In the early days of Covid-19 isolation, Tom Ruggio, an art historian from Iona College in New York, entered the nearby Sagrada Familia on a whim. A researcher of Italian religious art, Ruggio loves to “wander through churches” in moments of quiet contemplation, ”he tells Dave Zucker of Westchester magazine.
Ruggio had already visited the meetinghouse in New Rochelle several times. But this time the overhead light was slightly brighter than usual, and when the professor looked up, something special caught his trained gaze.
“In the center of the church, high on the right side, I immediately recognized the Italian Baroque painting, and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” says CNN’s Ruggio Lauren M. Johnson. He said he was overwhelmed, but very excited.
The art critic immediately sent his photographs to colleagues in Italy and Manhattan, reports Joe Torres for ABC7 New York. Among the experts consulted was David Pullins, junior curator of European painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Westchester magazine notes.
Subsequent research confirmed Ruggio’s original hunch: it is likely Cesare Dandini’s art, a long-lost painting by the 17th-century Baroque artist Cesare Dandini (circa 1596–1657).
According to the Met, a native of Florence, Dandini studied with the mannerist artist Cristofano Allori. As Eileen Kinsella reports for Artnet News, church officials have long suspected that it was a piece of Cesare Dandini’s art or the work was created after or by a follower of Dandini, but they hesitated to attribute it to the Italian master himself.
Now, as Ruggio told CNN, he is confident that this artwork is one of four Cesare Dandini paintings. The scholar confirmed the authenticity of this one of Cesare Dandini’s paintings by comparing it to two strikingly similar compositions by Dandini. They are Charity, located at the Metropolitan, and The Holy Family, in the collections of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The newly discovered Cesare Dandini artwork is now called The Holy Family with the Child St. John. It was probably written around 1630, Ruggio says.
The fate of the fourth of Cesare Dandini’s paintings in the series, which is known only from the black and white photo, is unclear.
Over the next three months, the 46-by 57-inch Cesare Dandini artwork will be on display in a free public exhibition at Iona College. The Cesare Dandini artwork will return to its home in the Sagrada Familia shortly before Christmas.
One part of the centuries-old mystery remains unsolved. Ruggio and other experts have yet to pinpoint how the gilded-framed Baroque masterpiece ended up in a church in southeastern New York. The magnificent Roman Catholic parish building, located just two blocks from the Iona College campus, was built in 1916 to serve New Rochelle’s growing Irish and German immigrant communities.
Monsignor Dennis Keane told Artnet News that the former pastor may have bought the Cesare Dandini artwork during a trip to Rome in the early 1960s.
This one of Cesare Dandini’s paintings likely arrived at the church around 1962, which means it remained in relative obscurity for nearly six decades.
Ruggio tells Westchester magazine that he was delighted with the happy find. He said he would rather expect to find it in Italy and not in New York.
Cesare Dandini (about 1596-1656), worked in the manner of Passignano and painted a significant number of paintings in Florence; but many of them collapsed due to poor preparation of the dark ground.