Old Master Paintings

A Masterpiece by Titian Returns Home to Venice

By Sotheby's
A new exhibition open from September 2019 to March 2020 will display works lent by Flemish collections to the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, including masterpieces by Titian and Tintoretto, on loan from renowned collector Marnix Neerman.

A dazzling new exhibition in Venice will see leading Flemish museums and private collectors loan exclusive masterpieces to the Palazzo Ducale, showcasing the riches of Flemish collections and including two spectacular works privately owned by collector Marnix Neerman – Titian’s mistress Milia and their daughter Emilia and the altarpiece of the former Church of San Geminiano, Tintoretto’s The Angel Foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of Her Martyrdom.

From 5 September 2019 until 1 March 2020, the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (MUVE), in conjunction with the Rubenshuis in Antwerp, presents From Titian to Rubens Masterpieces from Flemish Collections. The magnificent Doge’s private apartments will be transformed into veritable constkamers, rooms filled with around 80 paintings, drawings, engravings and examples of Venetian and Antwerp glass and instruments, on loan from the Antwerp City Museums, the KMSKA, MUVE, and the museums of Ghent, Bruges, Leuven and the MNHA Luxembourg. The exhibition will also present several important paintings and oil sketches by Rubens, and the moving Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Van Dyck.

Tintoretto, The Angel Foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of Her Martyrdom.

Three icons of Venetian painting will return to their hometown of Venice: Titian’s Jacopo Pesaro presenting Saint Peter to Pope Alexander VI, to be lent by the KMSKA; the altarpiece of the former San Geminiano church, Tintoretto’s The Angel Foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of Her Martyrdom; and Titian’s double portrait from the Barbarigo collection, Titian’s mistress Milia and their daughter Emilia. Ben Van Beneden, director of the Rubenshuis and curator of the exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale notes: 'This unfinished canvas by Titian of his mistress Milia and their daughter Emilia is one of the artist's masterpieces. His tender representation of the relationship between a mother and daughter, charmingly illustrated in the gaze which the girl directs at her mother, is simply unmatched.'

These masterpieces from Flemish collections, both public and private, are rarely lent and some have never, until now, been shown in public. To honour the significance of this exhibition, a concert of 'lost' compositions by Flemish composers who settled permanently in Venice, such as Adriaen Willaert, De Rore and Lupus, will take place at the Basilica San Marco, on 5 September. The performance by the world famous Cappella Marciana di San Marco, will be conducted by the Maestro di Capella Marco Gemmani, and organised by the Proccuratore di San Marco and Flemish Masters - State of the Art.

Collector Marnix Neerman remembers his journey to buying Titian’s masterpiece and the significance of the painting's return to Venice

Marnix Neerman at the Palazzo Ducale. Photography: Laure Jacquemin

“In 2016, I visited the METBreuer's opening-exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible in New York. I was in the company of Ben Van Beneden, director of the Rubenshuis in Antwerp, which had loaned Rubens' Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry to the exhibition.

This was when I saw Titian’s double portrait for the first time in the flesh. I was fascinated and overwhelmed with emotion, and remained looking at it for a very long time. I remember saying: ‘If you were to isolate the child's portrait, which was painted around 1550, many people might think it was painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck’ – Van Dyck having been born almost 50 years later (in 1599) and having left for Italy for the first time in 1621.

Titian, Titian’s mistress Milia and their daughter Emilia. Photography: Ans Brys

While attending Sotheby's London view of the summer Old Masters sale one year later in 2017, Sotheby's James Macdonald and George Gordon (who I have known for more than 35 years) asked me to come upstairs and look at a painting. I was completely swept off my feet when I was once again confronted with this beautiful image of a mother and her child, later identified by Jaynie Anderson as Titian's beloved Milia and their daughter Emilia. My own daughter Maja remembers my emotional reaction and that afterwards, as we stood outside the galleries on Bond Street, I told her: ‘If we let this painting go, the last comment you will hear on my deathbed will be – "We could have had a Titian in our collection." As my good friend Bill Middendorf II, former US Secretary of the Navy under President Gerald Ford, and a great collector, says: ‘We have two collections: the one we own and the collection comprised of the paintings that we have missed.'

There followed a sleepless night, filled with several phone calls and emails, and resulting in a private sale with my favourite auction house and the beginning of a new adventure.

The painting went immediately on loan to the Rubenshuis in Antwerp, where it joined Tintoretto's aforementioned San Geminiano altarpiece. The loan of Titian's double portrait to the Rubenshuis was made in honour of Rubens' admiration for the great Venetian master whose works he had copied and collected, and by whom he had been so inspired. And now I am delighted that, on the initiative of the great Dr. Belli, director of the MUVE museums in Venice, this painting returns to La Serenissima for the first time in almost 500 years. The portrait will return in its original state after the completion in 2003 of a 20-year removal process of the significant overpaint that rendered it a depiction of Tobias and the Angel, and had hidden the portrait’s true appearance for hundreds of years."

X-Ray and Images Showing the Various Stages of the Removal of the Overpaint of Titian’s Mistress Milia and Their Daughter Emilia, which had rendered it a depiction of Tobias and the Angel.

From Titian to Rubens - Masterpieces from Flemish Collections is on show at Palazzo Ducale, Venice, from 5 September 2019 to 1 March 2020. Sotheby's is a proud sponsor of this exhibition. Both the Tintoretto and the Titian will, following the exhibition, remain in the Doge’s Palace on long-term loan.

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