Art Review: Titian's First Masterpiece @ National Gallery

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 76 months ago
Art Review: Titian's First Masterpiece @ National Gallery
oil on canvas 206 x 336 cm
Titian, The Flight into Egypt. Photograph © The State Hermitage Museum / Natalia Antonova, Inessa Regentova
Giovanni Bellini, The Madonna of the Meadow. © The National Gallery, London
Giovanni Bellini, The Madonna of the Meadow. © The National Gallery, London
Titian, Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo. © The National Gallery, London
Titian, Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo. © The National Gallery, London
Titian, Noli me Tangere. © The National Gallery, London
Titian, Noli me Tangere. © The National Gallery, London
Early sixteenth-century painter (Titian?), with additions by a late sixteenth-century Venetian (?) painter Nymphs and Putti in a Landscape with Shepherds. © The National Gallery, London, courtesy of the owner
Early sixteenth-century painter (Titian?), with additions by a late sixteenth-century Venetian (?) painter Nymphs and Putti in a Landscape with Shepherds. © The National Gallery, London, courtesy of the owner

Titian may not be as highly regarded as some of his Renaissance brethren such as Da Vinci or Raphael, but he featured prominently in the news last month as £45m was spent to ensure that his painting of Diana and Callisto remained in the UK. This painting is currently on display at the National Gallery, alongside its sister piece — Diana and Actaeon.

Gaining less of a media spotlight, the National Gallery is displaying what is considered to be Titian's first masterpiece  — The Flight into Egypt. The painting is newly restored, and its the first time it's been out of Russia since 1768, when it was purchased by the Empress Catherine the Great.

To mark this occasion, a temporary exhibition has been assembled to chart Titian's early career as a portraitist and his progression on to the larger scale biblical scenes he's famed for.

Other paintings by his contemporaries also feature, and hint at who might have influenced Titian, but as there are no official records there is a lot of educated speculation here.

The star of the show, the Flight into Egypt, is breathtaking. Titian's use of colour and light creates a sense of depth that makes the holy family leap off the canvas, while the landscape — filled with immaculately detailed figures and animals — recedes into the background.

This painting is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, it's free to see, it may be another 300 years before it's back in the UK and you can check out Titian's other masterpieces on display while you're at the National Gallery.

Titian's First Masterpiece: The Flight into Egypt is on display at the National Gallery until 19 August. Admission is free.

Last Updated 05 April 2012