Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Kingly Velázquez Is Discovered at the Met, Capping Off a Busy Year for the Old Masters

NEW YORK— Just in time for Christmas, scholars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have given themselves a giant Velázquez, though in truth it is more of a re-gifting — the portrait of Philip IV of Spain had originally come into the collection nearly 100 years ago, but its attribution was downgraded in 1973 to the Old Master's studio. Now, a new cleaning effort has returned the work conclusively to the revered painter's column, according to the New York Times.
Despite possessing a 1624 receipt for the painting that was signed by Velázquez, the Met had reconsidered the portrait's authorship in the 1970s as part of a general auditing of its European painting collection that humbled attributions on 15 percent of its holdings, with the Philip canvas raising doubts in part because of over-varnishing inflicted by its previous owner, legendary dealer Lord Duveen. But a year-long restoration process of the work — which has not weathered the years well, losing an eye at one point, possibly to a vandal — has persuaded connoisseurs that the doubts had been misplaced. "One of the greatest painters of Western tradition — and a royal portrait to boot — is vindicated," Met European paintings chairman Keith Christiansen told the Times. Velázquez scholar Jonathan Brown has likewise welcomed the news. "Although it has suffered losses, what remains is by Velázquez," he said.
The reattribution comes improbably hard on the heels of another Velázquez discovery in the Met's collection, a circa 1630 "Portrait of a Man" that was determined to be by the artist's hand, and not his studio, in September of 2009. But the New York institution is not alone in finding treasures under its nose, and the Old Masters have been popping up everywhere this year. A third Velázquez was discovered by a specialist at the Yale University Art Gallery this summer — making for a remarkable spate of discoveries given that the painter is known to have made only about 110 works during his lifetime.
Then an enormous peasant scene by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was recognized by the Prado in Madrid, a Rembrandt was noticed hanging in the waiting room of the Rotterdam's Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, a giant once-waterlogged crucifix painting was attributed to Giotto in Florence, a potential Michelangelo pietà painting was spotted in an upstate New York home, and the Vatican even said it had uncovered a previously unknown Caravaggio just in time for the 400th anniversary of his death... but had to take back the claim when it was widely debunked

By ARTINFO Published: December 21, 2010
Image is courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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