November 4, 2011

The Collecting History of Stolen Art: Portrait of Église Saint Roch patron

Saint Roch (ParisDailyPhoto)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Eric Tenin, who describes himself as a 'friendly Parisian', publishes online ParisDailyPhoto. Subscribers (such as myself) receive an email containing a photo and a few comments from Mr. Tenin -- a bit like receiving a postcard from a friend from the City of Lights. One of this week's photos was from the 1st arrondissement's rue Saint Honoré of the front façade of the Church of Saint Roch (Église Saint Roch), a 17th century church vandalized during the French Revolution. A portrait of the founder of the original chapel on the site is now at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

According to Wikipedia (my-at-home-encyclopedia), when tradesman Jacques Dinocheau built a chapel in 1521 honoring Saint Susanna on this site, it was on the outskirts of Paris. Fifty years later, his nephew built a small church and eighty years later Louis XIV laid the first stone of the existing church. During the French Revolution, fighting surrounded it and the façade still has battle scares. Inside the church, many artworks were either damaged or stolen. One of the missing paintings is allegedly of Dinocheau (either Jean or his nephew Etienne described as a 'generous donor' which hung in a side chapel at Saint Roch but is now at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and classified as a painting by Paul Feminis.

I tried to track down the painting at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome but a colleague found a reference to the painting at a parish church in Santa Maria Maggiore in northern Italy (  Dr. Karl Kempkes writes that the painting of Paul Feminis in the sacristy of the parish church at Santa Maria Maggiore is likely that of Monsieur Dinocheau, a member of the family that founded the church of Saint Roch on the rue Saint Honoré in Paris. Feminis is known as the main benefactor of the parish church Santa Maria Maggiore. Dr. Kempkes concludes that the 'original' paintings (of which there are three known copies) has likely been reworked in restoration. Dr. Kempkes conducted a thorough analysis of the paintings, including an x-ray that analysis that showed the inscription on the lower right hand corner of the painting was added later onto the canvas.  Dr. Kempkes traces this painting in the sacristy of the parish church Santa Maria Maggiore to Jean Marie Joseph Farina of Paris who supplied eau de Cologne to Napoleon.  Farina lived on rue Saint Honoré near the church of Saint Roch.  He may have not been responsible for the 'theft' of the painting which may have been removed when repairs were made to the church of Saint Roch after the French Revolution, but he likely had either the original or a copy of the original reworked and transformed into the image of Paul Feminis.

It's a complicated and fascinating story of art displacement, probably quite representative of many of the paintings reported 'stolen' that have been hiding under restorations for hundreds of years.


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