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Major painting by Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa identified at Hearst Castle
From L to R: Museum Technician Toby Selyem; Museum Curator II Frank Young; and Museum Custodian Steve Brough. ©Hearst Castle®/CA State Parks.

SAN SIMEON, CA.- A painting of the Annunciation, one of the most prominent works of art (approx. 8 feet high x 5 feet wide) in the Assembly Room at Hearst Castle, has been securely identified as a masterpiece by the Spanish painter Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa (c. 1634 - 1698). Primarily known for his floral still-lifes, Pérez was named painter to King Charles II in 1689. Only a few large-scale figural compositions by him exist.

“This is a major new discovery for the oeuvre of Pérez,” remarked Mary Levkoff, museum director at Hearst Castle. “Thanks to the keen attention of Carson Cargill and Laurel Rodger, two of our guides responsible for public education, the signature and inscription were noticed in the raking light of late autumn.”

The painting at Hearst Castle is signed on the Virgin’s lectern with an abbreviation of the artist’s name and his title: “ P.z / Pic[t]or Reg[is].” An inscription in the lower left corner provides the name of the patron and the date: “Este Nra. Sra. dela Encarnacion puso por s[u] devocion Joseh. de Barrios criado de su Mag.d en su Guarda Vieja, ano de 1690.”

Dr. Dawson Carr (curator of European art at the Portland Museum of Art), an authority on Spanish Baroque painting, confirmed the translation of the inscription and explained that colateral refers to a whole collateral (side) altar, and the Guarda Vieja was the “old guard” of pensioner soldiers who were still able to serve the royal family, thus: “This collateral [altar] of our Lady of the Incarnation was set up through the devotion of José de Barrios, servant of His Majesty in his Old Guard in the year 1690.”

Although the painting had undergone two conservation treatments in the past, the inscriptions were never reported. The Annunciation and its pendant in the Assembly Room, a Crucifixion which was likely painted by another artist, were purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1927 from Cannell and Chaffin, a decorating firm in Los Angeles. Because the earlier history of Hearst Castle’s two altarpieces is still unknown, the church for which the Annunciation was intended remains a mystery.

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