Missing 17th century masterpiece discovered in Westchester County church

NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- A painting that had been lost to art historians for decades was recently discovered at a church in Westchester County.

Workers on Monday carefully hung a valuable 17th-century oil-on-canvas masterpiece in the Ryan Library at Iona College.

But how it got there - and the man who found it - is the real story.

"I knew immediately that a quest had begun," said Tom Ruggio.

Ruggio teaches art history at Iona. During a visit last year to the nearby Church of the Holy Family, located only a few blocks away from campus, he saw the painting and was stunned.

"And I realized immediately it was an Italian Baroque painting," Ruggio said. "And I sort of did a double-take, why is it here? I immediately got up and started to take to some bad pictures with my cellphone."

Ruggio sent those pictures to art history colleagues in Italy and Manhattan.



They connected the 46-by-57-inch artwork as one in a series of paintings by Cesare Dandini.

They date back to the 1630s. This particular painting is called "Holy Family with the Infant St. John."

"Central figures are the Virgin Mary and the Christ child," Ruggio said. "We've got Joseph and we have the infant St. John. Saint John the Baptist."

For years art historians thought the painting was missing. But for the last six decades, it was in New Rochelle at the Holy Family Church.

How it got there is a story in and of itself.

"The former pastor Monsignor Fitzgerald went over to I believe London and was going through different galleries because he wanted to get paintings for over the door here and on the other side of the church," said Msgr. Dennis Keane with Church of the Holy Family. "He purchased two of these paintings in a gallery, but we don't know the name of the gallery."

The monsignor and his parish council agreed to loan the masterpiece to the college library where it will hang for the next three months.

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