Spanish queen duped Pope with dud Murillo
Research reveals Isabella II knowingly gave a fake painting to Pius IX
By Emily Sharpe. News, Issue 207, November 2009
Published online: 18 November 2009
london. New research reveals that Queen Isabella II of Spain (1830-1904) knowingly gave Pope Pius IX a fake painting of a 16th-century original in her collection. It has also emerged that ten years after her “generous” gift, the Spanish queen gave the original work by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo to King Luis of Portugal.
The deceit was uncovered by independent Portuguese scholar Hugo Xavier, who recently found an old album of photographs of paintings in the Ajuda Palace, a former royal residence in Lisbon. One of these photos, depicting Murillo’s The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, around 1650-55, has an inscription written by King Luis stating that the painting was a gift from Queen Isabella in 1865. Ten years earlier the queen had presented the Pope with a copy of the painting, passing it off as an authentic work by the Spanish master.
The purportedly authentic Murillo then became part of the collection of the Vatican, which was convinced it was an original until a 1958 restoration found it was a clever, 19th-century fake painted on an antique canvas. According to curator Benito Navarrete, from the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao: “It’s obvious that the painting must have been in her collection before 1855 and that Queen Isabella didn’t want to part with it,” adding that the copy was given to the Pope “with the clear intention of duping him”.
Although scholars cannot be certain why Isabella did it, Navarrete suspects it was “all due to politics at a time when she wanted to strengthen relations with Portugal”. He feels that Isabella’s decision not to repeat the same trick with King Luis came down to the fact that the possible discovery of her deception would simply have been too scandalous.
The authentic Murillo, which belongs to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, is currently on view in “The Young Murillo” at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (until 17 January 2010).
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