This detail shows the canvas partway through conservation with the newer painting (left) partially removed to reveal the older painting beneath.

The Cavalier and the Saint

A distinctly Sewanee mystery begins with a work of art that conceals an older work of art and continues with a deep dive into a little-known episode of mid-20th-century University history.

This is a story about a mystery. It starts with an old painting and ends with an older painting—and these two paintings just happen to share the same canvas.

In late February, a group of about 50 people gathered early one Thursday evening in the Lytle Reading Room of the Kappa Sigma House, the current home of the University Archives and Special Collections. They came for a presentation: “Discovering Artists’ Intentions: The Challenges of Art Conservation.” The occasion was the opening of a new exhibition featuring selections from Sewanee’s Permanent Collection.

The evening’s speaker was a well-respected conservator of oil paintings named Craig Crawford. Crawford had been selected by the University’s Permanent Collection Working Group to evaluate paintings in the collection. The group, appointed by the provost, includes art history faculty and University staff from a number of offices. Crawford prepared a report about conservation alternatives, and based on his conclusions, the group hired him to perform the conservation work.

Among the paintings selected for conservation was a portrait of a young man with long, dark locks, attired in a blue embroidered doublet with an intricate lace collar under an armored breastplate enhanced by an elegant red sash. Almost nothing was known about the painting—not the name of the sitter, the identity of the artist, or even how the portrait had come to the University.

What was known was that in a 1985 inventory of the collection, the painting was described as a cavalier wearing a sash, and, at the time, it was hanging in Fulford Hall, the vice-chancellor’s residence.

What Crawford told the audience did nothing to make a search for the mystery cavalier’s provenance any easier. In fact, he told the listeners that the cavalier no longer existed. He had removed the image from the canvas on which it was painted during conservation.

Crawford told the audience he had become suspicious of the painting almost as soon as he began to examine it. The young man’s image showed signs that it had been applied to an old canvas with old stretchers to create a painting designed to look much older than it really was—in short, a forgery.

To Crawford’s eye—one trained by years of academic study and a five-year apprenticeship to one of the nation’s leading painting conservators—the “cavalier” portrait looked suspiciously modern, perhaps early 20th century, and he believed a dark varnish had been applied as a top coat to give the image a spurious air of antiquity.

He began to clean the painting in his studio, and as he did so, the first details of the original—much older—work began to appear. He went on to uncover another portrait.

At the end of the presentation, he unveiled the original—a portrait of Iñigo López de Loyola, the youngest son of a noble family from Spain’s Basque region. Iñigo became a knight and was severely wounded in the defense of the citadel of Pamplona against French forces in 1521.

It’s not for his military career that Iñigo is known to the world, but the spiritual path he took up during his recuperation from his wounds. He is known today as St. Ignatius of Loyola, a cofounder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order of priests and lay brothers. The Jesuits played a leading role opposing Protestant reformers across Europe, sending missionaries to England to combat Henry VIII’s usurpation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

Sewanee’s “new” Ignatius portrait shows the saint in a familiar pose. The book he holds shows in large type the legend “AMDG,” a Latin acronym for the motto of the Society of Jesus: “ad majorem Dei gloriam” or “for the greater glory of God.”

Ignatius, the first governor general of the order, structured Jesuit life in accordance with his martial training, and required members to pledge unwavering obedience to the pope.  Even today, one of the less reverent nicknames for the order, of which the current pontiff is a member, is “God’s Marines.”

Composite of paintingsDuring conservation, the overpainting of the "cavalier" (left) was carefully removed to reveal a portrait of St. Ignatius (right).

So there’s an almost delicious incongruity to the fact that a portrait, likely painted in the early 17th century, of a man known for his zeal in combating the Protestant Reformation could insinuate itself into the Permanent Collection of the University of the South, an Anglican institution with deep ties to the “breakaway” Church of England.

But how did the University come to possess the overpainted canvas in the first place? The University's records revealed nothing, and previous inquiries by the Archives and Special Collections staff had turned up no clues about the history of the painting of the young dandy before it arrived in the vice-chancellor's parlor. But Crawford and the archivists were about to find out from a member of the audience: Waring McCrady, C’59, a retired Sewanee French professor and son of Vice-Chancellor Edward McCrady, spoke up.

McCrady told the audience he remembered that the painting had hung in Fulford Hall in the 1950s, when he lived in the house as a teenager. It was, he said, part of a bequest called the “Grosvenor Estate,” but he knew little about the estate other than that many of Fulford’s furnishings had come from it.

Which raises the question: Who were the Grosvenors, and what was their connection to Sewanee? With this clue, the Archives were quick to reveal a fascinating episode of the University’s mid-20th-century history.

The benefactor was Ursula Grosvenor, a resident of Southern Pines, North Carolina. She designated that after her estate had been settled and all the bills paid, the legatee for the balance would be the School of Theology at Sewanee, including the contents of her house.

Grosvenor died in 1951, and when the estate was settled, the School of Theology had received one of the larger bequests in the University’s history—perhaps as much as $250,000, according to a 1955 internal memorandum from Arthur Ben Chitty, Sewanee’s indefatigable historiographer and fundraiser. A similar bequest today would be worth about $2.4 million. Chitty was clear about the value of the estate, but the memorandum directed the recipient to conduct a search to find out who Ursula Grosvenor might be. “My immediate need,” Chitty wrote, “is to get sufficient information with which to devise a bronze tablet to be placed in St. Luke’s Auditorium, which we think we will name ‘The Grosvenor Auditorium.’”

Why would an older woman living in a small town in North Carolina choose to hand over her entire estate to Sewanee? Chitty had no idea. There was no family connection to the University, and Grosvenor, like another of the University’s major benefactors, playwright Tennessee Williams, never set foot on the campus.

But, of course, there was a Sewanee connection: one Francis Craighill Brown, C’22. Following completion of his studies at Sewanee, Brown earned a bachelor of divinity degree at Virginia Theological Seminary, was ordained as an Episcopal priest, went to China as a missionary, and in 1930, came to Southern Pines as rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Grosvenor became Brown’s parishioner in 1945, when she moved to the small town from New York City, the place of her birth, after the death of her sister, Gertrude.

During his tenure as rector, Brown would have learned that Ursula Grosvenor, a cradle Episcopalian, had unusually strong ties to the church. Her maternal grandfather had been an Episcopal clergyman, as had her brother, the long-deceased William Mercer Grosvenor. None of the three siblings had ever married.

In 1950, Brown resigned as rector of Emmanuel and became dean of the School of Theology at Sewanee. Brown, in a 1955 letter to Chitty, recalled Grosvenor as “something of an eccentric, and a number of people, I fear, were not too patient with her,” though he and his wife “saw a good bit of her because we found her to be a very interesting person.”

She should have been: According to information compiled for a passport application, she had lived in Japan, China, Manchuria, Italy, Austria, France, Germany, and India. From the 1920s until the onset of World War II, she and her sister, Gertrude, shared the family house in Florence, Italy.

In 1951, the year after Brown came to the University, Edward McCrady, a former Sewanee science professor, returned to the University as vice-chancellor, a post he held until 1971.

When McCrady and Brown came to their posts, Sewanee was struggling to absorb a major expansion of its student body. The College had grown from about 300 to almost 500 undergraduates, and the School of Theology, then located in St. Luke’s Hall, had an enrollment of 81. Facilities were inadequate, and a major capital campaign was under way. St. Luke’s had already seen the addition of a new wing that included a small auditorium, and by 1951, Gailor and Gorgas Halls were under construction. Money was still being sought for Guerry Hall.

Brown did his part to help raise money for new facilities, returning to Southern Pines for several visits, during each of which he told Grosvenor “about my work at Sewanee.” In late 1951, about five months before her death in May 1952, she told him she had made a new will naming the School of Theology as her beneficiary. Brown wrote to Bishop Frank Juhan, who was leading the capital campaign, with the good news, though he acknowledged he had no firm figure about the size of the bequest.

Grosvenor asked her executor to provide the University with a copy of the will prior to her death. There was only one stipulation attached to the gift—that it should be made “in memory of my brother, Rev. William M. Grosvenor.”

So, who was William Grosvenor?

William Grosvenor, ordained a priest in 1889, became rector of Trinity Church in the affluent community of Lennox, Massachusetts, in 1890, and in 1895 he was called as rector of the Church of the Incarnation in New York City, gaining widespread recognition as a preacher and a scholar, already seen as a rising star in the Episcopal firmament. In 1911, he was installed as dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a post he held until his unexpected death, apparently after a heart attack, in 1916 at age 54. His only survivors were his mother, Ursula, and Gertrude. The presiding bishop and four other bishops officiated at his funeral. His body was placed in the cathedral crypt beneath the choir, the first person to be entombed there in the still-under-construction cathedral. His death mask resides in the cathedral archives.

Had Brown remained at Sewanee, there’s little doubt he would have ensured that the benefactor and the memorial nature of the gift were gratefully and fully acknowledged. But Brown resigned in 1953, as did many of the seminary faculty, after the school was not allowed to integrate its student body.

When Brown wrote to Chitty in 1955, responding to a request for biographical information about Grosvenor, he referred Chitty to sources in Southern Pines, seemingly without any specific mention of the memorial nature of her bequest or the importance of William Grosvenor to the Episcopal Church. With Brown gone, Ursula Grosvenor’s only link to Sewanee had been severed.

With little to go on, the University honored the Grosvenor gift as best it could, by naming the St. Luke’s Hall auditorium the Grosvenor Auditorium. In its later years, the room was known as the Grosvenor Lounge and informally as the “blue box,” a small theatre space. The name remained attached until 2005, long after the School of Theology had moved to its Tennessee Avenue location, when St. Luke’s was converted to a residence hall.

So, is this a case of a mystery solved? Perhaps.

We know that the misses Grosvenor lived for many years in Florence, taking up residence after World War I, a time when many wealthy Americans and British expatriated themselves to picturesque Italian locales.

The inventory of Grosvenor’s Southern Pines residence makes clear that she lived surrounded by beautiful objects, and it is almost a certainty that the “cavalier” portrait hung in her Southern Pines dining room before being shipped to Sewanee. Possibly, the painting had come from the family's Italian residence when the Grosvenor sisters returned to the United States. Crawford, the conservator, believes the "cavalier" overpainting was likely done in the early 20th century. A less-than-scrupulous art dealer in a city like Florence would have had good reason to know that a painting of the militant papist Ignatius would be a hard sell to the largely Protestant expatriate community (especially to any member of the staunchly Anglican Grosvenor family), but that a supposedly antique and apparently apolitical portrait of a young Italian gentleman might move quickly. And Florence was surely full of starving artists looking for any kind of commission.

But never fear: There’s still mystery aplenty. Who was the model for the cavalier? And who was the painter of Sewanee’s newly discovered portrait of Iñigo López?

The newly discovered portrait of St. Ignatius is on exhibit in the Museum Gallery of Archives and Special Collections as part of Creativity and Craftsmanship: Selections from the Permanent Collection until July 30, 2017.