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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This painting is the only work by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio also known as Tiziano Vecelli) thought not to have originated from the Spanish royal collections.

An anonymous Madrid school artist introduced it to the Museum in 1872 via the Museo de la Trinidad. 14 years later, the work was taken to Nuestra Señora del Carmen for exhibitions. Studies of the work have shown that it was an original work by Titian due to the similar technical characteristics between the paint and other works by the prolific painter. The painting is dated from the 1550s, and evidence indicates that it was the famous St John the Baptist painting completed on ca. 1542 by Titian. Throughout his painting career, Titian executed a copy of his work in the studio to serve as a reference point, and this shows why Titian has no known two identical works.

St John Baptist painting was created from the original version. To recreate new St John the Baptist, the painting was traced before making few changes to the original copy to come up with new original work. Some of the changes made included adding colour, a landscape and gestures to the original work. The restored painting together with replicas of the work were unveiled at Monastery of El Escorial and Galleria dell´Accademia in Venice. This painting uses oil and paint on a canvas. This is a combination of oil, pigment and oil binding medium such as mineral spirits and turpentine used on a canvas surface. In comparison to other works, paintings done using oil takes time to dry allowing artists to manipulate their art.

The work is well executed to portray John the Baptist in his traditional attributes of holding a staff and standing near the Lamb of God. In addition, Titian formed a landscape of River Jordan using the Giorgionesque style to show where Jesus Christ was baptised. The Giorgionesque landscape in the painting evokes mood and colour as present in Florentine paintings, that utilised the linear disegno style. Apart from oil and paint, Titian used a loose brushstroke to paint the landscape. Notably, the landscape which is the most preserved area along with the sky indicates traces of lead white as well calcium carbonate, to have been used at the time the work was painted.

Since the records show the paint was present in Spain up to the 16th century, it was probably commissioned by the 5th Duke of Villahermosa, Martín de Gurrea y Aragón. Between 17th and 19th century, St. John the Baptist was documented in the convent of Pascual Bailón which was a religious house established by the Admiral of Castile. Moreover, the canvas influenced considerable Spanish paintings as evident in several surviving copies. At the moment, the paint is situated at Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.