Titian Masterpiece Discovered at Miami Art Exhibition: Cambridge University Professor Discerns Significant Sections by Titian’s Hand

It has recently been discovered that significant sections of  a Saint Sebastian painting on exhibition at the Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, are the work of master painter Titian, also known as Tiziano. Previously the large (73 x 28.3”) oil on canvas painting ca. 1520-1530, was attributed to Scuola Veneta (Venetian School).

Paul Joannides, MA, PhD, Emeritus professor of Art History at the University of Cambridge and life member of Clare Hall has examined the visible stylistic and material elements along with clues about the process of its creation to build a historical understanding of the painting.

In his letter, Professor Joannides references Titian’s Madonna of San Niccolò dei Frari or Madonna and Child in Glory (c. 1535) initially created for the high altar of the small church of San Niccolò della Lattuga in Venice. The painting is now found at the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums in Rome.

Titian, Saint Sebastian, ca. 1520 – 1530, oil on canvas, 73×28.3″. Photo Courtesy of Frascione Arte.

He writes, “To my eye the loin cloth, which is vigorously and securely executed, is likely to be by Titian’s own hand – few if any painters could match him in the varied handling of whites. The face and hair of the saint, dashed in with rather heavy strokes of a loaded brush, also seem to me to correspond well to the thicker, more vigorous paint handling seen in some of Titian’s paintings of the first half of the 1530s.”

This painting was acquired from the Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi (1878-1955) collection by Frascione Arte, the art gallery in Florence that has loaned the paintings for the Belen Jesuit exhibition.

Professor Joannides compares the ex-Contini Bonacossi Saint Sebastian to the figure of the Saint in the Madonna of San Niccolò dei Frari and also notes its relation to a life-size Saint Sebastian once owned by the New York Collector Asher Edelman, a painting which he believes preceded, and was the prototype for, the Sebastian in the altarpiece.

The underpainting of the Contini Bonacossi canvas differs from what is seen on the surface in that it shows the Saint looking upwards for heavenly assurance , rather than downwards. It might, therefore, have antedated both the ex-Edelman canvas and the altarpiece and, if so, Professor Joannides explains,  “it would have played a significant role in their process of development.” Alternatively, he suggests, “the Contini Bonacossi canvas might have been begun, no doubt for a private client, as a variant of the Saint in the altarpiece, but then modified, in course of execution, to conform to the famous figure, which was much admired by contemporaries.”

Contemporary estimates attribute around 400 works to Titian, of which about 300 survive. Currently the Saladrigas Art Gallery at Belen Jesuit is the only place in the Southeastern United States to see a true Titian painting.

It is estimated that the value of the Contini Bonacossi canvas will increase tenfold. However, for now, it remains in the hands of the private collection of Federico Gandolfi Vannini, owner of Frascione Arte.

The Titian Saint Sebastian is part of the “Faith, Beauty, Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Paintings” exhibition that will be on view through the week of Art Basel Miami Beach (Miami Art Week) with special hours and programs. The exhibition features thirty religious and secular paintings by Italian and Flemish Masters including Tintoretto, Circle of Caravaggio, and Peter Paul Rubens. On each side of the Titian are two different paintings of Saint Sebastian by Evangelista di Pian di Meleto (ca. 1500) and Louis Finson (ca. 1607).


About Titian (Born Est. 1490; Died 1576)

Titian, also known as Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio, is one of the most important members of the 16th century Venetian school. He is considered one of the leaders of the arte moderne movement – a new style of painting was characterized by a new freedom in style and composition, a rejection of the formal symmetries and hierarchical representation. Titian did not sketch, but worked and reworked the paint directly on the canvas. His bold use of color influenced countless artists both during his lifetime, including Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt, and long after his death.

In his lifetime, he was considered second only to Michelangelo in fame and success and was the first painter to paint primarily for an overseas clientele.

The current worldwide record price in an auction of an artwork by Titian was set in 2011 when The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria — or Holy Conversation — went for $16.88 million at Sotheby’s New York.


About Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi

Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi was known for creating one of the most important private collections in the world. The main nucleus of this extraordinary collection was donated in 1969, by his children, to the Italian State, thus becoming the Donazione Contini Bonacossi, which can be visited since 2018, inside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Other works from the collection were acquired by notable American collectors such as Simon Guggenheim and Samuel H. Kress.


About Belen Jesuit Preparatory School

The Society of Jesus is both a missionary and a teaching Roman Catholic religious order since Pope Paul III founded it at the request of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540.  The motto of the Society, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” indicates its goal to help all men and women to live according to Christ’s example of love and service. The Jesuits dedicated themselves to spreading the Gospel in mission lands and to the apostolate of education very early in their history.

The Jesuits founded Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in 1854 in Havana, Cuba.  In 1961, when the new political regime confiscated Belen and all private schools, the school was re-established in Miami that same year and has grown over the last five decades. Currently, the enrollment is nearly 1,400 male students in grades 6 to 12 and over seven thousand alumni. The Ignatian Center for the Arts includes the 665-seat, state-of-the-art Ophelia & Juan Js. Roca Theater and the 3,200 square-foot Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery. The Saladrigas Gallery displays several professionally curated exhibits annually, a young artists exhibit, a Belen community art show, and numerous other projects.



Photo Credit: Frascione Arte

Date Posted: October 24, 2023

Written By

Editor of ArtsDecoderMiami.com

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