Summer 1954 - In the underground areas of Milan's Duomo, dating back centuries, a painting, a large canvas measuring three by two metres, was found lying above an old cupboard; after it was taken to the workshops of the Veneranda Fabbrica and restored to its original range of colours, it aroused the “debate on Tintoretto”. The style of the 16th century Venetian School was clear, and the painting was immediately subjected to observation by experts, who used special machinery to assess the composition of its colours and technical peculiarities.
Who painted the “Dispute of Jesus with the Doctors”? It was Professor Francesco Arcangeli of Bologna who first named the painter: “It's a Tintoretto!” Without any further doubt it was recognised as the work of Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto, who is thought to have painted the canvas when he was a young man, aged about 25. The interest aroused increased exponentially when two portraits of illustrious personages of the time were recognised in the painting: Titian in the group on the left, wrapped in a light-coloured cape, who is shown turning round; Michelangelo in the foreground, leaning over the book, and the self-portrait of Tintoretto himself, behind Titian, looking towards the spectators.
The “Dispute”, together with two other paintings, were part of the collection bequeathed by Cardinal Cesare Monti to his successors in February 1650. After finding the first Tintoretto, the second was quickly found in the picture gallery in the Archbishop's apartments in the midst of many other paintings. “The Adulteress” was confirmed as a late work by Tintoretto.
A search was then made for the third Tintoretto, but it was difficult to find due to the tribulations that the art treasures had undergone. Mons. Lanella of Milan never gave up hope, searching for the painting himself. By consulting old documents, he discovered that several pictures from the famous Monti collection had been transferred to the Brera Art Gallery, but there was no trace of a “Holy Family”, the subject of the painting. The most probable explanations put forward were that the painting was either destroyed during the bombings in 1943 or that it was taken to Austria or Germany.
In the meantime, the “Dispute” was put on show at the Museo del Duomo in Milan, in Palazzo Reale, where it can still be admired in the Borromeo Rooms from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
For visits, please consult our website www.duomomilano.it on the Visit Us page⇒.