Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 114

Titian’s Unidentified Donor Presented to the Virgin
and Child by Saint Luke at Hampton Court1
Titian’s canvas (124.5 x 167.5) of the Virgin and Child
with Saint Catherine and an Apostle, sold from the Kisters
Collection at Sotheby’s New York on 27 January
2011, lot 156 (fig. 1), can be traced back to the 1620s
when Van Dyck recorded it in his Italian sketchbook
(fig. 2).2 It was then owned by – and had no doubt
been painted for – the Paduan dell’Orologio family,
with which Titian had connections, and it remained
with them until the 1790s.3 Worsley soon lost it when
the ship carrying much of his collection to England
was taken by privateers, from whom it was acquired
– via Guillaume Guillon-Lethière – by Lucien
Bonaparte.4 Lucien sold it in London in 1814 and,
following various passages of ownership, it entered the
Desborough Collection at Panshanger, whence it was
consigned to auction in 1954.
Migrating from one private collection to another, the
Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine and an Apostle was
little known before 1954 and was never reproduced;
it was not published formally until 1959.5 Since then
it has generally been accepted as an autograph work.
Its dating has oscillated but, at the time of the 2011
sale, a consensus formed favouring ca. 1560 – which
corresponds with my own view.6 Wethey called the
painting the Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and
Luke but the Apostle lacks any attribute. Others have
opted for the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, but that
is not quite the action represented. The painting seems
rather to show Catherine being presented to the Virgin
and Child, an action iconographically unusual if not
anomalous; it would be unproblematic for Catherine
to be accompanied by an Apostle, but why should she
be introduced by one? Nor is the physical realization of
the action, however it is interpreted, wholly convincing;
Saint Catherine’s pose, particularly the twist of her
head and neck, is uncomfortable, her wheel is intrusive,
and the left hand of the Apostle disappears into her
back. X-ray examination carried out by Sotheby’s helps
clarify the picture’s present appearance. It establishes
that Catherine was superimposed on, apparently, a
young man kneeling in prayer (fig. 3).7 And this explains
the arrangement: appropriate to the presentation of a
donor but not of a saint. In short the surface image is
an adaptation of one laid in with a different purpose.
Reference was made by Wethey and in the entry in the
sale catalogue to another version of the composition,
virtually identical in size at 121.5 x 171 cm, in which
Luke, accompanied by his ox, presents to the Virgin
not a saint but an unidentified donor, presumably
named Luca. This canvas, in the Royal Collection
at Hampton Court (fig. 4), was acquired in 1637 by
Charles I among a group of paintings from Frosely.8 In
1639 it was copied in a warmed monochrome drawing
by Peter Oliver, which records its appearance when it
was nearly four centuries younger (fig. 5).9 Perhaps Van
Dyck advised the King on the purchase, for he knew
this picture too and had copied part of it in his Italian
sketchbook, labelling it Titiano, although he exaggerated
the donor’s pose, showing him reaching out eagerly, if
indecorously, to touch the Child (fig. 6).10 The Virgin
and Child with Saint Luke and a Donor, priced very high at
£150 in September 1649 during the Commonwealth
sales, sold in November for the still higher £165 to
Colonel Hutchinson, from whom it was recovered


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