Paintings of the Man of Sorrows by Titian and his studio
drapery, not a mantle but approximating to one, is
knotted at His throat and falls rather widely across His
proper left shoulder. The Mater Dolorosa has received
little attention, but when it has been mentioned, has
been said to be after the painting in Leopold Wilhelm’s
collection; but it too is different: the engraving shows
the type with more corrugated drapery. It seems that
Vorsterman’s engravings reproduce another pair of
paintings issued by Titian and/or his workshop which
was presumably owned by an Italian couple resident
in Flanders in the mid-seventeenth century but about
which we have no further information.70
Fig. 28 / Lucas Vorsterman II
after Titian, Man of Sorrows, ca.
1650, engraving, 22.8 x 15.2
cm, Rotterdam, Boijmans van
Beuningen Museum.
Fig. 29 / Lucas Vorsterman II
after Titian, Mater Dolorosa, ca.
1650, engraving and etching, 23
x 16.3 cm, Vienna, The Albertina.
The reader who has persisted to this point – or fallen
by the wayside – will appreciate the fragility of many –
perhaps most – of the hypotheses proposed. A chance
documentary find, an unpublished inventory reference
discovered or a published one overlooked, the appearance
of a previously unknown painting, whether autograph
or studio or copy – good or poor – even unconnected to
a documentary reference, has the potential to overturn
apparently secure structures.71 We do not know how many
paintings which have left documentary deposits but are
presumed lost might survive unidentified; we have no
idea how many undocumented ones have disappeared;
and some surviving paintings have evaded record. When
slightly differing versions of the same composition survive
in obvious copies, we can never be certain whether those
differences result from the personalities of the copyists or
whether they register variations among different originals.
For it is abundantly clear that Titian and his studio –
like Giovanni Bellini and his – was prepared to execute
modified – sometimes only very slightly modified –
repetitions of successful and popular paintings and at short
intervals, and we have no means of knowing how many
might have been produced.
Paintings of the Man of Sorrows by Titian and his studio
Remembering that occasional criticisms about the
quality of Titian’s execution were vented within his
lifetime, it seems evident that he could sometimes
employ assistants even on paintings which one might
have expected him to execute himself. And despite the
efforts that have been devoted to elucidating Titian’s
studio practice, few certainties have been reached.
Furthermore, his practice was not singular but plural:
practices varied, fluid and constantly in change. We
must also accept that, in many cases, judgments of
authorship are provisional or approximate; that Titian
on a bad day, or bored, or impatient, or nearing a
deadline, might produce work qualitatively – insofar
as so subjective an estimate as “quality” can be
determined – indistinguishable from that by an assistant
or an associate is always a possibility, notwithstanding
the over-confident pronouncements of some modern
scholars. It is clear, too, from Eleonora Gonzaga’s
letters – however regrettable we may find it – that at
least some of his clients believed Titian to be capable
of sharp practice, prepared to substitute one picture for
another, or to pass off a copy as an original72; and we
know from other sources that he was willing to divert
a painting from one client to another if he thought he
could benefit from doing so.
To such problems must be added those of
vocabulary. The writers and recipients of the
letters cited here generally expressed themselves
loosely. Imprecision is the norm, understandable
in situations in which writers and readers knew
what they were talking about and had no need to
define their terms with contractual exactitude.
Consequently, space opens for interpretation. And
looseness in sixteenth-century vocabulary finds
kindred in modern art-historical discourse. There
are no commonly agreed definitions of the varying
categories of pictorial creation: words such as
version, variant, repetition, replica, or copy become
meaningful only when qualified, and qualifications
too are open to dispute. Thus, while I hope that
there is some internal consistency in the vocabulary
employed in this piece, it makes no pretence to
“scientific” or even legalistic precision.
In short, this essay is an attempt – and no more than that
– to make sense of a mass, or a mess, of disparate – and
unequally reliable – pieces of information, documentary
and visual. As a preliminary effort to map the territory, it
is inevitably open to revisions large and small and even –
but it is to be hoped not – complete demolition.


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