Friday, 27 July 2012

I found $90 million dollars in the basement!!!

Well I did not personally find the $90 millions but Stephen Gritt who is a curator at the National Gallery of Canada sure did. He went to the basement of the National Gallery where many art works are stored. He wanted to see a painting of a Venetian nobleman Daniele Matteo Alvise Barbaro (1514-1570). This portrait was acquired by the National Gallery in 1928 for the sum of 10,000 British Pounds Sterling. However it had been deemed many decades ago by experts to be a copy of the original which hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid and is owned by the King of Spain. So the portrait just sat in the basement and was forgotten, dirty and in poor condition. At one time it was almost discarded since the National Gallery is not interested in mere copies. However Gritt was not satisfied, he thought let's investigate this matter again, maybe the experts of long ago made a mistake. Today's technology can often reveal surprising details which would have gone unnoticed in the past.

So Gritt submitted the painting to X-Ray examination and it revealed many layers, the painter Titian had made many changes and corrections while creating the portrait, first it was with a simple drawing line outlining the figure then much work was done on the nose of the subject, Barbaro had a peculiar nose, and so on. If this was a mere copy by the students or assistants of the master painter no one would have bothered with correction, they would have simply copied the original. Titian was known for being self-critical and a perfectionist and would often keep a painting for years until he was satisfied with the finish product.
Daniele Barbaro by Titian

Gritt then contacted the Prado Museum in Madrid and asked for their help, could they examine their painting of Barbaro. It turned out that what had been thought to be an original was in fact a simple copy, so the Prado has the copy and we in Ottawa have the original portrait painted by the Titian. What a find! Estimates at this time are based on current market value at $90 million dollars.

Needless to say that the staff of the National Gallery of Canada are overjoyed with this news, a great addition to the collection.

Who was Daniele Barbaro? He lived at the time of the Renaissance in the Veneto, was a graduate of the University of Padua, he is thought to have designed the beautiful botanical garden of the University. He has a writer and diplomat, sent to the Court of Elizabeth I by the Republic of Venice. He was a man of science, he became a Cardinal and he was known for his many scholarly papers, he translated from Latin to Italian, the 10 volumes of the works of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (70BC- 15AD) on architecture. Vitruvius lived at the time of Emperor Augustus in the first century and his work was much appreciated.

As for Tiziano Vecelli aka the Titian (1488-1576) he is known as one of the greatest painter of the Renaissance able to paint portraits, landscapes, mythological or religious themes with ease.
His style influenced not only Italian painters of his time, he also had a profound influence on painters in the Western World.

So it only goes to show that you may have a treasure in your basement without knowing it. 


  1. Yowza! That puts the Antiques Roadshow to shame! Maybe the Prado will cough up the money in order to get the original? Oh wait. Spain is part of the euro-crisis right now, isn't it? Too bad.

  2. As a boy I kept hoping to find some art work in the basement from Great Uncle Norman, but no available. Once I found a Monet in a box, but it turned out to be a copy, alas

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