The Virgin and Child with Saint Dorothy and Saint George1515 - 1518. Oil on panel, 86 x 130 cm.
The authorship, dating and iconography of this work are all controversial. It was described as being by Titian in the Libro de entregas of the Escorial in 1593, an opinion maintained by Sigüenza but not by Cassiano dal Pozzo, who attributed it in 1626 to Giorgione, and it was described as such in 1839 when it entered the Museo del Prado. However, since Crowe and Cavalcaselle, it has been attributed almost unanimously to Titian. The dating of the work has varied between 1505 and 1520. Gronau suggested the former based on the undoubted similarity of Saint George with the Saint Roch in the Saint Mark Enthroned (Venice, Santa Maria della Salute), which he believed to have been painted in 1505 but which is now dated to 1511-12. Most scholars have, however, opted for a later date: Wethey located it around 1515, Pallucchini in 1516-18, and Joannides to as late as 1520. Nor is there complete agreement on the work´s iconography. The male saint is usually identified as Saint George, although Saint Hulfo, husband of Saint Bridget, has also been suggested. The female saint has been identified as Saint Catherine or Saint Dorothy, the latter being more likely due to the basket of fruit and roses which she offers the Christ Child, her normal iconographic attribute.
Once the attribution to Titian is accepted and the saints assumed to be George and Dorothy, the dating remains to be established. While the painting has links to works executed prior to 1515, such as the similarity with Saint George in the Salute altarpiece mentioned above, and the use of the same female model for Saint Dorothy and the Saint Catherine in The Virgin and Child with Saints and a Donor in the Fondazione Magnani Rocca, dated 1511-12, overall the work reveals a complexity that makes a later date more probable. This is evident in the monumentality of the figures (the half-length format which Titian started to use from 1516 onwards), and the luminosity of the colouring, which looks forward to the Assumption in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (1516-18). The present composition is also more dynamic and complex than other earlier ones. Here Titian has abandoned the axial layout of the sacra conversazioni and the traditional arrangement of the figures in a frieze, locating instead the Virgin and Child in the foreground turning to the right, with the saints behind approaching them from the left. A double curtain leaves a section of sky visible in the centre, giving movement to the whole and conveying the feeling that the saints have entered the space occupied by the mother and child.
The Virgin and Child with Saint Dorothy and Saint George was the earliest work by Titian owned by Philip II, who had it sent to the Escorial. It is not known how the monarch acquired it, but at the end of Titian´s life, when the decline in his artistic powers was evident, certain clients began to take an interest in his early works. This was the case with the Marquis of Ayamonte, Governor of Milan between 1573 and 1580, and his example was probably also followed by other members of the Spanish court. The painting entered the Museo del Prado in 1839 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Tiziano, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, p. 356).