Benedetto Bonfigli (Perugia c. 1420-1496)
Benedetto Bonfigli (Perugia c. 1420-1496)

The Madonna and Child with angels

Benedetto Bonfigli (Perugia c. 1420-1496)
The Madonna and Child with angels
tempera and gold on panel, arched top
31½ x 21 in. (80 x 53.3 cm.)
Otto H. Kahn collection, New York.
with Schaeffer Galleries, New York.
O. Siren, et al., Italian Primitives, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1917, p. 192-3, no. 76.
R. Robinson, The Arts of the Italian Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1923, p. 8, no. 23.
B. Berenson, Metropolitan Bulletin, May/August 1923, vol. 18, pp. 108 and 200.
W.B. McCormick, 'Otto H. Kahn collection', in International Studio, January 1925, vol. 80, pp. 279-86, illustrated.
W.R. Valentiner, Early Italian Paintings, New York, 1926, pl. 23. R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools, The Hague, 1938, XIV, pp. 120 and 122, illustrated.
L. Venturi, Italian Paintings in America, Milan, 1933, II, pl. 321.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Central Italian and North Italian Schools, 1968, I, p. 58.
F. Kleinberger Galleries, New York, Italian Primitives, November 1917, no. 76.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Arts of the Italian Renaissance, 1923, no. 23.
Duveen Galleries, New York, Early Italian Painting, April - May 1924, no. 23.

Lot Essay

Benedetto Bonfigli's Madonna and Child with angels is a charming example of quattrocento Umbrian gold-ground painting during the transitional period between the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance styles. Dressed in crimson and indigo, her head covered with a sheer veil, the Virgin glances lovingly at the Christ Child in her lap, who is supported by one of the two angels standing next to them. Christ is convincingly infant-like, more so than other known paintings by the artist, as he tugs at his mother's veil and reaches for the golden orb she holds in front of him. The figures are placed close together and close to the picture plane, so that very little of the sky and rocky landscape can be viewed behind them. This helps to establish a sense of immediacy between viewer and subject that makes the panel all the more successful as a private devotional object.

The present work can perhaps be most closely compared to the Madonna of Humility belonging to the Kress Collection (El Paso Museum of Art, Texas). While the figures in the Kress Madonna are more archaicized and thus more representative of the Late Gothic than Early Renaissance style, they demonstrate many of the signature motifs found in Bonfigli's surviving works. Similarities can be found in the layered, curled locks of hair of both Christ and the accompanying angels, and in the Madonna's soft, linear waves. In the present panel, she wears a veil gathered in long, thin vertical folds, similar to that in the Kress Madonna. The halos, too, are similar in style, with closely-set radiating lines bordered by a thin band of tooling. The facial types reveal a synthesis of Bonfigli's artistic influences, combining Filippo Lippi's wide-set eyes and pretty features with the grace of Fra Angelico, and his distinctive black line along the upper edge of the eyelid.

Benedetto Bonfigli, a Perugian artist, received his training between 1430 and 1440 when the Late Gothic style was still dominant. He was aware of the innovations of Fra Angelico, but was even more strongly influenced by Domenico Veneziano, who was working in Perugia in around 1438. By 1450 Bonfigli is known to have been in Rome, where he was retained by the Vatican and held in high regard by Pope Nicholas V. Unfortunately, none of his works from this period have survived. Bonfigli returned to Perugia at the end of 1454, where he was commissioned to paint a series of frescoes in the Priors' Chapel of the Palazzo dei Priori, now considered his greatest work. In addition to Fra Angelico, Domenico Veneziano and Filippo Lippi, Bonfigli appears to have studied the work of Piero della Francesca and perhaps also Mantegna's frescoes in the church of the Eremitani in Padua. The years between 1450 and 1470 witnessed the apex of Bonfigli's career, a period during which he produced such works as the Adoration of the Magi, an altarpiece with a predella featuring Episodes from the Life of Christ and a Miracle of St. Nicholas (National Gallery of Umbria, Perugia).

The present panel is noteworthy for its provenance, having belonged to the collection of the financier, philanthropist and patron of the arts Otto Kahn. Kahn, who was born and raised in Bavaria, moved to London and then to New York where he became a citizen in 1917. He supported contemporary artists such as Hart Crane, George Gershwin and Arturo Toscanini, and maintained several residences, including the 126-room Oheka Castle on his Long Island Estate and an 80-room Italian Renaissance palazzo-style mansion on Carnegie Hill.

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