Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

July 7, 2015

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily: Where a stolen Caravaggio Nativity once hung above the altar


Street entrance to the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

This post continues last week's post "Sicily, Palermo, Cicero, and a missing Caravaggio".

I found it.

Not, sadly, Caravaggio's Nativity. But the stunning Oratorio where it should hang.

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, is at Via Immacolatella, 3, next door to a larger church dedicated to Saint Francis, which overlooks a quiet piazza. It's a little tricky to find, a few streets back on the south side of Via Vittorio Emanuele, on the seaward side of both the main north-south roads, Via Marqueda and Via Roma, in the Old Town.

Just in case you're interested, the easiest route is to turn off Via Vittorio Emanuele into Via Alessandro Paternostro, then walk down this gently curving street until it opens into the small piazza. The Chiesa San Francesco is on your left, across the piazza, and the entrance to Via Immacolatella is in the far left corner: it heads back towards Via Vittorio Emanuele. You'll most likely need to keep your map close at hand as you untangle the labyrinth to find the front entrance.

Leafy courtyard of the Oratorio of San Lorenzo
Inside the entrance and up a few steps is a small leafy courtyard. You pay the modest entrance fee on the left (hang on to your ticket - it will get you free or reduced entrance to a list of other places, including the sombre and austere 12th century church of San Cataldo, with its distinctive three cupolas, just behind Piazza Pretoria) and then the door to the Oratorio is diagonally across the courtyard, in the far corner nearest the street.

Inside a vibrant rococo feast of Giacomo Serpotta baroque stucco work greets you, showing various scenes from the life of St Lawrence, culminating in his martyrdom atop a fiery brazier on the rear wall.

The copy of the stolen Caravaggio painting of the Nativity
But opposite that, in pride of place above the altar, hangs a full size replica of the stolen painting. Even as a copy, it dominates the rectangular room, the only break in the profusion of white and gilded stucco-work.

It remains a silent witness to a now decades-old theft, with little or no hope for the recovery of an original most likely now gone for ever.

Sources for further reading on the theft of Palermo's Caravaggio Nativity can be found here.

February 18, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013 - ,,, No comments

Jonathan Keats' FORGED: What Is Belief? Lothar Malskat (1913-1988)

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

The artist who copyrighted his mind in 2003, Jonathan Keats, questions the concept of originality in his new book, FORGED: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (December 2012, Oxford University Press).
‘We need to examine the anxieties that forgeries elicit in us now.  We need to compare the shock of getting duped to the cultivated angst evoked by legitimate art, and we need to recognize what the art establishment will never acknowledge: No authentic modern masterpiece is as provocative as a great forgery.  Forgers are the foremost artists of our age.’
I will leave it to our readers with a background in art history and visual arts to agree or disagree with Keats' premise (which he elaborates on in an introductory essay). What I particularly enjoyed were the chapters devoted to six 20th century forgers. Keats nicely sums up the works of these forgers, their explanations for breaking the law (or not), and discusses the impact these forgeries have had on the art market. Here on the blog this week I'll showcase each of these forgers and add a bit of online research that I couldn't refrain myself from doing as I read FORGED.

Keats highlights Lothar Malskat, a German restorer, who faked a mural in a damaged 14th century church after World War II; Alceo Dossena, an Italian sculptor, who created antiqued marbles in the 1920s; Han van Meegeren, a successful Dutch portrait artist, who forged six paintings by Vermeer and sold a couple of paintings to the Nazis; Eric Hebborn, forger of old master drawings from the 1960s until his murder in 1996; Elmyr de Hory who forged out of his studio in Ibiza until his suicide in 1976; and Tom Keating, former housepainter and restorer, who called his forgery work in the 1950s and 60s an act of socialism.

What is Belief? Lothar Malskat (1913-1988)

In May 1952, Lothar Malskat walked into a police station in Lübeck to report that he had forged the  supposedly restored murals in Marienkirche (the Lutheran St. Mary’s church).  Eight months earlier, the 13th and 14th century frescoes had been celebrated at the church’s 700th anniversary. In 1942, the fires from the Allied bombing of Lübeck on Palm Sunday had ‘peeled five centuries of whitewash off the walls, exposing enormous Gothic frescoes painted when the building was erected.  Dubbed “the miracle of Marienkirche,” the discovery was sheltered under improvised roofing until the war ended and structural repairs could begin.” In 1948, Lothar and his boss, Dietrich Fey, had been commissioned to restore the murals.

Lothar claimed that ‘He’d faked the medieval paintings on Fey’s orders, he said, and he was confessing because “that crook Fey” had treated him unfairly.’ Neither the police nor the media believed him. He hired an attorney and confessed to making phony Picassos and Rembrandts. The police searched his house and found evidence that led to an investigation commission and a trial.  Lothar and Fey were sentenced to eighteen months and twenty months, respectively, in jail.

At Marienkirche, the forged murals in the choir were plastered over but the forgeries in the nave – which Malskat had quickly repainted on the reprimed brick surface – are referred to in guidebooks as Goth frescoes with no mention of Malskat or the forgery conviction.

As for Malskat, before he could serve his jail sentence he fled to Sweden for a few years. Keats writes:
He decorated Stockholm's Tre Kroner Restaurant in the 14th-century Gothic style and recycled his Schleswig turkeys in ersatz murals for the Royal Tennis Court. Extradited to Germany in late 1956, he served his jail term and then faded into obscurity, eking out a living as a self-styled expressionist for his remaining thirty-two years.
Keats adds in a footnote:
Obscurity, not anonymity. A couple of years before Malskat died, the German author Günter Grass (a Lübeck resident) revisited the Marienkirche scandal in a novel called The Rat.
Book reviewer Malcolm Boyd for the Los Angeles Times in 1987 describes Grass' character Malskat as 'an honest man who forged cathedral artworks.'

FORGED was published two months ago by Oxford University Press. I purchased my copy from City Lights Books of San Francisco where Keats spoke in January. You can also read Keats on this subject in Art & Antiques here.

May 23, 2009

Thirteen Looted Zurbaráns

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) was one of a handful of masterful Spanish painters to take inspiration from the revolutionary style of shadows and light and realism invented by Caravaggio. Along with Ribera, Murillo, and later Velazquez, Zurburan is part of an elite group of ingenious Spanish Baroque painters who form the core of what became known as the Golden Age of Spanish Art. Zurbarán combines the drama of the Baroque, in terms of dynamic moments and theatrical painted lighting, with realism and the Catholic mysticism that has always been a part of Spanish artistry. His themes were almost all religious, and he received particular acclaim for a number of highly-realistic depictions of monks emerging from shadows.

Zurbarán was born to a Basque family in Fuente de Cantos, in the Badajoz Province of Spain. He studied painting in Seville, and worked first in Llerena, before settling back into Seville in 1629, where aside from two years of his life (1634-1635), when he painted at the royal court in Madrid, he would live and work until 1658. His popularity as a painter starting to wane, Zurbarán left Seville for Madrid, where he lived out the last decade of his life.

Zurbarán’s earlier works show the influence of Caravaggio, and the Tenebrist post-Caravaggio style taken up and made new by Ribera and Velazquez. Zurbarán’s work developed more along the lines of his fellow Sevillan and contemporary, Murillo (see entry number nine in this museum), who was wildly popular. Many critics agree that the move away from the Caravagesque and more toward the occasionally-cloying sweetness of Murillo was a shift for the worse, choosing popular sentimentality over high drama and action.

Zurbarán’s work has been the subject of high-seas adventure. In 1756 an English ship seized cargo from a Spanish vessel, that was carrying the thirteen paintings by Zurbarán, a complete series depicting the Old Testament Jacob and his twelve sons, painted 1640-1645. The captured paintings were offered for sale in England. Richard Trevor, the Bishop of Durham (1707-1771), bought twelve of the thirteen paintings for £124. But the Bishop was foiled in his attempt to buy the complete series, as the portrait of Benjamin, Son of Jacob was snapped up by Peregrine Bertie, Duke of Ancaster (1714-1778) before the Bishop made his bid. The Bishop of Durham commissioned the artist Arthur Pond to paint a copy of the Zurbarán Benjamin (seen in the image above), as the Duke of Ancaster refused to sell, quite pleased with his purchase, albeit of captured art.

In 2001 the Church Commissioners planned to sell the series of twelve paintings, today worth an estimated £20 million (a nice profit from £124). As there was a public uproar, they determined to keep the works and re-evaluate their own financial straits in 2010. But do they own the works, after all? If the paintings were seized from a Spanish vessel, rather than having been legally purchased, and then sold on, who has the current rightful title? The original Spanish owners? The Spanish government? Or did all this happen so long ago, that the current English owners should retain the rights?