Titian's Triumph of Love saved for the Nation

  • 22 June 2009

A rare painting by the great Venetian painter Titian (c.1485/90-1576) has come into public ownership through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme, with an additional grant of £180,000 from independent charity The Art Fund.

A rare painting by the great Venetian painter Titian (c.1485/90-1576) has come into public ownership through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme, with an additional grant of £180,000 from independent charity The Art Fund.

The AIL scheme enables items deemed to be of historical or artistic importance to be given in place of inheritance tax and is administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), on behalf of the government.

The circular painting, The Triumph of Love has not been seen since it was exhibited in 1960 at the Royal Academy. It depicts Cupid armed with bow, quiver and arrow standing on the back of a roaring lion which growls impotently as love rides triumphant. The group is given a Venetian setting, with a fantasy lagoon view and the Dolomites rising in the distance.

Scientific examination by The National Gallery has recently confirmed the painting’s high quality. Titian’s spontaneous and creative under drawing has now been revealed beneath the paint surface. Owing to the painting’s grimy and over-painted appearance, some doubts had been raised as to its authorship. The imaginative composition, the changes of mind visible in the under drawing and brushwork, and the freshness of the modelling of the figure of Cupid all testify that this is a painting by Titian and not the work of a pupil or follower.

The painting, which dates from the mid 1540s, was made for Titian’s friend and patron, Gabriel Vendramin (1484-1552), who also commissioned the National Gallery’s The Vendramin Family venerating a relic of the True Cross from the artist. The Triumph of Love had a specific function as a timpano or cover which would have been placed over another painting, for reasons of decorum. In Gabriel Vendramin’s collection, it acted as the cover for a portrait of a noblewoman dressed in black, also by Titian and as yet unidentified.

The painting has undergone careful conservation and cleaning at the National Gallery and will be on display as part of an exhibition in Room One of the National Gallery from 21 July – 20 September, admission is free. It will then be on permanent display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which will re-open in November 2009 following a major redevelopment project.

The amount of tax that could have been settled by the acceptance of this painting exceeded the actual liability payable by the offeror. The painting actually settled £619,856 and the Ashmolean Museum, to whom the painting has been permanently allocated in accordance with the condition of the offering estate, has contributed £430,144, of which £180,000 has been donated by The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation).

MLA Chair, Sir Andrew Motion, said: "This haunting image of Cupid having subdued the fierce lion is a wonderful acquisition for the Ashmolean Museum and will be a major attraction when the museum reopens this year. The acceptance of this painting has only been possible because of the combined efforts of Government and private donors and again demonstrates what is possible when the tax system acts as an encouragement to private philanthropy."

Culture Minister, Barbara Follett, said: "This is a fine acquisition saved for the whole nation. I am delighted that this beautiful painting will soon go on show for the first time in nearly half a century at The National Gallery and particularly pleased that it will find a permanent home in a great museum in the English regions which has worked so hard to bring its £61m redevelopment to near completion. I look forward to seeing the painting taking its rightful place among the jewels of the new Ashmolean when it reopens later in 2009."

Deputy Director of The Art Fund, Andrew Macdonald, said: "It’s great to see The Triumph of Love revealed in its full glory following its recent conservation by the National Gallery, and I’m delighted that we were able to play such an important role in helping to acquire it. This joyful work is the second painting by Titian to enter the Ashmolean’s collection, joining the majestic Portrait of Giacomo Doria which was also bought with The Art Fund’s support in 2000."

Director of the Ashmolean, Dr Christopher Brown, said: "Titian’s Triumph of Love will have huge appeal to a wide public in our Renaissance displays in the transformed Ashmolean Museum, which will re-open in early November 2009. We are delighted that our collaboration with the National Gallery has revealed so much about this fascinating and rare painting".


Notes to Editors

1. The MLA is the government's agency for museums, libraries and archives. Leading strategically, we promote best practice to inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all. Visit www.mla.gov.uk

2. The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London in February 2009 with a grant of £1 million; helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit www.artfund.org . The Art Fund is a Registered Charity No. 209174

3. The National Gallery exhibition, Titian’s Triumph of Love, explores the relationship between Italian Renaissance portraits and their painted covers and reverses. Covers like the Triumph of Love were known as ‘timpani’ and their function was to protect and conceal. Another Titian painting from the Gallery’s collection, which may itself have functioned as a cover, An Allegory of Prudence (about 1550-65), will also be on display in Room One.

4. The Ashmolean is completing the final phase of its major £61 million redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Linbury Trust. The renowned architect, Rick Mather, has designed a new building to provide the Museum with 39 new galleries, a new education centre, conservation studios, a walkthrough between the Museum and the Cast Gallery and Oxford’s first rooftop café. www.ashmolean.org / transforming