Lot 11
  • 11

Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, and workshop

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, and workshop
  • Portrait of two boys, said to be members of the Pesaro family
  • signed with initials lower left: T F
  • oil on canvas
  • 36in by 30¼in


Presumably painted for Benedetto Francesco Giuseppe Pesaro da S. Benetto, or for his father the Procurator Girolamo Pesaro, circa 1544; 

Thence by family descent to

Possibly Vettor (1622–1664) and Francesco Pesaro (1623–1682), Venice, 28 May 1664: ‘Inventario della mobilia della casa Dominia del messer E. Vettor Pesarij in Venezia […] Nel Portico. / Sette quadri grandi di retrati della famiglia Pesara no7’;

Thence by family descent to

Senatore Lunardo Pesaro (b. 1689), Ca' Pesaro, Venice, before October 1797, where listed by Pietro Edwards and Francesco Maggiotto in an inventory for his sons in the gallery at Ca' Pesaro as: 'No. 68 detto [Tiziano]. Ritratti di due Giovanetti. 2:7 x 2:1. 528' (dimensions given in Venetian feet followed by price in Venetian lire);

Abate Luigi Celotti (c. 1768–1846), Ca' Barbarigo, Venice, by 1828;

Acquired from the above by James Irvine on behalf of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (17731828), Fettercairn, Kincardineshire, on 4 November 1828, in Venice, for 200 Louis;

By descent to his son Sir John Stuart Hepburn-Forbes, 8th Baronet of Pitsligo (18041866);

By inheritance to his son-in-law Charles Trefusis, 20th Baron Clinton (18341904);

Thence by descent to the present owner.


Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Works of Old Masters and Scottish National Portraits, 1883, no. 328 (as Titian, Two Princes of the Pesaro Family);

On loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge;

London, Royal Academy of Arts, The Genius of Venice 1500–1600, 25 November 1983 – 11 March 1984, no. 120 (as Titian);

On loan to the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, c. 1994–99;

Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, 5 August – 5 December 2004, no. 36 (as Titian and workshop).


A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813–1912, London 1914, vol. IV, p. 2200, no. 328 (as Titian);

Fettercairn House inventory, 1917 (Drawing Room);

G. Fiocco, Palazzo Pesaro, Venice 1925, Appendix 1, p. 4, under 'Camera de quadri nell'appartamento Primo, o sia Galleria': Num. 68 / Detto [Tiziano] / Ritratti di due Giovanetti / in Piedi ed on.e Venete: 2: 7 x 2: 1 / Lire Venete: 528.(as Titian);

Fettercairn House inventory, 1930 (Drawing Room);

M. Jaffé, 'Pesaro family portraits: Pordenone, Lotto and Titian', The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXIII, no. 825, December 1971, pp. 696–702, reproduced in colour opposite p. 695 and black and white, figs 13 and 5 (as Gerolamo Melchiorre and Francesco Santo Pesaro by Titian);

H. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, III. The Mythological and Historical Paintings, London 1975, under 'Addenda to Volume II [The Portraits]', p. 266, no. 77a, reproduced in black and white pl. 234 (as Titian, about 1542);

H. Brigstocke, William Buchanan and the 19th Century Art Trade: 100 Letters to his Agents in London and Italy, published privately by The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London 1982, p. 29 and p. 505 (as Titian).

M. Jaffé in The Genius of Venice 1500–1600, J. Martineau and C. Hope (eds), exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1983–84, pp. 224–25, no. 120, reproduced in black and white (as Titian);

R. Pallucchini, 'The Genius of Venice: 1500–1600 alla Royal Academy of Arts di Londra', Arte veneta, 1983, p. 282 (as not of the same quality as Titian's portrait of Ranuccio Farnese exhibited alongside);

A. Rosenauer, 'London. Venice at the Royal Academy', under Exhibition Reviews, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXVI, no. 974, May 1984, p. 305 (as doubtful of the attribution to Titian); 

W. R. Rearick, 'Observationson the Venetian Cinquecento in the light of the Royal Academy exhibition', Artibus et Historiae, no. 9, vol. V, 1984, pp. 64–65, reproduced in black and white on p. 63, fig. 3 (as Lambert Sustris [?]);

R. Goffen, Piety and patronage in Renaissance Venice: Bellini, Titian, and the Franciscans, New Haven and London 1986, p. 203, note 126 (as a double portrait of Girolamo and Francesco optimistically attributed to Titian);

S. Claut, 'All'ombra di Tiziano. Contributo per Girolamo Denti', Antichità Viva, XXV, no. 5–6, 1986, pp. 16, 19, 27, n. 24, reproduced in black and white on p. 22, fig. 7 (as Gerolamo Melchiorre and Francesco Santo Pesaro by Girolamo Denti, datable to about 1543); 

S. Claut, 'Denti, Girolamo', in The Dictionary of Art, J. Turner (ed.), London 1996, vol. 8, p. 765 (as a portrait of the Two Pesaro Brothers, 1540s, by Girolamo Denti, once assigned to Titian); 

S. Claut in M. Lucco (ed.), La pittura nel Veneto: Il Cinquecento, 3 vols, Milan 1996–99, vol. III, pp. 1285–86 (as the two Pesaro brothers, about 1543 by Girolamo Denti);

M. Favetta, 'Ca' Pesaro e la sua dispersa raccolta d'arte: nuove fonti documentarie', Arte in Friuli Arte a Trieste, 20, 2000, p. 68, reproduced in black and white as fig. 4, pp. 73, 86–87, nn. 49–50;  

N. Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Volume I: Paintings from Bergamo Brescia and Cremona, London 2004, pp. 86, 90, n. 83 (as reattributed to Titian by Jaffé but maybe by Sustris);

P. Humfrey in The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, P. Humfrey T. Clifford, A. Weston-Lewis and M. Bury (eds), exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 5 August – 5 December 2004, pp. 126–27, no. 36, reproduced in colour, with X-ray on p. 126, fig. 117 (as Titian and workshop);

C. Campbell, 'Venice in Edinburgh', Apollo, CLX, no. 511, September 2004, p. 92 (as doubtful);  

N. Penny, 'At the Royal Scottish Academy', in the London Review of Books, vol. 26, no. 20, 21 October 2004, p. 34 (as doubtful of the attribution to Titian); 

J. Fletcher, 'The Age of Titian. Edinburgh', under Exhibition Reviews, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLVI, no. 1220, November 2004, p. 779 (as doubtful of the attribution and of the identification of the sitters as members of the Pesaro family);

M. Favetta in L. Borean and S. Mason (eds), Il collezionismo d'arte a Venezia. Il Settecento, Venice 2009, pp. 286 and 288 (as Titian).


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Tiziano Vecellio and workshop. Portrait of two boys, said to be of the Pesaro Family. Signed with initials TF This painting has an old lining and stretcher, perhaps from the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. Old damage in places, such as along the base, has been largely held in place without further major restoration or relining. This was a grand tour painting which had already evolved considerably in Venice (perhaps with the help of conservator Pietro Edwards) before coming to Kincardineshire in the early mid nineteenth century. Various old imperfections, ancient damage and minor flaking, mainly in the darker background, were more or less secured and restored over past centuries. Under ultra violet light small recent superficial retouchings can be seen above irregular layers of old varnish: several around the rather uneven old damage along the base, with other surface touches to another old damage slanting up to the top edge from above the head of the boy on the right. The upper centre of this head had evidently suffered from weakness in the distant past with small knocks in the hair, an old retouching on the forehead and various minute touches near the nose, although the surrounding features remain largely fine, with minute old retouching in the craquelure. The head of the boy on the left seems to have remained rather beautifully preserved however, with a slight suggestion of pentimenti around the outline of his head. The book of music below seems to have been slightly distorted in the lower centre presumably from the damage at the base, but is otherwise rather finely intact. The boy's hand on the music seems to have had some later adjustments and/or pentimenti? Minute flaking can be seen in many places; almost invariably around all the edges, as is evident in the paper at lower left with the initials. Old retouching is visible along some stretcher bar lines, with a long narrow crease or tear in the upper left background not far from that stretcher bar. A central stretcher bar is also faintly visible. The old slanting damage towards the top right corner appears to have resulted in a wider loss in that top corner. Old restoration can be seen in the darks for instance around the lute as also in other darker areas, with wear visible elsewhere for instance under the arm. Such darks were naturally vulnerable to wear, and the subtlety and delicacy of glazing in Titian's circle undoubtedly suffered from intrusive restoration over time, with gradual accretions with age. Fortunately this painting has been peacefully treated over many years in the last century. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This double portrait captures the likenesses of two brothers in an engaging image of childhood that is without equal in sixteenth-century Renaissance painting. The idenitifcation of the boys has always been the subject of some debate but given their home in Ca' Pesaro until 1797 they have been convincingly described as members of that family, specifically the two sons of Benedetto Francesco Giuseppe Pesaro. Their portraits here were likely painted in the early 1540s by Titian with some assistance from his studio. The painting was acquired by the forebears of the present owner in Venice in 1828. 

Both boys – one imperturbable, the other armed with a more piercing quizzical gaze – watch intently, their blue–grey eyes fixed on the viewer. The heads of the two young sitters are subtly nuanced and the keenest powers of observation are brought to bear on their carefully delineated features. Their faces are framed by lightly ruffled hair rendered in feathery brushstrokes, while the crisp white frills of their undershirts encircle necks and wrists with a flourish. The boy on the left grasps the neck of a lute, while his brother, whose instrument may be the recorder, rests his hand on an open part-book for chamber music.1 The other part bound in a vellum cover inscribed with the letters ‘T F’ (Titianus fecit) lies unopened.

The originality of this portrait is two-fold: in the pairing of two character studies within one canvas and in its representation of childhood. One of very few double portraits – (Titian’s double portrait of d’Armagnac and his secretary Philandrier at Alnwick Castle is the most celebrated extant example) – it succeeds in capturing for posterity the sitters’ boyhood and the bond that exists between brothers. Not until the following century would something comparable be attempted by Rubens when painting his sons. This picture relates also to the very small group of Titian’s portraits of children, foremost among them Ranuccio Farnese of 1542 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Clarissa Strozzi of the same year at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and the National Gallery’s Vendramin Family, a group portrait in which only some of the six youngest children are thought to have been painted by Titian himself. Comparison with these has led to the dating of this work to the early 1540s. The fashionable style of the boys’ luxurious clothing – fur-lined gowns worn over red doublets, with openings fastened by paired gold rosettes – as well as their hairstyles – cut short and brushed forward – also accords with this date.

The first record to describe the painting explicitly is in an inventory of 1797, drawn up at the time of the fall of the Venetian Republic when collections were being dispersed. Described as ‘Ritratti di due Giovanetti’, it is listed as a work by Titian hanging in the principal gallery at Ca’ Pesaro at S. Stae – the main residence in Venice of the Pesaro family. The portrait’s provenance in the home of that illustrious family led to the boys’ identification as two of the family’s forebears in their youth, for which the most likely candidates were the two sons of Benedetto Francesco Giuseppe Pesaro and Lucrezia Valier: Gerolamo Melchiorre (b. 30 June 1536) and Francesco Santo Pesaro (b. 7 November 1537). That identification, however, is not firmly proven, and a recent hypothesis proposes that the boys may in fact be twins. Without documentary evidence, the boys’ identity as twins cannot be determined but their poses, presentation and identical clothing lend some support to this theory.2 The traditional assumption that the slightly taller boy on the left is the elder of the two is undermined by the gesture of the boy on the right, who pulls at his gold chain as if to draw attention to himself. Furthermore, the pairing of the boys within the composition, its symmetry and duality, which is such a remarkable feature of the painting, is highly unusual in the history of art and would befit the depiction of twins.

The painting was acquired in 1828 by James Irvine (1759–1831), a picture dealer who scoured northern Italy on behalf of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 7th Baronet (1773–1828). In a short space of time Irvine assembled for Sir William a collection of impressive quality to furnish Fettercairn, his newly rebuilt house in Kincardineshire, Scotland. His letters reveal him negotiating the purchase of this picture for Sir William. He paid Abate Luigi Celotti £187.4s.8d on 4 November 1828, and wrote to Sir William the following day from Venice: ‘[The portraits of two boys] I think rather a striking picture, of much effect and rich in colour […] This picture came from the Pesaro Palace and probably represents two brothers of that family for which Titian painted his famous picture at the Pesaro altar at the Mada dei Frari so much admired by Reynolds, and where many portraits of that family are introduced’. Sir William never had the opportunity to enjoy his pictures because he died that year. This and other works were inherited by Sir William’s grand-daughter Lady Clinton and have remained at Fettercairn ever since.  

The portrait, which has a traditional eighteenth-century attribution to Titian, was first published by Michael Jaffé in 1971 as a fully autograph painting. Harold Wethey concurred with this view and included it in his catalogue raisonné of 1975. More recently Peter Humfrey, one of the curators of The Age of Titian exhibition held in Edinburgh in 2004, hailed the painting as an important recent addition to the small group of Titian’s portraits of children. While praising the marvellous expressive quality of the heads, Humfrey recognised weaknesses of draughtsmanship and handling in the foreground not worthy of Titian at his best. He argued that Titian was responsible for sketching in the composition and for painting the heads of the two boys in the presence of the sitters but that the execution of the rest was left to an assistant. Keith Christiansen had reached the same conclusion when asked about the painting some years before (private communication dated 1999). Following recent inspection of the painting Humfrey continues to hold to his view. Paul Joannides also recently saw the painting in person and he too considers part of it to be by the workshop. The claim first made in 1986 that the portrait might in fact be by Titian’s assistant Girolamo Denti is not supported either by stylistic or technical evidence; Denti’s work never attained the creative mastery seen here. Nor has a compelling argument been put forward in support of an alternative attribution to Lambert Sustris, whose activity as a portraitist in Titian’s workshop remains largely unresolved and is mostly datable to a later period.  

In support of the attribution to Titian and his workshop is the X-radiograph of the painting that reveals the setting out of the composition’s principal elements, as well as a number of changes made directly on the canvas (fig. 1). Fluid lines mark out the angled placement of the brothers’ busts and necklines (armour may originally have been intended), and the contours of their sleeves. Alterations were made to the lutenist’s right arm, which was bent and held on to something other than the instrument’s neck. Also reworked are the pages of the musical score (which now lie flat), the design of the table carpet (originally patterned, now monochrome), and the outstretched hand of the boy on the right. Most significant of all, the head of his brother has been reduced in volume so as to bring him in slightly towards the centre of the canvas into a more meaningful rapport with the other. The portrait of the Pesaro boys is not only a rarity in the genre of portraiture, it is also a work of great visual impact, which in its conception and facial characterisation points to Titian’s creative genius.

Note on Provenance
This painting is recorded in the gallery at Ca’ Pesaro, the Pesaro family’s great palace on the Grand Canal at San Stae, Venice (fig. 2). The most prominent member of the Pesaro family was Giovanni Pesaro (1589–1659), elected doge in 1658. He undertook to expand the site acquired by his ancestor in the parish of Sant’Eustachio at San Stae, initiating a programme of building work that decades later would culminate in the completion of the magnificent family palazzo as it appears today. Designed by Baldassare Longhena in the mid-seventeenth century and completed in about 1718 by Antonio Gaspari, the palace was one of the most sumptuous in the city.

In the inventory of 1797 of the paintings at the Ca’ Pesaro at San Stae, the double portrait of the boys is listed among the eighty works hanging in one of two camera de’ quadri – the one on the piano nobile; the second room of pictures on the floor above contained sixty-three works; in total 331 paintings were spread throughout the palazzo and itemised in the inventory.

A tantalising reference made some hundred and thirty years prior to the 1797 inventory is to be found in an inventory of 1664 of the Pesaro home of Vettor (1622–1664) and Francesco (1623–1682) Pesaro, which may record the presence there of the boys’ portrait.3 In a statement of property belonging to the family drawn up on 28 May 1664 by the Giudici di Petizion (a corporate body instituted by the Doge with authority over a range of legal matters), the pictures in the Pesaro family home are listed room by room. Under ‘Portico’ are noted: ‘sette quadri grandi di retrati della famiglia Pesara’.4 No further information is given about these seven family portraits but the possibility that one is the present portrait cannot be discounted.

It is not certain if or when the portrait passed from the San Benedetto branch of the family to the head of the surviving branch of the family at San Stae but it has been surmised that the contents of the gallery of paintings formed in the seventeenth century by the branch of the family at San Benedetto were probably transferred to the palace at San Stae at the beginning of the eighteenth century.5 The inventory of 1797 therefore represents a record of a collection put together by different family members from different family holdings. Glimpses of what those collections might have comprised are to be found in contemporary written accounts. Of particular interest in relation to the Pesaro boys are citations of family portraits among the pictures at San Benedetto, where family portraits by Pordenone were recorded there by Martinoni in 1663; later traces of these are lost.6

The 1797 inventory was drawn up for two of Lunardo Pesaro’s three sons, Giovanni (1742–1807) and Pietro (1744–1830), when their elder brother Francesco (1740–1799), a procurator of San Marco and former ambassador of the Republic, was accused by the provisional government of siding with the Austrians and so threatened with the sequestration of his property. In October that year the inventory was compiled for Francesco’s two younger brothers by Pietro Edwards and Francesco Maggiotto, listing some 331 paintings. The inventory offers many insights into the collection arranged in two galleries (camere de quadri) on the first and second floors. It is likely that these were the rooms (Gallerie di quadri) recalled by Ivanovich in 1676 when work was begun on the palazzo’s monumental façade.7 The present work appears there in the room of pictures in the first floor apartment or Gallery, under ‘Camera de quadri nell’appartamento Primo, o sia Galleria’: Num. 68 / Detto [Tiziano] / Ritratti di due Giovanetti’ / in Piedi ed on.e Venete: 2: 7 x 2: 1 / Lire Venete: 528.8 Of the more than 300 works listed, this was one of the ten or so most highly valued paintings in the collection – priced at 528 Venetian lire – with only three works given higher prices (a sacra conversazione by Veronese, an unidentified Lot and his daughters believed to be by Titian; and a work by Pietro della Cortona). Works in the collection included Paris Bordone’s Christ as ‘The Light of the World’; Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Dominic; and Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia, all three now at the National Gallery, London.9

The Austrians’ return to power the following year, 1798, averted the division of the Pesaro brothers’ property but soon after in 1799 Francesco died, followed by Giovanni in 1807. By the second decade of the nineteenth century Pietro, the last surviving brother, had probably begun to sell paintings from the collection.10 Pietro later settled in London and died there in 1830. The dispersal of the Pesaro collection culminated on 9 July 1831 with the posthumous sale of his property at Squibb, London. In Venice his nephews – the sons of his sister Laura – inherited a palace stripped of its treasures.

Sometime after 1797 and before 1828, the double portrait left Palazzo Pesaro and was in the possession of the Abate Luigi Celotti (c. 1768–1846),11 a collector of books and manuscripts and a leading Venetian dealer, who was asking 300 louis for it. Celotti resided in Casa Barbarigo, in the triple role of chaplain, secretary and librarian. The opportunity to act as a dealer may well have presented itself to the Abate as a branch of the Barbarigo family owned an important art collection and visitors were drawn to their palace by the claim that Titian had painted there. From the Pesaro collection he was responsible not only for the sale to James Irvine of the portraits of two boys for 200 louis (a considerable reduction on his original asking price) but also for the sale to Irvine of Lotto’s Lucretia, a picture offered to him as an original by Giorgione, now in the collection of the National Gallery, London, as mentioned above.12

Irvine first encountered Celotti by letter, the latter writing to him in Rome in July 1828 having been informed of Irvine's desire to acquire pictures by the dealers Sodani and Cisari. Irvine informed Forbes the following day, 26 July, that Celotti proposed to him the 'Giorgione' (then situated in Milan) as well as the entire Barbarigo collection. In November 1828 Irvine visited Celotti in Venice, writing to Sir William about the double-portrait and expressing his opinions of this and other paintings. Of the present work he writes:

'The above I think rather a striking picture of much effect and rich in colour but as it has been more retouched than was necessary I shall take it to Rome to have this taken off […] and send it with the Van Dyck infant from Genoa. These peregrinations no doubt add to the expense but it is an object of much importance to have the pictures in the best possible state. This picture came from the Pesaro palace and probably represents two brothers of that family for which Titian painted his famous picture at the Pesaro altar at the Madonna der Frari so much admired by Reynolds and where many portraits of that family are introduced.'13

As well as the Titian he also acquired the 'Giorgione' at this time.

Irvine, a painter as well as a dealer, and a member of the Scottish aristocracy, met Sir William Forbes in Rome and undertook to buy pictures for him. To this end Irvine corresponded with him from different places in Italy from May 1827. Sir William, however, never saw these acquisitions. News of his death, which had occurred the previous month, reached Irvine long before the pictures arrived in Scotland. A letter of condolence addressed to Sir William’s son John, written by Irvine on 20 November 1828, sought also to conclude negotiations over his late father’s purchases. It wasn’t until June 1830 that the final consignment of pictures destined for Sir William reached Edinburgh. The double-portrait has remained in the same Scottish collection ever since.


1. The music denoted is too indistinct to be identified as any particular datable work.

2. In private communication with the owner Jaffé relayed that in his investigations no reference to any Pesaro twins had emerged from Barbaro's Discendenze Patrizie in the Museo Correr, Venice (letter dated 23 March 1971), an indication that he too had considered the possibility of the boys being twins.

3. M. Favetta, ‘Ca’ Pesaro e la sua dispersa raccolta d'arte: nuove fonti documentarie’, Arte in Friuli Arte a Trieste, 20, 2000, p. 68, p. 84, n. 34. I am grateful to Linda Borean for pointing out Favetta’s study of the Pesaro collections.

4. ‘Seven large pictures of portraits of the Pesaro family’. This inventory was transcribed and published by Favetta; see Favetta 2000, p. 84, n. 34.

5. Favetta in Borean and Mason 2009, p. 286

6. Favetta 2000, pp. 70 and 85, nn. 38 and 40.

7. Favetta 2000, p. 70, pp. 84–85, n. 36.

8. ‘Room of pictures in the first floor apartment or Gallery: no. 68 / ditto by Titian, Portraits of two young boys / height and width in Venetian feet and inches / price 528 Venetian lire’; see Fiocco 1925, Appendix 1, p. 4.

9. NG 1845, L1115 (on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), and NG 4256 respectively.

10. N. Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Volume I: Paintings from Bergamo Brescia and Cremona, London 2004, p. 90, note 86.

11. On Celotti see Penny 2004, pp. 363–64.

12. Jaffé identified her as Lucrezia Valier, wife of Benedetto Pesaro and mother of Gerolamo and Francesco, purportedly the two boys represented here; see Jaffé 1971, pp. 696–702, especially p. 700. The notion that she is Lucrezia Valier has been questioned recently by Penny, who in his catalogue of the National Gallery's collection described the subject as a Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia; see Penny 2004, pp. 79–80.

13. Letter from James Irvine to Sir William Forbes dated Venice, 5 November 1828.