Italy’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit has successfully recovered a stolen portrait by a Renaissance master. In 2004, a work by Titian entitled Portrait of a Gentleman with a Black Beret went missing. Created when the master was around 24-years-old, the work was said to have been stolen and trafficked to Switzerland. However, after a decade and a half, authorities in Italy received an anonymous tip in 2020 that someone had spotted the work at a restorer’s studio in Asti, in northwestern Italy. Two Swiss citizens have since been under investigation concerning the work’s theft. The Carabinieri, a branch of Italy’s national police, announced these details while presenting the portrait to the press at the Palazzo Chiablese in Turin.
Upon inspection, specialists gave the recovered Titian a value of around €7 million, making it one of the more valuable works by the Venetian master. His auction record was achieved in 2011 when his Madonna and Child sold at Sotheby’s New York for $16.9 million. However, the experts are not all in complete agreement. Some, like Andrea Donati and Vittorio Sgarbi, dispute that Titian even created the work. Donati, a prominent art historian, wrote that the style is inconsistent with the Venetian master’s work. Donati claims that the portrait seems more like a German or Flemish imitation of Italian-style portraiture. “I do not even see the shadow of Titian in this portrait,” he wrote. Sgarbi, a politician and art critic, later stated, “If that’s a Titian, I’m Napoleon!” Quite the authoritative statement. But yet, these are the assessments of two people, not the consensus. Accordingly, the Italian government has not given any indication that these objections will be addressed through further research. The Cultural Heritage Protection Unit’s Turin office has 280 agents alone. Surely one of them would have caught on that the portrait might not be a true Titian. But who knows?