Last Friday, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna returned to view a Renaissance painting of Jesus Christ, portrayed as “Salvator Mundi” or the Savior of the World. The painting’s creator was for a while uncertain, but now the museum has determined the true maker of this work, titled Christ with an Orb (ca. 1520/30): none other than the Venetian master Titian.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, which holds the second-largest collection of work by Titian in the world, recently established a multi-year research project, with the support Fund for Scientific Research/FWF, to analyze all the works by the artist that the it owns, as well as some that had long been attributed to his workshop. The pieces underwent X-ray and infrared analysis to examine the artist’s “technique and handling,” according to a release.
Christ with an Orb, which shows the central figure in red and blue robes holding a glass orb meant to represent to the world, was one of those works. This composition departs slightly from the traditional Salvator Mundi depictions, since Christ’s right hand isn’t raised in a blessing as it typically would be. Instead, the painting offers “a new religious interpretation within this pictorial tradition,” according to the museum. To this composition, the artist has also added a golden scroll on Christ’s clothing with a Hebrew inscription referring to a still-unidentified Christian patron.
The museum’s statement reads, “Under the Christ we discovered a composition featuring the Virgin and Child that is very similar to other early depictions of this subject by Titian, and that, in addition, sheds light in his typical method of working such as moving figures around and altering their poses. Until now the painting was dated to around 1530, but these new findings indicate it was painted earlier, presumably sometime in the 1520s.”
This painting would have been made at least 20 years after the now-infamous Salvator Mundi painting that was recently reattributed to Leonardo da Vinci and sold for a record-breaking $450 million at Christie’s New York in 2017. The attribution to Leonardo has been repeatedly called into question by art historians.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum said that in its research, it had detected Titian’s “idiom both in the ‘economical’ brushwork and the quality of the painting technique” for Christ with an Orb, but that previous restorations had made his “original paintwork” difficult to identify, and that “establishing Titian’s authorship beyond doubt requires additional complex restoration work.”