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Titian’s goddess of love and beauty conjures the sense of touch. Observing her flushed cheek, one can almost feel its warmth. The textures of flesh, jewels, fabric, and fur are exquisitely detailed. In the mirror a cupid holds up to her, she appears not to view herself, but perhaps someone gazing at her.


This is considered the finest surviving version of a composition executed in at least 30 variants by Titian and his workshop. It remained in the artist’s possession until his death, more than 20 years after he painted it. The reason Titian retained a painting of such high quality for so long is uncertain, but this Venus may have been a source of inspiration to those who worked for or visited the artist. For members of the workshop, she may have served as a model for replication, and the painting may have prompted visitors to order similar pictures for themselves.


When he painted this work, Titian reused a canvas that once depicted two figures in three-quarter-length view standing side by side. He rotated the canvas 90 degrees, and it appears that he left exposed the jacket of the male figure in the underlying composition to create the luxurious fur-lined red velvet that now wraps around Venus’s hip.

Details

  • Title: Venus with a Mirror
  • Creator: Titian
  • Date Created: c. 1555
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 124.5 x 105.5 cm (49 x 41 9/16 in.) framed: 157.48 x 139.07 x 10.8 cm (62 x 54 3/4 x 4 1/4 in.)
  • Provenance: The artist [c. 1490-1576], Venice; by inheritance to his son, Pomponio Vecellio, Venice; sold 27 October 1581 with the contents of Titian's house to Cristoforo Barbarigo [1544-1614], Venice; by inheritance to his son, Andrea Barbarigo;[1] by inheritance in the Barbarigo family, Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza, Venice;[2] sold 1850 by the heirs of Giovanni di Alvise Barbarigo [d. 1843] to Czar Nicholas I of Russia [1796-1855], Saint Petersburg;[3] Imperial Hermitage Gallery, St. Petersburg;[4] purchased April 1931 through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 5 June 1931 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[5] gift 1937 to NGA. [1] See Giuseppe Cardorin, _Dello amore ai veneziani di Tiziano Vecellio delle sue case in Cadore e in Venezia_, Venice, 1833: 77, 98-101, quoting the purchase document of October 1581 and Barbarigo’s will of March 1600, in which the Venus is mentioned as one of four pictures by Titian left to his heirs. See also Simona Savini Branca, _Il collezionismo veneziano del Seicento_, Padua, 1965: 47, 65, 183-186; Charles Hope, _Titian_, London, 1980: 167; Herbert Siebenhüner, _Der Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza in Venedig und seine Tizian-Sammlung_, Munich, 1981: 28; Jaynie Anderson, “Titian’s Unfinished ‘Portrait of a Patrician Woman and Her Daughter’ from the Barbarigo Collection, Venice,” _The Burlington Magazine_ 144 (2002): 671, 672, 676; Lionello Puppi, _Su Tiziano_, Milan, 2004: 77; Charles Hope, “Tizians Familie und die Zerstreuung seines Nachlasses,” in _Der späte Tizian und die Sinnlichkeit der Malerei_, ed. Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Vienna, 2007: 35 (English edition: “Titian’s Family and the Dispersal of His Estate,” in _Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting_, Venice, 2008: 37). [2] The picture is recorded in the Palazzo Barbarigo by Carlo Ridolfi, _Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl'illustri pittori veneti, e dello stato_, ed. Detlev von Hadeln, 2 vols., Berlin, 1914–1924 (originally Venice, 1648): 1(1914):200 (“Gli Signori Barbarighi di San Polo possiedono . . . vna Venere sino à ginocchi, che si vagheggia nello specchio con due Amori”); Marco Boschini, _La carta del navegar pitoresco_ (1660), ed. Anna Pallucchini, Venice, 1966 (originally 1660): 664; Francesco Sansovino, _Venetia città nobilissima et singolare (1581) . . . Con aggiunta di tutte le cose notabili della stessa città, fatte et occorse dall’anno 1580 fino al presente 1663 da D. Giustiniano Martinioni_, Venice, 1663: 374; Arthur Young, _Travels in France & Italy during the Years 1787, 1788, and 1789_, London, 1915: 255; Abraham Hume, _Notices of the Life and Works of Titian_, London, 1829: 55, xxxix; Giuseppe Cadorin, _Dello amore ai Veneziani di Tiziano Vecellio_, Venice, 1833: 77, 98–101; and Gian Carlo Bevilacqua, _Insigne Pinacoteca della nobile veneta famiglia barbarigo della Terrazza_, Venice, 1845: 65, 67. [3] Cesare Augusto Levi, _Le collezioni veneziane d’arte e d’antichità dal secolo XIV ai nostri giorni_, Venice, 1900: 281–289; Herbert Siebenhüner, _Der Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza in Venedig und seine Tizian-Sammlung_, Munich, 1981: 26. [4] _Eremitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux_, Saint Petersburg, 1863: 26, no. 99, and subsequent Hermitage catalogues. [5] Mellon purchase date and date deeded to Mellon Trust is according to Mellon collection records in NGA curatorial files and David Finley's notebook (donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1977, now in the Gallery Archives).
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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