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Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Willamette’s own ‘Indiana Jones’

This story was originally published in The Willamette Collegian on Sept. 17, 2014. Written by Emily Hoard, photos by Mike Rhine.

After a two-year long process, Associate Professor of Art History Ricardo De Mambro Santos was able to successfully attribute a painting to Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter.

At the end of October 2014, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art will open the first exhibit in the United States of the painting. De Mambro Santos will give a lecture about the painting and the attribution process on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. The 20-by-16-inch portrait of Archduke Albert VII will be on display at the museum until spring 2015.

“In an attribution, even though it often starts with a personal discovery, it is a team effort,” De Mambro Santos said.

He explained that an Italian family, who had had the portrait in their collection since about 1808, had asked Cecilia Paolini, a former student of De Mambro Santos from the University of Rome, to work on the painting’s conservation. Paolini, suspecting that it might be the work of a master, asked De Mambro Santos to examine it.


De Mambro Santos said that the process of attribution calls for the collaboration of art historians and scientists. As an art conservationist, Paolini began a detailed physical, structural and scientific analysis of the painting’s canvas and the pigments used.

“[An attribution] is a long-term commitment and a very analytical process that takes as long as 10 years sometimes, so we were glad that it took only two years,” De Mambro Santos said. “The most important part of the process has been developed together with many other specialists in X-rays, reflectography or any kind of diagnostic investigations.”

The Hallie Ford Museum has also been a part of the collaboration. Exhibition Designer and Chief Preparator David Andersen, Collection Curator Jonathan Bucci and Museum Director John Olbrantz worked with De Mambro Santos on issues involving the display, costs and transportation of the painting.

“The staff of the museum is just sensational to work with,” De Mambro Santos said. “They organized this show with the same––or if not superior––quality of first-world museums, really. It is a privilege for us to have Hallie Ford.”

Olbrantz said the museum was able to fund the attribution and the exhibition by collaborating resources with the art history department.

Senior art history major Michelle Atherton is a co-president of the Museum Club and a student assistant at Hallie Ford. She said that De Mambro Santos will travel to Rome to receive the painting and bring it to the University.

“I think that’s a really important part of the process because Ricardo’s been with the painting from the beginning of the process, so he gets to see it through to the end,” Atherton said. Once the painting arrives, it will be installed in the Sponenburgh Gallery in the Hallie Ford museum, which houses a collection of European, Asian and American art.

“I’m really confident that the Hallie Ford Museum staff will do a really great job of displaying it,” Atherton said.

Adjacent to the painting will be a screen showing a digitized set of about eight portraits that were painted of Archduke Albert VII of Austria at various stages of his life. The exhibit will also feature text panels about the history of the painting as well as the scientific analysis.

The museum may also be displaying the original copy of an early 17th century Flemish book called “Book on Painting” by Karel Van Mander. As the first art treatise to be published in the Netherlands, it was published in the same years that Rubens was painting.

Viewers can find contextual information in the catalog, “Rubens, the Portrait of Archduke Albert VII,” written by De Mambro Santos and Paolini, outlining the entire process of the analysis and attribution. The book will be available in the museum store. De Mambro Santos presented the catalog in the Basilica in Rome, where he thinks Rubens may have painted the portrait.


De Mambro Santos, whom University spokesman Adam Torgerson referred to as a “modern-day Indiana Jones,” has been involved in several other discoveries of European artwork, including a collection of northern religious-themed prints, which he will be displaying at Hallie Ford in fall 2015. He plans to involve many Willamette students in the exhibit, including student-guided tours.

“Getting the students involved and giving tours gives the museum a more personal feel, and reminds people that the museum is part of the university,” Atherton said.

She is currently in two of De Mambro Santos’ classes, and is involved in a round table discussion with students and professors called “Café Imago.”

“It shows how personal the art history department is and our professors are really interested in getting to know our opinions on things outside the classroom, which is really nice,” Atherton said. “I don’t have that with any other departments I’m involved in.”

She said that the art history department has had a difficult transition since being moved to Ford Hall as part of the department relocating process occurring throughout the University this summer.

“This [exhibit] is a really big victory for us, because we just want to show that our department is a really unique and special part of Willamette, and we have a wonderful faculty that really deserves the recognition that Ricardo is getting,” Atherton said.

“We’re all adjusting to being in Ford, and I think that this is kind of helping to create a more unified community for our department.”

This story was published as part of the Northwest News Network, a media connection project in which The Pioneer shares stories with newspapers at other liberal arts colleges in Oregon and Washington. See more at www.whitmanpioneer.com/nw-news

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