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Virgin and Child with St. John, 16th century

Titian

Italian, c.1487/90-1576
Oil on canvas
38-1/4 x 32-1/4 in. (97.2 x 81.9 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1965.1.067.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

While some compositional antecedents in Titian’s work resemble the figures of the Madonna and Child, this scene was most likely painted by an artist active in Titian’s studio in the sixteenth century. The picture was in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg as early as 1773, when it was documented in an inventory. The red number inscribed on the lower right corner of the canvas originally read “2880,” a number given to it in a subsequent Hermitage inventory made in 1797 and another made in 1859. By this time, the curatorial staff of the Hermitage questioned the attribution to Titian, and it was changed to “Venetian School of the XVI century”; Hermitage archival documents are annotated with the words “copy of Titian, can be Padovanino.” In 1861, Tsar Alexander II presented the painting, along with others, to Moscow’s Rumianzoff (Rumyantsev) Museum, which was closed in 1927. The old master paintings from this collection then formed the nucleus of the Pushkin Museum, where the Virgin and Child with St. John remained until 1929, when it was sent to Berlin to be sold.

The Hermitage descriptions mention only a “Virgin and Infant Jesus with the youthful St. John holding a scroll.” It therefore may be that the heavenly host of angels seen surrounding the Virgin and Child had already been damaged by the middle of the eighteenth century and overpainted with a dark background. Certainly by the time the painting was sold in 1929, the illustration in the auction catalogue showed the painting devoid of putti. By 1939, when William Suhr conserved the picture for Duveen’s, the painting was cleaned, and the faces of the putti, although heavily abraded especially on the left, were restored to the composition. It was only later in 1988 that another restorer attempted to reconstruct the constellation of angels on the left.

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