Saint Benedict enthroned between Saints Catherine and John the Baptist, Saints Paul and Giustina

WAG 2788


This artwork has been identified as having links to a person connected with transatlantic slavery. This research is part of the Walker Art Gallery’s ongoing work to be more transparent about the collection’s relationship to Britain's colonial past. This painting was previously owned by Joseph Brooks Yates (1780 - 1855). He was one of the most prominent figures in Liverpool involved in the trafficking of enslaved African people. Yates was also the owner, mortgagee, trustee and executor for numerous sugar estates in Jamaica. He was awarded £43,000 in compensation in 1835 and 1836 for the ownership of 2,287 enslaved people following emancipation. In stark contradiction to his involvement in transatlantic slavery, Yates was considered a leading reformer in Liverpool and campaigned for civil liberties. He also supported the town's literary and scientific institutions. In 1812, he became a founding member of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society, and was its president for 12 years. He was also president of the Liverpool Royal Institution in 1842-3. Yates used the wealth he amassed to collect manuscripts, early books and Old Master paintings. The painting was later owned by Yates's son-in-law Samuel Henry Thompson (1807 - 1892). When he died in 1892, Thompson's estate was valued at the vast sum of £1,134,393. Much of his wealth came from banking, as a partner of Arthur Heywood & Sons & Co. The bank was founded by the Heywood brothers, Arthur (1717 - 1795) and Benjamin (1722 - 1795), who made their fortunes in the transatlantic slave trade and founded the bank on their profits. This altarpiece by Giovanni Mazone (active 1453 - 1510), which Yates bought for £84, was painted for a chapel in the Benedictine church of San Nicolò Boschetto near Genoa. It was probably originally divided into three sections by carved wood columns glued to the paint-surface, which isolated St Benedict from his fellow saints. The seated man has been identified as St Benedict and the other saints are, from left to right, Catherine, John the Baptist, Paul and Giustina. St Benedict’s importance, as the founder of the monastic Benedictine Order, is further emphasised by his larger scale compared to his companions. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.