WELCOME BACK TO THE BOSTON AREA
We’re going to an area with two of the best universities in the USA – maybe the world and therefore a lot of smart people. As you will learn, it’s not Boston but a city in its own right.
It is also a story of how the discovery of a previously unknown painting by Raphael, the Italian Renaissance master, went from media sensation to a career-destroying scandal.
Join me as I’ll take you to Cambridge Massachusetts. In a nice quiet green residential area, I meet Belinda Rathbone and her old dog, Ink.
It was one of you guys that introduced me to Belinda. When I was in the area, I made a post on The Radio Vagabond‘s Facebook page basically just saying: “I’m in New England – does any of you know of some interesting people, I should meet?”
A listener, Kaare in Denmark wrote:
“Yes, you should meet Belinda Rathbone in Boston. Her son is my half-brother, but I haven’t met her myself. Anyway, she wrote a book about her father, who used to be the director of a prestigious art museum in Boston. The book is about a scandal where he got a Rafael painting smuggled out of Italy to his museum. Something they fired him for”.
Now that piqued my interest, so he introduced me – and here I am in her wonderful living room with a cup of coffee and her dog, Ink by my side.
FROM THE MID-WEST TO CAMBRIDGE
Belinda has lived in Cambridge almost all her life, but she was born in Saint Louis, where her father was the director of Saint Louis Art Museum. Do you remember my episode from Saint Louis? It’s #62 in case you want to listen to it after listening to this one. Here I tried to visit the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. Twice. The first time it had closed a few minutes earlier and the second time, I came on a day when it wasn’t open at all.
I didn’t mention this to Belinda. I guess I was a bit embarrassed to say I never made it there. Just because I didn’t check the opening hours before driving half an hour from where I lived. And did it twice.
She moved here to Cambridge with her family because her father got offered a very prestigious job. Cambridge is a city with all the smart people. They came from the Mid-West, and that could be a problem. Some people here sometimes feel better and can be quite dismissive about people from the Mid-West. As Belinda puts it: The Mid-West is a fly-over area for the coastal people.
BELINDA RATHBONE THE AUTHOR
It was back in December 1969, when he and the museum made headlines around the world when he announced the acquisition of an unknown and uncatalogued painting by the famous Italian Renaissance master, Raphael. It was a coup for the museum, but it turned into a nightmare and he faced the most challenging crossroads of his thirty-year career.
Perry T. Rathbone managed to get the painting and he was the man of the hour – if not the man of the decade for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when the painting was unveiled and put on the wall behind a red velvet rope with the world press reporting about it.
The painting itself is a tiny portrait of an adolescent girl with a moon-pale face and almond eyes, exquisitely dressed in Renaissance finery. It’s small, only eight by ten inches – in centimetres it’s around 20 x 25. So, smaller than a piece of A4 paper.
FROM MEDIA SENSATION TO SCANDAL
All was good – Until it wasn’t.
In the episode, you can hear Belinda tell the story. How do you even find an unknown Rafael painting – and then how do you get it from Italy to Boston.
But the biggest problem was that experts on both sides of the Atlantic lined up to debate the artwork’s very authenticity.
The scandal led him to resign as director of the museum.
Belinda Rathbone’s book is a compelling, behind-the-scenes story that reveals how the art world, media, and museums work.
It’s a story about what actually happened and about a daughter’s search for the truth. And if you like stories of the business of art, you should check out Belinda’s book:
”The Boston Raphael” with the subtitle ”A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change & a Daughter’s Search for the Truth”.
NEXT STOP MAINE
Next week we are going more rural than I’ve been in a very long time. We’re going to spend a few days with Ben at his Blueberry farm in Maine. And I’m so looking forward to that.
My name is Palle Bo and I gotta keep moving. See ya.
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I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
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Either way, I would love to hear from you. It’s so nice to know who’s on the other end of this.