This bizarre painting caught my eye on ebay. I found the kooky composition beguiling. Such an odd arrangement of figures. And so many hands! What on earth is going on here?

Judging by the awkward composition, deliberately slicing through the figure on the right, I instantly came to the conclusion that this was a detail of a much larger painting. A fragment from a chopped up painting perhaps? Probably not, as the seller described the painting as not having any paint showing around the edges of the canvas. But surely the artist didn’t intend to paint one of the figures in half like that. Whatever it was, I was won over by its kookiness and had to have it. My bid won, and thankfully it didn’t even reach my highest bid (always a bonus).

On its arrival, closer inspection confirmed 2 things. It was not a fragment from a larger painting. The seller was correct, there is no paint along the edges of the canvas. Luckily it is mounted in such a way that these are visible so this could be determined. Secondly, it has some age. The wood and the condition of the canvas shows this. So it wasn’t painted recently.

So what is going on here? My guess is that this is someone’s copy of a detail of a larger old master. You often see artists and students setting up their easels in art galleries in front of well known works. It is a common practice for artists to learn from the best, up close, scrutinising each stroke in an attempt to replicate the original artist’s technique. I’m guessing that is what this is. But from which painting?

So, to the detective work…

It appears to me to be religious in theme. The central figure is praying. The disembodied hand hovering Monty Python style top centre looks like it might be blessing the baby. Is the baby Jesus? If it is, I don’t recall any children being present at the nativity, and they don’t appear to be portrayed as angels. Maybe this is a donor painting and the two children are members of the family who commissioned the painting. But those over sized hands certainly aren’t dainty enough to be the Virgin Mary. So just an ordinary baby then?

Judging by the pleats, the dress of the central figure looks Italian, possibly Medieval or Renaissance. But the fancy cuff of the hand looks Georgian, but it’s not uncommon to see modern dress in allegorical paintings.

I will do a bit of trawling and see if I can find what painting this has been taken from.

There is a signature along the left edge. Looks like the name ‘Stuart’ then something else illegible.

Watch this space…

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