grosvenor, a co-director of the Philip Mould gallery in London, said: “The key thing is that the pose in the newly discovered version can now be linked back to an original concept by Titian. That in itself does not mean the newly [attributed] picture is by Titian, but it almost certainly places it in the workshop at least.”

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