21 Jul, 2009

A guide to Titian’s Triumph of Love

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Titian’s Triumph of Love went on display yesterday for the first time in nearly 50 years, at London’s National Gallery, having been restored and cleaned. So what can we see now that we couldn’t before? Conservator Jill Dunkerton reveals all . . .

See an annotated copy of the artwork


The 18th-century restoration gave the sky a very dramatic dark cloudscape. But now when you look at the horizon you can see that it’s actually a luminous early morning.

Cupid’s right knee

There are little strokes of red – typical of Titian – on Cupid’s knee. It was very exciting to realise that under this dirty varnish we had passages of beautifully preserved flesh painting.

The hidden sketch

Underneath, we found a very extensive, bold under-drawing, which was Titian’s first sketch of the painting. There are a couple of dark squiggles between Cupid’s head and his bow, and a funny shape in the cloud to the right of his bow. That’s Cupid’s first position.

Lion’s head

The varnish had become very opaque. You couldn’t see his mouth and teeth, his glinting eyes or mane. In restoration he has become fiercer. And you can see the quick touch with which he is painted – just a few clicks of the brush with lead white paint and there are the teeth.


In the 17th century, the sky had been repainted to hide the oculus – a circular window in a wall. It wasn’t clear what the lion was sitting on. Now he looks as if he is launching into our space.

View of the Dolomites

These days the Dolomites are hard to see from Venice but in Titian’s day the view would have been much clearer. They had been completely overpainted by a combination of the 17th- and 18th-century restorers. They are painted with very expensive lapis lazuli blue pigment. It’s beautifully preserved.

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