View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This famous and tantalising picture, an early work by Titian (Tiziano Vecelli circa 1477–1576), was in the Gonzaga collection in Mantua and that of Charles I, and possibly also that of the painter Anthony Van Dyck, in London. It was bought by Louis XIV in 1662. Among the Louvre’s collections it was almost as legendary as the Concert-champêtre, then also believed to be by Titian – see folios 56 verso–57 of this sketchbook (D04347–D04348) for Turner’s copy – and with which it shares common themes. Possibly depicting a courtesan with her lover, its strongest appeal to the Romantic mind was as a portrait. In Turner’s day it was thought to depict Titian himself with his mistress and it has since been associated with Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara and Laura de’Dianti, or more recently with Federico Gonzaga and Isabella Boschetti. However, such identifications add little to a work likely to be an allegory of love and the transience of beauty.
It is no surprise that Turner sought this picture out. See the introduction to this sketchbook for Joseph Farington’s diary note that he found the picture suddenly placed in the Louvre’s Grande Galerie on 18 September 1802. Two days earlier Farington and Benjamin West had been able to study it ‘in a back place partitioned off’, under the supervision of an attendant. Farington thought it ‘exceeds in beauty, simplicity, breadth and every other requisite any portrait that I have ever seen ... When examined near it seems the perfection of painting, there is melting softness and beauty in rendering the tints that is exquisite’.1 For Turner’s own comments see chiefly folio 24 of this sketchbook (D04300). His copy fills two thirds of the page, the right and lower areas being used for testing his watercolour palette. Turner made a special point of copying the Louvre’s Titians in colour – see especially his copies of the Entombment and Christ Crowned with Thorns, folios 32 and 52 (D04315, D04340) – as well as the Concert-champêtre. Together with his extensive colour notes, evidence of his special interest in Titian comes from Farington, who joined him in viewing the painter’s Supper at Emmaus in ‘a back room’ on 7 October.2 There was apparently no opportunity to copy or comment on that work. Farington had, however, perhaps seen Turner working on his copy of the Concert-champêtre two days earlier.3