In Titian’s painting of 1512 Gentilumo con berretto nero (Portrait of a man in a beret), a red-bearded man with a hat looks knowingly out of his frame. But authorities didn’t know where the portrait was in the nearly two decades that have passed since the painting’s disappearance in 2004.
Now, forbesRebecca Ann Hughes reports that Italy’s Carabinieri for the Protection of Italy’s Cultural Heritage, a specialist art crime unit, recovered the painting and returned it to Italy.
At first, the Italian cultural protection agency thought that the portrait, worth around 7 million dollars, had been illegally smuggled into Switzerland. Instead, a tip led a unit of the Italian police to a workshop in the Asti area of Piedmont. They discovered the piece, confiscated it, and returned it to the Italian state at a May 19 ceremony. In the meantime, forbes According to reports, two Swiss citizens are currently under investigation.
Tiziano Vecellio, known in English as Titian, painted the painting around 1512. The Renaissance master was one of the most notable Italian artists of the 16th century. Born around 1488 in Pieve di Cadore, a small town near Venice, he became famous for his lively and realistic style. His subjects ranged from portraits to mythological stories to landscapes. Probably his most famous work, the 1538 Venus of Urbino, depicts a reclining nude female figure staring at the viewer and is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. The long-lived painter died of the plague in 1576.
This isn’t the first time a lost or stolen Titian has turned up. Last year, Smithsonian‘s Isis Davis-Marks reported, researchers discovered that a painting that had hung in a British church for a century was in fact a Titian. And earlier this month, a long-lost Titian painting of a penitent Mary Magdalene discovered in Queen Christina of Sweden’s art collection fetched $5.1 million at auction.
Art preservation and restoration is serious business in Italy. The Turin branch of the Carabinieri unit for the protection of cultural heritage that recovered the painting consists of 280 investigators with the aim of preserving Italy’s cultural heritage, per Artnet News“Dorian Batycka. Founded in 1969, the specialized Art Command protects works from natural hazards such as floods, as well as from trade and theft.
As NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reported in 2017, the Carabinieri are the first national unit of their kind in what has been dubbed an “art theft playground.”
I #carabinieri delete #TPC Hanno sequestrato e restituito allo Stato il dipinto “Ritratto di gentiluomo con berretto nero” attributito al grande pittore rinascimentale Tiziano Vecellio. L’opera, che si riteneva perduta, was stata esportata illegalmente in Svizzera vent’anni fa pic.twitter.com/HREH9vfCrC
— Arma dei Carabinieri (@_Carabinieri_) May 19, 2022
But is the piece they recovered actually Titian’s? On the day of the ceremony, outspoken art critic and politician Vittorio Sgarbi said the painting was misattributed. Andrea Donati, considered one of the most authoritative scholars of Tiziano Vecellio and Renaissance art, agrees, stating that the work’s style is too different from that of Titian.
“I can’t even see the shadow of Titian in this portrait,” Donati said in a statement, calling the attribution “sensationally wrong.”
The Cabinieri says it is a Titian, but Donati vehemently disagrees. “Anyone can get to know Titian in the churches and museums where his works are kept,” Donati says in the statement, “but only those who have studied him for years and proved that they have mastered the sources can be able to recognize a Titian , the matter and the history of art.”
Sgarbi added: “Se quello è un Tiziano, io sono Napoleone!” (If that’s a Titian, I’m Napoleon!)