An Unknown Titian?


Apparently the picture above was sold at auction in Switzerland last week. It went for €460,000 at hammer, which is a hell of a lot for a picture described as copied after Titian in the sales catalogue. Clearly several bidders suspected it might be the real thing.

Brendor Grosvenor of Philip Mould informs us that the picture is extremely dirty, which makes fair judgement difficult, as does the inferior digital reproduction. My immediate reaction was that it looks like the so-called Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione in Dublin, a picture which is usually dated 1523, because we know that Castiglione (1478-1529) visited Venice that year. The identification of the sitter in the picture, however relies mostly on what is clearly a later annotation at top right. The likeness, if compared to confirmed portraits of Castiglione such as the famous one by Raphael, is slight, and stylistically the Dublin picture looks to me to be from around 1530 or even somewhat later.

Returning to the picture at hand, it shows the same conception of figure: not only is the sitter posed very similarly, with an opening toward a landscape at left, but the device of him looking into space, as if in thought, with a proud, slightly elevated demeanor seems to me to be something Titian developed around this time, and would later take to great heights in his humanist portraits of the following decades.

That being said, the picture does not immediately strike me as by the master himself. The handling of colour in the face especially seems to me a little to dry and overbaked, with none of the vibrancy of Titian. The hand looks better though and the rest of the picture is impossible to judge.

I may of course be entirely wrong: working from a reproduction is unreliable at the best of times and this particular image is exceptionally muddled, as apparently is the painting itself. Also, Titian’s quality of finish did vary, as is evident from the recently upgraded Portrait of Gerolamo Fracastoro at the National Gallery — an attribution that I’m coming around to, even if the picture is discouraging in terms of its quality. Lastly, the painting may have been retouched by a later hands, as often happens — especially with damaged pictures.

I do not know who Gabriel Solitus of Ferrara was and have not had the time to look him up. Obviously, any serious investigation of the painting would have to take into account this identification, which was presumably added to the painting by somebody other than the artist in a cartouche at upper right, reproduced separately at the auctioneer’s entry for the painting. Incidentally, the Dublin portrait carries its annotation in the same area.

Hype: Tardi in The Comics Journal

It’s been out for a while, but I still wanted to mention that the new issue of the recently revamped, book-format Comics Journal (#302) is a real treat, what with Gary Groth’s marathon-length interview with the late Maurice Sendak, a roundtable on kids comics featuring Art Spiegelman, Jeet Heer, Paul Levitz, and Paul Karasik, plus Tim Kreider on Chester Brown, Donald Phelps on Percy Crosby, Bob Levin on the ‘Keep on Truckin’ lawsuit, Tom Crippen on Mort Weisinger (again!), and much more.

A major attraction for yours truly. however, is Kim Thompson’s career-spanning interview with Jacques Tardi. An eye-opener on several levels, even for people familiar with his work, not least for the background it provides on his recent, major work of family history, Moi, René Tardi, prisonnier de guerre au Stalag IIB (which I wrote about in Danish here). I also have an essay in there, on Tardi’s classic Leo Malet adaptation 120, Rue de la Gare (1988), which may be of interest not only to Tardi afficionados, but also people interested in the issues of auteur comics touched upon in my recent essay at Hooded Utilitarian and the discussion it spurred.

Here’s publisher Fantagraphics’ preview:

More on comics criticism at the Hooded Utilitarian

Michael Kupperman on the issue at hand


In the latest instalment of my irregular column at the Hooded Utilitarian I present a late entry in the debate kicked off last month by Eddie Campbell, with his essay for The Comics Journal, “The Literaries”. In his essay, Campbell took issue with the insistence by some critics not just of comparing the achievements of comics with those of other art forms, but also what he saw as an unfortunate, concomitant tendency to understand comics by the logic of other media, especially literature.

It should come as no surprise that I’m sympathetic at least to the second part, having long thought that the visual aspects of comics tend to get short shrift in serious comics criticism. So… well, do pop over and take a look at my column. And do comment — it’s a difficult issue and one that needs more thought, so I would love to hear what you think.

On to Baltic Comic in Rendsburg

"Nordic Game" by Volker Sponholz


Tomorrow, I travel to Rendsburg in Schleswig, Northern Germany, to participate in the Baltic Comic seminar and workshop held at Nordkolleg cultural center. I am to give the keynote along with comics critic and historian Klaus Schikowski and it promises to be a fun event. I hope to see some of you there and will write more about it upon my return.

Baltic Comic is a recently founded network for comics in the Baltic region, comprising of course the Nordic and Baltic countries, along with Poland, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands. There’s a lot happening here up North!

A New Drawing by Titian


Above is a detail from a drawing that I’ve published in the new issue of the Burlington Magazine as by Titian. Not many drawings by the master is known, so this is a rare occurrence. I’m convinced that it’s by him, but am interested to see and hear what others think. So, if you’re interested, do look up the article.

The drawing was brought to my attention by George Goldner of the Metropolitan Museum in New York with words to the effect of “want to see a new drawing by Titian?” Needless to say, I am very grateful that he did.

Maren Uthaug vinder Politikens tegneseriekonkurrence


Som tidligere nævnt sad jeg i juryen for Politikens tegneseriekonkurrence. Tidligere i dag annonceredes vinderen, såvel som anden- og tredjepladsen. Maren Uthaug tog førstepladsen med Ting, jeg gjorde — en version af hendes vidt læste blog. Nummer to blev Christoffer Zieler med Arbejdstitler, mens tredjepladsen gik til Johan F. Krarups Uoplyst optimisme. En fornem vinderakkompagneret af to fornemme runners-up.

Ovre på Nummer9 har Thomas T interviewet Maren i anledningen og jeg selv giver ham også et par ord med på vejen. Her er Marens tegnede reaktion.

The Week

The week in review

The picture above reared its head again last week when the foundation dedicated to its authentication as an earlier version of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo presented new “proof” by pointing out geometric similarities with the famous picture in the Louvre. Strangely, it did not seem to occur to them that such geometric consonance would happen quite naturally in a copy, which is clearly what this is. But don’t take my word for it, here’s Leonardo specialist Martin Kemp demolishing the spurious claim.

  • This week, it was announced that the late collector and art historian Denis Mahon bequeathed 57 of his pictures, primarily Italian works of the 17th century, to a series of British museums, unfortunately with rather problematic stipulation that they be deaccessioned if the owners start charging admission. Look at the pictures here.
  • Ryan Holmberg on Osamu Tezuka’s sources. Revelatory article on how the Japanese “God of Comics” Tezuka and his collaborator Shichima Sakai more or less swiped the imagery and storytelling of their famous introductory sequence to their milestone New Treasure Island (1947) from American Disney artist Floyd Gottfredson.
  • There’s a new issue out of The Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art.
  • Donald Richie. We paid the late great film scholar, author, and Japanophile our respects yesterday, but just wanted also to share the following video of him talking about Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. We got it from this touching tribute. Also, read some of his criticism for The Japan Times here.
  • Donald Richie RIP

    Besides technique, however, there’s something else about [Seven Samurai] that defies analysis because there are no words to describe the effect. What I mean might be called the irrational rightness of an apparently gratuitous image in its proper place, and the image I always think of is that wonderful and mysterious scene in Zéro de conduite where it is apparently Sunday, Papa is reading the paper, and the boy’s little sister moves the fishbowl (hanging on a chain from its stand) so that when her brother removes his blindfold he can see the sun touching it. The scene moves me to tears and I have no idea why. It was not economical of [Jean] Vigo to have included it, it “means” nothing–and it is beautiful beyond words.

    Part of the beauty of such scenes (actually rather common in all sorts of films, good, bad, and indifferent) is just that they are “thrown away” as it were, that they have no place, that they do not ostensibly contribute, that they even constitute what has been called bad filmmaking. It is not the beauty of these unexpected images, however, that captivates… but their mystery. They must remain unexplained. It has been said that after a film is over all that remains are a few scattered images, and if they remain the film was memorable. That is true so far as it goes, but one must add that if the images remain, it means only that the images were for some reason or other memorable. Further, if one remembers carefully one finds that it is only the uneconomical, mysterious images which remain.

    Kurosawa’s films are filled with them… For example, in Drunken Angel there is a scene where [Toshiro] Mifune lies ill in the room of his mistress. [Takashi] Shimura comes in and does not wake him buts sits by the bed. He opens the girl’s powder-box. It has a music-box inside and plays a Chinese tune. While it is playing, he notices a Javanese shadow-puppet hanging on the wall. While looking benevolently at the sleeping Mifune (and this is the first time he has been nice to him–when he is asleep and cannot know about it), he begins to move the puppet this way and that, observing its large shadow over the sleeping gangster. While one might be able to read something into the scene, it is so beautiful, so perfect, and so mysterious, that even the critical faculty must hesitate, then back away.

    Its beauty, certainly, is partly that in the closely reasoned philosophical argument that is this film, it is a luxury–take it away and it would never be missed. It gives no information about plot or character. Kurosawa’s films are so rigorous and, at the same time, so closely reasoned that little scenes such as this appeal with the direct simplicity of water in the desert. There are many more… but in no other single film are there as many as in Seven Samurai.

    What one remembers best from this superbly economical film then are those scenes which seem most uneconomical–that is, those which apparently add nothing to it… there is the short scene where a prisoner has been caught, and the oldest woman in the village–she who has lost all her sons–is called to come and murder him. She marches slowly forward, hoe in her hand, terribly old, terribly bent, a crone. And though we sympathize, the image of one of horror–it is death itself because we have seen, and will see, men killed and think little of it, but here is death itself with a hoe, mysterious, unwilled. Or, those several shots of the avenue of cryptomerias, and two bonfires, one far and the other near. This is where the bandits will come but we do not yet know this. Instead the trees, the fires, the night–all are mysterious, memorable. Or, that magnificent image we see after Mifune has rescued the baby and burst into tears. The mill is burning and Mifune is sitting in the stream, looking at the child and crying. The next scene is a simple shot of the water-wheel turning, as it always has. But the wheel is on fire. Or, that curiously long close-up of the dead Mifune. He has stolen some armor but his bottom is unprotected. Now he lies on a narrow bridge, on his face, and the rain is washing away the dirt from his buttocks. He lies there like a child–all men with bare buttocks look like children–yet he is dead, and faintly ridiculous in death, and yet he was our friend for we have come to love him. All of this we must think as we sit through the seconds of this simple, unnecessary, and unforgettable scene.

    From Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1960). Donald Richie RIP.