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Italian Splendor (and a few others) – Old Masters at Sotheby’s this January

December 27, 2011

An exciting and intriguing array of Italian paintings (and a few other goodies) will be offered up at Sotheby’s New York later next month.  Very noticeable are Italian “gold ground” paintings — called primitives a century ago — including a Virgin Annunciate by Simone Martini and two more panels by Gentile da Fabriano from a Swedish collection.

Lot 6-7. The two Gentile paintings, small full length images of saints, are from a collection of six previously unknown panels from a long ago dismembered altarpiece.  The size and proportions of the six panels are almost identical, the level of the red floor each stands on consistent across the six works.  The first four (figs. 1-4), were offered up three years ago carrying estimates of $80,000-120,000 each.  One telephone bidder acquired all four at hammer prices ranging from $380,000 to $450,000 per.  We’ll see if that same buyer shows up to reunite the six panels. These two lots sold to the same telephone bidder. The hammer price on lot 6 was $400,000 ($482,500 including the buyer’s premium) and on lot 7 was $300,000 ($362,500 including the buyer’s premium).  This same telephone bidder also acquired lot 22, the Fra Bartolomeo of Saint Jerome for hammer price $4.3 million ($4,898,500 with the buyer’s premium).

Lots 6-7. Gentile da Fabriano, Saints Peter (left, 8-1/2" x 2-1/4") and Bartholomew (right approx. 8-3/8" x 2-1/4"), circa 1405, estimated at $250,000-350,000 each.

Lot 8. Simone Martini is a significant figure in quattrocento Siena and later Avignon.  Because of its size, we surmise this was a private devotional work.  This image of the Virgin is one half of a diptych, the left-hand panel would have shown the Angel Gabriel announcing Christ’s impending birth to Mary.  The catalogue entry includes two panels from the Orsini Polyptych in the Antwerp Museum, showing what the companion piece might have looked like.  The Madonna in the Antwerp painting is more accomplished — the treatment and detailing of the Virgin’s face and hands more fully realized and expressive, the setting more intricate, though the punchwork in both is quite good.  The catalogue also recounts some scholarly disagreements about attribution, though claims they’re largely resolved.  If that is the case, and this painting has not been shopped out, then its a decent addition to a collection of trecento and quattrocento pictures.

Lot 8. Simone Martini, c. 1284-1344, The Virgin Annunciate, 11-1/2" x 8-1/8", estimate $3-4 million. Hammer price $3.6 million ($4,114,500 with the buyer's premium).

Lot 8. Detail of Punchwork and Drapery.

Simone Martini, two panels from the Orsini Polyptych, Antwerp Museum. The angel Gabriel (left) and the Virgin Annunciate (right).

Lot 9. This is a delightful, if somewhat idiosyncratic portable triptych.

Lot 9. Master of the Medici Chapel Polyptych, c. 1315-20, Triptych with the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, The Crucifixion, estimate $400,000 - 600,000. Hammer price $350,000 ($422,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 10. This Madonna and Child is very skillfully executed.  Despite A LOT of decorative elements, the central narrative of the mother and child is powerfully intact.  As for that decorative detail … well, WOW. Starting from the bottom, the foliage and animals recall the delicacy of Giovanni di Paolo, the drapery treatment is rather refined and the curvilinear townscape in the background appears to be scenes from the Life of Christ.  To the left of the Virgin, on a craggy hilltop is the Crucifixion.  Other portions seem to include the Nativity and Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. 

Lot 10. Quirizio di Giovanni da Murano, Active in Venice circa 1461-1478, Madonna and Child, 25-1’2″ x 16″, estimate $100,000-150,000. Hammer price $160,000 ($194,500 with buyer’s premium).

Lot 10. Detail of background showing the Crucifixion in the upper right hand portion.

Lot 11. Talk about fabulous chaos. It’s one of a series of panel paintings from the Lucretia Series that adorned a piece of furniture.  The location of three other panels is known, so perhaps they’ll be reunited in a future exhibition.

Lot 11. The Master of Marradi, active in Florence during the second half of the 15th century, The Expulsion of King Tarquinius, Superbus and His Son Sextus from Rome, 16-1/8" x 25-1/4", estimate $300,000-400,000. Hammer price $300,000 ($362,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 13. This is a basic, straightforward and competently executed Duccio-inspired devotional panel (possibly the central panel in a triptych). Nothing flashy, just nicely done.  Intricacies in design are reserved for the ground plain and drapery. Really respect the modesty of this work.

Lot 13. Ugolino di Nerio, circa 1320, active in Siena and Florence first half of the 14th century, The Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene, flanked by Saints John the Baptist and Dominic, 12-7/8" x 8-7/8", estimate $200,000-300,000. Hammer price $180,000 ($218,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 15. This early work by Luca Signorelli owes much to his teacher Piero della Francesca and these next two images demonstrate.

Lot 15. Luca Signorelli, Cortona circa 1450-1523, A Processional Banner: The Presentation in the Temple, 70-1/2" by 52-1/2", estimate $800,000-1,200,000. Hammer price $680,000 ($818,500 with buyer's premium).

Piero della Francesca, Montefeltro Altarpiece

Lot 22. Exquisite, delicate , refined and accomplished.  This Saint Jerome by Fra Bartolommeo is a winner.

Lot 22. Baccio della Porta, called Fra Bartolommeo, Florence 1472-1517, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, 17-3/4" x 11", estimate $1.5-2.0 million. Hammer price $4.3 million ($4,898,500 with the buyer's premium).

Lot 29. Simon Luttichuys, London 1610-Amsterdam 1661, A Still Life with a Pewter Jug on its Side, Aglass of Ale, A Salt Cellar, A Bread Roll and Other Objects on a Table Draped on a Dark Green Cloth, 30-5/8" x 25-1/4", estimate $1.8-2.5 million. "Bidding" on this work stopped at $1.7 million and it failed to sell.

Lot 37. Federico Barocci, Urbino circa 1535-1612, The Circumcision of Christ, 32-1/8" x 25-1/4", estimate $1.5-2.0 million. "Bidding" on this work stopped at $1.2 million and it failed to sell.

Lot 47. Hmm … This very modern reclining nude sold just last year in Vienna for EURO 306,300 … interesting gamble that the very modernity of the composition could appeal to a non-Old Master collector.

Lot 47. Guido Cagnacci, Sant'Archangelo di Romagna 1601 - Vienna 1663, Reclining Male Nude, 25-1/8" x 31-5/8", estimate $1.0-1.5 million. Hammer price $950,000 ($1,142,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 56. Pieter de Hooch, Rotterdam 1629-Amsterdam 1684, Interior with a Child Feeding a Parrot, 31-1/4" x 26", estimate $1.5-2.0 million. Hammer price $3.2 million ($3,666,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 57. This van Huysum still life is notable for, among other things, being painted on a rather large sheet of copper.

Lot 57. Jan van Huysum, Amsterdam 1682-1749, Still Life with Roses, Peonies, Tulips and Other Flowers in a Sculpted Stone Vase, Together with a Bird's Nest on a Stone Pedestal before a Niche, 31" x 23-3/4", estimate $4-6 million. "Bidding" on this work stopped at $3.8 million and it failed to sell.

Lot 58. Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, Venice 1697-1768, Venice, A View of the Churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo, with a Moored Man-O-War, Gondolas and Barges, 23" x 37", estimate $5-7 million. Hammer price $5 million ($5,682,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 60. Have to say … not a big fan of Pittoni … why do his figures often have pinched, rat-like faces?  That’s why this painting stands out.  Decent figuration and some wonderful compositional elements.

Lot 60. Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Venice 1687-1767, The Massacre of the Innocents, 45-1/2" x 38", estimate $200,000-300,000. "Bidding" on this work stopped at $170,000 and it failed to sell.

Lot 71. Francesco Guardi, Venice 1712-1793, The Ridotto in Venice with Masked Figures Conversing, 30" x 41-1/4", estimate $1.8-2.5 million. Hammer price $1.8 million ($2,098,500 with buyer's premium).

Lot 80. Louis-Léopold Boilly, La Bassée 1761 – Paris 1845, Portrait of a White-Haired Man, Half Length, Wearing Glasses, 8-5/8" x 6-3/4", estimate $60,000-80,000. Hammer price $110,000 ($134,500 with buyer's premium).

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