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Monday, July 12, 2010

Velazquez: Lost & Found

It happens surprisingly often, and, oh, the vicarious thrill I get when it does … when I hear that someone has discovered what might well be a lost painting by an Old Master!

Just imagine John Marciari’s excitement --- as a junior curator at the Yale University Art Gallery -- when it dawned on him that the unidentified painting languishing in storage looked suspiciously like it might be an early masterpiece by Diego Velazquez!

The Los Angeles Times reports on an article in the current issue of the Madrid quarterly Ars, in which Marciari makes the case that the canvas, which portrays The Education of the Virgin, is actually a 1617 altarpiece by the Spanish master. He believes the painting, which appears to have suffered water damage, was the altarpiece at the Carmelite Convent of St. Anne in Seville, which flooded in 1626.

A large canvas (> 5’ by 4’ ), The Education of the Virgin shows the young Mary learning to read at the knee of her mother, St. Anne, with her father, St. Joachim, looking on.

Marciari claims that the technical evidence of pigments, ground, and canvas are consistent with artistic practice in Seville in the early 17th century. He writes, “Further examination – of style and technique, of the painterly conceits, the manner of quotation, and other factors – leads to a unique origin: Diego Velázquez, born in Seville in 1599 and active there only until 1623, but even from the first moments of his career responsible for the revolutionary change in Spanish painting represented by the altarpiece.”

Marciari points to similarities between The Education of the Virgin and another early Velazquez work, The Luncheon (kept in Saint Petersburg Hermitage) “from the way that the figures emerge from the darkness, to the inconsistently cast shadows that set off brilliantly depicted still-life elements, to the long thick strokes of paint.” He cites comparable elements, such as St. Anne's ochre-colored draperies, in accepted Velázquez works.

The still-life at the left side of the canvas is similar to pottery bowls, plates and baskets present in other Velázquez’s paintings, as are the treatment of “deep, animated folds” in the garments of Saint Anne and the young virgin.

The quarterly journal says the Yale work "could be this master's most significant find for more than a century." Laurence Kanter, the Curator of early European art at the Yale Art Gallery calls the discovery all the more remarkable because museums today rarely have the chance to acquire a work by Velázquez. Kanter points out that Velázquez "has never been out of favor. From the beginning, he has been one of the great, canonical painters of the Western tradition, and because he worked for the kings of Spain, most of his work is still in that country."
Given to Yale in the 1920s by alumni brothers, it was previously listed as the work of an unknown 17th century Spanish painter. The painting is undergoing restoration and may be on display in the Yale Gallery as early as 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just came across the blog surfing, pretty great art blog...

Jacob
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