Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Titian?

Picture: Guardian
The Guardian reports on a Titian rediscovery at the NG, followed up at Art History News (which points out that it's actually rather old news anyway).  I haven't seen it yet, so I'll refrain from commenting on the attribution, but a couple of things struck me about the story.
First, there is nothing on the NG press page.  They have given this as an exclusive to Jonathan Jones, who got a meeting with the Director and then wrote a gushing article about it.  That kind of media favouritism is very bad form.  Art journalism is already far too incestuous and uncritical. 
Second, I rate Jonathan Jones as one of the best in the business, but he says some really stupid things.  I just cannot imagine what makes him insist on the superiority of the NG's Titian collection - it's not even relevant to the story.  On the other hand, I was impressed by the quality of the commentary by readers, who make some astutely critical points.
Finally I'm concerned by Nicholas Penny's reported dislike of the term 'attributed', which he considers 'scholarly waffle'.  Waffle is unwelcome, but there's nothing wrong with being scholarly.  And I think the term 'attributed' is indispensable.  It admits to a degree of uncertainty that is often unavoidable.  Better that the NG is open about areas of scholarly debate rather than tries to impose certainty where there is none.   


  1. You're quite right that 'attributed to' is a very useful and precise term. It does sound illogical to a layman though - 'This is now attributed to Titian,' and 'This is now Attributed to Titian' being quite different things. It always reminds me of Alice and the White Knight in 'Through the Looking Glass':

    "The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes,'"

    'Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

    "No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.'"

    Perhaps we will see a day when catalogues will say 'Probably by...' ?

    Hugely enjoying your blog by the way.

  2. Thanks! That's a great comparison. In English law the term 'plaintiff' was officially replaced with the more readily understood 'claimant' in 1999. It made it more intuitive, but I still miss the old term, for all its obscurity...

  3. I didn't know that about 'plaintiff' - that is a shame.

    You've got me thinking about all these terms now - more about how auction houses use them than academics. The interchangeable 'follower of/circle of' irks me, and 'Studio of' could do with being tightened up a bit.

    If I'm not careful I'll want to get back to that strange shorthand of the old days, you know the 'Thomas Gainsborough RA 1727 - 1788'/ 'T Gainsborough'/ 'Gainsborough' which just meant It's right/ It might be/ It just looks like him!