Spanish masterpiece found in dark corner at Oakland University

Murillo's 'Infant St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness' found hanging at Meadowbrook Hall

By Mara MacDonald - Reporter

ROCHESTER, Mich. - A painting worth millions of dollars done by a Spanish master has been found hanging in a dark corner in Meadowbrook Hall.

Titled the "Infant St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness," it was found by sheer happenstance by a Detroit Institute of Arts curator.

Dr. Salvador Salort-Pons is an expert in Old Masters paintings. Originally from Madrid, Spain, he was lured to the DIA to oversee collection strategies.

"The DIA owns one of the best collections of Old Masters in the United States and as a curator this collection is a dream place to work," Salort-Pons said.

It's no surprise he was asked to give a lecture at Oakland University. As he was walking through Meadowbrook Hall he saw something that made his heart stop hanging in a dark corner of one of the rooms.

"When I saw it I thought that looks like a painting by Murillo. I ran up to it, I had a flashlight with me and started examining the painting," he said.

It is, in fact, a work by Spanish master Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Commissioned in 1670 for a wealthy merchant from Genoa, the painting then made its way across Europe and into the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

In the 1920s, Matilda Dodge Wilson and her husband, lumber baron Alfred Wilson, bought the piece from Christie's in New York. It has been hanging in Meadowbrook Hall ever since and its importance lost to time.

Salort-Pons let Meadowbrook and Oakland University know what kind of treasure they had on their hands.

Now, the painting is being restored by the experts at the DIA. That's no small undertaking. It will take months to get the masterpiece cleaned and ready for viewing.

Oakland University and the DIA have agreed to show the piece in one of the premier galleries for the next five years. It should be unveiled in early February of next year.

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