Wiltshire church to reap benefits of sold painting

07 February 2014

BURLINGTON MAGAZINE

THE discovery of a rare masterpiece in a church in Wiltshire caused great excitement among art historians when it was identified as thework of the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys (c.1465-c.1530), the leader of the Antwerp school of painters, and best known for his painting The Ugly Duchess, nowin the National Gallery (News, 19 March 2010).

The painting, depicting Christ blessing (above), had hung for almost 70 years in Holy Trinity, Bradford on Avon, in Wiltshire, a Grade II* listed building dating from about 1150. It had been given to the church in 1940 by Major Thomas Clarence Edward Goff, and bore an attribution to the Spanish painter Luis de Morales (1509-86). It was still in its original place in the north aisle of the church when it caught the eye of an art expert in 2006 during the course of a visit.

It was then temporarily removed for safekeeping because of its clear artistic and financial value. Enquiries were made of insurers, which revealed that there would be substantial insurance and security problems should the painting be allowed to remain in position in the church.

Research undertaken on the painting revealed that it was a work by Metsys, and that it had originally been part of a larger painting of Christ blessing with the Virgin in adoration, which had at some point in its history been cut along the right edge, cropping Christ's left shoulder so that the image was spatially imbalanced on that side.

It is believed that the original painting had been divided so that the art dealer could double his money by selling two paintings. The figure of the Virgin in adoration was sold as a separate panel, and is now in the private collection of the Lady Juliet Tadgell.

Owing to the importance and value of the painting, and the security and insurance problems posed if it remained in the church, and because of its lack of particular significance in the history of Holy Trinity, the PCC decided to petition for a faculty permitting the sale of the painting and the use of the proceeds for the mission of the church. The Church Buildings Council stated in a report that, as far as a "special reason" for the sale was concerned, it was clear that the church building needed considerable attention.

A faculty for the sale of the painting was granted in 2010, and it was sold in 2013 to a private collector in the UK for an undisclosed sum. The proceeds are held in a diocesantrust fund on behalf of the PCC, and will beused to benefit the long-term future of Holy Trinity.

In accordance with the terms of the faculty, a photographic reproduction of the painting now hangs in Holy Trinity in the same frame and in the same place as the original painting.

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