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Titian or workshop of Titian, A Boy with a Bird

Key facts
Full title A Boy with a Bird
Artist Titian or workshop of Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576; active about 1506; died 1576
Date made probably 1520s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 34.9 × 48.9 cm
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG933
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Boy with a Bird
Titian or workshop of Titian

The infant cradling a dove to his cheek closely resembles Cupid in two versions of Titian’s Venus and Adonis, dating to around 1560, in Washington and New York. Yet the way in which the picture is painted and the range of colours used are characteristic of Titian’s work of the 1520s.

This apparent contradiction led scholars in the past to believe that the painting was a seventeenth-century pastiche, but recent evidence has led to a re-evaluation. An X-radiograph not only shows that the boy once had wings, which have been painted over, but also that there is a totally different composition beneath the paint layers. This relates to the woodcut designed by Titian, Landscape with a Milkmaid, dated to around 1523. This makes it clear that A Boy with a Bird was made in Titian’s workshop, giving independent life to a motif extracted from the innovative Venus and Adonis.

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