Oil Painting “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, in the Museum of Nysa – an Attempt of Attribution

Published on: 15 / 10 / 2012

Authors of this entry:
  • Ewelina Kwiatkowska (Muzeum w Nysie)

The oil sketch housed in the Museum of Nysa, for the Sebastiano Ricci’s „Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, for many years regarded as a work by an Italian artist Gasparo Diziani (1689-1767), in the light of the latest research has turned to be a 19th century copy (fig. 1). The mentioned painting by an unknown author formerly belonged to the collection of count Eloi Matuschka von Toppolczan in Biechów. It was transferred to the Museum of Nysa in 1945, after the Second World War.

Oil sketches have a long tradition which in Italy goes back to the beginning of the 16th century. Artists initially treated their sketches in purely practical terms – a sketch facilitated the work on a proper painting and also improved communication with the commissioner. However a large number of preserved sketches from the 17th and 18th centuries testify their growing popularity among collectors. A Venetian painter Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) usually executed several versions of one theme, in order to select finally the proper one.

By the end of his life the artist painted an altarpiece with the „Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, for the St. Charles Boromeo’s Church in Vienna (fig. 2). Three oil sketches were executed at that time: one of them is currently housed in the Castle of Aschaffenburg in Germany, the second one in the Museum of Mělník (Czech Republic), the third one yet in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The painting of Nysa was for some time exhibited as a sketch by Ricci, although its authorship was definitely ascribed to Gasparo Diziani, a friend of Ricci who had known all his artistic achievements. Both in the 18th and 19th centuries copying paintings and sketches was quite common and in no way did it offend the artist’s name. Although the sketches were executed as preparatory versions for one painting, located in the St. Charles Boromeo’s Church of Vienna, they differ from each other considerably in composition and in details which don’t occur in every version.

The painting of Nysa, whose dimensions are 57×29.5 cm differs considerably from the other mentioned sketches by Ricci which are significantly larger (the painting in the Museum of Budapest measures 95×51.5 cm and the painting in Aschaffenburg measures 145.9×84.5 cm). This fact inter alia, as well as more awkward execution quality of the canvas painting in Nysa compared to the remaining sketches of the same theme, raised doubts upon Ricci’s authorship. As studies on the attribution of the sketch in Nysa progressed, more and more questions occurred. One of them was the question of the picture’s framing. The painting is set in wooden frames with a decorative oval inner framing bearing the signature Gaspare Diziani (1689-1767) engraved in the 19th century.

After the preliminary examination of the painting, the art restorer Jolanta Dudała MA dated the canvas painting to the 19th century, in view of the mechanical weaving of the canvas (fig. 3). In the 18th century canvases were hand weaved, weavings were looser and more irregular compared to a mechanically weaved canvas. In reference to increasing doubts a fragment of the canvas along with samples of white and blue pigment, were sent to the Artwork Restoration Workshop in Toruń. The image received by means of color infrared enabled the identification of pigments used in the taken samples. The mentioned examination confirmed the presence of zinc white which is particularly important for the painting’s dating. It proves that the picture couldn’t have been painted in the 18th century, since zinc white was discovered in 1834. The industrial manufacturing of zinc white was begun in 1845. That pigment was commonly used by painters in the second half of the 19th century. The presence of zinc white, i. e. the pigment which dates the painting, leads to the conclusion that the paint layer could have been executed no sooner than in 1850s. The examined samples of canvas covered with mordant indicate that it might have been a prepared, mass produced canvas which in the mid 19th century squeezed hand weaved canvases. The use of this sort of canvas became the norm at that time and almost all artists worked with commonly sold ready made canvases. In reference to that one more question occurs, whether the painting from the former collection of the Matuschka family was purchased after the terrible blaze of the palace in 1854, at the moment when count Eloi Matuschka was completing and creating the new collection of artworks. Or had the painting been held by the family for many years already? The first option seems to be highly probable, in view of the historical circumstances, the count’s dedication for collecting artworks and the 19th century trend to copy paintings. On the other hand the wooden framing with the signature Gasapre Diziani (1689-1767) still creates concern. A question occurs whether the original Diziani’s painting depicting the „Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” with intentionally changed dimensions in comparison to the sketches by Ricci was originally set in this frame. Or did count Matuschka purchase the canvas after 1854, having thought that he had bought the original picture by the Venetian and not having recognized the forgery? Unfortunately both questions must remain open at the moment, since there are no sources available which would record the original inventory of the Matuschka family collection. One can however incline to assumption that Eloi Matuschka unaware of the fact purchased a 19th century copy of the Baroque painting by Diziani.

The picture, although it has turned out to be a copy, still belongs to the more valuable artworks exhibited in the Museum of Nysa.

This article is an abbreviated version of the following issue:

Ewelina Kwiatkowska, Obraz olejny „Wniebowzięcie Najświętszej Marii Panny” ze zbiorów Muzeum w Nysie – próba ustalenia pochodzenia, historii i autorstwa In: M. Radziewicz (ed.) Nyskie Szkice Muzealne, No. 5 (2012), pp. 91-100

The following study has been also used:

Dokumentacja badań próbek pobranych z obrazu olejnego na płótnie datowanego na XVIII wiek, określonego jako szkic autorstwa włoskiego malarza Ricci. Wykonawca: Teresa Kurkiewicz PhD, Adam Cupa MA; consultations: doc. Jarosław Rogóż, Toruń 2012.

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
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