The Italian Almanac

The Coronation of the Virgin - by Neri Di Bicci

Italian Art - April 18

A 15th century painting that turned up in a church storage closet 50 years ago was escorted back to St. James Cathedral in Seattle on Sunday with song and pageantry after being carefully restored. A parade of children, choirs, bagpipes and banners accompanied the painting by Italian artist Neri Di Bicci from a downtown civic center to the cathedral, where it was blessed in front of a crowd that included a small delegation from Italy.

The painting, titled "Virgin and Child with Six Saints," had been at the Seattle Art Museum for the past two years, where it underwent restoration, then was featured in an exhibit of Renaissance devotional art. But just how the painting ended up at the Seattle cathedral is still a mystery.

The 4-by-5-foot painting was believed to have been a gift to St. James in the 1930s or '40s. It was discovered in a storage room during a 1950s renovation of the church. It then hung in the chapel until the early 1990s, when Seattle conservator Elizabeth Darrow recognized its historic significance.

In 1992, the painting was removed from the chapel for cleaning and research after a fire elsewhere in the building. The work was taken for restoration after a Di Bicci expert from Florence, who transcribed and published the artist's 600-year-old diary, confirmed the painting's authenticity.