A rare Spanish painting rediscovered in Michigan now on display at the DIA

Feb 7, 2014

A 17th century painting recently discovered in suburban Detroit is now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

DIA Executive Director of Collection Strategies and Information Salvador Salort-Pons spotted “The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” a painting by Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo last year while lecturing at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester.

The painting, which experts date to 1670, was purchased by Alfred and Matilda Wilson – the original owners of Meadow Brook Hall – in 1926. Matilda, the widow of Dodge co-founder John Francis Dodge, was a big art collector. She also co-founded the Oakland campus of Michigan State University, which is now Oakland University.

As part of a deal with OU, DIA conservators allowed art students at the university to get a rare glimpse of the entire conservation process. Though the museum often brings in high-school and college students, it's not often a group gets to watch a treatment from start to finish.

"Students were able to follow a full treatment and do this in more depth," Alfred Ackerman said, head of conservation at the museum. 

Now the post-conservation painting is on display at the DIA, where it will remain for the next five years. According to the DIA, this is the first time the 344-year-old painting has been on display in a U.S. museum.

“Murillo produced this masterpiece when he was at the height of his powers,” Salort-Pons said in a press release.

Known for his depictions of religious figures, Murillo was one of the first Spanish painters to become widely known in Europe.

– Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom