Painting Left Insitu Survives The Herbert's Building Works Intact

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 18 July 2008
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a photograph of a woman sitting in front of a very large oil painting

Picture: Jill Irving, easels painting conservator at The Herbert, Coventry, with the massive Luca Giordano painting

A prized painting owned by The Herbert in Coventry has survived its latest adventure unharmed and will go back on display in the Old Masters Gallery at the newly refurbished museum in August 2008.

The immense 3020mm by 5825mm canvas, by 17th century artist Luca Giordano, was considered too large and fragile to be moved out of the building during the £20 million refurbishment and redevelopment of the museum.

To get round the problem, the picture - depicting Bacchus and Ariadne - was boarded up on site. For the next three years, a rigorous daily inspection routine was followed; each day staff checked fluctuating temperatures and inspected for damage from vibrations from the building works.

"This is one of our most prized paintings," said Ron Clarke, Keeper of Visual Arts at The Herbert. "It has remained in good condition during the last three years and we are delighted to see it once again in all its glory.”

Although now ready for the public to see it again, the picture originally painted for the Rossos, a Florentine family, in 1677, has had an eventful past.

It was brought from Italy to England in the 19th century by Coventry MP Edward Ellice. It is thought Ellice may have acquired it through gambling debts owed to him. He gave the picture to the city of Coventry in 1855 in the hope that it would be the start of a civic fine art collection.

Originally the gigantic painting was hung in St Mary’s Hall. However, it was unluckily moved to the city’s reference library which was then destroyed by fire during the Blitz.

If this was not damage enough, to save it from total destruction, it was cut out of its frame and rolled up – but so tightly that half of the features of Ariadne’s face flaked off the distorted canvas. Other parts of the painting were also lost at this time.

Following successful restoration, the picture went back on display at the newly opened Herbert in the 1960s. Now with The Herbert’s redevelopment project nearing completion, the painting will be kept safe in its newly refurbished setting.

The Herbert’s rebuild will be completed by autumn 2008.

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