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