Friday, March 4, 2016

Mystery Solved! A Lost Print Resurfaces

Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa
Engraving by Giacomo Franco, 1517-1610?
1973.07.01

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Mysteries at the Museum, you know that museum collections occasionally contain puzzles for the staff who maintain them. Artifacts donated decades ago sometimes lack information about what they are or who owned them. They can be mislabeled, misplaced, or mistaken for another artifact. As time passes, the circumstances that led to the dilemma in the first place become more difficult to pinpoint. We at the Naval War College Museum are happy to report that we recently solved one of our own collection mysteries involving one of our oldest artifacts, a four hundred year-old Venetian print of the Battle of Lepanto.

Detail of Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa

The story begins in 1973 when the Naval War College Foundation purchased a copy of Giacomo Franco’s Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa for deposit at the Museum. The print, published sometime between 1571 and 1610, depicts the victory of the Holy League over the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto on 7 October 1571. This battle halted the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe and was the last major naval engagement in the Mediterranean fought entirely between galleys.

Museum records indicate that the print went on temporary exhibit shortly after its arrival. Once that exhibit ended, the print went back into storage where it seems to have disappeared with no detailed or accurate location ever recorded. No current staff member could recall seeing it in the last two decades. Recognizing the historic value of a print this old, we initiated a search of our collection storage area as well as the Naval War College campus. Until recently, those efforts yielded no results. That changed on Thursday, 18 February, when our Collections Manager, Walter Nicolds, found the print buried in a flat file drawer while conducting an inventory of our collection storage facility! Thanks to his sharp eye, this valuable piece of art is now being tracked and stored in accordance with museum standards.
Walter Nicolds, Naval War College Museum Collections Manager
holding Giacomo Franco's print of the Battle of Lepanto

In addition, further research revealed that the engraver was misidentified when the print first arrived. It was originally attributed to “Ferrando and Ferdinando Beretelli” of Venice. This seems to be a reference to the Venetian printmaker Ferrando Bertelli (also known as Ferdinando) who produced a well-known painting of the battle that hangs in the Vatican Museum. It may be that our print was mistakenly identified as a reproduction of that painting. When we matched our copy with others that reside at libraries in Italy and Portugal, we confirmed that Giacomo Franco was the engraver. Now that we have the correct artist and location in our computer system, we plan to be extra diligent to ensure that our records remain up to date!
Ferrando Bertelli painting of the Battle of Lepanto

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

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