For almost 200 years, a parish church in Herefordshire has unwittingly harboured a Renaissance masterpiece after it suffered a botched restoration in the 1800’s. Experts now believe the enormous painting was made by the workshop of Titian (1488/90-1576), one of the most renowned Venetian artists of the sixteenth century.
“It was thought to be of little value or merit, but some of the Friends of the church thought differently,” explained the rector at St Michael & All Angels, Reverend Keith Hilton-Turvey. The filthy painting, which is more than 3.5 metres wide, depicts a version of the Last Supper.
In 2018, art historian Ronald Moore was asked by the church to research and restore the mysterious piece. Using ultra-violet light, Moore and his assistant Patricia Kenny discovered Titian’s signature on a jug on the bottom left of the painting. They also connected the face of an apostle in the painting to Titian himself, as well as the faces of two boys to the artist’s children.
While the painting was composed by Titian, it was painted by several different hands. One contributing artist was the Venetian painter Polidoro da Lanciano (1515-1565), who likely worked as an assistant to Titian in his workshop. Moore’s attribution to Polidoro is supported by Professor Alessandra Zamperini at the University of Verona, a world-leading expert and author on the Venetian Renaissance.
“It is a Titian workshop painting with, at most, underdrawing by Titian,” proposed Moore. Speaking about the identification process, he added that “the biggest problem of all was that the heads are painted by different artists, some of staggering quality.”
Further research revealed the painting was commissioned by a Venetian convent decades before it was completed in 1576. Titian died in the same year, leading Moore to believe that the family touches were added by the artist’s son and workshop assistant Orazio Vecellio (1528-1576).
“[Titian] was a very popular and busy artist and I think he just never got time to work on it and finish it,” Moore said of the Herefordshire painting. “When Titian died, the plague was around and a lot of people were dying and I think that perhaps influenced his son to turn the painting into a family portrait.” Vecellio himself died later that year in Venice of the plague.
The current auction record for a Titian painting was set in 2011, when the ‘Madonna and Child’ was sold for a staggering US$16.9 million (£10.7 million) at Sotheby’s in New York to a European private collector.
The art law team at Boodle Hatfield previously represented a Claimant in relation to a professional negligence dispute against a leading auction house relating to a painting subsequently attributed as Titian and Workshop.