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Risen Again

4 October 2013

It looks like a previously unknown painting by Titian has been discovered. The Guardian picked up the story last week from the latest issue of the Burlington Magazine, which features the painting – a Risen Christ – on its cover.

If Artur Rosenauer, author of the original article, is correct, this is an incredibly exciting story. A new Titian is a rare thing indeed.

After the initial excitement, though, uncertainty has silenced the newswires. I have heard that there are several people itching to speak out in favour or contradiction of the attribution, but critics are routinely told that they should not or cannot do so, at least until the connoisseurs have had their fill.

Any doubters?

Any doubters?

Understandable as that is – it takes many years, 15, to quote a former tutor, and specialist training before one has sufficient experience to talk about authenticity – it severely limits dialogue on the artwork in question.

But there is an upside to this. Unhampered by the connoisseur’s need to compile something near to proof, the enthusiast ought to be quite within their rights to speak boldly, of feelings and of instincts.

I’ve worked on Titian, intermittently, for the last four years, and to me, the Risen Christ feels like a Titian. Anatomically, compositionally, in total, it is a good painting, good enough, I think, to be his.

I would like to see it up close (it is currently in a private collection), but from the reproductions I have seen it looks on a par with the work the young Italian was producing in his early years.

The oil on canvas bears similarities with Titian’s Noli me Tangere (c.1514), and its landscape still looks quite Giorgionesque (Titian and Giorgione trained under Giovanni Bellini), while not being a million miles away from the rugged backdrops of later works by Titian, such as the David and Goliath and Tityus.

The Christ, who stands front-on on the lid of his tomb, his weight on his back foot, is less energetic than in Titian’s famous Averoldi Polyptych (Brescia) of 1522, and closer to the representation in The Resurrection from the 1540s. In his article Rosenauer suggests that the Risen Christ (at 1.44m high too small to be an altarpiece) was painted for a sacramental confraternity, which seems plausible.

The obvious problem with instinct is its lack of specificity. If I really try to put my finger on what it is that convinces me about this painting, it is less its comparability to other autograph works, and more its familiarity, particularly in terms of tonality and palette. When I look at this painting, I feel that I have seen it before.

Unscientific as that is, I console myself with the fact that if it weren’t for people’s instincts, few of the unsigned works we acknowledge today would have switched hands or come to light in the first place. That said, I am relieved that the fate of the Risen Christ will not rest on instinct alone.