Our editor Paul Lay comments on a hidden Tintoretto painting, which goes on public dispaly for the first time, today, at the National Trust's Kingston Lacy in Dorset.
by Paul Lay,
If I was forced to choose the ‘greatest painting of all time’ I would plump for Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, which hangs in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, a multitudinous vision of Christ’s death. It is therefore very exciting when a new Tintoretto goes on public display, especially in Britain. Today sees the unveiling of Tintoretto’s Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse at Kingston Lacy, the National Trust property in Dorset. The painting has spent most of the last 30 years in storage but has undergone a major programme of cleaning and restoration. Art historians at the National Trust believe that the painting depicts Apollo, or possibly the god of marriage, Hymen, placing a crown on an unknown figure, probably a poet who is holding a book. Mythical figures surrounding them include the god Hercules and a woman believed to be the intended spouse. However, the identification of other figures is still open to question along with the significance of various objects which would have had a clear meaning to those who saw it when it was painted. These include a die depicting five dots and the presence of a gold box and dish with coins in it.
Alastair Laing, the National Trust’s Curator of Pictures and Sculpture said:
‘This is undoubtedly a work of great significance – Titian, Veronese and
Tintoretto are the three great masters of the mid- to late-16th century in
Venice and to have a painting by Tintoretto in an English house, rather than
still in its original location in Venice, or in an Italian museum, is
‘It is all the more fascinating that we do not yet know who or
where it was painted for, or what the actual subject is.’
The painting was given to the Trust as part of the contents of Kingston Lacy in 1981 but it was in poor condition. Layers of darkened varnish and discoloured paint had caused difficulty in identifying the subject matter of the painting, even whether it was by Tintoretto himself. The cleaning and restoration, undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge, included x-rays and infrared analysis that helped to identify the unquestionable style and brush strokes of Tintoretto. They also revealed original underdrawings that show changes he made to faces, clothing and positioning of subjects in the final version.
The painting probably dates from the 1560s or 1570s from a palazzo in Venice where it was acquired in 1849 by William John Bankes, then owner of Kingston Lacy. It was last known to have been displayed in the dining-room at Kingston Lacy. It is here that it will be reinstated.
National Trust, Tintoretto's Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse after cleaning and restoration (NT/Hamilton Kerr Institute)