Soul on Fire


This review is was originally published in Danish at Rackham in 2004 and is reprinted here as a supplement to the short essay Yvan Alagbé’s comics that I’ve just published over at The Comics Journal.

The French-Belgian publishing structure Éditions Frémok, or FRMK for short, has now been in the game for ten years, initially separately, as Belgian Frémok and French Amok, and since 2002 together. They have managed one of the most consistent and challenging publishing programs in avant-garde comics. They have unerringly emphasized the boundary-breaking, the experimental, and often fine arts-oriented comics by some of the most innovative creators in Europe, people such as Thierry van Hasselt, Olivier Marboeuf, Dennis & Olivier Deprez, Stefano Ricci, Silvestre, Kamel Khélif, Vincent Fortemps, Michael Matthys, Dominique Goblet, Martin tom Dieck, Nabile Farès, Aristophane, and the Dane Søren Mosdal.

Their publications are unequivocally high art and as such expose themselves to criticism on two flanks. One is the risk of pretentiousness and postulated profundity, the other is the inevitable comparisons with other forms of visual art, comparisons which tend to put this kind of sequential painting to a disadvantage. Unsurprisingly, FRMK’s publication history is one of precarious and not always successfully negotiating these difficulties, but the fact that they persist is entirely to their credit. It is refreshing to see somebody uncompromisingly asserting their belief in the potential of the medium to fathom the wide expressive range that has traditionally been the domain of other media.

Hype: Titian’s Early Portrait of a Man in Copenhagen


And they keep coming… although this is probably the last one in a while. Part of my core research as a fellow at Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen centred on the early Titian portrait of an elderly man (above), which is on long loan to the gallery from Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. That the sitter might just be his teacher, the great painter Giovanni Bellini, doesn’t make this sensitive portrait less interesting. The results of my research, and — crucially — that of restorer Troels Filtenborg, are now published (in Italian) for all to see in the storied journal Arte Veneta, published by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice.

Here’s the English abstract:

The article provides a thorough examination of the Portrait of a Man by Titian in the collection of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, on permanent loan to Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Its provenance is laid out in unprecedented detail. A thorough technical examination reveals that the portrait was painted on top of another, cancelled one, showing a figure dressed in a red garment. It further reveals that the landscape view at left was added to what was originally a plain background. The painting’s attribution to Titian, which has been occasionally disputed, is considered and affirmed with reference to the technical evidence as well as comparable works in his oeuvre. This also provides a likely date of completion around 1512. Lastly, it is proposed that the first, overpainted sitter may have been the Venetian senator Andrea Loredan di Nicolò, for whom Titian worked his early years. As for the person portrayed in the finished picture, the long-standing if controversial hypothesis that he may be the painter Giovanni Bellini is discussed. While this identification impossible to affirm conclusively, the authors consider the arguments in favour sufficiently strong that it should not be dismissed.

The volume can be acquired directly from The Fondazione Cini, as well as from Mondadori. Or any self-respecting art library, I should think, for those understandably reluctant to fork out the big bucks.

Hype: Titian and Bonasone


Here’s another one. In the latest issue of Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (vol. 77, no. 3) I have an article on Titian’s collaboration with the printmaker Giulio Bonasone in the early 1560s. Examining their collaboration not only sheds new light on Titian’s active involvement in printmaking, but also on the chronology of his paintings for Philip II and the Spanish court during these years. And then there’s the above drawing, always placed in the Titian studio but never convincingly attributed. I think I’ve made a decent case that it’s by Bonasone (with retouching just possibly by Titian himself).

Read it at your art library! TOC here.

Boom PING PING

Nikoline Werdelin for the win!


It’s been a week and half since the big show, but I still think this year’s Ping awards deserve a few words for what little international audience this site still has after months of hibernation.

The Ping awards is an annual set of awards given to comics in Denmark in the manner of the Angoulême Fauves or the American Eisners. Founded by the Danish Comics Council, the awards are a revivification of a differently conceived, hall of fame-type award of the same name which was bestowed on single creators through the early nineties, as well as of the awards programme hosted by the comics biennial Komiks.dk from 2004-2010. The Pings are named after one of the best known characters created by one of the greatest Danish cartoonists, Robert Storm Petersen, aka. Storm P. (1882-1949).

Hype: Titian’s Venus and Adonis in prints

Giulio Sanuto after Titian, 'Venus and Adonis', 1559, engraving, 538 x 415 mm. Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst.


In the latest volume of the Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft the interested reader will find my article on the permutations of Titian’s famous Venus and Adonis composition in sixteenth-century prints, and through them in painting. It turns out that careful examination of the sources and the prints yields fascinating information on how the master developed this, one of his most enduring compositions through multiple versions during the course of a long career.

Here’s the abstract:

Titian’s Venus and Adonis was one of Titian’s most successful compositions and remains among his most iconic. Around a dozen painted versions are known today, the most famous being the canvas painted for Philip II around 1552:54 (Prado). Less well-known are the seven prints made of the composition in the latter half of the sixteenth-century. This article demonstrates that at least two of these were made with Titian’s approval and that they provide valuable insight not only into his work with printmakers, but also his production of replicas, reflecting as they do intermediate stages in his development of the composition through the 1550s.

More information here.

Hype: Titian caricaturing Michelangelo and Raphael painting the Pope’s Beard

No, these aren't the caricature mentioned, but they're also by Titian (and/or his assistants), and they're on the back of the Ancona Pala Gozzi.


In the latest issue of the scholarly journal Artibus et Historiae, I have an article on a caricature found on the back of a Titian canvas, seemingly depicting Michelangelo. It’s fairly speculative, I suppose, but that’s the nature of such things, and in any case it engages a number of issues — caricature, cartooning, the grotesque — that have been chronically under-examined in the history of art and the humanities in general. Oh, there’s also an extensive excursus on Pope Julius II’s beard, and Raphael and Leonardo are implicated…

Here’s the abstract:

The article examines drawings found on the back of the canvas of the recently surfaced Portrait of a Man (Girolamo Cornaro?) painted by Titian around 1511:1512. Drawn with the point of the brush, they depict a large head in profi le and two smaller figures. Loose and broad in execution, at least the former belongs to the domain of caricature. By comparison with similar drawings, on paper as well as the versos of other paintings, the drawings are here attributed to Titian. Further, the possibility that the head might be a portrayal of Michelangelo is explored, as is its value as evidence of the reception of Michelangelo’s outsize public stature and self-fashioning as an imperfect, Socratic artist whose work carried palpable overtones of the grotesque. The two figure studies, in themselves acutely Michelangelesque, are related to inventions by other contemporaries. Next, the fact that the caricature wears a beard, but no moustache, occasions an excursus on contemporary facial hair generally and specifically that of Michelangelo’s patron, Julius II. Ecclesiastical beards were a controversial issue at the time, and shaving one’s upper lip carried liturgical significance. Julius was the fi rst Renaissance pope to grow a beard, as is famously charted by Raphael in his portraits of him in the Vatican frescoes and elsewhere. By focusing on the depiction of his beard, the article sheds new light on the iconography of these pictures and potentially their confused chronology. Lastly, Titian’s drawings are examined in the context of contemporary grotesques with reference to Leonardo’s explorations of exaggerated physiognomies. On this basis, it proposes a reevaluation of Renaissance caricature.

The issue is second of two dedicated to Professor Peter Humfrey in his retirement. I am very happy to thus take part in the celebration!

Artibus et Historiae vol. 68 is available now in a specialist library near you!