Discovery of pre-earthquake painting of Lisbon
Two rare cityscapes of Lisbon before the earthquake in 1755 have been discovered in Rossetti’s personal collections at Kelmscott Manor – and found to be part of the same painting.
During recent research on the paintings at Kelmscott Manor by Collections Manager Julia Dudkiewicz for a forthcoming catalogue of the Society’s paintings collections, the two paintings were identified as the only known visual representation of the most famous trading street in Renaissance Lisbon, Rua Nova dos Mercadores, which was completely destroyed in the earthquake. They had long puzzled the scholarly community, having been previously wrongly catalogued as views of Spain, Italy, and South America.
The location of these cityscapes was definitively identified by the internationally renowned scholars Dr Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, an expert in Portuguese renaissance art and Professor Kate Lowe, an authority on the depiction of Black Africans in the art of Renaissance Europe. Thanks are also due to Fellows Jeremy Warren and Dora Thornton for having facilitated this discovery.
Dr Jordan Schwend described the find as 'one of the most important art historical discoveries made in decades'.
'These paintings will change our knowledge and understanding of the urban typography of Renaissance Lisbon and our understanding of the most significant street in the Portuguese capital at this date,' said Dr Jordan Schwend. 'Rua Nova dos Mercadores was one of the most affluent, significant thoroughfares of Lisbon and the principal commercial street. The Rua Nova was also the financial center of Renaissance Europe, where the shops and residences of Portuguese and foreign merchants were located.'
As demonstrated by Julia Dudkiewicz, these unique cityscapes, generally considered as two autonomous artworks until now, were once part of a larger panoramic composition, as evidenced by the continuation of the railing across the two canvasses. The paintings are the highlight of an exhibition at the Rietberg Museum, Zurich called Ivories from Ceylon: Luxury Goods in the Renaissance, being curated by Dr Annemarie Jordan Gschwend and Dr Johannes Beltz. They have already attracted a lot of interest from the press in Switzerland and Portugal and are on display until 13 March 2011.
Before going on display they underwent extensive conservation treatment by conservator Ruth Bubb, including consolidation of flaking, cleaning, relining and conservation framing, which will preserve them for future generations. This conservation was made possible thanks to the Rietberg Museum in Zurich.
The paintings are a rare survival from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s collection of Old Master pictures and were part of his belongings left at Kelmscott Manor in 1874. There are a number of other old Master paintings in the collections once owned by the pre-Raphaelite artist, including a Breughel and a Bavarian Old Master.