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What happened to the £100,000 Fake or Fortune painting from Tunstall?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 September 2015

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould in front of the cleaned painting before it was removed

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould in front of the cleaned painting before it was removed

supplied by ther doicese of Blackburn

It was a spell-binding story of a painting, thick with dirt, being revealed as a minor masterpiece. But where has it gone? Roger Borrell reports

The Fake or Fortune team filming at the church of St Johns in Tunstall The Fake or Fortune team filming at the church of St Johns in Tunstall

Millions watched the BBC’s Fiona Bruce and art expert Philip Mould unravel an intriguing art mystery at St John’s Church in the picturesque north Lancashire village of Tunstall.

But few viewers will know what happened next. The pair revealed that an old religious painting, thick with dirt after centuries hanging on the church wall, was the work of Renaissance artist Francesco Montemezzano and worth around £100,000.

It made riveting television as Bruce and Mould travelled between Cambridge, London and Venice in search of clues before Venetian scholars declared the fully restored picture – given to the church in the early 1800s by a former vicar – to be genuine.

But the reaction took everyone by surprise. ‘It was amazing what happened practically as soon as the programme ended,’ said churchwarden Jane Greenhalgh, who set the ball rolling by contacting the makers of the programme, Fake or Fortune.

‘It seemed like everyone wanted to come and see the picture and, in the end, we had to shut the church briefly and remove the picture for security reasons. It was only on show for two days after the programme.’

The church is now open again between 10am and 4pm but, at the time of going to print, visitors had to be content with a copy of Montemezzano’s picture and some postcards of the work, which depicts Christ following the crucifixion.

‘It’s a shame but we had to take it away for security reasons. It’s under lock and key,’ added Jane. ‘It has to be discussed by the Parochial Church Council before we decide what happens next but it is my great wish that it is back on display in the church as soon as is possible.’

That will probably require some form of high security locked frame and an alarm. There might also be insurance implications. ‘We had to take action as there were some silly things appearing on Twitter saying burglars should take note of where to find a valuable painting.

‘That has led to some saying that we should sell it but I’m very much against that. It’s so much part of the history of the church and that’s where it should stay. We can’t give in just because there might be a threat of theft. We shouldn’t be selling off the family silver and, besides, you probably wouldn’t get anything like £100,000 especially after paying the auctioneers 20 per cent and transporting it down to London.

‘Fiona Bruce said it was the most fascinating programme they’d been involved in and it will be a great attraction for our church once it is back in its rightful place on the wall.’

The presenter said: ‘It was filthy and dark but very early on Philip thought it was Venetian because of the style and colours particularly. But now you can see it has jewel-like, enamel-like colours.’

Philip Mould added: ‘The really wonderful thing is this painting was designed to hang in a church, to tell a story and communicate itself to a congregation and now, 400 years later, cleaned and hanging in St John’s in Tunstall, with any luck it will do it again.’

Lancashire Life will let you know once the painting is restored to the wall of St John’s Church so you can see it for yourself.

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