Right there was hung one of his prize possessions, a large antique framed bronze bas relief of the crucifixion, age unknown. Philadelphia artist Anthony Visco pointed to the striking similarity to a similar bas relief executed by early Renaissance master Donatello (1386-1466), unusual for the number of people at the foot of the cross and a seated Virgin Mary.
Whether this work was also from the hand of Donatello, or one of his school, or a later copy in the style of Donatello is impossible to say. But as they stress in Antiques Road Show, “provenance is everything.”
On the base of the wooden frame there is a plate with the names of the four most recent past owners — Cardinal John Foley, Cardinal John Krol, Bishop Edward Hoban and Bishop Joseph Schrembs.
Bishop Thomas received the artwork from the late Cardinal Foley, who was a good friend from their days when both were stationed in Rome — then Msgr. Thomas at the Congregation of Bishops and Archbishop Foley as president of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.
Cardinal Foley, a Philadelphia native, was given it by his good friend and former boss, Cardinal Krol, the Archbishop of Philadelphia who ordained Bishop Thomas a priest.
Cardinal Krol, before coming to Philadelphia, was an auxiliary bishop in Cleveland. He received it from Bishop Hoban who was then Bishop of Cleveland, and Bishop Hoban received it from his predecessor, Bishop Schrembs — who before his appointment to Cleveland was founding Bishop of the Diocese of Toledo when the see was erected in 1910.
It appears the lovely bas relief may be returning with Bishop Thomas to its old home.
Somewhere in heaven the four previous ecclesiastical owners may be celebrating.