The Penitent Magdalen

The Penitent Magdalen by Titian – estimate €1m-1.5m at Dorotheum.

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It will be offered at the Old Master paintings sale in Vienna on May 11 with a €1m-1.5m estimate.

The Penitent Magdalen was Titian’s most frequently commissioned subject and many copies and variations were produced by the artist and his workshop over a 40-year period. An early example from 1531 can be found in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, while a later version from c.1555-65 is now in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

As a group, the paintings are generally placed into two distinct composition types, of which this picture was part of the later category from 1550 onwards depicting a less sensuous Magdalen with her nudity concealed by drapery.

Dorotheum said the work here was closely connected to the Getty’s picture as well as another by the hand of Titian which is in a private collection in Lugano, Switzerland. A date of between 1550 and 1560 has been suggested.

X-rays of the 3ft 10in x 3ft 2in (1.15m x 97cm) oil on canvas have revealed the painter’s successive tests and alterations to the composition, adjusting the figure according to the desired shape. Dorotheum’s assessment states: “This way of proceeding is typical of Titian himself, just as are his typical brushstrokes which can be read in the X-ray.”

The picture has been accepted as a fully attributed work by Prof Paul Joannides, emeritus professor of the history of art at the University of Cambridge, who examined the work and helped establish the provenance. It is believed to be the same picture that was once owned by Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1674-1723), Christina, Queen of Sweden (1629-89), and, before that, possibly the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612).

It came to England after being exported from France during the Revolution and was acquired in 1792 by a syndicate of three wealthy aristocrats: Francis, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, his nephew George Granville Leveson- Gower and Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle.

“Addition to Titian’s oeuvre”

Having appeared at a Phillips auction at Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, in 1859 – where it was offered as a work by Titian and sold for 66 guineas – it was since considered lost. It has now come to auction from a vendor whose grandfather acquired it from a private English collection, according to the auction house. Dorotheum said: “Its rediscovery has revealed a work of extraordinary quality and it is a significant addition to Titian’s oeuvre.”

Another version of The Penitent Magdalen with a similar composition but in a different size appeared at Dorotheum in October 2015. Catalogued as ‘Titian and Studio’, it sold below estimate for €176,600 (£129,560) including fees.