All the early books about Cincinnati brag about St. Peter in Chains’ old altarpiece, a painting by Murillo of “St. Peter Liberated by an Angel.” (From the Acts of the Apostles.) It was taken as spoils from Spain during the Peninsular Wars, and eventually came into the hands of Joseph Cardinal Fesch (Napoleon’s mom’s half-brother and an avid art collector), who gave the picture to Bishop Fenwick. A lot of sources seem to think that’s why it went from just “St. Peter’s” to “St. Peter in Chains”, so you’d think you’d want to continue to show off the painting.

Now, some of the old decor of St. Peter in Chains went to the Cincinnati Art Museum, but not apparently not this. (They do have a Murillo of St. Thomas Villanueva as a boy, passing out his clothes to more needy kids.)

Here’s a version of the same subject at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. (But Murillo painted popular subjects again and again, so that doesn’t mean much. Look at how many Immaculate Conceptions he did. There’s another, older St. Thomas Villanueva in a museum in Seville.)

Did it turn out to be a fake?

Was it sold for some good purpose back in the day?

Was it loaned or given to an art museum somewhere, to avoid insurance, theft, and taxes?

Are they calling it something different, so I’m missing it when I search?

Is it hanging around some diocesan building somewhere, and they just don’t think enough of it to mention it on any websites?

I like me some Murillo and some local history, so I’m curious.

Cardinal Fesch gave Bishop Fenwick 12 paintings in all, according to the 1929 archdiocesan history. I’d like to know what they were, too.

Also, the archdiocesan history says St. Peter in Chains had paintings of “Descent from the Cross”, the “Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin”, “St. Jerome listening to the trumpet of the Last Judgment”, “Christ in the Garden,” and the “Flight into Egypt”. It says they were “by some of the first artists in Europe.” (And that not a drop of alcohol was consumed in the construction site during the building of the cathedral.) They must be hanging in some church somewhere, right?

And why does St. Monica’s in Clifton not mention on their website history that they served as Cincinnati’s cathedral for a while, before the renovation of St. Peter in Chains in the Fifties? You’d think they’d be proud of that.

UPDATE: St. Monica’s does mention it. Sorry!

UPDATE: The old cathedral on Sycamore Street also contained “some valuable Italian paintings” hanging between the side windows. Early on, the altarpiece was “an excellent painting of the Rosary by the Flemish artist Verschoot.” Obviously, they were crawling in painting donations….

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