DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – In a chance discovery, a Detroit Institute of Arts curator found a 17th-century painting hanging in a dark corner at Oakland University’s Meadow Brook Hall.
Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA executive director of Collection Strategies and Information and curator of European paintings, was at the school earlier this year for a lecture when he spotted the artwork — which turned out to be a piece called Infant St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, by Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo.
Murillo, who was known for his genre scenes and religious works, created the painting around 1670.
“Murillo is considered one of the five pillars of Spanish Golden age art. He produced this sentimental masterpiece with his characteristic delicate and loose brushstrokes when he was at the height of his powers,” said Salort-Pons, in a news release. “In Spain and other European countries, he became a famous artist among collectors who coveted paintings like the one. Murillo was, in fact, the first internationally known Spanish artist, and this Infant Saint John is one of the first Murillos to enter a U.S. collection. Its rediscovery was an unexpected and exciting turn of events during my visit to Meadow Brook.”
OU students will get to a chance to observe the restoration of the art before it goes on display for a time at the DIA.
“In a series of sessions in our conservation lab, students will learn how we employ our sophisticated equipment and expertise to analyze, research and conserve a work of art before it will be exhibited in the galleries with all the honors,” said Salort-Pons. “This is a rare opportunity for them to see the DIA staff at work and to have at hand unique information produced only in the top museums in the world.”
Once the conservation treatment to the painting and frame is completed, the work will be on loan to the DIA for five years, beginning in February 2014, before returning to Meadow Brook Hall.
According to Salort-Pon, the painting belonged in the 1600s to the Italian merchant Giovanni Bielato, who donated it to Capuchin Convent of Genova. During the 1800s, it was sold to the family of the Duke of Westminster in London and in 1926 entered the collection of Alfred G. Wilson, who kept it at Meadow Brook.
Salort-Pons said the DIA owns two other painting by Murillo, The Flight into Egypt and the Immaculate Conception, which will be displayed together with Meadow Brook’s The Infant Saint John in the museum’s main European Paintings gallery.
This will be the first time the painting has been on view in a U.S. museum.