Titian to Rubens

Unexpected (by me!) technical problems have necessitated putting a couple of blogs-in-preparation on the back burner, and output of verbiage in November has in any case taken second place to output of hedgehogs (105 and rising …) – do please come and buy one on 7 December! But I’m going back now to the superb exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens: Masterpieces from Antwerp and other Flemish Collections’, which is still running at the Doge’s Palace in Venice (until 1 March 2020), and which we saw in September.

Titian, ‘A Woman and her Daughter’. (Private collection)

The absolute and undisputed (also by me!) masterpiece in the show is a portrait by Titian of ‘A Woman and her Daughter’, which after the artist’s death was extraordinarily transmogrified by someone in his studio into a picture of Tobias and the Angel (the wonderful exhibition catalogue shows ‘before and after’ shots of the transformation). The woman and girl are thought to be Titian’s mistress (possibly a servant in his household) Milia and their daughter Emilia Vecellio (who was born between 1543 and 1548).

Emilia was married about 1572 to a grain merchant, Andrea di Giovanni Dossena; Titian settled a dowry of 750 ducats on her. The couple had three children, but almost nothing is known about Emilia’s own mother, and the catalogue suggests that Pomponio Vecellio, Titian’s legitimate son and heir, may have deliberately expunged from the record any references to his father’s various affairs after the death of his wife Cecilia in 1530. It is even possible that this wonderfully tender double portrait (now in a private collection) was deliberately doctored into a religious image on Pomponio’s instructions.

Titian’s ‘Allegory of Age Governed by Prudence’ (c. 1550–65) is thought by some to show his younger son Orazio (centre), and his nephew Marco (right), both painters in his studio. I don’t know if any portraits of Pomponio exist? (Credit: the National Gallery, London)

Among other highlights for me were this detail of children from ‘The Restitution of Treasures from St Michael’s Church in Antwerp to St Norbert’, which refers to an alleged intervention of St Norbert, the founder of St Michael’s Abbey, to restore the liturgical treasures which had been hidden for safety during an outbreak of heresy during the twelfth century. The artist Cornelis de Vos (1584–1651) was commissioned in 1630 to paint the scene in memory of Nicolaes Snoeck and his wife Catharina van Uytrecht (one of their sons was a Norbertine monk). As the catalogue points out, the parallels between the heresy of nearly 500 years earlier and the Counter-Reformation present would not have been lost on the contemporary viewer.

Cornelis De Vos, detail from ‘The Restitution of Treasures …’

Flower paintings were well represented: here are two, the first by Daniel Seghers (1590–1661) and the second by Seghers (the flowers) and Cornelis I Schut (1597–1655) (the rather cloying Madonna and Bambino).

Daniel Seghers, ‘Flowers in a vase’.

Daniel Seghers and Cornelis I Schut, ‘The Virgin and Child in a Flower Garland’.

Likewise still lives, including this fishy ensemble by Clara Peeters

Clara Peeters, ‘Still Life of Fish, with Crayfish, Shrimps and Oysters’, c. 1615.

and another one of cheese and seafood which I’ve already mentioned, on the topic of Painting Women: the latter was in a vitrine with a literally sparkling display of façon de Venise glassware.

A façon de Venise glass also appears in Jan Davidsz de Heem’s ‘Still Life with Fruit’.

Jan Davidsz de Heem ((1606–84), ‘Still Life with Fruit’.

And I’ve already mentioned the touching, melancholic painting by Michaelina Wautier of Sts Dorothy and Agnes:

Michaelina Wautier, ‘Sts Dorothy and Agnes’.

But the exhibition has much more than ‘merely’ paintings (and I realise I haven’t even touched on the Rubens works): there are sculptures, prints, drawings, painted tiles, and artefacts such as the glass goblets, silverware, and not one but two Andreas I Ruckers keyboard instruments, a small virginal and a harpsichord. The former was known as a ‘child virginal’ or ‘ottavino’ and was designed to fit inside a larger ‘mother’ virginal, to which it was tuned, an octave higher – sadly in this case the mother has not survived.

The child virginal, bereft of its mother.

Finally (for now), the wonderful detail of a man’s lace collar, from ‘A Merry Company (The Five Senses)’ by Jan Cossiers (1600–71).

Jan Cossiers, detail from ‘A Merry Company’. Look at the way the lace is bunched up by the chair-back.

This exhibition is really not to be missed, if you get the slightest chance to go – and after all, Venice needs all the help and support it can get at the moment. But it’s also confirmed my belief that I need to revisit Antwerp after far too many years – though I won’t go until all the loans from the various museums there are home from their travels and back on display.

Caroline

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