A dramatic depiction of The Last Supper, most people throughout King’s Chapel history have known this painting as “The Benjamin West Painting.” But as it turns out, the painting is one of the most mysterious and elusive pieces within the walls of King’s Chapel. The Painting first appeared in church records around the 1750s, when a group of women at King’s Chapel presented the painting as a gift to the church, with the hopes that it might be added to the sanctuary as an altarpiece. However, this did not end up happening. Instead, the painting appears to have been transported to Reverend Henry Caner’s home and remained there until the American Revolution broke out and he fled Boston in 1776. His home was attacked and at least his personal library was damaged. Members of the church leadership were able to get the painting relocated to John Hancock’s mansion, where the painting would be kept safe throughout the war. After Hancock’s death, the painting eventually found its way back home to the chapel. By 1800, the church members were referring to the painting as a Benjamin West piece, due to the signature at the bottom, “B. West”, and so the story took hold. But in recent years, King’s Chapel learned some very interesting details about the painting. An expert from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston examined the painting and revealed it was, without a doubt, not by famed painter Benjamin West at all, and the presumed signature was forged! He instead believed the painting was probably by a minor Flemish master working in the 16th/17th centuries. Based on the style in which the artist painted the human feet in the painting, the MFA expert thought the artist was familiar with the works of Caravaggio (Italian painter, 1571-1610). In under 10 minutes, everything King’s Chapel thought they knew about this painting for 260 years was turned upside down.
This goes to show that despite close examination of records, history remains full of secrets that still need uncovering, and that curiosity can still reap surprising results.