Guercino: St Francis Recovered

09 November 2006 - 28 January 2007

Guercino’s lost masterpiece Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata was a part of a unique exhibition that offered the British public the only opportunity outside Italy to view this recently recovered painting by an important Old Italian Master. The work was displayed with materials documenting its loss and rediscovery and its subsequent restoration by the patron and collector Sir Denis Mahon.

Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata was painted in c.1633 by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666) – also known as Guercino – for the Franciscan Church of San Giovanni in Persiceto near Bologna. The painting disappeared at the end of the eighteenth century and was thought lost for more than a century until 1895, when it was donated by a local antiques dealer to the parochial Church of St John the Baptist in Campello Monti, a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy. Guercino’s painting remained on the wall of the church in Campello Monti until 26th May 1973, when it was stolen during the night by thieves.

Twenty five years later the painting was found in Switzerland in 1998 by the Italian military police working in collaboration with the Swiss Police. The work was severely damaged, without its frame, cut in half and rolled up. Following its recovery the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects - designed to ascertain the provenance of cultural assets - was applied for the first time; in 1999 Guercino’s painting was removed from the secret market and returned to Italy where it underwent extensive restoration at the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, supervised by Sir Denis Mahon.


Alongside Guercino’s painting, two drawings representing Saint Francis from Sir Denis Mahon’s Collection held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford were also displayed, together with Allan Ramsay’s portrait of one of the first English collectors to own works by Guercino Dr Richard Mead (1757) from the Foundling Museum’s permanent Collection.

A limited number of copies of the beautiful and fully-illustrated catalogue for this exhibition are available for sale in the Museum Shop.


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