The Botticelli Masterpiece revives
Once considered an inferior copy of a Botticelli masterpiece, the study of Madonna and child entitled the Madonna of the Pomegranate is a rare original. Experts believe that the piece was produced by the artists’ own workshop.
According to the English Heritage, the Madonna of the Pomegranate until recently was unrecognizable, covered in thick layers of yellow varnish. The substantial overpainting, obscured the fine brushwork underneath. Subsequently leading to fears it was a poorly-made imitation.
According to Rachel Turnbull, English Heritage’s senior collections conservator the artwork took several years to restore. Working tirelessly she and her team painstakingly removed the paint. With the inclusion of the expert examination of the recently revealed brushwork, there were several scientific tests that confirmed the painting as an original Botticelli.
Turnbull continues “Botticelli is very recognisable, and if you know even a little bit about art history, you would look at this painting and say, that’s a Botticelli. But, for sure, there are things out there that purport to be a Botticelli and probably aren’t. So we just wanted to be very careful about what we were saying.”
Restoration of Madonna of the Pomegranate
While experts can confirm the painting orgins to the workshop of Sandro Botticelli in Renaissance Florence. They are unable to definitively say whether the master himself had a hand in its creation.
Infrared examination, X-ray testing, and pigment analysis all pointed to the correct date. However, it was the removal of the overpainted halo on the Christ child that solidified her hunch that the painting was correct.
“We thought long and hard about whether we would take off that later halo. When we eventually decided to do it, we found the evidence underneath of the original halo, but it was slightly in a raking light. I ducked down to pick something up, and I looked up and I could see this perfect pattern of the original halo and I thought, ‘Bingo, we’ve got it.’ It absolutely looks like other things of that from his workshop.”
A New Home
It is possible that Botticelli could have worked on parts of the painting. However, the team has been unable to prove it. “Of course we would have loved to be able to say it’s the hand of the master. But that’s missing the point a little bit. If you were a 15th-century man who wanted to buy a painting like this, you bought a Botticelli. Not a Botticelli workshop piece – that’s what you thought you were getting.”
Julius Wernher in 1897, an art collector and diamond magnate purchased the painting. The painting went on to hang in a number of homes throughout England. Wernher went on to loan the collection to the English Heritage. Where it displays at the Ranger’s House in Greenwich, south London. A larger version of the same painting by Botticelli hangs in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.