Frederick Lord Leighton, P.R.A. (British, 1830-1896)
Frederick Lord Leighton, P.R.A. (British, 1830-1896)

A Color Sketch for 'Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets in Florence'

Frederick Lord Leighton, P.R.A. (British, 1830-1896)
A Color Sketch for 'Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets in Florence'
oil on canvas
11¾ x 25¾ in. (29.8 x 65.2 cm.)
B. G. Windus Esq.
G. P. Wall, Sheffield; Christie's, 16 March 1912, lot 26. with Cross & Phillips, Liverpool.
W. H. Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (died 1925).
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Wirral, Merseyside.
Lady Lever Art Gallery sale; Christie's London, 6 June 1958, lot 135.
with Gooden & Fox, London.
John Bryson, Oxford. His sale; Christie's, 13 May 1977, lot 171.
Mrs. Tanenbaum by 1977.
Sotheby's, New York, 24 October 1996, lot 113.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, 1906, vol. I, p. 151.
P. R. Tatlock, English Painting of the XVIIIth - XXth Centuries, A Record of the Collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, 1928, p. 102, no. 1173.
L. and R. Ormond, Lord Leighton, 1975, pp. 30, 150, no. 24 and col. pl. 1.
O. Millar, The Victorian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge, 1992, p. 161, no. 451.
London, Royal Academy, Italian Art and Britain, Winter 1960, no. 244 (lent by John Bryson).
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, The Other Nineteenth Century, 1978, no. 44.

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Lot Essay

Leighton had begun his artistic education in Frankfurt in 1846, and although he was to leave when revolution broke out two years later, he was back by the summer of 1850, studying under the Nazarene painter Edward von Steinle. In 1852 he went on to Rome, and it was there that he embarked on the large and ambitious picture which he hoped would make his name. He had already attempted a number of these scenes from artists' lives which enjoyed an international vogue at this time - Cimabue Finding Giotto in the Fields of Florence (circa 1845-1850), Signorelli Painting his Dying Son (1851), The Death of Brunelleschi (1852). Now he chose another, from Vasari's account of how Cimabue's picture of the Madonna and Child was carried in triumph from his house to the church of Santa Maria Novella. (The picture is now in the Uffizi, attributed to Duccio.)

The focus of the composition is on Cimabue and his young apprentice Giotto, the figure of Cimabue himself being based on a traditional likeness among Andrea da Firenze's frescoes in the Spanish Chapel. Other leading Florentine artists are seen carrying the masterpiece, while Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, who, according to Vasari, was in Florence at the time and went to see Cimabue's picture, appears on the far right on horseback. City fathers, fashionable young men, a bishop, musicians, children and ordinary citizens make up the rest of the procession. A group of aristocratic spectators appear at a window, while the supercilious figure of Dante looks on.

Leighton prepared his picture with immense care, making an elaborate composition drawing (Leighton House, Kensington; Ormond op.cit., pl. 35) and then a series of detailed studies, of which about thirty are known to survive. A few are dated 1853, but the majority, according to Richard and Leonee Ormond, were executed in the early months of 1854. One head study was modelled from a certain Giacomo in Rome at the time, who also sat for Degas (see Ormond, pls. 41, 43). Leighton began work on the painting itself in January 1854, blocking in the forms in a monochrome underpainting. Color came later, and it is in this connection that he made our sketch. It was completed in May, and follows the designs of the prime picture closely. Leighton continued to work on this all through the summer and winter, adding the final touches in February 1855, not long before it was submitted to the Academy. Prince Albert, a connoisseur of early Italian painting, persuaded Queen Victoria to buy it. Still in the Royal Collection, the finished painting is now on loan to the National Gallery, London.

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