A Spello Art Treasure Returns Home
After taking in the wonders of Pinturicchio in Spello’s Santa Maria Maggiore church, do stop in at the Pinacoteca (Civic Picture Gallery) next door to see a treasured missing shrine, once in Santa Maria Maggiore, and with a link to Pinturicchio.
The pieces of the early 15th-c triptych attributed to Maestro dell’Assunta d’Amelia and stolen in August, 1970 were all finally reunited in Spello in 2004 – thanks to years of investigative work by that special branch of carabinieri charged with care of Italy’s Patrimonio Culturale.
You can see the treasured triptych here below, no longer intact and transformed radically..but…a casa:
The central panel holds a black-and-white photo of the Madonna con Bambino image prior to the theft – and before its alteration by the art thieves who reduced the dimensions of the original figure, transferred it to a canvas, and scratched away the background, throne and haloes to render the work unrecognizable.
Note the Madonna prior to the 1970 theft in this black-and-white photo, observing the haloes, background, and throne. Here on the right is the Madonna, now on view in the Spello Pinacoteca, the thieves’ alterations clearly evident:
That central panel had been altered centuries before the 1970 heist: in the early 16th-c., the tryptych had been taken apart and the central panel replaced with that Madonna and Child stolen in 1970, for years attributed to Pinturicchio who frescoing in the Santa Maria Maggiore church at the time the Madonna with Child was painted. Now, the consensus of art historians attributes the work to one of his collaborators Andrea d’Aloigi, also called “L’ingegno” (“the genius”) from Assisi.
The thieves made off with not only the central panel but also with scenes of the predella (the lower border of an altarpiece): the Adoration of the Magi (central panel) and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (lower right of the predella) were both found in France in 1992. The panel on the left side of the predella, the Nativity, was found in a Swiss auction house in 2006.
Alessandra, young staff member at the Pinacoteca who was such a great help to me on this blog note, wrote these words for me when I asked her about the reaction of the local spellani at the return of the triptych sections: “I can say that our joy was great at the finding of the triptych pieces. After 22 years, the first section was found and after 34 years, another and then finally, after 36 years, the last section of the predella. It has seemed incredible but fortunately, was possible. The triptych is now in our Pinacoteca and we are proud to show its beauty to the many visitors who come annually to our museum.”
Looking at the triptych now, the pointing gestures of the bearded, gray-haired prophet Isaiah – just to the left of the Madonna and next to St. John the Evangelist…..
– and that of St.John the Baptist in white cloak on the Madonna’s right (St. Nicholas of Bari in elegant red cloak next to him) – seem to have acquired yet another significance. Once intending to indicate to the viewer the important central figure, la Madonna con Bambino, that gesture now seems more urgent, more decisive – as if to say: “She belongs right here – and always has.”
**Note: Another stolen Pinacoteca treasure has also returned to Spello. You’ll want to see the splendor – and will – in my ZOOM presentation of November 21, 2020.