“Years ago I decided that the greatest ned in our Country was Art…So I determined to make it my life work if I could” Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1917
After visiting the Isabella Stewart Museum and seeing the wonderful Titian’s table ‘The Rape of Europa’ I wonder how it got there from the Spanish collections. This masterpiece is very important for many reasons, for instance, when Velazquez first arrived to the Court, he finds Reubens (52 years old and at the height of his fame) copying the painting. The young Velazquez was very impressed with both the work of Titian and the painting skills of Reubens. It was a ‘coup de foudre’ with Rubens, whom he also admired much as diplomatic, commissioner, and nobleman. Near the end of his life, Velasquez pays tribute to Reubens and Titian in his painting ‘The Fable of Arachne’ (also known as ‘The Tapestry Weavers’), an allegory on the nobility of the art of painting and an affirmation of the supremacy of Velazquez himself.
The Titian picture was painted for Philip II of Spain in 1562. Which was the painting’s travel history since it left Spain until its arrival to Boston? Tracing the movements of a work of art such as this one is a sort of detective work. I asked my friend MJ Gibson to search it in inventories and auction catalogues. The picture left the Spanish Royal Collection destined as a wedding present for Charles I of England . The painting remains first into the collection of the Duke of Orleans, eventually reaching England during the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon. For almost a century it hung in Lord Darnley’s collection before being sold, in the 1890s, to the great collector Isabella Stewart Gardner for £20,000, about $100,000 in those days. Drawing upon letters and accounts in the Colnaghi archives, the art historian J.Howard unravels the complex negotiations carried out by Isabella’s friend and young scholar Mr.Bernard Berenson (”I am breathless after a two days’ orgy, drinking myself drunk with ‘Europa,’ thinking and dreaming about her”) which led up to its eventual sale and triumphant installation in Boston in 1896.
Indeed, many specialists and connoisseurs, considers ‘The Rape of Europa’ the greatest Italian picture hanging in United States collections.