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Venus and Adonis by Titian at auction at Sotheby’s, London

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Venus and Adonis by Titian at auction at Sotheby’s, London

One of the finest versions of Titian’s (1488-1576) sumptuous renderings of ‘Venus and Adonis’, whose attribution has recently been confirmed, will go to auction at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday 7 December: offered with an estimate of 8-12 million pounds (9-14 million euros), it will be the most important painting by the Venetian artist offered on the art market this century. The painting that will be auctioned was exhibited in Vienna on the occasion of the exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum entitled “Titian’s Vision of Women”, which was intended to illustrate through about sixty works from the collections of the Viennese museum, from museums around the world and try how the famous artist has depicted women throughout his production.

The masterpiece was exhibited in the section “The splendid world of myths”, which told how Renaissance artists and their patrons considered history painting to be the pinnacle of great art. The research and studies that have been carried out on the painting have allowed experts to identify an almost uninterrupted provenance that traces three hundred years from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the present day. Recent reports have emerged showing that this «Venus and Adonis» belonged to Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736) and another notable former owner was Benjamin West (1738-1820), president of the Royal Academy of London and history painter officer of George III.

The journey of the painting
New research has also established the painting’s journey through mid-20th-century Germany, from the collection of Maximilian von Heyl zu Herrnsheim (1844-1925) in Darmstadt, almost certainly from 1904 until 1966. The painting’s original owner remains unclear. , although a possible candidate could be Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517-1586), one of the most influential statesmen of his time, who we know commissioned a version after 1554. Another clue as to a possible patron is an engraving by Julius Sanuto which reproduces the painting in 1559 – authorized by Titian – and which bears a dedication to Alberto Utiner, of whom very little is known. This work has been hidden from public view for a long time and therefore is also little studied. After a technical examination of the painting in 2015, the full extent of Titian’s direct involvement was published in a study by Thomas Dalla Costa, who recognized its qualities as a work conceived and developed by Titian himself and provided clear evidence of the artist’s hand. Following the 2022 Vienna exhibition and a large subsequent discussion among scholars, there is now broad agreement as to Titian’s authorship of the painting.

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At the time they were considered “too lascivious”
While Titian explored the theme of «Venus and Adonis» from the 1520s onwards, this version refers more closely to the artist’s celebrated painting of the same subject painted for Philip of Habsburg, later King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598 ), sent in 1554 and now in the collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The version was part of a series of six paintings that Philip of Habsburg commissioned from Titian inspired by Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Known as «poetic paintings», this cycle of works – executed over the course of eleven years – ranks among the greatest achievements of Titian’s career. Although it had raised some concern at the time that ‘Venus and Adonis’ were ‘too lascivious’, Titian’s conception attracted great fame which earned him numerous commissions. With each interpretation he demonstrated the incredible ability to reinvent motifs, in various forms, making each version different in size and detail. Today, a dozen performances survive, more than half of which are held in major public collections. In addition to the Philip II version in the Prado, there are others in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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