Lost masterpiece said to be in Uzbekistan

Ertugrul_Gazi_Mosque_in_Ashgabat,_Turkmenistan

Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where the largest statue of Vladimir Lenin once resided for decades, may be home to a lost masterpiece of Renaissance art.

One of Paolo Veronese’s versions of “Lamentation of Christ” has gone on display at the Uzbek State Arts Museum, according to Uzbek experts. Officials with the museum say it is one of several versions of the 16th century work the Italian artist painted that portrays the lamentation after Christ’s descent from the cross.

However the Italian embassy in Tashkent has urged caution, saying while the show is a remarkable event, further work will be needed to confirm that the picture is a genuine Veronese, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Arts Museum said the work was brought to Uzbekistan in the 19th century when the territory was part of the Russian Empire. It was part of the collection which belonged to the Romanovs, Russia’s last dynasty.

“The painting came to Tashkent as part of the luggage of Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov, the grandson of Tsar Nicolas I who was exiled to Uzbekistan after falling out with the royal family over an affair with an American woman,” according to the wire service.

Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto are known as the pre-eminent Venetian painters of the late Renaissance. Veronese is touted for his work with colors and for his illusionistic decorations in both fresco and oil, according to art historian Lawrence Gowing.

The Tashkent work had already been on display at museums many times as an unnamed artist’s masterpiece, according to Uzbek experts.

“All this time the painting was on the fourth floor of the museum and we thought it was a copy,” said prominent Uzbek artist Sabir Rakhmetov. “We used to bring in our students to copy it.”

That changed when a young art expert named Dilshod Azizov was asked to perform restoration work on the piece two years ago.

“Any restoration starts with the attribution and analysis,” Azizov said.

As the oil canvas painting had no attribution, Azizov started to look at archive documents.

“I found that the first information about the painting was published by the ‘Turkestanskiye Vedomosti’ newspaper in 1886 and was attributed to Paolo Veronese and belonged to Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov who lived in Tashkent,” he said.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, Grand Duke Nikolai’s collection, including the painting attributed to Veronese, was donated to Tashkent University, where the Central Museum of Art was established in 1920.

Nikolai’s diary says he bought the painting himself when he was in Italy in 1871-72, according to Azizov.

Aziziov started a very long examination of the canvas comparing the painting with other works of Veronese and his followers. Then came ultraviolet, infrared and X-ray tests, Agence France-Presse reported.

“All comparison works and tests showed that it was not a copy,” Azizov said. “For example, the X-ray showed that hands and legs of Christ were drawn several times. When creating a picture, authors usually redraw and change some of its details, and when a copy is made, such changes are not necessary.”

Other tests showed that the canvas was restored three times and lost size due to removal of damaged edges, according to the expert.

Chemical, hydrochloric and carbonic analysis of the canvas showed up elements of painting materials which were used by Renaissance artists in Italy.

“We have sent the samples of the analysis to foreign experts for international attribution of the Veronese work,” Aziziov said.

Aziziov speculated that museum officials may have deliberately neglected to definitely identify the work’s author decades ago, for fear the Soviets would have moved it to a more prestigious museum elsewhere in the USSR, according to uznews.net.

At least one expert is skeptical.

Xavier Salomon, the curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is not so sure after seeing a photograph of the work.

“From the photograph I have, it’s not a painting that is known and to me it looks like it doesn’t have much to do with Veronese,” he told Raido Free Europe. “It’s probably a Venetian picture – I would say – it could be from the late 16th or early 17th century. But I don’t see it as looking particularly like Veronese himself.”

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