How might we conduct an investigation into the possibility of Shakespeare knowing Titian’s composition? The situation is complicated by the fact that more than 30 copies of Venus and Adonis (20 on canvas, 10 in print) are known to exist. Let’s start with the definitive version, the Venus and Adonis in Madrid (centre right on grid). The facts concerning the authentic Prado version are these. Titian painted the Venus and Adonis in 1553 for Philip II of Spain to commemorate his marriage to Queen Mary Tudor, the half sister of Elizabeth, on July 25th 1554. It was destined to hang in his private camerino, although the exact layout of Philip’s poesia is not known, though it has been the subject of much debate. However, the historical fact is that Philip II left England in 1555 and had his paintings shipped to the Low Countries under Spanish control; from there they went to Madrid. It is therefore extremely unlikely that Shakespeare would have seen the Prado Venus and Adonis. However Shakespeare could- and I mean could, not did- have known the composition through prints by either Giulio Sanuto lived and flourished in Venice between 1540 and 1588- or Martino Rota- engraver born in Sebenico, c. 1520, lived in Venice, Florence and Rome. The one by Gulio Sanuto (centre left on grid)- which has a copy in the print collection of the British Museum, was acquired long after the publication of the poem: however, this collection dates back to only to the first half of the eighteenth-century, so it can be ruled out as an influence. No copy of Rota’s print can be found in England prior to 1593, although Shakespeare could have seen one.
What about the painted variants and copies? To give you some idea of the problem, here are some of the more well-known versions. There is a painted variant in the National Gallery in London, (top left on grid). As Harold Wethey, the compiler of the Titian catalogue raisonné, says, this “does not measure up to Philip’s picture by a considerable margin”. Its main difference is that it has a boyish Adonis, whose drapery is darker red and nearer to the velvet on which Venus sits. Sir Charles Holmes argued for this being earlier than the one in Madrid, and another connoisseur judged the canvas unfinished, perhaps because of the dull, brown colour of the landscape. The Titian scholar Erica Tietze-Conrat said the painting was a sketch, or modello- or presentation sketch- of 1553 which “was used for repetitions in Titian’s workshop.” However, as Wethey says, the canvas is much too large to be a modello, and that Erica Tietze-Conrat probably hadn’t seen the London or Madrid painting for many years. It was previously in the Colonna collection in Rome, and subsequently acquired by the gallery from an English collector, Angerstein, in 1824. It was restored in 1924. This is almost certainly a workshop piece of about 1554 which shows Adonis much younger, more in accord with Ovid rather than Shakespeare. This type of composition that shows Cupid asleep and three dogs is known as the “Prado type.”
There is another type known as the “Farnese type”, known after a lost version from that collection. According to the Venetian connoisseur Ridolfi, Titian painted a Venus and Adonis in Rome in 1545-6, but is disappeared in the 19th century without leaving any trace- we don’t even know if the engravings and painted variants look like the Farnese picture. This type seems to have completely different iconography to the “Prado type”. Cupid is fully awake and very close to the lovers; there are two dogs instead of three. We know it through engravings and workshop versions. One is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York (top right on grid), previously in the Palazzo Mariscotti in Rome for more than two hundred years until 1804 when it entered Lord Darnley’s collection in Cobham. After that, it was in a London collection, and then it went to New York in 1949. This is almost certainly another workshop copy, of about 1560-3, and falls into the “Farnese group”. There’s another example (bottom right on grid) of this group in Washington. This version probably descends from the Barbarigo-Giustiniani collection and purchased by Lord Sutherland in 1675.
An interesting sidelight is thrown on this variant with sleeping Cupid when a picture in the London National Gallery is considered. A painting that is rarely on display, Boy with a Bird shows a similar youth to the conscious Cupid in the Farnese variant. This canvas has been analysed by Paul Joannides, and Jill Dunkerton (of the NG) and interesting conclusions have been reached. According to Joannides, stylistically the colour matches Titian’s earlier “peaches and cream”, that is, white and vermillion scheme, and therefore was painted much earlier than the poesia Venus and Adonis. It’s a long and complicated argument, but one of the most interesting views to come out of it is the possibility that Titian was thinking of the Venus and Adonis composition some thirty or forty years earlier.
This is taking us away from Shakespeare, but the third group, the so-called “Barberini type” has been of interest to Shakespeare scholars, though I would suspect art historians would steer well clear of it, mainly because it doesn’t seem to meet Titian’s very high standards. I would agree with Wethey that that the silly cap worn by Adonis in this picture (bottom left on grid) in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, can have nothing to do with Titian, although that hasn’t deterred Magri in arguing that “Shakespeare” could have seen it.  It should be noted that her “Shakespeare” refers to Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, not the Bard of Avon. I have no knowledge of the authorship debate, nor do I intend to pursue it. But as to the “author” of this painting, it’s certainly not Titian, but a follower, and not a very good one at that.
Bringing this talk to a close, what conclusions can we draw from the facts and images presented here?
The iconography of Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love and the Venus and Adonis do have themes which appear in Shakespeare’s poem. That could be purely coincidental. We cannot say any more.
The language of Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis”, especially the play on Adonis as painted image, could support the theory that Shakespeare was looking at paintings which inspired these ideas, but not necessarily Titian’s. Quite a lot of other Venetian painters did this subject. However Shakespeare was interested in visual art, and the poem does reflect awareness of the paragone debate in Italy. Famously he mentions Giulio Romano in The Winter’s Tale, and Magri has tried to connect Giulio’s Sala dei Cavalli with the imagery of the lively horses in Shakespeare’s poem, but all that hinges on the authorship debate, which is best left to the experts. For more on the authorship debate, go here.
Both Shakespeare’s poem and Titian’s painting for Philip II do contain the figure of a reluctant Adonis, which appears in Shakespeare, but not in Ovid. However, as David Rosand said, the reluctant lover was not without precedent. Still, although Panofsky’s theory cannot be proved, it cannot be disproved either- it therefore remains a valid hypothesis, until new evidence emerges to refute it. I’ll leave you with that final thought.
 See for example the discussions in Thomas Puttfarken, Titian and Tragic Painting: Aristotle’s Poetics and the Rise of the Modern Artist, Yale, 2005; Jane C. Nash, Veiled Images: Titian's Mythological Paintings for Philip II, London, 1985.
 Magri, “Titian’s Barberini Painting”, 80.
 Wethey, The Paintings of Titian: Complete Edition, 3 vols., vol. III, Mythological and Historical Paintings, no 41, Phaidon, 1975, 190-1.
 Wethey, p. 190.
 Wethey, p.190.
 Wethey, L. 19, Farnese Coll., 1545-46 or about 1560; no. 95 (Sir Robert Strange’s engraving); no. 96 (Raphael Sadeler’s print); no. 97 (workshop variant in New York); no. 98 (Washington).
 Wethey, L-19, p. 242.
 According to Wethey, Sadeler made his print in 1610 from the version in the Barbarigo Coll, and now in Washington.
 Wethey, no. 43, pp. 192-3.
 Wethey, no. 44, p. 193.
 Paul Joannides and Jill Dunkerton, “Two Responses to a Titian Question”, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, Vol. 28, 2007. “The small canvas of A Boy with a Bird (NG 933; plate 1) that entered the National Gallery with the Wynn Ellis Bequest in 1876 appears to be an extract of a detail from the so-called ‘two-dog’ type of Titian’s Venus and Adonis, known from versions in Washington (plates 2 and 3) and New York, both of which are generally dated to the 1550s or 1560s. However, the paint handling of the boy in the National Gallery picture is characteristic of work by Titian and his studio in the 1520s and the colour range also suggests this period. This apparent contradiction led earlier scholars to conclude that it was a later pastiche of Titian, probably dating from the seventeenth century. The study of sources for the composition, and detailed technical examination following the recent cleaning of the painting, have led the present authors to reassess the work.”
 Wethey, X-40, p. 223. “This mediocre school piece, in which Adonis wears a ridiculous red hat and has rose ribbons on his quiver, is not only coarsely painted but so clumsily based upon the Prado composition as to eliminate Titian’s own participation. A related design and no better quality characterize the example at Alnwick Castle (cat x-39), where Cupid is wanting. The vertical shape of the picture allows for the inclusion of more of the trees and sky than in the Prado original.” See also Wethey’s comments on X-39, in the Duke of Northumberland’s collection. “The extraordinary fact is that Crowe and Cavalcaselle wrote with the greatest enthusiasm of this small picture, which they ranked above the masterpiece in the Prado Museum. The preposterous cap worn by Adonis and the general awkwardness of the composition leave the impression that variant of the Prado version, like that in Rome (cat X-40) owes nothing to Titian himself.”
 Those who support De Vere’s authorship of the plays are called Oxfordians; those who support the Swan of Avon are called Stratfordians. I make no further comment than that!
 Magri, “Titian’s Barberini Painting”, 85.