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Rare early 15th Century Italian Painting at Auction in Vienna

April 5, 2012

Tommaso di Cristoforo Fini da Panicale, called Masolino (Panicale di Valdarno? circa 1383 - after 1435)
God the Father, with his hand raised in blessing, tempera on gold ground on panel, tondo, diameter 18 cm, unframed, Estimate: EUR 30.000,- to 40.000 (USD 42.500,- to 57.000). UPDATE: THIS PAINTING SOLD FOR EUR 122,300 ($173,000) INCLUSIVE OF THE BUYER'S PREMIUM.

Paintings by Masolino, the great late 14th/early 15th century Italian painter known for his extraordinary frescoes, rarely show up on the market.  So the presence of this relatively simple tondo of God the Father, the first lot at Dorotheum’s upcoming April 18, 2012 sale of Old Master paintings, is exciting to see.

Here’s the complete catalogue entry:

Monsignor Anton de Waal, Rome, Camposanto Teutonico (circa 1880);
Private collection, Baden-Württemberg;
Private collection, Stuttgart.

We are grateful to Professor Filippo Todini for suggesting the attribution.
This painting shows the typical characteristics of Florentine painting around 1420, a time when Late Gothic style of art was giving way to that of the Early Renaissance. An exact match for the perspectival foreshortening of the hand, raised in blessing, and the soft three-dimensionality of the drapery can only be found in the work of Masolino, and then precisely to the period around 1425 when Masolino was being influenced by Masaccio, his master. The image shows a solemn God the Father. He is blessing the world with his right hand and holds the Book of Life, bound in gold, in his left hand. The format and iconography of the work would identify it as having once been the clypeus of a large and important retable with Christological or Marian themes.

Stylistic and typological analogies with a variety of elements in the frescoes in the Cappella Branda-Castiglioni in San Clemente in Rome, dating from 1431, can also be detected (see the tondo with God the Father in the Annunciation on the entrance archway). Equally, there are similarities with the tondo in the vault of the Baptismal Chapel (1435) in Castiglione Olona (see R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. IX, L´Aia 1927, p. 291, fig. 186).

The solemn features of the Eternal Father, which are linear and three-dimensionally moulded at the same time, recall an earlier period of the artist’s activity and can be closely linked to the Saint Peter in a panel showing Saints Peter and Paul (John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art). This panel once formed part of the so-called “Trittico della neve” triptych executed by Masolino and Masaccio for the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Masolino’s other panels for the same altar display strong similarities. The central panel of the Assumption of the Virgin, (Naples, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Capodimonte), displays roughly comparable tooling (see P. Joannides, Masaccio and Masolino, London 1993, pp. 72–80, 414–422). The Roman provenance of this piece encourages the speculation that this was originally conceived as, or was indeed actually was, part of the “Trittico della neve”.Some sections of the present compositon, especially in the face and in the expressive gaze, strongly recall Masaccio’s work. Whilst the delicately toned skin and fine production of both the head and beard hair are typical of Masolino. Just as characteristic of the latter artist is the strong foreshortening of the hand raised in benediction and the voluminous figure before the gold background.

We are extremely grateful to Professor Filippo Todini for his assistance in cataloguing the present painting.

Lot 2. Sienese School, 15th Century
Processional Cross, tempera on gold ground on panel, 57 x 41 cm, framed. Estimate: EUR 20.000,- to 30.000 (USD 28.500,- to 42.500). UPDATE: THIS PAINTING SOLD FOR EUR 24,700 ($35,000) INCLUSIVE OF BUYER'S PREMIUM.

The following lot, a painted 15th century Sienese processional cross, may one day be attributed to a named artist, but for now it remains anonymous.

Processional crosses made of metal or wood are reduced versions of larger crucifixes, however, they are decorated on both the front and the back. In the case of wooden crosses, Christ is almost always depicted on both sides, while applied medallions in the form of rosettes at the end of the arms of the cross, on the upright beam (stipes) as well as on the crossbeam (patibulum), can contain different pictorial themes.

A symbolically charged pelican appears in the medallion at the top of the present cross. Its lacerated breast serves as a symbol of the suffering endured by Christ on the Cross in order to save humanity from original sin. In the case of this cross this iconography is unusually and inventively extended by the motif of a snake wound around a tree. Saint John the Evangelist is depicted on the outer left arm of the crucifix.

The lower medallion on the back shows John the Baptist and it is presumably also the Baptist who appears in the upper medallion on the same side; this doubling of the figure of the Evangelist is not uncommon for painted crucifixes. The figure appearing on the left outer crosspiece is probably that of the Prophet Isaiah, while a saint belonging to the Benedictine order is depicted on the right. Alessandro Nesi has suggested an attribution to Sano di Pietro. fopaintinipresent

We are grateful to Alessandro Nesi for suggesting an attribution to Sano di Pietro (Siena 1406-1481) and for proposing a date of around 1440, when his works were still stylistically influenced by his master Stefano di Giovanni, il Sassetta.

Lot 2. Detail.

Lot 2. Detail.

Lot 2. Detail.

Lot 2. Detail.

Lot 2. Detail.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 5, 2012 4:14 PM

    So I could acquire roughly 940 of these sublime tondi from the lineage of Masaccio, or 1,400 of these magnificent crosses, for the cost of that unnameable Yves Klein. Something has gone horribly wrong.

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