Unknown author of historical artwork damaged by Beirut blast revealed
Pointing to specific particularities in the artwork such as the drapery and the subject matter of the art piece, Gregory Buchakjian was able to prove the painting belonged to the 17th-century Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
The J. Paul Getty Museum announced this week it received a painting that was damaged by the Beirut Port explosion of August 4, 2020, for restoration and identified its author as 17th-century Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
As soon as the restoration work is done at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, it will be returned to the Sursock Palace in Beirut.
The heavily damaged artwork which depicts Hercules and Omphale was initially thought to be attributed to an anonymous artist.
The Beirut Port explosion of August 2020, from which the artwork sustained heavy damage, caused the deaths of more than 200 people.
The artwork shows large rips and tears that run along the canvas, including Hercules' knee and calf.
Timothy Potts, the director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, described Hercules and Omphale in a statement as "one of the most important recent discoveries within the corpus of Artemisia Gentileschi, demonstrating her ambition for depicting historical subjects, something that was virtually unprecedented for a female artist in her day."
This painting by Artemisia Gentileschi survived an explosion. See more: https://t.co/YLyfg90QYC pic.twitter.com/Zvt6XfIsnn— Getty (@GettyMuseum) October 25, 2022
The person who identified its author is Gregory Buchakjian, a Lebanese art historian who studied the work in the early 1990s.
While working on his master's thesis in Paris, Buchakjian attributed two canvases to Gentileschi which focused on the paintings in the collection of the Sursock Palace, a grand residence located on Rue Sursock in the city of Beirut in Lebanon which runs opposite the Sursock museum.
His findings were unknown until he published an article about the work in Apollo Magazine a few months after the explosion.
As the article gained wide recognition, Buchakjian was invited to present his findings at a conference organized in 2021 by the Medici Archive Project in Florence.
Pointing to specific evidence such as the drapery and the subject matter of the art piece, Buchakjian was able to support his argument.
He also noted how the handling of jewelry was "characteristic of her art throughout all periods of her long career."
Another smaller work that portrays Mary Magdalene has been restored and placed on display at the Musei di San Domenico in Forlì, Italy.
As for Hercules and Omphale, it will remain at the Getty under a loan agreement with its owner, Roderick Sursock Cochrane, whose mother had lived at Sursock Palace throughout her life and died at the age of 98 due to the blast.
According to Sheila Barker, a leading Gentileschi scholar, this new finding brings the number of known works by Artemisia Gentileschi up to 61.
"I don’t know of anyone who has a dissenting opinion," she said.
"A lot of would-be Artemisia paintings have come along hopeful of attaining consensus from the market and scholars, and we’ve been largely disappointed. And yet from this completely unexpected corner of the southern Mediterranean, there has emerged this stunning example of Artemisia’s mature genius."
Some previous remarkable works brought many to uphold Gentileschi as a feminist icon. For instance, her artwork depicting Judith beheading Holofernes has symbolized for some observers women’s liberated rage.
Judith and her Maidservant. c. 1613-14 by Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi #WomensArt pic.twitter.com/hODWTHWHN9— #WOMENSART (@womensart1) October 24, 2022
Hercules and Omphale will be restored and remain on display at the Getty museum at the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, an international initiative by UNESCO is working on restoring the historical Sursock building and is scheduled to complete the restoration in 2025.
The French Ministry allocated €500,000 to the initiative, with supplementary funding from Switzerland, announced earlier this month.
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