Franciscan Sisters’ Virgin Mary Paintings Highlight Artist Murillo

Web Admin

August 18, 2020

As we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption and the Queenship of Mary this month, we’d like to share a bit of the history on some of our favorite Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse paintings featuring the work of Murillo.

Our German Community of Sisters which amalgamated with our American foundation had, at some time previous to their coming to America, extended a kindness to their archbishop (some say he was a cardinal) and he in return had given them this valuable painting. When they were obliged to leave Germany during the Kulturkampf, they decided to take this painting which is a work of artist Murillo with them as they faced the unknown future in a strange land. They felt that if they were able eventually to set up a new community in America they wanted some remembrance of their German home. Their choice fell on this painting as it was of greatest value and if worst came to worst, it would be sold for food. All the way to American they took turns watching it, fearful that it might be stolen or that they might have to give it up at the customs office either leaving Germany or entering America.

In the archives is information regarding Sister Alphonsa Sommer of the Franciscan Community from Gieboldehausen of the Diocese of Hildesheim in Germany which amalgamated with our American foundation in 1877. She says that she helped to unpack the art treasures and relates in part that “the painting of the Immaculate Conception / Assumption was brought from Germany.” Another source says that Mother Augustine brought the painting back with her when she traveled to Germany to get funds for the new building. Either way, it was brought here by the German Sisters.

When the west wing, 1910, was completed to provide more chapel space, this oil painting was placed above the main altar. Later on, when a new altar was installed, the painting was moved to the Art Parlor.

The original frame was rectangular and had inserts which conformed to the oval shape of the painting. There was a gold mat on the picture while it hung in St. Mary’s chapel but this was removed when it was hung in the Art Parlor and Sister Davidica at that time painted in the dark border to hide the marks made on the canvas when the mat was removed.

It is to be regretted that  there is no signature or identification of any kind to prove that it is a genuine Murillo.

The painting at the right is an image of Murillo’s “Assumption”.  This much larger painting done by our Sisters hangs between Second and Third Floor outside St. Francis Chapel. Oral tradition tells that they needed to use a ladder to finish the painting. It is a very large oil painting that covers an entire wall. The painting is a copy of the Assumption done by Spanish artist, Murillo.  The painting was begun by Sister Alberta Pallange. Sister Alberta died in 1912 before completing the painting. Eventually the painting was finished by Sister Davidica Beschta and Sister Benjamin Erickson.

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