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Conservation reveals Wellington Collection work was painted by Titian's Workshop
Orpheus Enchanting the Animals can now be seen by the public.

LONDON.- An 18-month English Heritage conservation and research project have concluded that an Apsley House painting thought for more than 100 years to be by Allesandro Varotari, is in fact by Titian’s workshop, in collaboration with the master himself.

Orpheus Enchanting the Animals can now be seen by the public as it is back on display from today (Thursday 1 August 2019) at Apsley House, on Hyde Park Corner in London.

Provenance of Orpheus Enchanting the Animals
Orpheus Enchanting the Animals was attributed to Titian from its earliest record in 1601 until the 19th-century, when its poor condition led art historians to downgrade it to a follower of Titian called Alessandro Varotari (nicknamed Padovanino because he was from Padua).

The painting originally formed part of the Spanish Royal Collection, but was removed from the Royal Palace in Madrid by Napoleon. It was amongst those works of art rescued by the first Duke of Wellington in June 1813 from the baggage train on the battlefield at Vitoria, Spain at the end of the Peninsular Wars. It is one of the 82 paintings known as the ‘Spanish gift’ that was given to the Duke by a grateful King Ferdinand VII and which formed the basis of the Apsley House collection.

Conservation in the English Heritage Studio
In 2018 the decision was made to conserve Orpheus Enchanting the Animals.

The first job was to remove old, yellowed varnish with swabs dipped in solvent mixtures. Next a specialist liner was called in to reline the painting as the old lining canvas was failing. An old inventory number was discovered on the back which linked it to the Spanish Royal Collection. Finally, Orpheus Enchanting the Animals was re-varnished and the old damages filled with chalk putty and retouched with easily removable, synthetic pigments which will not discolour like oil paint does.

The quality of the figure can now clearly be seen. Before cleaning, some of the subtlety of the shading and modelling of the figure was obscured by the dirty varnish. Now experts can properly see the painting and discuss whether it is by Titian and / or his Workshop.

Attribution of Orpheus Enchanting the Animals
New art historical research has now found a reference to this painting in the Duke of Infantado’s collection in Spain from 1601. Padovanino was only 13 when this was written - so the work cannot have been by him.

Some experts now believe that, at the very least, the figure and the red cloth are of sufficient quality to be painted by Titian himself, infra-red examination of the work has revealed there are significant changes between the underdrawing and the final painting.

The painting was sketched in and the artist changed their mind as they worked, as there are several pentiments (alterations) around Orpheus’s body and elbow. The little dog - taken from Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534) - was added as an afterthought and one of the birds has been painted out. It would be unusual to find these changes in a copy after another work.

The paint is fluid, sensitive and self-assured and the softly handled flesh tones and red drapery are Titianesque.

It is therefore now thought this must be the primary version of the painting - there was a version in Vienna in the 1930’s (lost in the Second World War) and there is another attributed to Allesandro Varotari in the Prado. However, this painting doesn’t have quite the same energy as other late paintings by Titian, which indicates studio involvement.

Alice Tate-Harte, Fine Art Conservator, English Heritage “This is not one of Titian’s best paintings, but it is certainly one of the most fascinating paintings I have worked on. The myth of Orpheus remains relevant in today’s confrontational world. The question of attribution is so tricky but by looking at technical and historical evidence we were able to pin it down at least to Titian’s workshop, although the process in Titian’s studio was very collaborative and Titian may well have done some of the underpainting or added some finishing touches. It is now over to connoisseurs of Titian to decide.
I was lucky enough to discover a Titian signature on another painting in the Apsley collection; Titian’s Mistress. To make one Titian discovery was good fortune, but to be involved in two is extraordinary! The collection has plenty more to discover- I wonder what we will find next!?”

Josephine Oxley, Keeper of the Wellington Collection says “Our recent discoveries highlight not only the extraordinary quality of the collection at Apsley House but how much conservation work can add to our understanding of artists like Titian.”

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