Cornell Fine Arts Museum Unveils Its Newest Old Master Painting

Rollins College’s Cornell Fine Arts Museum acquires an early work by Neapolitan Master Francesco Solimena for its permanent collection.

Francesco Solimena (1657–1747)                       
Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Indians, ca. 1680–85
Oil on canvas
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Purchased by the Michel Roux Acquisitions Fund, in honor of Kenneth Murrah. 
Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Indians, ca. 1680–85 Oil on canvas Cornell Fine Arts Museum Purchased by the Michel Roux Acquisitions Fund, in honor of Kenneth Murrah.

The Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) announces its first Old Masters painting acquisition in more than a decade. Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Indians by Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) is a previously unpublished early work (ca. 1680–85) by the master whose dramatic frescoes and altarpieces were among the most famous and highly regarded in the first half of the 18th century in Naples.

“In the 1930s, when serious fine art collecting started at Rollins College, it was spurred by gifts of very significant Italian Renaissance paintings,” says Bruce A. Beal Director of the Museum Ena Heller. “Ninety years later, Old Master paintings continue to be a differentiator for our museum’s collection, and this acquisition reaffirms our continued commitment to building that part of the collection.

Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Indians beautifully illustrates Solimena’s early work, in which the influence of Piero da Cortona and Luca Giordano is evident. The scene represents the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier (1506-1552), who traveled to Mozambique and later to islands off of South Africa and Japan to draw converts to Christianity. He disappeared while on the way to China. He was canonized in 1622 and declared patron of all foreign missions by Pope Pius X at the beginning of the 20th century.

Francesco Solimena was Francesco De Mura’s teacher, whose Visitation (ca. 1750) is part of the CFAM collection. De Mura is the subject of a major exhibition that will open at CFAM in fall 2016 and will subsequently travel nationally; the connection between the two painters was one of the many reasons for this acquisition. Moreover, this painting fills a gap in the Museum’s holdings of works by artists representative of the Baroque style in Europe.

The painting was purchased by the museum in honor of Kenneth Murrah, former chairman of the Board of Visitors, steadfast friend, and generous supporter. It underwent conservation in New York City and will be the subject of a lecture by Rangsook Yoon, Dale Montgomery Fellow at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, on Friday, June 26, at 11 a.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.

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