• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 11933

    Old Masters: Part I

    14 April 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 104

    Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510) and Studio

    The Madonna adoring the Christ Child with the young Saint John the Baptist

    Price Realised  


    Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510) and Studio
    The Madonna adoring the Christ Child with the young Saint John the Baptist
    tempera and oil on panel, a tondo
    45¾ in. (116.2 cm.) diameter

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    This graceful tondo shows the Virgin adoring the Christ Child in the Tuscan countryside before a ruined stone structure. A paragon of Renaissance beauty, the Virgin wears a red gown with a blue cloak lined with green and a diaphanous veil, which rests over her shoulders. The nude Christ Child gazes up at his mother, reclining on her sacred garments. Depicting a subject that was popular in Botticelli’s native Florence, this panel was likely intended as an object of personal devotion, and perhaps was originally installed within a private family chapel. The young Saint John the Baptist – the patron saint of Florence – stands next to the Virgin with his right hand over his heart, thereby honoring and pledging devotion to his newborn cousin. John elegantly gestures to the Christ Child with his left hand, which also holds a banderol inscribed with the word “Agnus”. In this way, Botticelli both signals Christ’s divinity and his future sacrifice, recalling the Baptist’s declaration in the wilderness: “Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi" ["Look, this is the Lamb of God; look, this is he who takes away the sin of the world”] (John 1:29).

    Of the several versions that exist of this composition, the best two examples, in addition to the present work, are the tondos in the National Gallery, London and Amgueddfa Cymru – the National Museum Wales, Cardiff. All three versions exhibit differences, particularly in their landscapes. In both the London and Wales versions, the Christ Child rests on sheaves of wheat which do not properly support his head, leaving those compositions somewhat unresolved. Here, the artist more satisfactorily creates a makeshift cradle out of a pile of carved stone fragments and the Virgin’s robes. In addition, whereas in the other two somewhat smaller paintings, the Virgin’s hair is nearly entirely covered by her shawl, here her golden locks spill over her shoulders, with only a single braid at the top of her head covered by a transparent veil to preserve her modesty. Lionello Venturi considered this to be an autograph work, executed between 1480 and 1490, writing that “the face of the Madonna is one of the most glamorous achievements of Botticelli” (written communication, 26 October 1949), and related the ruined masonry in the background to Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. Wilhelm R. Valentiner dated it to 1485-1490 (written communication, 2 April 1951).


    Private collection, Arezzo.
    Lord Grimthorpe; Christie's, London, 12 May 1906, lot 20, as Sandro Botticelli (5,000 gns. to the following).
    with Agnew's, London.
    C. Fairfax Murray; his sale, Galerie Petit, Paris, 15 June 1914, lot 4.
    Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 14 December 1917, lot 34, as Sandro Botticelli (2,800 gns. to Amor).
    Sir Ernest Cassel.
    with Jacob Heimann, Los Angeles, 1951.
    with French and Co., New York, c. 1954, from whom acquired by
    The Countess Nadia de Navarro, Glen Head, New York.

    Pre-Lot Text


    Countess Nadia de Navarro-Farber was born in Pleven, Bulgaria. During her successful career as a musical comedy star in Bulgaria and Hungary, she starred on stage and in movies, lending her particular brand of grace and charisma to the silver screen. Thereafter, she married a Spanish count who was a diplomat to the Vatican; the couple soon took up residence in Monte Carlo, where they lived until the Count’s death in 1949.

    The Countess subsequently moved to New York, where she began a new chapter in her life as a philanthropist. She met Sid Farber, then just launching his home development company, through friends while lunching at the Plaza Hotel. The two wed in 1953, and settled in Glen Head on Long Island, where they ran their business building over 30,000 homes in the area. The Farbers became active philanthropists and were principal patrons of the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. In 1990, the countess received the Theodore Roosevelt Award for pledging a $1 million donation in memory of her late husband. "The two things we need to support most in order for our community to thrive are our schools and our hospitals. Without the hospitals we are a family without a home," she said on the occasion. On December 15, 1991, the fourth major expansion of Mather Hospital was completed with the dedication of the new Contessa Nadia Farber Emergency Pavilion.

    The countess did not limit herself to helping those closest to home. A master of eight languages, she was an active member of charitable and humanitarian organizations crossing geographical, ethnic and religious lines across the globe, including the Hebrew Immigrants Aid Society (HIAS), the Venezuelan Charity for Immigrants, the Red Cross in Monaco, The American Hospital in Paris, the Children Orphanage in Venice, as well as many others.

    In addition to her humanitarian interests, the countess was a discerning and passionate connoisseur of the arts. Soon after she wed Sid Farber, the couple started their art collection, through which they nurtured their preference for the Italian High Renaissance and Post-Impressionist periods. Their collection was exhibited in the Palazzo Reale, Milan, for two months under the title, Arte Europea da una Collezione Americana in 1964.

    Among the many accolades the Countess received, highlights include the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1996 (shared with Governor Pataki); special Congressional recognition in 1998; the Gold Medal from the French Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters; and the Silver Medal from the City of Paris. She was also inducted into the Order of Malta, the Order of St. Sepulchre, and the Order of St. Sava from King Peter of Yugoslavia.

    The Countess died shortly after the masterpiece of her collection, Marco d’Oggiono’s Madonna of the Violets was included in the historic Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition at The National Gallery, London, in 2011-2012, a wonderful coda to her remarkable life.


    A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions, Bath, 1913, I, p. 88, as Sandro Botticelli.
    G. Mandel, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Botticelli, Paris, 1968, p. 103, under no. 113, as Follower of Botticelli.
    R. Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli, Berkeley, 1978, II, p. 153, under no. C68, as Studio of Botticelli, 16th century.


    London, The Royal Academy, 1908, no. 32.
    Caracas, Museo delle Belle Arti, 1953.
    Mexico, D.F., University City, 1954.
    Ciudad Trujillo, Palacio de Belas Artes, 1956.
    Milan, Palazzo Reale, Arte Europea da una Collezione Americana, March-April 1964, no. 2, as 'Sandro Botticelli' (catalogue by R. De Grada).