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To Coincide with World Pride 2017 Museo Thyssen Unveils Newly Restored Tiepolo

July 9, 2017

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinthus, ca. 1752-53
Oil on canvas. 287 x 232 cm
© Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

On view through December 17 at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain, is the recently restored Giambattista Tiepolo painting The Death of Hyacinthus. According to the museum:

In conjunction with the celebration of the Museum’s 25th anniversary and to coincide with World Pride 2017 in Madrid, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is now presenting the results of the restoration and technical study of one of the most important and fascinating works in its collection and probably its greatest gay icon: The Death of Hyacinthus by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Following its restoration in the Museum’s studios, the painting has now returned to its habitual location in Room 17, accompanied by a special display organised by the departments of Restoration and Old Master painting. This installation includes X-radiographs and infra-red reflectographs which show the most interesting aspects of the work undertaken, explain the methodology applied and reveal the outstanding quality of the painting. These images are accompanied by two preparatory drawings loaned by the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart and a video of the entire restoration process which also explains the most important discoveries made during this restoration and study project and features interesting details from the painting.

Given the widespread interest in restoration projects of this type, with this new display the Museum is aiming to introduce visitors to the working methods used by restorers, which are essential for determining the appropriate treatments to be applied in each case and which also provide art historians with important information. Knowledge of the techniques and materials employed by artists is fundamental for deciding on the procedures to be adopted when halting the deterioration of a work of art. Furthermore, focusing on the most detailed aspects of the creation of a work also allows us to enter into the artist’s mind to some extent and that of his/her period and to understand the creative act and its context on the basis of more solid arguments.

Detail of cleaning performed to The Death of Hyacinthus, by Tiepolo

The painting’s history
The Death of Hyacinthus (ca.1752-53) was commissioned by Baron Wilhelm Friedrich Schaumburg-Lippe, who lived in a town near Würzburg (Germany) where Tiepolo was employed with his sons Giovanni Domenico and Lorenzo from 1750 onwards on the decoration of the residence of the new Prince-Bishop, Carl Philipp von Greiffenclau. The painting seems to have an elegiac nature as a homage to the Baron’s lover, a young Spanish musician with whom he had lived in Venice and who had died in 1751.

The painting is inspired by an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book X, 162-219): Apollo and his lover, the young and beautiful Hyacinthus, Prince of Sparta, were competing at throwing the discus when the latter was mortally wounded when struck on the head by the discus. In the classical account Hyacinthus was killed by his own clumsiness as he threw the discus during the competition but another version recounts that as it was thrown by Apollo, it was blown off course by Zephyrus, god of the west wind, who had been spurned by Hyacinthus in favour of Apollo. Unable to return him to life, Apollo immortalised the youth by making the hyacinth flower sprout from his blood on the ground.

Tiepolo depicts the scene on the basis of the Italian translation of Ovid’s text by Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara (Venice, 1561), in which the discus throwing is replaced by a tennis match, a fashionable sport among the nobility of the time. In the foreground we see the racquet and some balls cast on the ground and in the background a net that indicates the tennis court. Hyacinthus lies dying in front of the despairing Apollo, who feels responsible for the accident and whose gestures indicate the fateful outcome. Apollo had neglected his duties as a god to devote his time to his lover and Tiepolo reminds us of this by including two of his attributes: the lyre and the quiver with arrows, abandoned on the ground on the left while he shows Apollo himself as a youthful athlete with blonde hair and a laurel wreath. Behind them Hyacinthus’s father King Amyclas and his retinue watch the scene with sombre expressions. Numerous iconographical details emphasise the painting’s symbolic language, from the figure of the macaw, a symbol of courtship, to the mocking expression of the statue of Pan, protector of male sexuality, with Apollo’s hand covering his genitals and his thumb imitating the shape of an erection.

The composition of the central group was tried out in numerous preparatory sketches by both the artist and his son and assistant Giovanni Domenico. These studies play with the different positions adopted by the two principal figures, bringing them closer together or changing the poses. Other studies feature specific details that were subsequently carefully reproduced in the final version, like the figure of Hyacinthus and the depiction of the small putto in the drawings from the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart on display in the exhibition.

X- Ray Study of The Death of Hyacinthus, by Tiepolo

Technical study and restoration
The restoration of The Death of Hyacinthus has essentially focused on the complex elimination of the superimposed layers of oxidised and yellowed varnishes which had accumulated over time. Cleaning the painting has recovered its visual unity and the richness of the original palette with its vibrant, subtly nuanced colours. The architectural features and figures are now also easier to read and the original pictorial depth can once again be properly appreciated. Taking micro-samples of the pigments has provided new information on them and allowed for the materials used by the artist and their state of conservation to be analysed, while gigapixel images and macrophotographs have revealed the tiniest alterations and details of the painting. Ultraviolet and infra-red images have similarly provided valuable information on the creation of the work and the artist’s methods.

An X-radiograph of a painting shows the modifications introduced by the artist during the process of its creation. In The Death of Hyacinthus it can be seen that Tiepolo changed the position of the king, turning him to face the principal scene directly, which resulted in a modification of the folds of his clothing and the position of his arm. Behind this figure Tiepolo added a soldier and also changed the size and shape of both figures’ headwear. In the lower part of the composition it is evident that the straps of the quiver were originally longer. Unlike the other figures, the putto is not visible in the X-radiograph as it was painted with a type of pigment that can be easily penetrated by X-rays.

Tiepolo worked more confidently on the right part of the painting, locating the principal figures in a more emphatic manner and with hardly any changes. There are small modifications to the position of Hyacinthus’s arm and Apollo’s thumb, the position of which has been interpreted as an erotic reference. His knee, on which Cupid is leaning, was slightly moved, with the result that the latter’s left hand is suspended in the air. Tiepolo also changed the background motifs as the X-radiograph reveals what might be the sketch of a mountain as well as different architectural structures which he ultimately covered over with clouds or vegetation in order to create a greater sense of space.

Final varnishing of The Death of Hyacinthus, by Tiepolo

Infra-red reflectograph
This image reveals the preparatory drawing or study concealed by the paint layers and thus the changes introduced into the composition by the artist, some of them also visible on the Xradiograph. In this case it can be seen that the figure of Amyclas originally had a cloth headdress which was then replaced with a hat, while his right hand also reveals some corrections or changes with regard to the final position. The god Apollo appears in the preparatory drawing with some ornamental accessories such as an earring and a belt decorated with a pearl, which were subsequently covered over with brushstrokes of pigment. In addition, his left thumb was not originally superimposed over the figure of Pan as we see in the final painting and some lines of under-drawing are visible that locate Apollo’s knee in a more elevated position and in contact with Cupid’s left hand. Finally, Tiepolo made a slight change to the position of the drapery over Hyacinthus’s leg.

An intriguing 14th century Italian painting at Hampel in Munich

July 4, 2017

14th century Italian School, possibly Francesco di Antonio da Ancona,
active ca. 1383 – 1393
Oil, tempera and gold ground on softwood: 31 x 21 cm.
In gilt 19th century aedicule frame.
Estimate: €15,000-30,000.

Munich’s Hampel auction house opens its July 5, 2017 Old Masters sale with a late 14th century panel painting, possibly by the Italian artist Francesco di Antonio da Ancona.  The subject and iconography – Noli Me Tangere – is familiar in medieval Western European art dating to late antiquity, and appear in illuminated manuscripts from France and Germany (below).

Noli Me Tangere
from a Gospel Book
German, c. 1015
Hildesheim, Hildesheim Cathedral Museum
MS DS 18, fol. 75v

Master Henri, Noli Me Tangere
from Livre d’Images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainault), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquistion francaise 16251, fol. 45v

Noli Me Tangere
Nine Leaves from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1225-1250
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M275, fol. 7v















The image comes from John 20:17, when Mary Magdelene sees the resurrected Christ, and the Latin “noli me tangere” translates approximately to “do not touch me.”

Direct 14th century predecessors to the Hampel painting include works by Duccio and Giotto, and the Hampel painting seems an iconographic hybrid of the two.

Duccio, Noli me tangere, 1308-11
Tempera on wood: 51 x 57 cm
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

Giotto, Noli me tangere, 1304-1306
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

The best know work by Francesco di Antonio da Ancona can be found in the Pushkin Museum.  It is the only known signed work by the artist.

Francesco di Antonio da Ancona, Madonna and Child with Saints
Height: 1,990 mm (78.35 in). Width: 2,380 mm (93.7 in).
Click on image to enlarge.































An 18th century view of Venice, taken by the Nazis, heads to auction

June 7, 2017

Michele Marieschi (1710 – 1743)
La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore 1739-40.
Oil on canvas.
Estimate: £500,000–700,000.

A view of Venice by the 18th century Venetian painter Michele Marieschi, which had been confiscated by the Nazis and the subject of a 70-year recovery effort, will be featured in Sotheby’s London Old Master Evening Sale on July 5, 2017. It’s a reminder that restitution of artwork and other property looted, confiscated or otherwise appropriated by the Nazis is an ongoing issue.

While the painting is not a masterpiece within Marieschi’s cannon, it’s history in the 20th century is extraordinary according to an announcement from Sotheby’s:

Originally acquired by Heinrich (Heinz) and Anna Maria (Anny) Graf in 1937, the painting hung in the family’s Vienna apartment – a highlight of their small but refined collection. In March 1938, the family’s lives were upended with the German annexation of Austria. Ousted from his job and under threat from the growing tensions under a dictatorial regime, Heinz and his young family were forced to flee their home. In anticipation of the forced emigration, which by then had become so commonplace in Vienna, all of the Graf’s possessions were put into storage, to be forwarded once the family settled into a new home. Having paid the substantial ‘exit tax’ demanded by the Germans, the Grafs made their way first to Italy, and then several months later to France, where they were joined by their two grandmothers in Quillan, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinz was confined to the notorious Camp Gurs in Southwest France – where Jews of non-French nationality were interned. Anny worked desperately to secure her husband’s release (she too was interned for a brief period), finally managing to obtain visas for the United States for all but one member of the family. Required by the terms of his Gurs camp release to leave the country immediately, Heinz was forced to leave his family behind and travel to the safety of Portugal alone. The family eventually reunited in Lisbon months later, sailing together to the United States and reaching New York on 26 May 1941.

Settling in Queens, the family rebuilt their lives, with Heinz, now ‘Henry’, finding employment again as an investment banker. Attempting to recover the belongings that they had placed in storage, Henry and Anny undertook extensive correspondence with the United States occupation forces in Germany, but to no avail. It later came to light that their possessions, including this Marieschi painting and portraits of Anny’s parents by Umberto Veruda, had been seized by the Nazi regime in 1940 and subsequently sold at auction. Despite years of searching, all efforts to locate their possessions failed, with both Henry and Anny passing away without having ever seen their paintings again.

The current Possessor
The exact whereabouts of the painting from 1940 to 1952 is not known. However, in 1952 it was acquired by Edward Speelman who purchased the painting from Henry James Alfred Spiller (1890 – 1966), a frequent purchaser at auction during WWII.

The current possessor bought the painting in 1953, unaware of the painting’s history and has had unbroken enjoyment of the work for more than 60 years. In 2015, the decision was made to reach out to the Graf family to resolve all title issues before moving forward with a sale.

Following the discovery of this painting nearly 15 years ago, and nearly 80 years after Henry and Anny Graf last saw the painting, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family and the current possessors was successfully negotiated by Art Recovery International last December, leading to the subsequent sale of this remarkable work this summer.


£1.98 M needed to save 1,000-year-old Viking artifacts found in Scotland

June 3, 2017

Detail of an artifact from the Galloway Hoard.
Click on image to enlarge.

A campaign is underway to raise £1.98 million by November 2017 to acquire the Galloway Hoard, a collection of 1,000-year-old Viking artifacts discovered two years ago by metal-detectorists in Humphrey and Galloway.

According to the Observer:

Many of the items in the Galloway Hoard have never been found in Scotland before, let alone all together in one find. The Hoard’s contents raise new questions about the vast expanse of Viking trade routes and the connections they formed along the way. But while there is still much to be learned about the objects in the trove, the materials almost certainly travelled great distances before they made it to Scotland, according to NMS Viking expert Dr. Martin Goldberg. Of particular interest are a series of five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches crafted in a style never before found throughout Scotland, and four clover-shaped brooches that Mr. Goldberg says are completely new to Britain.

The National Museums of Scotland, which is hoping to acquire the works, notes on its website that this is, “the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland.”


Artifacts from the Galloway Hoard.

The website continues:

Of international significance, it includes silver, gold and jewelled treasure from across Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon world, the Holy Roman Empire, Byzantium and beyond. Other finds from around Britain and Ireland have been exceptional for a single class of object, for example, silver brooches or a gold ingot. The Galloway Hoard brings together a stunning variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and perhaps much further afield.

Four-lobbed brooch from the Galloway Hoard.
Click on image to enlarge.

The Observer quotes Viking expert Dr. Martin Goldberg on the collection’s significance:

“These objects are telling us [the Vikings’] travels during this period of history goes way beyond what we expected,” he explained. “We can understand the mechanism for how these things got here—new areas of expansion and connections with the continent—but the range of material is quite unexpected. The distance we already suspect some of these objects have travelled, and the types of objects they are, we’re going to have to look far afield to identify them.”

The National Museum of Scotland is currently seeking permission to display select items from the Hoard, and its longterm goal includes ensuring that a large portion of the treasure go on longterm display at the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery in Dumfries and Galloway.

Rare Trio of Japanese Paintings Re-United after nearly 140 Years

April 7, 2017


Detail, Moon at Shinagawa (also known as Moonlight Revelry at Dozō Sagami); Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806); Japan, Edo period, ca. 1788; painting mounted on panel; color on paper; Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.54.
Click on image to enlarge.

From April 8 to July 9, 2017, the Freer Sackler Museum in Washington, DC, will host Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscoveredan exhibition reuniting three extensive paintings by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806).

According to a press announcement:

In 2014, the Okada Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, made an announcement that startled the art world. The new arts center revealed it had discovered a long-lost painting by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), a legendary but mysterious Japanese artist.

Titled Snow at Fukagawa, the immense work is one of three paintings by Utamaro that idealize famous pleasure districts in Edo (now Tokyo). This trio reached the Paris art market in the late 1880s and was quickly dispersed. Museum founder Charles Lang Freer acquired Moon at Shinagawa in 1903. Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara passed through several hands in France until the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, purchased it in the late 1950s. And Snow at Fukagawa had been missing for nearly seventy years before it resurfaced in Hakone.

For the first time in nearly 140 years, these paintings reunite in Inventing Utamaro at the Freer|Sackler, the only location to show all three original pieces. Contextualizing them within collecting and connoisseurship at the turn of the twentieth century, the exhibition explores the many questions surrounding the paintings and Utamaro himself.

Guercino painting stolen in Italy is found in Morocco

February 18, 2017
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, dit Le Guerchin (1591-1666) the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist and St. Gregory Wonderworker, 1639 Oil on canvas: 293 x 184,5 cm Stolen August 2014 form the Church of San Vincenzo in Modena, Italy.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino (1591-1666)
The Virgin and St. John the Evangelist and St. Gregory Wonderworker, 1639
Oil on canvas: 293 x 184,5 cm
Stolen August 2014 form the Church of San Vincenzo in Modena, Italy.

A Guercino painting that we reported was stolen in August 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo in Modena, Italy, was recovered this week in Casablanca, Morocco, according AFP.  At the time of the theft Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi said the work was worth €5-6 million, although the Art Newspaper reported the painting was “neither insured nor protected by alarm.”

According to Modena Today three people have been arrested; AFP offers these details about the painting’s recovery:

It was recovered thanks to a wealthy Moroccan businessman and art collector, who was offered it for some 940,000 euros ($1 million) by three dealers in Casablanca, according to the local Gazzetta di Modena.

The connoisseur recognized the painting immediately as a Guercino and tipped off the police.

“The Moroccan authorities contacted us through Interpol to say that a large canvas that could be linked to a theft in Italy had been recovered during an investigation,” the police said in a statement.

The police sent an urgent message back asking the Moroccans to “secure the canvas” so it could be returned “as soon as possible”.

None of the reporting indicates the painting’s condition nor an exact timeline for its repatriation to Italy.

Oprah offloads Klimt portrait for $150 million

February 8, 2017
Gustav Klimt Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912 Oil on canvas: 75 in. x 47 in.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912
Oil on canvas: 75 in. x 47 in.

Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina reports that last year billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey sold Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II to a Chinese buyer for $150 million in a sale brokered by mega-dealer Larry Gagosian.  Winfrey purchased the painting for $87.9 million in 2006 at Christie’s in New York.

According to the article:

In 2014, Winfrey lent the painting anonymously to the Museum of Modern Art for five years, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential. The loan was arranged by entertainment mogul David Geffen, who is Winfrey’s friend and a benefactor of the museum, the person said.

Gagosian contacted Winfrey through Geffen.

The article also notes:

The work is the second major Klimt that changed hands since the art market started contracting. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev sold “Water Serpents II” (1904-1907) privately for $170 million in November 2015, according to Sandy Heller, Rybolovlev’s art consultant. Both Klimts went to Asia, where booming wealth has built a growing network of collectors eager to anchor their art holdings with Western masterpieces.

“Klimt is on the list of some people,” said Grace Rong Li, who advises Asian collectors on Western modern and contemporary art. The appeal of the artist, known for his golden-hued “The Kiss,” is both aesthetic and financial, she added.

“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” from 1912, depicts a woman in a long, narrow robe and halo-like black hat, standing against an ornate background of mauve and green. The subject, Bloch-Bauer, was the wife of a Jewish industrialist and art patron in Vienna.


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