An intriguing panel by Bartolo di Fredi at Sotheby’s
UPDATE: The results confirm my interest and expectations – this panel nearly quadrupled it’s high estimate and hammered for a hefty £235,000 (£287,000 or $423,239 with the buyer’s premium), making it the second most expensive work in the sale.
ORIGINAL POST: Sotheby’s April 29 Old Masters sale in London is a jumble of low to mid-priced works, “school of” and “follower of” paintings, and career mishaps by some better know artists. And, the estimates reflect that – the low estimates range from £1,000 to £100,000.
Early in the sale, however, is Lot 305, an unframed and terrifically appealing panel given to Bartolo di Fredi, an artist of considerable import in Siena during the latter half of the 14th century. Saint Anthony Abbott is depicted with a furrowed brow and a delightful almost symmetrical bushy beard [the centerline like a sequence of tops of grey peacock feathers}.
The saint stares intently and with great determination. His roiling hair is a comic foil to his solemnity, and the punch work of the halo, exquisitely detailed and rich in ornamentation, adds to his ennobled aura.
The single line catalogue entry states: “Traditionally ascribed to Bartolo di Fredi, Professor Federico Zeri attributed the picture to Francesco di Vannuccio in 1969.” I’m curious about this attribution to Francesco di Vannuccio, who was active in Siena at the same time as Bartolo and an intriguing artist whose works an extremely scarce. Francesco’s only known signed and dated work, a double-sided processional from 1380 in the Gemäldegalerie, which is the basis for all other attributions. A reliquary by him, which had been on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York on January 28, 2010. A Crucifixion with the two afflicted, St. Francis and St. Guy was on offer from the Paris-based Galerie Giovanni Sarti at TEFAF in Maastricht in 2004 for slight more than €1 million.
Both Bartolo and Francesco reflect the legacy of Simone Martini in their refinement and ornamentation, but I know only one work by Francesco with figuration of this scale that would suggest this attribution, a Crucifixion at Bob Jones University from 1370. If this is by Francesco, it would be a significant addition to his known oeuvre, which is comprised mostly of small scale works. It would also point to an unknown and significant commission, given the scale of the figure (in the catalogue essay for the Francesco owned by the Philadephia Museum of Art, the catalogue Italian Paintings 1250-1450, says of the artist: “In 1388 he was paid for painting an altarpiece for the company of Sant’Antonio Abate. Panels from this work might be identified with the Virgin and Child now in the church of San Giovannino in Pantaneto in Siena, and a fragmentary Saint Anthony Abbot in a private German collection” [the present lot at Sotheby’s]).
The panel, likely part of a polyptych and a cut down version of a full scale figure, does not appear in Patricia Harping’s The Sienese Trecento Painter Bartolo di Fredi and there are no other scholarly references listed in the catalogue entry. It is, nevertheless, a wonderful picture deserving of more attention and study.
According to the condition report:
The panel is uncradled. It has a convex bow. The paint surface is dirty. There are small scattered retouchings, some of which have discoloured. The paint surface is not too worn. The decorative detail stamped into the gold around the border and halo is in good condition. There are tiny areas of exposed red bolus. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows the aforementioned small retouchings, particularly in the face, the back of the head and in the coat. There is also a circa. 2 cm. wide band of repair all along the upper margin, presumably over-painting to an area of exposed panel, incurred when the fragment was separated from its original context. this lot is offered without a frame.