These are not words I’ve ever uttered before, but found myself saying them at lunchtime today at Dulwich Picture Gallery where the final St Sebastian painting by Guido Reni was being moved into the gallery and hung alongside five others including the gallery’s own. The only other St Sebastian painting by Reni is in the Louvre and too fragile to travel.
What was absolutely fascinating was the process of uncrating the painting, watching its pale blue wooden case being unscrewed, then an inner packing layer being unscrewed as well and the painting finally being carefully lifted out of its box (with white gloves) and leaned against the wall. It was then carefully examined by gallery staff with several lights to check its condition (a report is written) and several of the staff immediately started comparing brush strokes and techniques between the newly unpacked painting and those already on display.
The pale blue of the custom-built packing crate is apparently not random – it’s part of a system being introduced where each gallery has its own trademark colour – to help find the crate when it is packed with others en route. About four art handlers worked on moving yesterday’s painting, which had arrived from New Zealand. Their work can be varied: today it might be a fragile painting, but recently one of them was involved in putting together a contemporary work involving a quantity of petroleum jelly.
The St Sebastian exhibition runs at the gallery between February 5 and May 11. Other paintings are from Genoa’s Palazzo Rosso, Rome’s Pinacoteca Capitolina, Madrid’s Museo del Prado, Puerto Rico’s Museo de Arte de Ponce and Auckland’s Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.