THE Rector and churchwardens of All Saints', Houghton, in
Hampshire, were granted their petition for a faculty permitting the
sale at auction of a painting believed to be of the "school of
Albani", together with its carved wooden frame, because it would be
liable to theft or deterioration if it continued to be hung in the
In 1921, Russell Smith offered the painting to All Saints', a
Grade II* listed church dating from medieval times. The painting,
Ecce Homo, is in the High Renaissance style of the late
16th or early 17th century. It depicts the blood-spattered figure
of Christ in a red cloak, attended by three angels.
In 1922, a faculty was granted for "the erection upon the north
wall of the chancel of a picture by Francesco Albani", but for as
long as people can remember it has hung on the north wall of the
At no stage was the church architecture or interior adapted or
altered to make any particular concession to the painting. No
special niche was created for it, or spotlighting introduced; nor
did the painting ever form the backdrop to the altar. It was left
to hang on a wall in a position that was largely invisible to those
sitting in the nave, or to the casual visitor.
In December 2012, the DAC was advised that the painting might be
valuable, and it was removed to the premises of the auctioneers
Bonhams, in London, for expert advice and protection. Experts who
examined the painting said that, because of its condition and
over-painting, it was difficult to come to any certain conclusions
about its authorship. It was thought to be from the studio of
Albani rather than by him, although he might have participated in
some of it.
The PCC emphasised that it was not seeking to sell the painting
simply to raise funds. Its motivation was, the PCC said, that the
painting was in poor condition, and would be expensive to restore,
and, even if the funds for its restoration could be found, and it
were rehung in the church, it would only deteriorate again. The
PCC's view was that All Saints' was "not a suitable place to keep
so fragile a painting which could be better preserved and secured
The law on the disposal of movable property within a church is
that the jurisdiction to grant a faculty should be "sparingly
used", and that "special reason" needs to be established before a
faculty is granted.
The Chancellor of the diocese of Winchester, Christopher Clark
QC, said that if the painting were returned to its previous
position, it would be liable to theft and deterioration. The PCC
believed that the church should be kept open during the day. The
painting would thus be a security risk, and that would result in
high insurance premiums. The painting would also be subject to
vagaries of temperature, which could be avoided if it were to hang
in an art gallery, or a public or private collection of
The Chancellor said that all those factors had satisfied him
that the faculty should be granted. The sale would not result in
harm to the significance of All Saints' as a building of special
architectural or historic interest.
The ordinary presumption in faculty proceedings was in favour of
things as they stood, but the petitioners had rebutted that
presumption. The justification for carrying out the sale was clear
and convincing. The benefit to the church from carrying out the
sale outweighed any harm to the significance of the church.
The painting was sold at auction at Bonhams for £18,750.