At the end of last week a rather special painting returned to Tyntesfield. The picture of the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist was painted by the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini and his workshop in the late 15th century.
In 1880 it was purchased by Anthony Gibbs (1841-1907) from a London dealer, to add to the growing collection of old master paintings at Tyntesfield begun by his father, William Gibbs (1790-1875).
William Gibbs had presided over the expansion of the family trading firm, particularly through the mining and shipping of guano, which was in demand as an agricultural fertiliser. The profits from this enabled him not just to rebuild and redecorate the house and to expand his art collection, but also to fund numerous philanthropic projects.
The decoration of Tyntesfield is an embodiment of the ideal, formulated by John Ruskin (1819–1900) in his book The Stones of Venice (1851–3), of a synthesis between the spiritual and the aesthetic.
The novelist Charlotte Yonge (1823-1901), a cousin of William Gibbs, seems to have been responding to this when she remarked that ‘that beautiful home was like a church in spirit.’
The fact that Tyntesfield is a largely complete survival of a high-Victorian country house in the Ruskinian mould was one of the reasons why the National Trust decided to try to acquire it following the death of Richard Gibbs, 2nd Lord Wraxall (1928-2001). The appeal was a success, attracting huge support from the public as well as an unprecedentedly large grant from the National Heritage memorial Fund.
The painting was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by the Government and initially displayed at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It was recently reallocated to the National Trust for display at Tyntesfield.
The return of the painting is an indication that, following the restoration of the house, Tyntesfield now meets the standards required for looking after and displaying works of this calibre.
The picture, which was painted on a wooden panel, had been given a box frame in 1969 to protect it against environmental changes. Some of the strain required in lifting such a heavy object is visible in the photographs shown here, but everyone involved was very pleased with the result.