Raphael’s Portrait of a Gentleman is a painting with a history. Painted at some point during the first two decades of the sixteenth century by the Italian master Raffaello Sanzio, the divine Raphael himself (a contention which some scholars contest, but that’s a whole other blog post), it travelled from court to court in Italy after the painter’s death in 1520, before heading north to the estate of a Polish aristocrat. Hidden at various points in its history from both the Russians and the Germans, and ultimately stolen by the Nazis, it has become the holy grail of lost Renaissance art.
It is generally agreed that after Raphael’s death the painting became the property of Giulio Romano, one of the master’s most talented pupils. Romano took it with him to the court of the Dukes of Mantua, where it stayed for some time. The painting subsequently made its way to the Giustiniani family in Venice, by way of the court at Modena. It was in Venice that the Giustinianis, fallen on hard times in a city still mourning its loss of independence to Napoleon, sold Portrait of a Gentleman to Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and his brother Konstanty, somewhere between 1798 and 1801 (again, opinions differ on the exact date).
No doubt prompted by his mother, Princess Izabella Czartoryska, who opened Poland’s first museum, known as the “Gothic House”, at the family estate in Pulawy in 1801, Prince Adam Jerzy made a number of canny purchases on his travels. In addition to the Raphael, he bought Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine and Rembrandt’s Landscape With the Good Samaritan; together, the three paintings would experience an eventful history.
The trio experienced their first flight from the enemy in 1830, following the doomed anti-Czarist uprising of November that year, when they were evacuated to Sieniewa Palace. They subsequently accompanied Prince Adam Jerzy into Parisian exile.
In 1848 Prince Adam Jerzy sent Portrait of a Gentleman to London, where it spent the following three years, possibly in the hope of selling it. It returned to his apartments at the Hotel Lambert in Paris in 1851.
The paintings returned to Poland in the 1870s, and were displayed in the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow, the ancient seat of Polish kings.
World War One saw them on the move once more, dispatched to the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden for safe-keeping. Gallery director Hans Posse, a name that would recur in the story of the Czartoryski masterpieces, was reluctant to hand them back, and the paintings didn’t return to Poland until 1920.
Swansong of a masterpiece
It was in August 1939, in anticipation of the German invasion, that the three paintings were packed up again, in a crate marked “VRR” (for Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt). They were hidden once more at Sieniewa, along with over 5,000 other paintings, porcelains and antiquities from the Czartoryski Collection. But it wasn’t long before their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo.
They quickly became the subject of a tug-of-war between Hitler, Goering and the German governor of Poland, Hans Frank. Goering’s representative Kajetan Mühlmann took them to Berlin, where Hans Posse, he of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, suggested they be earmarked for Hitler’s planned museum at Linz. Yet somehow Hans Frank managed to get them back in Poland, where they decorated his offices at Cracow’s Wawel Castle. Mühlmann once reprimanded Frank for hanging the delicate Leonardo over a radiator.
The Czartoryski masterpieces were never actually catalogued in the Linz collection, but Mühlmann later testified at Nuremberg that they would undoubtedly have gone there had Germany won the war. As it was, Wawel Castle was where Portrait of a Gentleman was last seen.
The Russians are coming
By January 1945 it was clear that Hans Frank was about to lose his little fiefdom. He packed up his loot and fled, but for some reason he didn’t take Portrait of a Gentleman with him. Whatever happened – whether it was destroyed, or appropriated by someone on Frank’s staff or confiscated by a Russian trophy brigade – we’ll probably never know. Along with over 800 other items from the Czartoryski Collection, Portrait of a Gentleman hasn’t been seen since.
The crowd assembled outside Shakespeare’s Globe roared gleefully as a long rowboat emerged from beneath Southwark Bridge and began to make its laborious way across the river. Arriving by rowboat would seem to be an ambitious undertaking, given the strength of the tide and the choppiness of the water. Bedecked in foliage from head to toe, the Holly Man waved, unfazed by the cold and the water that periodically threatened to swamp the boat.
It was the coldest day of the winter so far, with low cloud obliterating the tops of London’s new crop of quirky skyscrapers and a distinct chill in the air. Rain threatened. But the theatrical troupe the Lions part, in all their extravagantly costumed glory, were not about to let the weather have the last say. The Twelfth Night celebrations, an annual ritual on Bankside, would carry on, no matter what.
The river had its say, though, as the boat initially misjudged its approach and had to circle back under the pier gangway and come around again. It finally managed to tie itself to the stairs where wherry men of old used to deposit their passengers on their way to see a play at the original Globe.
With the Holly Man safely ashore, the merriment could get properly underway. Before a well wrapped-up crowd, Saint George, the Turkey Sniper, the Doctor (not that Doctor) Clever Legs, Father Christmas and the Old ‘Oss performed a Mummers’ Play, described as a ‘freestyle folk combat play’. Saint George and the Turkey Sniper briefly halted their duel to get their breath back and take a selfie, before returning to battle in slow motion worthy of a martial arts movie.
Just as everyone was beginning to freeze, events moved to The George Inn, which was a fitting end to a wonderfully bonkers afternoon.
So, it’s 2015 already. Where did 2014 go, that’s what I want to know.
As it’s the start of the year, my mind has turned to New Year’s resolutions, and I am reminded that I often don’t do very well at them. My good intentions tend to fizzle out around the end of February, if not before, which makes for very expensive gym memberships.
So I’ve decided to forgo the usual list resolutions – join the gym, go on a diet etc. – in favour of a more themed resolution for the year.
In 2015, I’m going to be bold!
In a vague sort of way, I’ve thought this would be a fine goal for quite a while, now, but I often get waylaid by various factors, such as my shyness (thankfully less severe than it used to be), my talent for procrastination, and a tendency to second-guess myself.
This year is going to be different (she tells herself sternly). I am going to get out there and do things!
First off is a self-made challenge on You Tube. I started dabbling in You Tube last year, and I think I’m slowly getting the hang of it. It’s very strange seeing myself on camera, though. I think my ease with it will increase as I get more practice, so I’ve decided to put up a video every day for the month of January. This should help me get a bit more comfortable with it, and hopefully clarify what my channel is about. At the moment it’s a travel/history/art mix, and it is definitely taking me out of my comfort zone!
I have a few more plans under the ‘Bold’ heading, including sending out query letters to all and sundry, write a novella and put together a collection of short stories. I will keep you updated!
In the meantime, here’s my first video of January!
I have had a short story accepted over at Alfie Dog Fiction! It has gone live today, and has done wonders for my confidence, prompting me to get a number of new stories started. It’s amazing what a little bit of encouragement can do for my mood. And my productivity.
The story, The Perfect Wave, has been around for a while. It was a runner-up in a short story competition (I well remember the day I got the news – dancing around the living room was involved), then it was published in The Lady magazine.
Since then, the story has been hiding on my hide drive. The explosion in the number of online literary magazines made me think I really should do something with it, but most of them don’t accept reprints, which had me stumped for a while.
Then I discovered Alfie Dog Fiction, which, aside from having a great name, accepts reprints. Yay!
They aren’t a magazine, really; they’re more of a publisher, a market-place for some great stories. You can download a single story for the princely sum of £0.39. Do check them out, and maybe take a look at The Perfect Wave while you’re there?
I think I’m getting my fiction mojo back! Here’s my first Friday Flash in a loooong time.
She knew she had arrived when she bought her first Monet. No longer the ingénue, the starlet under the thumb of a would-be Svengali, she had finally graduated from forgettable supporting roles to star billing. Her name was now above the title, and she was in a position to pick her own scripts.
And buy her own art.
It began when she accepted a role in an edgy independent film for next to no money and many column inches, and headed to London. It showed what she could do and it made her Svengali’s teeth grind, which was always a plus. And the shoot had coincided with the first auction of impressionist art of the year.
She always did have great timing.
It was a cold, bright day in February, she remembered. She had been warmly wrapped up in coat, hat, and gloves, the very picture of elegance. At the auction house she mingled with the sharply-dressed crowd like she had been hobnobbing with the wealthy all her life. Then she took her seat and composed herself, as she would before a performance. All these years later she could still feel a remnant of the adrenaline that had coursed through her as she imperiously raised her paddle for the first time.
No-one could do imperious quite like her. All the critics said so.
For a moment she had been worried that she wouldn’t succeed. But one by one her rivals fell away and the Monet was all hers.
It would set a pattern for the years to come. Win an award, buy a painting. She had quite the collection, but that first Monet would always have a special place in her affections.
They do say you never forget your first.
I have written about the Charles Dickens Museum before in Calling on Charles Dickens, but that was before I discovered the video button on my camera. The museum is fascinating and well worth a return visit, especially now that I have my National Art Pass and can get in free! Here’s the video – here’s hoping it whets your Dickensian appetite for your next visit to London.
The Charles Dickens Museum is at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. Adult tickets cost £8 (free with National Art Pass from the Art Fund).