Painting Revealed to Be Genuine Titian Masterpiece

Alice Tate-Harte with Titian's Mistress. Photo: Lucy Millson-Watkins/English Heritage.

A painting thought to have been created by a Titian imitator has been revealed to be a genuine work by the European master.

Despite the title Titian’s Mistress, the painting of a well-to-do young woman sitting bare-breasted in a silk and fur robe was believed to have been created long after Titian’s death in 1576. But when conservator Alice Tate-Harte removed several layers of overpainting, she unearthed a signature that clearly reads “TITIANUS.”

“The name [Titian’s Mistress] was very often given by dealers to works in Titian’s style to bump up their selling appeal,” Tate-Harte told the Guardian.

“It was a once-in-a-career moment, and there was nobody else in the conservation studio to share it—I had to ring my husband to have somebody to tell,” she said.

The overpainting had been applied in order to mask significant damage that was done to the painting in the 18th century, when its rectangular canvas was jammed into an oval frame, which was later made worse when it was put back into a rectangular frame. The work is also believed to have suffered damage when it was forced into a chest of booty looted from the Spanish royal collection.

The piece was sent to the English Heritage conservation studio several years ago, but went to the back of the queue as it was considered a relatively unimportant picture. It now joins other paintings that have recently joined the oeuvre of renowned artists, including a Monet, a Rembrandt, and a pair of Rubens canvases.

Titian’s Mistress will go on display for its first time as a genuine Old Master this summer at the Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington, who came to own the masterwork after defeating the army of Napoleon’s brother Joseph at Vitoria in 1813.

“I’ve done as much for her as I can,” Tate-Harte said of the young woman in the picture, who, despite valiant efforts, still bears traces of irreversible damage. “Enough, I hope, so that people can now see her real quality. And after some debate we’re calling her Titian’s Mistress again—we have no idea whether she actually was his mistress, but that’s how Wellington would have known the picture, so it seems fitting.”

Luckily for Tate-Harte, any restoration will beat that of the 6th century Turkish mosaics, which recently earned the title of “the new Beast Jesus” thanks to a extremely damaging conservation effort.

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