Madonna with the Christ Child by Salvi (known as Sassaferrato)
17th century Italian painter
Recently reconstructed from photographs, the original having been destroyed in the Blitz (see below)
MADONNA WITH THE CHRISTCHILD
The Recreation of Dr Thomas Bowdler’s Legacy
“Whereas I am possessed of an invaluable picture of the Virgin Mary and our infant Saviour, my wish is that it may be placed after my death, as an altar piece in the chancel of my Parish Church of St Mary, Swansea. For this purpose I leave the mentioned picture in trust to the following persons viz: The Bishop of St David’s (for the time being) , the Impropriator of the Rectorial tithes, the Vicar and the two Church Wardens all of Swansea for the time being…….”
Before his death in 1825, the famous nineteenth moralist Dr Thomas Bowdler left the sum of £100 to carry out his wishes as stated in terms of his legacy and reproduced above as an extract. Dr Bowdler was in fact buried in Oystermouth Church for, although St Mary’s was his Parish Church, the Swansea Churchyard was deemed to be full. In addition his was the last coffin to be carried to Oystermouth for burial by the old traditional route : across Swansea Bay at low tide.
Clergy often search far and wide for their illustrations in sermons. Revd Kenneth Padley, the recent Curate at St Mary’s was no exception, finding a photographic illustration of the painting by Sassoferatto in a 19th Journal he had been referring to in the Swansea Museum for his studies on the history of St Mary’s. He was able to trace this picture as being among several valuable possessions of the church that were destroyed between 19-21st February 1941, when the church and much of the city centre was blitzed in devastating German air-raids.
The sharing of this discovery immediately fired my imagination. Several days later attending the unveiling of a new window in the Swansea Institute of Art and Design, with the Vicar of St Mary’s, Revd Andrew Vessey, I was able to begin to develop and sow the seeds of an exciting project. The unveiling of the new window had been in honour of the historic link between Dynevor School, the Old Dyvorians and the Institute, now itself part of the new Swansea Metropolitan University. In being shown around the Department by Professor Andrea Liggins, it was clear that the technical expertise and equipment existed right here in Swansea in order to re-create the long-lost picture. Following an interview with Stephen White and Mark Cocks, it transpired that an image could be formed from out of the much smaller, black and white photographic reproduction, incredibly promising an authentic copy of the painter’s original palette of colours. In the process of discovering his pigment range there were also uncovered some subtle features of the painter’s composition that had become lost or obscured over the process of time.
The above endeavours were brought together in a generous handing-over ceremony when the completed and framed work was brought to St Mary’s by members of the Institute. The picture is destined to hang within the St Anne’s Chapel, able to once more become an altar painting and inspire the devotions of the faithful. It has been a marvellous project with which to develop links between the Parish Church and new University. It has also shown us that Sassoferatto was a master of his craft, whose skills in some ways have been matched by today’s technicians and craftsmen on the staff of The Institute.
This remarkable recreation has been a particular thrill for myself, a sort of dream-come-true, producing an appropriate focus for meditation and worship in St Mary’s, while at the same time being dedicated to the memory of my late wife Margaret Anne.
Deus Gracia - Sid Kidwell, February 2008
Lord Mayor’s Warden, St Mary, Swansea