Art experts puzzled by objects in masterpiece

Wed Jun 9, 2010 10:34am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Restoration work on a painting that languished for years in a British country house has confirmed it as the work of Venetian master Tintoretto -- and posed several intriguing questions.

Now that centuries of dirt and varnish have been stripped away, the painting has been revealed in all its glory, but who is its subject and what is the significance of various objects in the painting, like a five-spotted dice?

Britain's National Trust conservation group, which unveiled the painting this week, is asking members of the public to help.

Dating from the 1560s or 70s, the work was first acquired by William Bankes, a 19th century explorer and collector of antiquities who hung it at his home, Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

It passed into the ownership of the National Trust in 1981 but was in such poor condition that it remained in storage for many years.

The Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge cleaned up the painting and confirmed its provenance using X-rays and infrared to identify the style and brush strokes of Tintoretto, one of the three great Venetian Renaissance masters along with Veronese and Titian.

"The cleaning process has revealed the sheer quality and energy of Tintoretto and how he worked, but we're still baffled as to some of the content of the painting," said the Trust's Paintings Conservation Adviser Christine Sitwell.

The Trust believes the painting depicts Apollo, or possibly the god of marriage, Hymen, placing a crown on an unknown figure, probably a poet, who is holding a book.

Mythical figures surrounding them include the god Hercules and a woman believed to be the intended spouse.   Continued...