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News > College Life > Restored Paintings Rehoused at Chapel

Restored Paintings Rehoused at Chapel

St John's College owns a small but interesting art collection.

These artworks are primarily displayed in the Nagle Library and the Dining Hall. There has however recently been a major rehang of portraits in the ante chapel vestibule between the chapel and the dining hall, including the addition of art gallery lighting. This has released four large religious paintings which hung there largely unappreciated.

These have now been cleaned and conserved and rehung in St John’s Chapel, where they can be better viewed and enjoyed. All four are 19th century paintings, with two depicting scenes in the life of Jesus, The Visitation, and Agony in the Garden, and two showing more general religious scenes of The Assumption and the Virgin and Child

All four paintings are copies of originals and came into the College’s possession in 1922 as a result of the initiative of the Rector at the time Monsignor Maurice J. O'Reilly.

Two were commissioned from George de Pyroz presumably a local artist about whom disappointingly no information can currently be found.

Agony in the Garden is a copy of 'Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane' by German artist, Henrich Hofman (1824-1911).  In it Jesus is seen praying in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately after the Last Supper and prior to his betrayal.

Moving on a little farther, he threw himself prostrate on the ground in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, allow this cup to be taken from me. Yet let your will, not mine, be done.”  (Matthew 26:39)

The Visitation is a copy of a painting by Florentine artist Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448 – 1494).  Mary, pregnant with Jesus is seen visiting her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.  Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1:41-42)

Both paintings use a thin amount of paint on the canvas giving them a colourful but flat look, and both are framed in dark oak.

By contrast the two paintings of The Assumption and the Virgin and Child are painted thickly and framed in gilt frames.

The Assumption depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, being "assumed" into heaven upon her death to be reunited with her soul, instead of going through the natural process of physical decay.

The Virgin and Child depicts the young Mary sitting with the baby Jesus on her lap.

Both are described as being ‘after Murillo’. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682) was the leading painter in Seville, Spain in the later 17th century. He remained one of the most admired and popular of all European artists in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and his paintings were much copied. The Assumption and Virgin and Child were both painted in the 19th Century by an unknown artist copying Murillo’s work. 

The Assumption is a copy of a Murillo painting from 1670 which is in the collections of The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia. The original from which the Virgin and Child has been copied is no longer thought to exist, but there is a very similar 19th Century copy in the V & A Museum, London by A. Filardo.

In an article on 'Art additions to St John's' in John's Magazine 1922 by O'Reilly he describes the Virgin and Child as ‘one of the most beautiful and most devotional pictures in Australia.'

Next time you are at the College enjoy these fine paintings in their new setting in the Chapel.

Julian Bickersteth
International Conservation Services

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