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Attributed to Titian (c. 1488-Venice 1576)

A Boy with a Pipe ('The Shepherd') c. 1510-15

Oil on canvas | 62.4 x 49.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405767

King's Closet, Windsor Castle

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  • Titian was apprenticed to Gentile and then Giovanni Bellini, before working with Giorgione, whose death in 1510 left him without a rival in Venice. In this painting a boy appears to be lost in thought, glancing down to the right as if he has just stopped playing the pipe in his hand. The idea of this haunting image has been generally ascribed to Giorgione. The question of its execution, however, has proved more complex: many scholars have stood by the traditional attribution to Giorgione, while some have suggested that it must have been created by one of his many followers working from (and perhaps freely adapting) a lost original. It is likely that Titian painted this work based on an original conceived by Giorgione. Giorgione was probably inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci in his creation of this type - the poetic single figure - that became so popular with his patrons and with artists, such as Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo and Cariani. Several examples of such works are mentioned by early historians. Two were recorded in 1531 by Marcantonio Michiel in the collection of a Venetian nobleman, Giovanni Ram: one was the 'Boy with an Arrow', now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and a rare example of a painting still universally attributed to Giorgione; the other was a ‘Shepherd who holds fruit in his hand’, a lost painting which seems from this description to be closely related to this work. The boy in Vienna has a tilt of the head, an introspective gaze and flowing curls, all elements that recur in the Royal Collection painting. A pipe is a less enigmatic attribute than an arrow: the theme of a shepherd boy with a pipe was part of the vogue for pastoral poetry. A lost Giorgione, listed as ‘Birth of Paris’, and known today through a copy by David Teniers (private collection), and an engraving shows two shepherds in loose shirts and with similar hair, who apparently resembled the shepherd boy in this painting. In his early work Titian comes so close to Giorgione that their works have never been satisfactorily distinguished: Titian’s 'Three Ages of Man' (National Gallery of Scotland) and the 'Concert Champêtre' (Louvre), usually now attributed to him, create the same idyllic pastoral world and treat themes of love and music. This painting was so admired by the art historian Bernard Berenson that he chose it as the one Giorgione to illustrate in his 'Venetian Painters'' of 1894. In his review of the Venetian Exhibition at the New Gallery, London, in the same year, he argued that this was the only work in the exhibition that he could accept as by Giorgione. More recently some scholars have continued to accept this attribution and have dated the painting to a few years before Giorgione’s premature death in 1510. Others have followed John Sherman in ascribing it to Titian when his work was closest to Giorgione. A comparison with Giorgione’s 'Boy with an Arrow' in Vienna reveals a fundamentally different approach: the boy in Vienna has a still intensity, isolated from us in contemplation, while the subject of the Royal Collection painting seems caught in a thoughtful pause before re-joining the viewer’s world. The figure in Vienna emerges out of the dark background, the modelling and transitions from dark to light so subtle and finely nuanced that there is no evidence of painterly brushwork. The immediacy of the figure here derives from the confident bravura in the handling of paint, seen in the fine curls of hair, the velvety modelling of the skin tones (particularly the hand), the folds of the linen shirt and the few strokes to convey the tie that falls over his blue robe. It has the three-dimensional presence of Titian and the quality of Titian’s brushwork. Catalogue entry adapted from The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007
    Provenance

    In the collection of Charles I; recovered at the Restoration

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    62.4 x 49.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Shepherd with a pipe, previously entitled

    The Shepherd, previously entitled