It’s something out of The Da Vinci Code, albeit with fewer conspiracies (and, arguably, better writing): a local professor specializing in the works of the old masters is swept into an international affair after identifying a long-lost masterpiece hiding in plain sight.
“I’m used to wandering into churches, and I find it very peaceful. I was there at least three times before I noticed the painting one day when the lights were on brightly,” says Iona College Visual Arts Professor Thomas Ruggio. “I knew it was a 17th century painting. It’s something you expect to find in Italy, but it was really out of place in a church in New York.”
As it turns out, the painting had been donated to the Church of the Holy Family, just two blocks from Iona College’s New Rochelle campus. They had no idea what it was, or what it was worth.
After sending a few photos to David Pullins, Associate Curator of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Paola Betti, an art historian, Ruggio’s suspicions were proven correct. The sleepy sanctuary in Westchester County did indeed possess a lost masterpiece.
The work, created by the Italian baroque painter Cesare Dandini (1596-1657), from a famed Florentine arts family, depicts the Holy Family of Christian tradition, including an infant St. John. The painting was purchased at auction in London in the early 1960s, all but vanishing from the international art community after that.
Now rediscovered, the portrait will hang in Iona’s College’s Ryan Library in a three-month exhibit curated by Ruggio, “Cesare Dandini’s Holy Family with the Infant St. John: A Rediscovered Florentine Baroque Masterpiece.”