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Murillo Discovered In “A Dark Corner”

It happened again, and we have a new — or rediscovered — Murillo, thanks to a chance visit by Salvador Salort-Pons, the executive director of Collection Strategies and Information and curator of European paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts to a historic home called Meadow Brook Hall. Once owned by “the automotive aristocracy’s most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge Wilson,” Meadow Brook is in Rochester Hills, Mi.

St. John with the Lamb by Bartolome Esteban MurilloSalort-Pons was at Meadow Brook Hall last February, lecturing, “when a painting in a dark corner of the room caught his eye; it turned out to be a work by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo entitled The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness. Murillo, who was known for his genre scenes and religious works, created the painting around 1670,” according to the DIA.

Salort-Pons says this work was created “at the height” of Murillo’s powers. In the 1600s, it was  owned by Italian merchant Giovanni Bielato, who donated it to Capuchin Convent of Genova. By the 1800s, the press release says, “it was sold to the family of the Duke of Westminster in London and in 1926 entered the collection of Alfred G. Wilson, who kept it at Meadow Brook Hall. This Murillo was exhibited in the Royal Academy in London in 1883, and this will be the first time it will go on view in a U.S. museum.” Wilson was the second husband of Matilda Dodge; they became the founders of Oakland University.

The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness was acquired by Alfred and Matilda Dodge Wilson in 1926 to hang in their yet-to-be built Meadow Brook Hall living room.

Perhaps that’s why the DIA has turned the discovery into a learning experience as well as a loan. Here are the details:

…the DIA has entered into an agreement with OU to allow a group of undergraduate art history and studio art students to witness the conservation and technical and scientific analysis that DIA specialists are undertaking. The next conservation and study session will take place at the DIA on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 10 a.m.

“In a series of sessions in our conservation lab, students will learn how we employ our sophisticated equipment and expertise to analyze, research and conserve a work of art before it will be exhibited in the galleries with all the honors,” said Salort-Pons. “This is a rare opportunity for them to see the DIA staff at work and to have at hand unique information produced only in the top museums in the world. We are looking forward to sharing the process and our expertise with them.”

Once the conservation treatment to the painting and frame is completed, the work will be on loan to the DIA for five years, beginning in February 2014, before returning to Meadow Brook Hall.

The DIA already owns two Murillos, The Flight into Egypt and the Immaculate Conception. The Infant Saint John will be hung near them in the museum’s main European Paintings gallery.

Photo Credit: ©Meadow Brook Hall, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan

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