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Titian's Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro is Rediscovered

Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro attributed to Titian. National Gallery, London.

Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro attributed to Titian. National Gallery, London.

On January 7, 2013 The Guardian newspaper reported that a portrait of the Renaissance physician Girolamo Fracastoro, stored in London's National Gallery since 1924, was attributed to Titian, adding to the National Gallery's great collection of the works of this painter:

"How was this painting misrecognised for so long? When a painting is regarded as not by anyone famous and put in a museum's dark corners, Penny suggests, a self-fulfilling process starts: curators are less likely to examine it, or clean it, or even properly frame it. But in this case fresh eyes, including those of the art historian Paul Joannides, were cast on a forgotten painting and it was taken to the lab to be restored. Discoveries there about the canvas and technique blaze the name Titian.  

"Fracastoro's portrait has been damaged over the centuries, although the new cleaning by the National Gallery has revealed a very characterful face. The background is more problematic and Penny admits its clumsy architecture remains a puzzle.  

"But Titian's genius flares in one fantastic detail that makes this painting – warts and all – truly captivating. "It's not the head that is so amazing in this picture", as Penny puts it, "but the fur."  

"We are feasting our eyes on a flecked mist of white, gold, brown and black, a virtuoso, nearly abstract performance that has all the magic of Titian. With joyous freedom and a casual command of fluffy gossamer colours, the master sensualist has recreated the richness of a lynx fur hung over Fracastoro's shoulders. "The great thing about the lynx is that it has got this brown smudge as well as black and white," enthuses Penny about the animal whose fur Titian so convincingly copied. /He shows me how lynx fur also features in Titian's nearby group portrait of the men of the Vendramin family – lynx was a favourite for rich Venetians.  "Fracostoro worked in Verona, in the empire of the Venetian republic. As well as naming syphilis, he came up with a modern theory of contagion, saying diseases were transmitted by tiny "spores". This was a big advance on the orthodoxy of the time that sicknesses such as plague were caused by bad air.  

"The lynx is an appropriate animal for such a man to sport on his shoulders, for this cat was famous for its eyesight. Italian scientific pioneers including Galileo belonged to the Academy of Lynxes, which associated the creature's eyesight with the pursuit of empirical truth" (, accessed 01-09-2013).

A scholarly article on the rediscovery by Jill Dunkerton, Jennifer Fletcher and Paul Joannides entitled "A portrait of ‘Girolamo Fracastoro’ by Titian in the National Gallery" was published in the January 2013 issue of The Burlington Magazine.

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