• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2135

    Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture

    28 January 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 10

    The Master of Memphis active Florence c.1500 - 1510

    The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and two shepherds

    Price Realised  


    The Master of Memphis active Florence c.1500 - 1510
    The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and two shepherds
    oil and tempera on panel, circular
    44 1/8 in. 112 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

    Filippino Lippi (c. 1457-1504), in whose orbit the artist of the present painting was certainly active, was the son and pupil of Fra Filippo Lippi (c. 1406-1459), and was taught also by his father's student, Sandro Botticelli. His paintings are characterized by an expressive linearity, and his ability to keep at the forefront of contemporary tastes won him numerous prestigious commissions from patrons including Lorenzo (il Magnifico) de'Medici and Filippo Strozzi. Filippino is perhaps best known for his extensive fresco cycle for the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence. He was a prolific and talented draftsman and certainly ran his own studio at some point, though little is known about his pupils. Artists known to have been apprenticed to or at least influenced by Filippino include Raffaelino del Garbo, Vincenzo Frediani, and the anonymous author of the present work, the Master of Memphis.

    Works given to the Master of Memphis, an as-yet unidentified assistant of Filippino, are grouped after a signal work in the collection of the Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis. Painted in tondo format, this work has in the past been considered a collaboration between Filippino and Raffaelino del Garbo; according to a 1962 opinion by Dr. Alfred Scharf, he believed the landscape and two shepherds to be the work of Filippino himself and the Saint Joseph and Saint John to be by Raffaelino. However, recent scholars, including Everett Fahy, Jonathan Nelson and Patrizia Zambrano, have all attributed this tender devotional image to the anonymous Master of Memphis. His paintings can be identified by the characteristically long and slender fingers and toes of his figures, their rather abrupt gestures and voluminous drapery, with numerous folds and pleats -- all traits evident in the present Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist and Shepherds.

    There is a version of this composition, without the infant Saint John and slightly reduced in size (diameter 86 cm.), formerly on the art market in Naples in 1928, and the original composition may well derive from a now-lost sketch or painting by Filippino. We can also compare the figures of the shepherds conversing in the background to those in a tondo given to the Master of Memphis, in the collection of the Petit Palais, Avignon. In both instances, the artist uses the architectural ruins as a visual device, physically separating the earthly figures of the shepherds from the heavenly figures of the Madonna and Child, Saint Joseph, and Saint John.

    In many respects this tondo is close to similar works given to Filippino himself, and thus also demonstrates the influence of Fra Filippo Lippi and Botticelli. There is a particular, obvious delight in the details of the landscape background that is typical of Filippino, with the descriptions of the tiny plants and grasses in the foreground, as well as the hazy blue mountains and towers of the town in the distance. The rustic shepherds, taken from Filippino, may ultimately derive from Hugo van der Goes's Portinari Altarpiece, which arrived in Florence in 1483 and proved a significant influence on the staffage of Filippino's paintings later in his career.


    Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 24 March 1961, lot 37, as 'Filippino Lippi' (7000 gns. to Agnew's).
    with Agnew's, London, as 'Filippino Lippi and Raffaelino del Garbo', from where purchased by Mr. E.W. Edwards, Cincinnati, thence by descent to his daughter
    Eleanor Wood Prince, Chicago.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of William and Eleanor Wood Prince, Chicago, Illinois


    The Connoisseur, May 1962, illustrated.
    E. Fahy, Some Followers of Domenico Ghirlandajo, Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, Cambridge, 1968, New York and London, 1976, p. 201, as 'Master of Tavarnelle'.
    J.K. Nelson, The Later Works of Filippino Lippi from his Roman Sojourn until his Death (ca. 1489-1504), Ph.D. diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, New York, 1992, p. 283, as 'Master of Memphis'.
    E. Fahy, '"Master called "Niccolò Cartoni"', Frick Art Reference Library, New York, 1996, as 'Master of Memphis'.
    R. Olson, The Florentine Tondo, Oxford and New York, 2000, fig. A32, as 'Studio of Filippino'.
    J.K. Nelson, and L.A. Waldman, 'La questione dei dipinti postumi di Filippino: Fra Girolamo da Brescia, il "Maestro di Memphis" e la pala d'altare a Fabbrica di Peccioli", Filippino Lippi e Pietro Perugino: La Deposizione della Santissima Annunziata e il suo restauro, Florence, 2004, pp. 142-43, as 'Master of Memphis'.
    P. Zambrano, et. al., Filippino Lippi, Milan, 2004, p. 610, no. R29, as 'Master of Memphis'.


    London, Agnew's, Summer Exhibition of Old Masters, 16 May-16 June 1962.