New light, and a new angle, for MIA sculpture

New research on a sculpture in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has resulted in a shift of about 100 years and 45 degrees.


Saint Paul the Hermit, before restoration

St. Paul The Hermit was acquired by the MIA in 1973; at the time it was believed to be a work of Italian sculptor Francesco Mochi (1580-1654). But experts recognized the hermit differed from Mochi’s other pieces.

And even those with an untrained eye had to ask – why does the hermit look like he’s about to dive into a lake?

MIA curator Eike Schmidt began investigating the history of the sculpture in 2010, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the hermit was NOT by Mochi, but by the lesser known Andrea Bergondi in 1775, more than a hundred years later than previously thought.

According to an article by Schmidt for an upcoming edition of the MIA’s member magazine, a handwritten note in the MIA’s old index-card catalogue bearing John Pope-Hennessy‘s attribution of the sculpture to Bergondi provided the clue for the correct identification.

It represents the first hermit saint of the Christian church, Saint Paul (not to be confused with the Apostle Paul), who in the third century retreated to the Egyptian desert near Luxor to live a solitary life dedicated to the worship of God.

That’s right, he’s worshipping – NOT swimming.

Over the past year and a half, with the help of the Midwest Art Conservation Center, the MIA has painstakingly restored the sculpture, removing blocks of stone that add been added by a previous owner in the 1960s to create a solid base. MIA staff then repositioned Saint Paul so that he stands more upright. Suddenly those hands aren’t preparing for a dive – they’re praying.


Saint Paul the Hermit, after restoration

Much better, don’t you think?

Starting Saturday you can pay a visit to Saint Paul, and learn more about his restoration, and the church he came from. He’ll be on display in the Cargill Gallery.