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A major discovery in small museum storeroom – a painting worth millions

September 26, 2016
Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Study for Meleager and Atalanta. Swansea Museum.

Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Study for Meleager and Atalanta.
Swansea Museum.

A painting relegated to a museum storeroom has recently been authenticated as a study by the famed 17th-century Flemish artist Jacob Jordaens for Meleager and Atalanta, a large work about a mythological subject in the Prado – and it’s worth an estimated £3 million (approximately $4 million).  According to the Times of Londonthe study, owned by the Swansea Museum in Wales for about 150 years and thought to be an 18th-century copy, caught the attention of “art historian Bendor Grosvenor, a presenter on BBC1’s Fake or Fortune,” who suspected it might be important.  He brought in “Ben van Beneden, the director of Antwerp’s Rubenshuis museum, who authenticated the work.”  The discovery will be featured on BBC4’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 9PM (then on their website).

According to the Times article:

After the Swansea work was cleaned by restorer Simon Gillespie, it was sent to the Courtauld Institute [in London], where experts analysed the frame maker’s marks and dated it to between 1619 and 1622.

“This really narrowed it down, but we also knew that the Prado thought its painting . . . was done in two parts on two canvasses — one from the early 1620s and the other from the 1640s,” said Grosvenor, who established that the Prado work was almost certainly painted in a single year during the late 1620s and that Jordaens had joined two pieces of canvas.

He and van Beneden agree that the painting in Swansea is a preliminary work for the Prado version. “It is Jordaens trying out his ideas before he did the one which is now in Madrid,” said Grosvenor.

Jacob Jordans, Meleager and Atalanta. Oil on canvas: 152.3 x 240.5 cm. Prado Click on image to enlarge.

Jacob Jordans, Meleager and Atalanta. Oil on canvas: 152.3 x 240.5 cm.
Prado
Click on image to enlarge.

From the Prado’s website comes this description of the iconography:

This mythological scene is drawn from the Metamorphoses of Roman poet Publio Ovidio Nason [known as Ovid], one of the texts on ancient mythology that had the greatest intellectual impact on 17th-century Flemish artists. According to Ovid, Diana had sent an enormous wild bore to ravage the region of Calydon as punishment after the king failed to make the promised sacrifices to her. The king’s son, Meleager, was an experienced hunter and he gathered his most skilled colleagues to kill the beast. One of them was Atalanta, a brave huntress who was the first to wound it, making it easier for Meleager to kill it. As thanks, he gave her the bore’s head, which provoked grumbling and envy among the other hunters. Meleager’s uncles were offended and, considering themselves more deserving of the trophy, they took it away from Atalanta. This infuriated Meleager who fought and killed his uncles, thus angering his mother. Her intervention led to his sudden death, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

Jordaens chose to depict the fable’s culminating moment. On the right, Meleager’s uncles snatch the trophy from Atalanta. Angered, the hero brandishes his sword to kill them. In a tender gesture of fear, Atalanta attempts to halt Meleager’s vengeful fury. The scene is completed by the group of hunters on the left. The position of their weapons and arms, and the movement of their dogs, mark the composition’s rhythm and lead the viewer’s gaze to the main event.

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