The government of the Philippines has entrusted Christie’s New York with the sale of Old Master paintings and silver once belonging to Imelda Marcos and which has now been confiscated by the state. The provisional estimate is in excess of £6m, the proceeds to help fund the planned agricultural reform programme.
The collection is made up of some seventy items, including a series of Trecento and Quattrocento works, sixteenth-century masters (Raphael, Titian and Tintoretto) and a group of Venetian canvases from the eighteenth-century. The quality of many pieces and the interest shown in them is surprising when one considers the controversy which has sometimes surrounded the collection. Many of the works are little known even by scholars (others, such as the views attributed to Canaletto, will certainly be carefully reassessed, as in most cases they are not autograph paintings).
Indeed, it is not difficult to foresee an extensive debate developing on a small panel depicting “St Catherine of Alexandria”, a pendant to a “Mary Magdalene” today in the possession of Spencer Samuels of New York. For many years it was attributed to Raphael but has recently fallen into disfavour and has been eliminated from the Master’s bibliography. Both were published as autograph works by J.D.Passavant in his important monograph on the painter, Rafael von Urbino und sein Vater Giovanni Santi (1839). Passavant had seen the two panels sharing the same frame in the collection of Vincenzo Camuccini in Rome (where they were still to be found around 1845), and adds that they once served as side panels for a small Madonna by Perugino. Already they were not in the best state of preservation, with numerous gaps and extensive retouching. The attribution to Raphael’s early Florentine period was taken up once again by Roberto Longhi in 1955 when the two works were to be found in the Contini Bonacossi Collection (Percorso di Raffaello giovine, Paragone, 65, 1955) and in the two editions of L.Dussler’s catalogue (1966), dated to around 1503 and thus contemporary with the Mond ‘Crucifixion’ (in fact there are several stylistic analogies with the predella panels, preserved in Lisbon and Raleigh).
With the passage of time scholars’ opinion seems to have changed and the panels no longer appear in the latest works on the Master, either in the various monographs published to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth (Oberhuber, Cuzin, Jones-Penny, Beck), or in the list of autograph works compiled by Malazzani in his 1983 volume, or in Marabottini’s detailed essay on the artist’s youthful work in the catalogue of the "Raffaello giovane e Città di Castello" (1983) exhibition. Oberhuber does not concur with this view and in his Raffaello (1982, p.186) he refers to the two pieces as autograph works; furthermore, the same author has catalogued the preparatory drawings, preserved in Berlin and in the Louvre Rothschild collection, under Raphael (Knab-Mitsch-Oberhuber, 1983). What is this fall from grace due to? Probably no scholar thought it appropriate to re-examine the small paintings after the committee of experts called to pronounce upon the gift of the Contini Bonacossi Collection to the Italian state had decided to classify them as ‘School of Raphael’; after which the ‘Mary Magdalene’ headed for New York , while the ‘St Catherine’ was acquired by Imelda Marcos from an Italian antique dealer around 1985.
On the other hand the authenticity of the well-known “Portrait of Giulio Romano” by Titian, which was possibly part of Giulio’s Mantua collection and was subsequently in the possession of the Gonzagas and finally of Charles I of England, is beyond question. H.Wethey (Titian. The Portraits, 1970) publishes it as the property of Mark Oliver of London. This is an extremely important work by Titian, which portrays the painter-architect of the Gonzagas in three-quarter profile displaying the plan of a church, perhaps the design for the Gonzaga Pantheon.
The two panels by Jacopo Tintoretto, “The Miracle of the Fishes” and “Jesus among the Doctors”, published by Pallucchini-Rossi (Tintoretto. Le opere sacre e profane, 1982) as having been part of a private collection in Casteggio (Pavia), are instead datable to around 1555. The extraordinary scenes are filled with movement and the quick, lively strokes of bright colour, revealing the influence of Veronese, lend a bright and airy quality to the painting. Their extremely elongated shape might suggest their employment as panels on a chest.
Still in the Venetian field, two figures by Antonio Guardi, “Fortitude” and “Temperance”, stand out for their excellent quality. These once belonged to Feldmarschall von Schulenburg, the great collector of Guardi, Marieschi and other Venetian artists, and were commissioned from Giovanni Antonio in 1739 and are derived from two figures by Tintoretto. They were subsequently included in a private Milanese collection and brought to general attention by Morassi in 1960 (then by Succi in 1988 in Capricci veneziani del Settecento) with an enthusiastic comment: “Forms floating free in the air, as if ruffled by zephyrs from the lagoon; a whimsical, effervescent brush-stroke, foaming on the surface with lively flashes, like waves whipped up by the wind; an impasto of warm, golden colours with a preponderance of yellows (...) light blues and reds”.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Marcos treasures arrive in New York'