A Tintoretto rediscovered

The newly revealed Tintoretto after cleaning. ©National Trust

Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, is a house full of treasures, as I touched on in a previous post. The early Victorian aesthete William Bankes was such a voracious collector that some of his acquisitions have had to remain in store.

One of these hitherto unseen objects is a large octagonal painting by Venetian artist Tintoretto (1518-1594) which is now being revealed to the public for the first time.

Kingston Lacy. The steps from the South Terrace are flanked by Italian well-heads installed by William Bankes. ©NTPL/Richard Pink

When the National Trust acquired Kingston Lacy in 1981 the painting was in poor condition. At that time there were many other pressing priorities at Kingston Lacy, but following successful fundraising the picture has now received full conservation treatment.

The Tintoretto at the start of the treatment: Two small test areas have been cleaned. ©National Trust

It was sent to the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge for analysis and treatment. The thick, discoloured varnish and darkened areas of earlier retouching were removed, the original canvas was strengthened and the paint losses were carefully filled in.

Detail of the picture after the removal of varnish and overpaint and before retouching. ©National Trust

The Hamilton Kerr experts also carried out paint analysis, x-rays and infrared reflectography in order to help confirm that this painting is in fact by Tintoretto. Its previous grimy condition had made some experts doubt that it was by him.

However, as Tina Sitwell, the NT’s Paintings Conservation Adviser, has said, the cleaning process has revealed the sheer quality and energy characteristic of Tintoretto.

Retouching in progress. ©National Trust

It is not known when exactly Bankes bought the picture, and its previous history is also unclear. It is first recorded at Kingston Lacy in about 1850 when it was hanging in the Dining Room, where it will now be on display again.

The Dining Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mystery also surrounds the meaning of the picture. The central figure is probably Apollo, but he could also be Hymen, god of marriage. The figure holding a book and being crowned with flowers is probably a poet. Hercules hovers in the top left corner and Fortune holds a cornucopia.

Detail of one of the boxwood doors of the Dining Room, showing a flute-playing putto echoing the putti in the Tintoretto. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

But it is not clear what is actually happening. What is the significance of the gold objects under Apollo/Hymen’s feet? Why has a large die showing the number five been placed next to Fortune? What is Hercules’s role? What is the relationship between the ‘poet’ and the pale female figure on the right?

Detail of a seventeenth century Italian coffer in the Dining Room. William Bankes was adept at creating subtle combinations of fine and decorative art and furnishings. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Do let me know if you think you can answer some of these questions. Further information on the picture can be accessed here.

9 Responses to “A Tintoretto rediscovered”

  1. columnist Says:

    What a magnificent transformation of the Tintoretto, and thank you for the post about it and Kingston Lacey.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I am glad you like it – yes it is testament to the conservators’ skills.

  3. Karena Says:

    Emile, I am in awe of grand works of art like this. Thank goodness for conservators and those who can recognize these; even when found in poor condition!

    Art by Karena

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Being a painter yourself you can obviously appreciate the work involved 🙂

  5. Toby Worthington Says:

    I cannot answer a single one of those pertinent questions to do with
    meaning or iconography despite being an admirer of Tintoretto but
    oh, what a thrilling post this was! This sort of thing is like food and
    drink to me. Though why anyone ever doubted that this canvas was
    a Tintoretto is most surprising when it manifests his style in an
    almost iconic way. In younger days I used to steal his figures for inclusion
    into schemes of decorative painting, and those ladies in the Kingston Lacey
    canvas are entirely typical of Tintoretto’s foreshortening of figures and
    the degree of bodily contortion.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    How interesting to have your assessment from a painter’s point of view. You would probably agree that copying is the best way to analyse and appreciate a picture.

  7. Hels Says:

    Now this is intriguing. It is not known when exactly Bankes bought the picture, and its previous history is also unclear. It is first recorded at Kingston Lacy in about 1850 when it was hanging in the Dining Room. But even if Bankes was such a voracious collector that some of his acquisitions have had to remain in store, why was it damaged? Perhaps Bankes himself was not certain that he had an old master, worth a fortune, in his collection.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    It was probably in reasonable condition when acquired by Bankes, but since then it doesn’t seem to have received much treatment, so over the ensuing 130 years or so the previous retouchings and the varnish discoloured and the surface began to flake.

    Bankes himself seems to have thought it was by Tintoretto, and that it came from the Palazzo Grimani in Venice. However, recent research has found no record of such a painting ever having been at that palazzo, so that may have been a dealer’s embellishment, to give the picture some added glamour!

  9. S.E.Hendriksen Says:


    “The Festival of Anthesteria” – in honor to Dionysus the wine God …(the flower festival part)

    Please send me an e-mail adress, then I’ll FW a photo showing the names of the persons present on the painting.

    Kind regards

    Greenland Art Review

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