Tom Ruggio often sat in solitude at the Church of the Holy Family which is located just a few blocks from the campus of Iona College.
Ruggio who has lived in Italy for about nine years studying art could not believe what his eyes saw at the church.
Ruggio said, “Up in the middle of the church, high up on the right side, I immediately identified an Italian Baroque painting, and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. So, I got up and started taking pictures with my cell phone and I was very excited. I was initially stunned, but very excited.”
He quickly contacted colleagues in Italy and came to learn that the painting was a piece by Cesare Dandini, called “Holy Family with the Infant St. John.”
The art piece has been hanging in the church for the past 60 years, but as per Ruggio’s estimate, it was painted in the 1630s, based on some other works of art.
The painting is part of a series of four works called “Charity.”
One of the works of the collection hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, with a creation date around the same time. While the third is in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The final painting is still unaccounted for. Ruggio said that the only proof of its existence is a black and white photo.
Ruggio adds, “The four paintings are connected and, fascinatingly enough to me, is doing something that most Baroque painters aren’t doing anymore in the 17th century. Many of them are going straight to the canvas. So my contention is, he’s part of a Renaissance legacy and continuing the tradition of working on paper.”
The question remains how did the painting end up in the church all these years? Well, it remains a mystery, Ruggio said. Rumors suggest that the painting may have been brought abroad by one of the church’s former monsignors in the 1960s, he added.
The painting is being loaned to Iona College for three months in an exhibit on campus. It’s free for the public and includes reproductions of the corresponding works and some works that explain Dandini’s development and his process.