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Very rare engraving on a drawing by Van Dyck rediscovered in Palermo

The discovery was made in the ancient book fund in the Library of Palazzo Branciforte in Palermo, headquarters of the Sicily Foundation. The work titled Rosalie Virgins Panormitanae Paestis Patronae depicts Saint Rosalie appears to belong to a very rare collection of engravings made in 1629 by Philips de Mallery on a drawing by Antoon van Dyck. This is an exceptional discovery that came about thanks to the research work conducted by two professors at the University of Palermo: Maria Concetta Di Natale and Sergio Intorre. These experts have identified the engraving during the scientific research preparatory to the creation of the exhibition The Ecstasies of Santa Rosalia, an exhibition dedicated to the enigmatic figure of St. Rosalie, set up in the Villa Zito Art Gallery from February 24 to May 19, 2024

The exceptionality of the event lies in Antoon Van Dyck's biography. The master embarked on a long journey to Italy with several stops in the major Italian cities starting from Genoa, a center of activity for his master Rubens, then passing through Rome, Florence, Venice, Mantua and finally Palermo. The painter moved to Palermo in April 1624 at the behest of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, viceroy of Sicily, who commissioned him a portrait. The Sicilian period was marked by the rediscovery of the relics of Saint Rosalie, on July 15 of the same year, who became the patron saint of the city and thus the protagonist of countless Palermitan commissions, including several canvases by Anton Van Dyck that were supposed to depict the saint. Paintings of which only one Saint Rosalie Crowned by Angels is known today and still preserved at Palazzo Abatellis

Anton van Dyck, S. Rosaliae Virginis Panormitanae Pestis Patronæ iconibus expressa, incisione di Philips de Mallery, Palermo, 1629
Anton van Dyck, "S. Rosaliae Virginis Panormitanae Pestis Patronæ iconibus expressa", engraving by Philips de Mallery, Palazzo Branciforte's library, Palermo,1629

Researchers claim to have found the engraving within the fifth edition of the collection of prayers dedicated to Santa Rosalia (1708), Crown of roses and lilies interwoven with various Devotions to be offered to the Most Glorious Romitella Santa Rosalia Vergine Palermitana, which belonged to Father Domenico Stanislao Alberti, bind together with a small volume by Alberti.

The volume represents an incredible enrichment to our knowledge of the iconography of Saint Rosalie, as well as a testament to the ongoing commitment of the Sicily Foundation in the area of research and enhancement of local cultural heritage. The institution's president, Raffaele Bonsignore, expressed all his happiness for this «absolutely exceptional identification that restores to the history of art a real hidden treasure». The edition joins the only two other known copies, respectively preserved in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Landesbibliothek in Oldenburg.

The happy event augurs the start of the 2024 program of the Sicily Foundation, focused on promoting initiatives aimed at enhancing and bringing the public closer to the incredible Sicilian cultural heritage brimming with collections, palaces, libraries and undiscovered treasures.


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