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Post: The de Brecy Tondo, Madonna and Child at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, July 2023 – January 2024

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The de Brecy Tondo, Madonna and Child at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, July 2023 – January 2024

Bradford District Museums and Galleries staff were both intrigued and delighted when Timothy Benoy, Honorary Secretary of the de Brécy Trust, contacted Cartwright Hall Art Gallery generously offering the de Brécy Tondo as a loan.

The story of the Tondo (meaning a circular painting or relief) is a compelling one. Is it by an un-named artist or is it by the prestigious, High Renaissance artist, Raphael (b.1483 – d.1520)? It’s a mix of an art collector’s instinct, painstaking research into provenance and the close examination of the painting’s materials and artist’s techniques. It culminates with the current expert use of artificial intelligence assisted facial recognition techniques. The AI technology is being developed as a tool to aid the identification and authentication of works of art. The research is being pioneered by Professor Ugail and a team at the University of Bradford and is receiving significant interest worldwide. It has also opened the debate of how AI fits in with, and how it will be accepted by, traditional art connoisseur and scholarship.

The de Brécy website contains extensive detail regarding the background and research into the painting. Read about the provenance, technical data on the canvas support (flax with a tight, plain tabby weave of a very good quality), the Pedimenti (underdrawings), pigment analysis and A.I findings. https://www.debrecy.org.uk/tondo.spt

Also see the article by Professor Ugail, University of Bradford: https://www.bradford.ac.uk/news/archive/2023/mystery-portrait-is-undoubtedly-raphael-masterpiece-according-to-new-scientific-analysis.php

The serene image of the Madonna and Child is on display at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery from 25th July 2023 to 3rd January 2024. Admission to all Bradford District Museums and Galleries is gloriously free!

Tondo. Credit: de Brécy Trust

THE COLLECTOR:  GEORGE LESTER WINWARD (1933-1997)

In 1977 George Lester Winward (Lester to all his friends) began to attend auction sales of art and his interest in art collecting commenced.  In December 1981, he and one of his sons attended a country- house auction sale at Leeswood Hall, near Mold, North Wales, and he was attracted to and successfully bid for the Tondo.

Credit: de Brécy Trust

It was catalogued as After Raphael.  The Madonna and Child. Tondo. Oil on Canvas. 95 cm diameter.  Winward hung the painting in his stairwell, and not knowing much about Raphael, he began studying books on the artist.

With the assistance of his Company’s photographer, who took a wide range of photographs of the picture from every conceivable angle and variety of lighting conditions, he became convinced that the Tondo was Raphael’s prototype for his Sistine Madonna altarpiece. 

Credit: The Sistine Madonna by Raphael, c. Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammiungen Dresden, Photo: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut

Winward began research to prove that the painting was by Raphael and instructed his solicitor Timothy Benoy to assist him with the legal aspects of the quest.

Sadly, business stresses and the huge pressures involved in this endeavour, both emotionally and in terms of financing the research, took its toll on Lester’s health.  Lester began to succumb to diabetes, with loss of his mobility and worsening eyesight. Eventually, his sight failed completely and he was unable to view his collection of paintings that he had built up from over a decade of collecting nor read works from his research library, but his enthusiasm for the Tondo never wavered.  In 1995, two years before he died, Winward set up the charitable de Brécy Trust to continue the research into the Tondo and the collection.  From 1995 to the present, his research has continued to be undertaken by the de Brécy trustees and the Trust’s honorary professional advisers.   

THE RESEARCH: UNIVERSITY OF BRADFORD 

Professor Howell Edwards. Credit: KM Images Ltd

Statement of Professor Howell Edwards, M.A., D.Phil., B.Sc., C.Chem., FRSC, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Spectroscopy:

“In September 2004 I undertook Raman spectroscopy analysis of paint samples from the de Brécy Trust’s tondo painting of the Madonna and Child.  The analysis found clear evidence of the use of the yellow (lead monoxide, PbO) pigment massicot.  This pigment is considered to be in pre-17th century usage by artists.  The presence of lead white was also registered in the analysis.  The analysis also indicated that the medium was not an oil or resin nor made from gum, animal glue or egg white.  It is therefore most likely to be of a vegetable-derived, starch based glue (considered to be typical of Renaissance practice).

From these analytical findings, I am entirely confident that the Tondo painting is consistent with an early, pre-1700 Renaissance work”.

Professor Hassan Ugail. Credit: KM Images Ltd.

Statement of Professor Hassan Ugail, PhD., PGCE., BSc (Hons). Director of the Centre for Visual Computing:

“Modern artificial intelligence assisted facial recognition systems utilise a technique called ‘deep learning’, whereby millions of facial images are fed to a machine learning algorithm which learns ‘deep’ features and characteristics of the human face. These features may be the physical attributes (e.g. shapes, colours and textures of the face) but also include many (potentially thousands) of features which cannot be described visually or physically. In this sense, the analysis carried out through these facial recognition systems can compare two images in much greater detail and can outperform humans.

The algorithm undertook a very deep analysis of the images of the faces of Madonna and Child in the de Brécy Tondo and the Sistine Madonna, which went beyond the human visual system. It looked at the image colours, textures and key features in hundreds of dimensions and also looked very deeply into both the physical and non-physical characteristics of the images being compared to arrive at a conclusion. A similarity above 75 per cent is considered identical. The algorithm reported a 97 per cent similarity in the faces of the Madonna and the 86 per cent similarity in the faces of the Child.

In addition to deep face recognition, artificial intelligence assisted analysis of the whole painting of the de Brécy Tondo was carried out. This analysis included comparing colour, texture, tonal values, hue, saturation and the distribution of “key” values as well as fine brushstroke analysis in comparison to confirmed authentic paintings by Raphael. The comparison algorithm reported a similarity value of 99 per cent.

From the results of these analyses, I conclude that the de Brécy Tondo was undoubtedly by the same artist, Raphael.”

Timothy Benoy & Bill Edwards, Hon. Secretary & Trustees of The de Brécy Trust & Professor Ugail. Credit: KM Images Ltd.

Bradford District Museums and Galleries would like to thank The de Brécy Trust for their very generous loan.