The George Group just recovered for Aragon an important Renaissance work that belonged to the Church of Santa María in the Zaragoza town of Maluenda, and to which the track had been lost in the 40s of the last century. The piece, which was auctioned a few weeks ago in the Segre room in the capital of Spain, has been subjected to a brief cleaning by a restoration team, and has been incorporated into the art collection of the Jorge Group, an Aragonese meat company with more than eight decades of experience.
It is a triptych that represents, in its central panel, the Virgin Mary with the Child, and on the side panels to two saints. The historian Jose Luis Cortes who has been researching emigrated Aragonese art for many years, was the one who identified the work when seeing the auction catalogue.
“It is a Flemish-influenced painting, which can be attributed to a follower or disciple of Jan Gossaert –recounts–. This famous Flemish artist painted around 1530 a Madonna and Child that was successful and much copied in later years. One of those copies is the one in the central part of the table. But none of the other copies that I have located so far have side tables, which seem to be due to an express wish of whoever commissioned this work. Me I identify the female figures, by their attributes, with Santa Catalina de Alejandría and with Santa Bárbara”.
The identification is still provisional, since the painting has recently arrived in Zaragoza and details remain to be studied. After unpacking it was discovered an inscription on its back, which will surely reveal the name of who commissioned and paid for it.
Cortés did not hesitate for a second to identify the table as coming from Maluenda because he had a black and white photograph engraved in his memory that appeared in an article, ‘Gothic painting, object of desire?’, by Fabián Mañas, Silvia Molina and Jesús Gil, in which it was told how the piece was sold and the vicissitudes of the temple to which it belonged.
The story goes back to April 24, 1942, when the church of Santa María de Maluenda suffered a devastating fire which completely ruined its central nave. The temple suffered such serious damage that for a few months it was doubted whether it was worth restoring.
They were the hardest years of the postwar period, of hunger and scarcity. But in September 1943 the then bishop of Tarazona, Nicanor Mutiola, visited the church and urged the parish priest and the town hall to restore the temple.
His commitment coincided with the idea that Manuel Chamoso Lamas, the commissioner of the 3rd Defense Zone of the National Artistic Heritage, had been working on. His intention was to sell artistic heritage of the church that was not in use, and finance the reconstruction of the temple with the proceeds.
“José Gudiol, director of the Amatller institute, made a first assessment in 1945 of the works that could be sold -says José Luis Cortés-. At first it was thought to offer some altarpieces and loose pieces that remained from another, Gothic, to antique dealers and collectors. which had been replaced in the 18th century. But, for whatever reason, this was not done, because some of the works included in that appraisal, such as the altarpieces dedicated to Santa Magdalena and Santiago Apóstol, continue to this day in Maluenda”.
According to the research article by Fabián Mañas, Silvia Molina and Jesús Gil, the now recovered triptych ended up being sold in 1946. The scholars located the appraisal that in June of that year Joseph Galiay of pieces that could be “alienated”, and among them was the triptych, which was valued at 25,000 pesetas.
According to the documentation, it was “determined that from so many buyers that had been presenting themselves, the highest bidder would be chosen, who was awarded a lot made up of a beautiful painting of the Crucifixion and a precious triptych with three small boards, for which lot gave seventy-five thousand pesetas, delivered by the buyer, Florencio Milicua” to Bernardo Oroz, vicar general of the diocese, on August 13, 1946.
Florencio Milicua was a well-known Madrid antique dealer of the time and, apparently, the lot was awarded for just half of what the bishop of Tarazona wanted to achieve. In any case, the church of Santa María de Maluenda could be restored.
“The works that were sold that day had been located -adds José Luis Cortés-. Fabián Mañas found the Calvary in the Rivière Collection and the lot with fragments of polseras is in the Maricel Museum in Sitges. The only thing his whereabouts were unknown was precisely this triptych that has now appeared.”
And it has been the professional nose of the art historian José Luis Cortés, who has already rediscovered other pieces emigrated from Bulbuente, the Piedra monastery or Fuentes de Jiloca, among others, which has made their purchase possible and their return to Aragón. He also discovered the ‘Peinador de la Reina’ by Olvés. “My job is to find that disappeared heritage –he points out–. And seeing it come back is a real satisfaction”.