An Italian Masterpiece from the 17th Century Found in a Random New York Church

"I realized immediately it was an Italian Baroque painting," said the unsuspecting art history professor who recognized the work.

A Italian masterwork was hanging in the church since the 1960s.
The 17th century masterpiece had been hanging in the church since the 1960s. WABC

In a stroke of good fortune, an Italian Baroque painting by the artist Cesare Dandini was discovered in New Rochelle, New York early last year by an unsuspecting Iona College art history professor. The academic, Tom Ruggio, recently recounted his story, saying that as soon as he laid eyes on the canvas, he was certain that “a quest had begun.” While visiting the Church of the Holy Family, a place of worship located close to Iona College, Ruggio was stunned to lay eyes on a painting that was very much like similar ones in churches he’d seen when visiting Italy. Upon closer investigation, Ruggio became certain that the painting was authentic.

“I realized immediately it was an Italian Baroque painting,” Ruggio told ABC7. “And I sort of did a double take, why is it here? I immediately got up and started to take some bad pictures with my cellphone.” Using his art history connections, Ruggio sent the images to colleagues in Italy and Manhattan, who determined that the canvas was one in a series of paintings completed by Dandini in the 1630s. The painting, entitled Holy Family with the Infant St. John, features beautifully rendered Biblical figures.

The “central figures are the Virgin Mary and the Christ child,” Ruggio explained. “We’ve got Joseph and we have the infant St. John. Saint John the Baptist.” For years, experts and art enthusiasts believed that the painting had been missing, but it was in the Church of the Holy Family for more than six decades. For the next three months, the painting will be on display at Iona College.

How did the painting get to the church? “The former pastor Monsignor Fitzgerald went over to I believe London and was going through different galleries because he wanted to get paintings for over the door here and on the other side of the church,” Dennis Keane, a Monsignor with the Church of the Holy Family, explained. “He purchased two of these paintings in a gallery, but we don’t know the name of the gallery.” An Italian Masterpiece from the 17th Century Found in a Random New York Church