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The Master of Monte Oliveto (Tuscany active c.1305-c.1330)
The Master of Monte Oliveto (Tuscany active c.1305-c.1330)

The Madonna and Child

The Master of Monte Oliveto (Tuscany active c.1305-c.1330)
The Madonna and Child
inscribed 'MATER SCA DEI' (lower center)
tempera and gold on panel, in an arched engaged frame
13¾ x 7 5/8 in. (35 x 19.3 cm.)
Luigi Albrighi Giuseppe Guisti, Florence and London.
with Knoedler, New York, 1957, where acquired by the father of the present owner.
Masterpieces of Italian Religious Paintings XIV to XVIII Century, a Special Loan Exhibition from the Collection of M. Knoedler and Co. Inc., exhibition catalogue, c. 1948.
C. Brandi, Duccio, Florence, 1951, p. 152, as 'Master of Monte Oliveto', under the entry for Segna di Buonaventura.
G. Coor-Achenbach, 'A New Attribution to the Monte Oliveto Master and some Obervations concerning the Chronology of his Works', Burlington Magazine, XCVII, July 1955, pp. 203-7, fig. 26.
J. H. Stubblebine, Duccio da Buoninsegna and his School, Princeton, 1979, pp. 99-100, fig. 227.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that the examination report issued by the Straus Conservation Laboratory at Harvard University and indicated in the catalogue for this lot was provided to the current owner only as a treatment report and not as a full statement of condition. Please refer instead to Christie's independent condition report prepared by Molly March, available from the department.

Lot Essay

Seated on a sumptuous cushion laid upon an inlaid marble throne, the Madonna looks out warily at us, while the Christ Child confidently rests his elbow on her shoulder and plays with her fingers with his left hand. It is as if she already guesses at his fate, a destiny He accepts with equanimity. This enchanting and intimate panel once formed part of a portable triptych, hingemarks on either side suggesting where the shutters were formerly attached. They would probably have represented scenes from the life of Christ. The panel, which has never been shaved or cradled, still carries the original faux porphyry on its reverse as well as elements from its engaged frame on the front. The heavy lidded eyes of the Madonna, the naturalistic passages - most notably in the sensitively observed relationship of mother and child - the heavy but elegant folds of the Madonna's mantle and the calligraphic highlights on her tunic all point to an artist working early in the fourteenth century in an ambience where the influence of Duccio was strong. This is clearly not a work by a close follower of the master such as Segna di Bonaventura or Ugolino di Nerio, where the forms would be more plastic in their modeling and the expression more abstracted. It has been convincingly added to a group of paintings by an artist working at a greater remove from Duccio's workshop. It is named after his earliest work, a tabernacle in the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, south of Siena.

Recognized as a work by this anonymous hand in 1951 by Brandi (op. cit.) who christened this distinctive artist The Monte Oliveto Master in 1933, and then published by Coor in 1957, who dated it to the late 1320s. It was subsequently published in the authoritative work on Duccio and his followers by Stubblebine in 1979. The artist's first works were probably executed in the first decade of the fourteenth century and many are interesting for their apparent borrowings from Duccio's lost Maestà of 1302. The Enthroned Madonna in the monastery of Monte Oliveto, with its somber tones and stiff figures, is characteristic of his early style which softened as he became exposed to more modern Sienese artists such as Simone Martini. However, the Monte Oliveto Master remained at heart a conservative painter and, like the Goodhart Master, seems to have been most comfortable producing paintings on a small scale for private patrons; he was active in the hinterland of Siena, specifically the region around Asciano. Ultimately Duccio remained his most important influence and perhaps of all the prototypes, this panel comes closest to the early Madonna and Child by Duccio in the Galleria Nazionale, Perugia. This panel is described by Coor as 'more refined than any of the author's earlier products and one in which Mary's forms are more graceful and delicate than before'. The words on the footstool repeat the beginning of the inscription of the footstool of Duccio's Maestà. It is dateable to the late 1320s and can be compared to the paintings by him in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, though the latter is smoother in technique and is dateable to early in the third decade of the century.

We are grateful to the Strauss Conservation Laboratory at Harvard University for providing us with a report they made following an examination of this painting. It was their opinion that the panel and painted surface should be dated to the early fourteenth century notwithstanding some discolored restoration, most noticeably on the Virgin's robe.

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