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Domenichino masterpiece returns to Dulwich as a fitting climax to the Gallery's bicentenary
Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri), The Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1607-10, Oil on canvas, 143 x 115cm, National Gallery of Scotland.
LONDON.- For the first time since 1971, Domenichino’s masterpiece returns to Dulwich to close the celebrations of the Bicentenary. Domenichino’s The Adoration of the Shepherds, believed in the eighteenth century to be the work of Annibale Carracci, was one of the most highly-prized paintings in the collection of Noel Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois, the Gallery’s founders, in their house in Charlotte Street, London. The canvas was arguably the most important Italian seventeenth-century painting left by Desenfans and Bourgeois to Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1811.

The decision of the Governors of Dulwich College to sell the painting at auction on 24 March 1971 was heavily criticised by the public and press at the time and became a topic of heated dicussion, as the will and donation of Sir Francis Bourgeois was openly contradicted. The loss of this significant painting was mitigated by the fact that the canvas was acquired by the National Gallery of Scotland and was secured for a public institution in the United Kingdom.

Based on drawings by Carracci and possibly even on a lost painting by the master, The Adoration of the Shepherds is one of the masterpieces of Domenichino’s early career, while he still worked closely with Carracci. A nocturne in the spirit of the Renaissance master Correggio, this sublime nativity scene marks the two hundredth Christmas of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the institution in which it was publicly displayed for more than a hundred and sixty years as part of the founding bequest.

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Gallery of Scotland, said: “We hope that the return - albeit fleeting - of this festive painting to what might be claimed as its original home will prove a fitting climax to the Bicentenary celebration.”

The masterpiece will be on display from 6 December 2011 - 8 January 2012.

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