In contrast to the man with whom she shares this outdoor scene, the female figure is incongruously naked. Her features seem generalized. Rather than a specific person, she may have been intended to represent an idealized, anonymous lover.
This painting has significant compositional similarities to a Titian painting in the Louvre called Woman with a Mirror (c. 1515). Allegory of Love may have been begun by an artist from Titian’s workshop after the master’s completion of Woman with a Mirror. Examination of the paint layers under the surface shows that the original composition included some details present in the Louvre painting—for example, the man’s left arm was placed higher, presumably to hold a circular mirror above the woman’s left shoulder, and his right hand held the rectangular mirror from the side rather than from below. Such changes suggest that the painter had access to Titian’s designs.
The man’s costume provides clues about the period in which the artist produced this work. The doublet, with its short, pleated skirt, resembles a fashion dating from at least a decade after the Louvre picture; the pleated collar and cuffs of the shirt and the cut of the hair and beard also did not become fashionable until the mid-1520s. Probably, therefore, the painter adapted Titian’s design, perhaps in the form of an underdrawing begun circa 1515–1520, and completed it at some date in the 1530s.
Ever since 1815, when it was discovered by Count Leopoldo Cicognara in the attic of a palace in Ferrara, the picture has attracted controversy with regard both to its attribution and to its subject.
Leopoldo Cicognara, Relazione di due quadri di Tiziano Vecellio (Venice, 1816), 3–14.
Stefano Ticozzi, Vite dei pittori Vecelli di Cadore (Milan, 1817), 52–64. Titian’s portrait is now universally identified with that in the Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen.
For the story of the discovery of the portrait and Cicognara’s dealings with Stewart, see Vittorio Malamani, Memorie del Conte Leopoldo Cicognara (Venice, 1888), 2:113–114, 125–133.
In Paris the picture could be compared with the compositionally similar Woman with a Mirror in the Louvre
Frédéric Villot, Notice des tableaux exposés dans les galéries du Musée Impérial du Louvre (Paris, 1869), 289; Vittorio Malamani, Memorie del Conte Leopoldo Cicognara (Venice, 1888), 2:128–129.
But a certain skepticism toward both the traditional attribution and the title was already expressed by Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle in 1877, and then more emphatically by Carl Justi and Seymour de Ricci;
Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, Titian, His Life and Times (London, 1877), 1:268–269; Carl Justi, Miscellaneen aus drei Jahrhunderten spanischen Kunstlebens (Berlin, 1908), 2:169; Seymour de Ricci, Description raisonnée des peintures du Louvre (Paris, 1913), 163–164.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, “Ein unbekanntes Meisterwerk Tizians,” Belvedere 1 (1922): 91; Wilhelm R. Valentiner, The Henry Goldman Collection (New York, 1922), no. 6.
Adolfo Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, vol. 9, part 3 (Milan, 1928), 230–234; Lionello Venturi, Italian Paintings in America, trans. Countess Vanden Heuvel and Charles Marriott (New York and Milan, 1933), 3: no. 508; Wilhelm Suida, Tizian (Zurich and Leipzig, 1933), 30, 158, no. 121a; Günther Tschmelitsch, Harmonia est Discordia Concors (Vienna, 1966), n.p.
For the Barcelona and Prague variants, see Harold Wethey, The Paintings of Titian (London, 1975), 3:163–165, nos. 23–24; for the latter see also Jaromír Neumann, The Picture Gallery of Prague Castle (Prague, 1967), 280. Variants showing the female figure alone include those exhibited in Venice in 1947 (Alberto Riccoboni, ed., Pittura veneta: Prima mostra dell’arte antica delle raccolte private veneziane [Venice, 1947], pl. 37), and in Toledo, OH, in 1940 (see Four Centuries of Venetian Painting [Toledo, OH, 1940], no. 62).
Alessandro Ballarin in Le siècle de Titien: L’âge d’or de la peinture à Venise (Paris, 1993), 363; the sale was Christie’s, London, May 14, 1971, no. 24, as a Flemish copy (98 × 74.9 cm). Formerly in the Pierre Bezine collection (sold Fievez, Brussels, June 14, 1927, no. 124) and in the collections of Prince Ourasoff and Prince Menschikoff, as Paris Bordone. It is not clear whether this is the same as the picture that appeared in a sale at Christie’s, South Kensington, July 9, 2010, no. 45 (102 × 73.7 cm). Paul Joannides and Rupert Featherstone, “A Painting by Titian from the Spanish Royal Collection at Apsley House, London,” Hamilton Kerr Institute Bulletin 5 (2014): 73, surmised that the latter is a copy after a lost Titian.
Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV–XVI Century (London, 1968), 189–190; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:498–500; Harold Wethey, The Paintings of Titian (London, 1975), 3:212–213.
The very poor condition of the painting and the presence of extensive overpaint and discolored varnish make such negative judgments understandable. The generally thin and bland application of the paint, without any of Titian’s characteristically expressive brushwork, certainly argues against his personal involvement in the execution, at least of the upper layers. However, the evidence of extensive pentimenti, and the fact that the original composition was even closer to that of the Louvre Woman with a Mirror, suggests that the executant had access to Titian’s designs, and hence that he was at least a member of Titian’s workshop, and not an independent imitator. The man’s costume is of a fashion dating from at least a decade after the Louvre picture: the doublet, with its short, pleated skirt, resembles that worn by Federico Gonzaga in Titian’s portrait of 1529 (Prado, Madrid);
As pointed out by Jane Bridgeman, this type of doublet was fashionable throughout the 1530s, but had become obsolete by c. 1540 (letter to Peter Humfrey, Sept. 11, 2000).
Since the female figure is not accompanied by any of the particular attributes of a mythological deity, there is no good reason to follow Valentiner’s title of the Toilet of Venus, and still less convincing is the identification by Tschmelitsch of the two figures as Venus and Mars. Like its Louvre prototype, the picture clearly belongs rather to a category of erotic painting that hovers ambivalently on the borders of allegory, mythology, and genre, and which is much discussed in current art-historical discourse (see also
For recent divergent interpretations, see Elise Goodman-Soellner, “A Poetic Interpretation of the ‘Lady at Her Toilette’ Theme in Sixteenth-Century Painting,” Sixteenth Century Journal 14 (1983): 426–442; Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women (New Haven and London, 1997), 66–67; and Cathy Santore, “The Tools of Venus,” Renaissance Studies 11 (1997): 181–182.
Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women (New Haven and London, 1997), 67.
For which see Patricia Simons, “Portraiture, Portrayal and Idealization: Ambiguous Individualism in Representations of Renaissance Women,” in Language and Images of Renaissance Italy, ed. Alison Brown (Oxford, 1995), 294–301; Cathy Santore, “The Tools of Venus,” Renaissance Studies 11 (1997): 179–207. The term may be a misnomer, however, since portraits of real courtesans are more likely to show them as accomplished ladies of fashion than in dishabille. See Carol M. Schuler, “The Courtesan in Art: Historical Fact or Modern Fantasy?” Women’s Studies 19 (1991): 209–221; Mary Rogers, “Fashioning Identities for the Renaissance Courtesan,” in Fashioning Identities in Renaissance Art, ed. Mary Rogers (Aldershot, 2000), 91–105; and Luke Syson, “Belle: Picturing Beautiful Women,” in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer (New Haven and London, 2008), 246–254.
Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women (New Haven and London, 1997), 67.
March 21, 2019
Counts Benacosi, Ferrara; on consignment 1815 with Count Leopoldo Cicognara, Venice; sold 1815 to Charles William Vane, Lord Stewart [1778-1854, later 3rd marquess of Londonderry], but returned 1816 to Cicognara; sold after 1821 to James-Alexandre, comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier [1776-1855], Paris; (Pourtalès-Gorgier sale, Paris, 27 March-4 April 1865, no. 118); purchased by Comte Charles de Pourtalès, Paris. private collection, England; Baron Michele Lazzaroni, Paris and Rome; sold March 1920 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased February 1922 by Henry Goldman [1857-1937], New York, until at least 1933. (Duveen Brothers, Inc.); sold March 1937 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1939 to NGA.
- Loan Exhibition of Important Early Italian Paintings in the Possession of Notable American Collectors, Duveen Brothers, New York, 1924, no. 33 as by Titian (no. 46, as The Toilet of Venus in illustrated 1926 version of catalogue).
- Classics of the Nude: Loan Exhibition, Pollaiuolo to Picasso, for the Benefit of the Lisa Day Nursery, M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 1939, no. 4, repro.
- Image and Word, Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Art Gallery, St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland, 1989, no. 14.
The support consists of four pieces of fabric sewn together. The largest piece is in the center, and most of the composition fits onto this piece. One strip of fabric was sewn to the length of the right side, and two shorter pieces of fabric were sewn together with a horizontal seam and then sewn to the left side of the large center piece of fabric. Although all of the fabrics are plain-weave, the center piece is much coarser and looser than the fine-weight additions. The support has been lined, and the tacking margins have been removed. Tack holes and lines of losses indicate that the painting was reduced in size at least once, possibly twice, and later opened up again.
The support was prepared with a light ground, and the original paint appears to have been applied fairly thinly in the flesh areas, with soft modeling and blended brushstrokes. The costumes are painted with more visible brushwork, but apart from in small details, such as the jeweled ring, there is very little impasto. X-radiographs show no trace of Titian’s customarily vigorous undermodeling. However, x-radiographs and infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns
Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
The paint layer is very worn, with numerous scattered losses and discolored retouchings, and is covered with a thick accumulation of discolored varnish. Technical examination has revealed several campaigns of overpainting, the heaviest of which is in the upper right. Two losses below the man’s chin have been repaired with insets. The painting was last treated in 1937 by Stephen Pichetto, who lined and “slightly restored” it.
Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:500.
Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Jane Tillinghast
March 21, 2019
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