I nipped in to the National Gallery yesterday to take a look at the little exhibition there showcasing 'Titian's First Masterpiece'. That's it, above, in an image that does the original no kind of justice but gives a vague idea - The Flight into Egypt. Painted in 1510, when TItian was barely out of his teens, it's certainly a wonderful piece of work - and it's been newly restored - and this is the first time it's been seen outside Russia since 1768. Part of its charm, I think, is that it's not quite a masterpiece, more a display of the young artist's astonishing ability in various genres, most of them very new and barely formed at the time, and the range of his influences. The frieze-like composition of the Holy Family doesn't really fit into the landscape, but it's so beautifully painted it hardly matters. Likewise the brilliantly drawn animals, birds and figure in (but not quite of) the landscape. That landscape, though, is bravura stuff - from the precisely drawn wild flowers in the foreground to the distant blue hills, by way of some fine, free tree painting that looks way ahead of its time. The Flight into Egypt is a great landscape painting with some great figure painting included, so not quite an integrated masterpiece (unlike the slightly later Noli Me Tangere that is hung with it), but a picture that's a rare joy to linger over, allowing the eye to roam at leisure over those glorious landscapes. It's at the Nat Gall till 19th August, so plenty of time to see it. The Flight is in the Sunley Room, and in Room 1, to show what the mature Titian could achieve by way of figures in landscape, there's the recently acquired Diana and Callisto, hanging in splendid - truly splendid - isolation.
Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a co-blogger on The Dabbler and the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog, the sole blogger on this one, and a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp.