The rich cultural and historical contribution of Melbourne’s first Catholic archbishop, James Alpius Goold (1812–1886), lives on as valuable artworks imported by the Augustinian missionary continue to be discovered across Australia. The latest is a painting currently housed in a Catholic secondary college in Brisbane that depicts St Thomas, which Goold had originally imported from Rome in the 1850s.

Jaynie Anderson is Professor Emeritus in Art History at the University of Melbourne and an internationally recognised art historian and curator. She has been investigating Goold’s cultural contribution to colonial Melbourne since 2016, as part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant with Rev. Dr Max Vodola, a lecturer in Australian Church History and Chair of the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission, and Mr Shane Carmody, who is known for his work in state libraries and public records.

To date, Prof. Anderson has identified some 68 late baroque paintings that Goold bought for the churches he was building in colonial Melbourne, including a significant painting by French artist Jacques Stella, Jesus in the Temple found by his parents, which hangs in the baptistery of St Patrick’s Cathedral. And though the official ARC funding and work has ended, Prof. Anderson says the ‘project keeps snowballing’. ‘We keep on finding these paintings everywhere, so the work continues to grow.’

The latest is a painting of St Thomas, discovered at Villanova College, an Augustinian Catholic school in Brisbane. It was discovered following investigations by Prof. Anderson of the large painting that hangs atop the altar at St Francis’ Church, Melbourne, titled Crucifixion (c. 1680). An etching titled Consecration at St Francis’ Cathedral, Melbourne was found, which shows that two other paintings had hung to either side of the Crucifixion centrepiece, including the one recently discovered in Brisbane.

Prof. Anderson says, ‘We were looking at what Goold bought back to Melbourne, and we could see from the etching that this painting hung next to the Crucifixion in St Francis, in the original installation, in the 19th century. So we wondered where it had gone.’ She enlisted the help of St Francis’ archivist, Damien Cash, who informed Prof. Anderson that the painting had been gifted from St Francis’ Church to Villanova College, an Augustinian Catholic school, in 1946.

St Thomas at Villanova College, an Augustinian Catholic school in Brisbane Photo courtesy of the Goold Museum/Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission

According to Prof. Anderson, the painting could be by Carlo Maratta, an Italian painter of the late baroque period (1625–1713). ‘The painting conforms to a type, but without examining the picture in a lab, it is unclear whether this is a work by Maratta or a contemporary copy,’ says Prof. Anderson. ‘Maratta was known for having devised certain images about the canonisation of St Thomas, but it could also be a painting made from a print after him. We have only just located it and have only seen a photograph of it, so we won’t know until we look at it properly.’

Further clues indicate that Maratta’s work was very popular in Augustinian churches. Goold was also an Augustinian, so this was probably a consideration in the images he chose. ‘He did tend to select images based on religious subject matter that specialised in saints and martyrdoms, objects of conversion for the increasing Catholic community in Melbourne at the time of the gold rush,’ says Prof. Anderson. ‘It was never about who painted the image, which I find disappointing as an expert in paintings and an art historian. It was about the subject matter.’

Goold did tend to select images … that specialised in saints and martyrdoms, objects of conversion for the increasing Catholic community in Melbourne at the time of the gold rush.’
Consecration at St Francis' Cathedral, Melbourne (wood engraving) by Oswald Rose Campbell (artist) and Frederick Grosse (engraver). Collection: State Library of Victoria

Treasures within our midst

In her research, Prof. Anderson discovered that in April 1852, Goold was given permission to export 135 old master paintings (antichi maestri) and 10 modern pictures from Rome to Melbourne, without paying any tax. ‘At that time, the Roman export office was administered by cardinals from at least 1850 to 1870, and so paintings were listed as “sacred images” with titles but no artists’ names,’ she explains. The paintings came to Australia in at least three shipments. ‘Goold must have been in very good standing with the Catholic Curia because he was given more than any other bishop anywhere else in the Catholic world,’ says Prof. Anderson.

Jesus in the Temple found by his parents, by Jacques Stella (1642) Photo courtesy of the Goold Museum/Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission

Jesus in the Temple found by his parents, by Jacques Stella, 1642

Prof. Anderson believes a painting by French painter Jacques Stella, Jesus in the Temple found by his parents (1642), is the ‘treasure’ of Goold’s collection in Melbourne. It hangs on the wall of the baptistery in the back corner of St Patrick’s Cathedral. ‘It has hung in the baptistery for many years, and many Catholic parents have had their babies baptised there without realising that the painting on the wall was of any significance,’ says Prof. Anderson. ‘I think it is a very beautiful and exceptional work, though perhaps others don’t find it so immediately attractive.’

Research into its ‘provenance’ or background, which is usually found by way of inscriptions on canvases, or customs stamps and labels on the back, revealed that the painting was originally commissioned in 1642 by the head of the Jesuits, Sublet de Noyers, and by Cardinal Richelieu for a principal altar in the Novitiate Church of the Jesuits in Paris. It had been hung next to a painting by the leading painter of the classical French baroque style at that time, Nicolas Poussin. ‘So, this was a great commission for an important church,’ says Prof. Anderson. ‘Jacques Stella was a celebrated artist in 17th-century France, second only to Poussin at the time.’

When the church was disbanded, the pictures, including the Stella altarpiece, were sold to Cardinal Fesch, also famously known as Napoleon’s uncle. ‘Fesch is an interesting figure who certainly knew about paintings and amassed an extraordinary collection. When the revolution ended, and Napoleon lost, Fesch managed to get his collection out of France and into Rome, where it was kept in three huge palaces. The artworks were on public view, so Goold could have seen them as a young seminarian. Fesch did say that he’d collected the artwork to inspire missionaries who went to other parts of the world, so that was appropriate for Goold’s task. That this masterpiece for the Jesuit Novitiate has been quietly present in the principal Catholic cathedral in Australia since Archbishop Goold brought it there was a remarkable discovery.’

‘That this masterpiece for the Jesuit Novitiate has been quietly present in the principal Catholic cathedral in Australia since Archbishop Goold brought it there was a remarkable discovery.’

Portrait of Bishop James Alpius Goold, by an unknown artist, 1859 Photo courtesy of the Goold Museum/Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission

Portrait of Bishop James Alpius Goold, by an unknown artist, 1859

The Mercy Sisters’ Academy of Mary Immaculate in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, has ‘amazing paintings’ from the Goold era according to Prof. Anderson. There is one in particular that has captured her art historian’s eye. ‘The Mercy Sisters have a very lovely portrait of Goold, which he gifted to them, and it is the earliest known portrait of him,’ she says. ‘It is a divine picture by an Italian impressionist, which I think is the best quality painting of that period.’

‘It shows Goold as a relatively young man, with a college he built in the background, and books in the library behind him. He holds a sealed letter, perhaps his commission from the Pope, and he’s wearing a crucifix. We don’t know who painted it. Goold isn’t interested in that. We just know that it was painted in Rome in 1859 and that he gave it to the sisters. Goold on the whole preferred European painters for his portraits, but later, he commissioned some portraits by Australian artists.’

The Madonna of the Well with the infant Christ and St John the Baptist, by an unknown artist, c. 16th century Photo courtesy of the Goold Museum/Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission

The Madonna of the Well with the infant Christ and St John the Baptist, by an unknown artist, c. 16th century

There are still several paintings that Prof. Anderson would ‘love to investigate further’, should finances, time and ability allow it. Once a painting is ‘discovered’, it takes time to properly attribute the work, and given many of the paintings are very large and hang high on walls in churches or other buildings, moving them is a lengthy process.

One such painting that Prof. Anderson hopes to investigate further is The Madonna of the Well with the infant Christ and St John the Baptist, painted by an unknown Italian artist in the 16th century, which hangs outside the Archbishop of Melbourne’s office. ‘It’s a very beautiful painting and it looks as though it’s a very early 16th-century copy of some quality, made after a well-known painting in the Uffizi, sometimes attributed to Franciabigio. But we’d have to have a look at it to know for sure. It’s quite big, and at the moment it has Perspex on it because it’s in a corridor and people might bump into it, so that’s a good thing. But it means you can't really see it to make the attribution.’

Making discoveries, while exciting, is only the start of a long process to identify and attribute the painting correctly. ‘You can discover something, but you have to actually work on the condition, and learn what the painting actually is in terms of its appearance and pigments, its composition and condition and that sort of thing, before you say, “It’s a Stella” or something like that. You have to be careful,’ Prof. Anderson says. ‘But it has indeed proven to be a project that continues to grow.’

Prof. Anderson is hopeful that further funding will become available to continue studying and attributing, and ultimately conserving these treasures in Melbourne and beyond. ‘There’s no doubt Goold was an ambitious man, and he considered it part of his missionary role to import large and impressive artwork to decorate the fantastic churches and cathedral to inspire the faithful.

There’s no doubt Goold was an ambitious man, and he considered it part of his missionary role to import large and impressive artwork to … inspire the faithful.’

‘The many churches and schools that Goold built in collaboration with an architect of genius, William Wardell, have resulted in a permanent legacy to the built environment of Melbourne,’ says Prof. Anderson. ‘I am dreaming of another exhibition, called “Raphael in Melbourne” that would show more of Goold’s legacy.’