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Appeal for help to solve 19th century paintings mystery

Diocese of East Anglia archivists are appealing for help to solve a nineteenth century artistic mystery concerning Italian paintings, the Duke of Norfolk and St John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich.


The 15th Duke of Norfolk, whose generosity helped to fund St John’s Cathedral, travelled to Florence in 1867 and records in Italy indicate that he may have bought 15 paintings there. They were frescoes transferred to canvas from an ex-monastery in Florence. The artist was a Tuscan painter of the XVII century and may be Giovanni Mannozzi (known as Giovanni di San Giovanni or Giovanni da San Giovanni) or one of his school. A 1903 English publication refers to them as being “in Arundel” in the early 20th century, with images reproduced with the Duke’s permission.

The paintings represented the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary. 13 are lunettes (semi-circle or half-moon shape) and measure 1.95m x 2.85m  (Annunciation – Visitation – The Nativity – The Circumcision – The Finding in the Temple – The Agony in the Garden – The Flagellation of Christ – The Crowning with Thorns – The Way to Calvary – The Crucifixion – The Resurrection – The Ascension – Descent of the Holy Spirit. The remaining 2 are rectangular, and even larger, measuring 3.6m x2.4m (Assumption of the Virgin – the Virgin with the Rosary and Saints).

Today’s mystery appeal started with a request from an Italian researcher to the archivists at Arundel Castle and at the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton archivists, which drew a blank. The Duke was involved in the building of many, many Catholic churches, including St John’s in Norwich and could have passed the paintings to one or more of these institutions. Hence the request was then passed to East Anglia archivists, Michael and Gill Hill.

“Unfortunately, after some investigation within the archive and through contacts, we cannot say where they might be now – and they would be hard to miss,” said Michael. “But if any readers have seen or heard of something similar please get in touch, as we would love to know what happened to them.”

You can contact Michael and Gill at archive@rcdea.org.uk

Pictured are two of the Italian lunette paintings, above the Nativity and below, the Annunciation.

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