An art historian says he has identified a long-forgotten work from the workshop of the Venetian painter Titian that has languished in a church in a small UK town for more than a century.
Moore, whose research is detailed in a new book called , says the painting contains a secret self-portrait of the artist; another of his rival, Tintoretto; and images of Titian’s sons, Orazio and Pomponio.
While he does not believe it was done by Titian’s hand, he believes the artist created the composition.
“It is a Titian workshop painting with, at most, underdrawing by Titian,” Moore told Artnet News.
Moore began working on the 12-foot-wide artwork, which had suffered a botched restoration in 1800 that caused it to dull, three years ago.
He says he and his assistant, Patricia Kenny, spent 11,000 hours researching and working on the painting. According to Moore, a collector named John Skippe bought the work from a Venetian family in 1775 and shipped it back to England. In 1909, his descendants donated the piece to the Ledbury church.
“A vital breakthrough was the discovery of Skippe’s notes referring to a by Titian, signed and dated,” Moore says, adding that he located the tiny signature on a metal jug in the painting that became visible under UV light.
As for the portraits of Titian and his sons, Moore says they were added after the artist’s death, alongside additional images of Titian’s nephew and his cousin. As evidence, he points to 1576, the year Titian died, inscribed above one of the portraits.
Charles Hope, the former director of the Warburg Institute and a specialist in Italian painting, says the work does appear to be a Venetian painting from the middle of the 16th century, but doubts whether Titian was personally involved.
Yet he says there is mention in a painting guidebook published in 1674 of a “from the school of Titian” in a church of the convent of the Convertite on Venice’s island of Giudecca.
“This convent was later closed, and I think the from there might well be the Ledbury picture,” Hope says. “The fact that [the guidebook author] calls it School of Titian means that he was confident that it was not by Titian, but had no idea of who might have painted it.”
Experts in Italian painting from the National Gallery in London declined to comment. Representatives for the church in Ledbury did not respond to requests for comment by press time.