Visita della regina di Saba al re Salomone (1599)

Fontana, Lavinia (1552-1614)

Visita della regina di Saba al re Salomone (The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon)
1599
Oil on canvas, 256 x 325 cm
National Gallery of IrelandDublin

In 1872, just eight years after first opening its doors, the National Gallery of Ireland purchased The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon by sixteenth-century Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. The painting was the first work by a woman artist knowingly acquired by the Gallery (preceded only by the portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola, which was purchased eight years earlier but then attributed to a male contemporary). Fontana herself was a person of many firsts – the first female artist to achieve professional success outside a convent or a court, the first woman to be accepted into the prestigious Accademia di San Luca in Rome, the first woman to paint large-scale public altarpieces and female nudes, and the first documented female artist to have her own workshop.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon is today recognised as one of the crown jewels of the Gallery’s collection, and has been on display more-or-less continuously for over 150 years. Extraordinarily detailed and widely recognised as the most important and ambitious composition that Fontana ever painted, the monumental canvas has experienced a colourful and mysterious history since its creation over 400 years ago. With the generous support of the Bank of America Art Conservation Project, the National Gallery of Ireland were able to embark on an eighteen-month research and conservation project on this important work, exploring unanswered questions regarding the painting’s provenance and production, and restoring it to its former glory. (NGI)