A Saint Cecilia now Restored, but with no Attribution, Joins the Dulwich Gallery


7/1/12 - Restoration - Dulwich, Picture Gallery - The painting which this British museum [1] has just hung in its galleries is a veritable discovery as its extremely poor condition had relegated it to storage in the late 19th century. It had not been displayed since then and had, in fact, become practically invisible (ill. 1).


1. Bolognese School, XVIIth century
Saint Cecilia
Before Restoration
Oil on Canvas - 173.5 x 126.7 cm
Dulwich, Picture Gallery
Photo : Dulwich Picture Gallery

2. Bolognese School, XVIIth century
Saint Cecilia
After Restoration
Oil on Canvas - 173.5 x 126.7 cm
Dulwich, Picture Gallery
Photo : Dulwich Picture Gallery


Thanks to a restoration funded by the Friends of the Dulwich Gallery which started in 2009, this Saint Cecilia is now back as part of the permanent collection (ill. 2).
It had been purchased in 1790 by Noel Joseph Desenfans from the French art dealer Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, with an attribution to Annibale Carracci. The painting had strangely enough been paired off with the Portrait of Mrs. Siddons as a Tragic Muse by Joshua Reynolds, no doubt due to the likeness in subjects (Saint Cecilia can be seen as the Muse of Music), but also in tribute to Reynolds by juxtaposing his work to one of the greatest painters of the Bolognese school some of whose paintings hung next to it. However, to transform the Saint Cecilia into its matching pair, the canvas had been enlarged on all four sides and probably partly repainted. In 1842, a well known art critic, Anna Jameson, noted that she had "seldom seen a picture so shamefully maltreated - so patched and repainted."

In any case, the resulting restoration reveals a superb composition, true, not by Annibale Carracci but perhaps an artist in his circle. Its presentation in the museum and the publication of its photograph may help in establishing an attribution. If any of The Art Tribune readers has an idea on the subject, we hope they will not hesitate to let us know [since its publication in French on La Tribune de l’Art (3/1/12), two interesting suggestions have been received which we are going to publish here.].

Version française


Didier Rykner, samedi 7 janvier 2012


Notes

[1] We learned the information from an article in The Guardian and most of the facts contained in this news item were graciously provided by the Dulwich Picture Gallery.



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