The extraordinary nature of an artwork is not only shown at times by its mastery in technique or by the emotion its topic arouses. At times, the value of an artwork may be concealed beneath canvas or by a past that has drawn a veil for centuries over its history.
It is the case of a painting we may view again today in its original guise, after about three centuries, in a complete and whole prospect, which historical events had separated in two parts under unknown circumstances, known as “Hunting on the Lagoon” and “Two Venetian Ladies”.
This reference takes its cue from the grand exhibition Venice is dedicating inside its most prestigious venue, the Ducal Palace, to Vittore Carpaccio, the early Venetian Renaissance master who lived between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries. The history of this painting is fascinating.
We are in 1944, in a recently liberated Rome. A young art-loving architect consulted by an antique dealer is struck by a filthy tablet in a bad condition, painted on both sides: one part of it shows a hunting scene. Intuition tells him that it is a Carpaccio.
He has the painting restored, seeks confirmation regarding its attribution and reconstructs its history, discovering the work was part of a cardinal’s valuable collection, a relative of Napoleon.
However, the clamour of this news reaches the latest owner, who reclaims the painting, which reappears later on within a private Swiss collection and, later, from 1972, at the Getty Museum in Malibu and then in Los Angeles, where it is still kept.
But the tale does not end here.
Another twist arrives in the early Nineties after some scientific tests demonstrate that the Two Venetian Ladies, an artwork held at the Correr Museum, which John Ruskin called “the most beautiful painting in the world” and Hunting on the Lagoon, are part of a single painting.
The recomposed work was presented for the first time in 1999 at Palazzo Grassi for the occasion of an important exhibition. Today we may return to admire it at the Ducal Palace, where its meaning has been clarified at last: the two ladies are awaiting the men’s return from the sea, a (now remote) love metaphor in female lives.