One of the very finest versions of Titian’s “best-selling” subject is set to appear at Sotheby’s London auction on 7th December 2022 (est. £8-12 million), becoming the most important painting by the artist to be offered at auction this century, and bringing with it fresh insights into the long history of this celebrated work.
While Titian explored the theme of Venus and Adonis from the 1520s onwards, this version relates most closely to the artist’s celebrated picture of the same subject, painted for Philip of Habsburg, later King Philip II of Spain (1527–1598), dispatched in 1554 and now in the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Philip’s Venus and Adonis was part of a series of six paintings he commissioned from Titian inspired by Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. Known as poesie, or ‘poem paintings’, the cycle of works - executed over the course of eleven years - together rank among the greatest achievements of Titian’s career.
Today, a dozen renditions survive, more than half of which are held in major public collections: Philip II’s own version at the Prado, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The two best versions of the Prado design are arguably this painting and the version at the Getty. However, it is also set apart by several unique details which establish it as Titian’s most fully elaborate and complete interpretation of Ovid’s narrative. As such, the painting is the most visually compelling version remaining in private hands.