Petworth portrait confirmed as a Titian in BBC Four's Britain's Lost Masterpieces

Art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor and social historian Emma Dabiri in the Marble Hall of Petworth House

A 16th century portrait of a young cardinal at Petworth House has been attributed to the Italian artist Titian following research and restoration for BBC Four's Britain's Lost Masterpieces.

Under the spotlight

The 16th century portrait of a young cardinal was first acquired as a Titian by the 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth, an illustrious collector of art and patron of JMW Turner, and was first recorded in the Petworth collection around the 1820s.

In later years however it was questioned whether the painting was really by Titian’s hand. The styling of the setting and use of paint is similar to other Titian works but it had been felt that the portrait lacked the psychological insight and dynamic use of paint found in the master’s work and so it was reattributed as being ‘in the manner’ of Titian.

In the Petworth House episode, art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor and social historian Emma Dabiri explore whether the work was wrongly downgraded and if the portrait is by the hand of the Italian artist.

In-depth analysis

In the episode, Bendor Grosvenor argued against the downgraded attribution, noting in particular the quality and detail of the face in the portrait, with the characteristic sparkle and personality that Titian brought to his subjects. 

However, the lower part of the portrait had been badly restored in later years, with clumsy additions such as a ledge on which the cardinal rests his hand, which made it very difficult to see the original work underneath.

The episode followed the specialist cleaning and the x-ray and infrared techniques used, before the portrait is shown to leading Titian expert, Professor Peter Humfrey, who concluded could now be described as 'attributed to Titian' and has been dated to about 1550.

The big reveal

The portrait joins the ranks of two other Titians in the collection at Petworth House, both in the Somerset Room. 

You can rewatch the episode on BBC iPlayer or discover the portrait for yourself, it hangs in the Marble Hall just as it did when the 3rd Earl first purchased the Titian.