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Jacopo Tintoretto, "Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse". 1560s or 1570s, 8' 10" x 7' 9" (2.67m x 2.34m). Photo: National Trust/Hamilton Kerr Institute.

DORSET.- A hidden painting by Jacopo Tintoretto, the last of the three great Venetian Renaissance painters, has gone on public display for the first time and can be seen at Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

The painting has spent most of the last 30 years in storage but, following a major programme of cleaning and restoration, "Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse" can be seen at last.

The National Trust Needs Your Help
However, as well as giving vivid new life to the painting and confirming its origins, the cleaning has raised as many questions as it answers and The National Trust is asking you to help solve its mysteries.

Their art experts believe that the painting depicts Apollo, or possibly the god of marriage, Hymen, placing a crown on an unknown figure, probably a poet who is holding a book. Mythical figures surrounding them include the god Hercules and a woman believed to be the intended spouse.

The Meaning Behind the Objects
However, the identification of other figures is still open to question along with the significance of various objects which would have had a clear meaning to those who saw it when it was painted. These include a die depicting five dots and the presence of a gold box and dish with coins in it.

Alastair Laing, Curator of Pictures and Sculpture said: 'This is undoubtedly a work of great significance – Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto are the three great masters of the mid to late 16th century in Venice and to have a painting by Tintoretto in an English house, rather than still in its original location in Venice, or in an Italian museum, is extraordinary.

It is all the more fascinating that we do not yet know who or where it was painted for, or what the actual subject is.'

Christine Sitwell, Paintings Conservation Adviser said: 'The cleaning process has revealed the sheer quality and energy of Tintoretto and how he worked, but we’re still baffled as to some of the content of the painting. We would love anyone out there to tell us what they think it could be.'
Fully cleaned and restored

The painting was given to The National Trust as part of the contents of Kingston Lacy in 1981 but it was in such poor condition that it remained in storage. Following successful fundraising, it has now been fully cleaned and restored.

Layers of darkened varnish and discoloured over paint had caused difficulty in identifying the subject matter of the painting, and even whether it was by Tintoretto himself. The cleaning and restoration, undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge, included X rays and infrared analysis that helped to identify the unquestionable style and brush strokes of Tintoretto.

Original Underdrawings Revealed
They also revealed original underdrawings that show changes he made to faces, clothing and positioning of subjects in the final version.

The painting probably dates from the 1560s or 1570s from a palazzo in Venice where it was acquired in 1849 by William John Bankes, then owner of Kingston Lacy.

The painting was last known to have been displayed in the dining-room at Kingston Lacy. It is here that it will be reinstated. Visit the painting on display at Kingston Lacy and tell The National Trust what you think of the meaning behind the painting.

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Kingston Lacy is an elegant mansion set in the heart of a traditional Dorset estate. © NTPL / Richard Pink

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The house is famed for its sumptuous interiors. Marvel at the Spanish Room, a golden masterpiece with a lavish gilded ceiling. © NTPL / Richard Pink