Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1560-1570), photo KIK-IRPA.
ANTWERP.- The Rubens House has unveiled David Bowie’s Tintoretto. The British rock star owned St Catherine by the Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594) for over 30 years. Following Bowie’s death in 2016, his exceptional art collection was auctioned on 10 November that same year at Sotheby’s in London. There was one noteworthy old master amongst the modern and contemporary works by the likes of Frank Auerbach, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst: Jacopo Tintoretto.
Bowie, like Rubens, was an immense admirer of the Venetian artist. Rubens not only drew inspiration from Tintoretto for his own work, he also had seven of his fellow artist’s paintings in his own collection. The monumental St Catherine altarpiece, painted in the 1560s, was purchased by a private collector who announced to the world’s press within minutes of the sale that he would be loaning the painting long term to the Rubens House – ‘a museum Bowie loved’. What David Bowie never knew is that a brilliant underdrawing lies hidden beneath the layers of painting, as discovered recently during technical examination of the altarpiece at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) in Brussels. The underdrawing suggests that the work can be dated to roughly a decade earlier than previously thought and shows how Tintoretto developed the painting in his own hand, continually adjusting the composition as he worked. The Colnaghi Foundation, in collaboration with the Rubens House, will present a scholarly publication in October devoted to Tintoretto, Rubens and Bowie, with contributions from several international specialists. The Flemish Minister of Tourism, Ben Weyts, was so impressed by the whole story recently that he promptly gave his backing to a tentative plan to return the painting temporarily to Venice, where Tintoretto’s altarpiece will now be exhibited at the 2019 Biennale, accompanied by a raft of Flemish old masters who were amongst the Venetian artist’s admirers.
‘The gift that a great painting gives you: it’s just there for you to marvel at, it lifts your spirits, instils you with hope and beauty, but it doesn’t expect anything in return.’ As a painter and an accomplished collector, it might easily have been Peter Paul Rubens who made this striking statement. The words are, however, those of the late David Bowie almost four centuries later. The world-famous rock star, enthusiastic collector and huge admirer of Rubens was asked, ‘if you could invent a drug, what would it be, what effect should it have?’ Bowie replied, ‘A shot of hug. Preferably from a three-year-old like my daughter, that age, that brief window of time when a child hugs you with all its might and conviction and pure, undiluted love, without it expecting a reward. The kind of gift that a great painting gives you: it’s just there for you to marvel at, it lifts your spirits, instils you with hope and beauty, but it doesn’t expect anything in return. It would be hard to express the kinship between Rubens and Bowie any more clearly – two versatile, brilliant men, driven by a love of art and of their families.