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Sano di Pietro (Siena 1405-1481)
Sano di Pietro (Siena 1405-1481)

The Madonna and Child with two angels

Sano di Pietro (Siena 1405-1481)
The Madonna and Child with two angels
tempera and gold on panel, in an engaged frame
13 5/8 x 11¼ in. (34.5 x 28.5 cm.)
Carlo Cinughi, Siena, by 1904.
J.A. Crowe and G.B. Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy: Umbrian and Sienese Masters of the Fifteenth Century, New York, 1914, V, p. 175.
Siena, Palazzo Pubblico, Mostra dell'antica arte senese, April-August 1904, no. 33 (584).

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Lot Essay

Fresh to the market and previously unpublished, this lovely Madonna and Child shows why Sano di Pietro was the most sought-after painter in mid-15th-century Siena. His extraordinarily well-documented career spanned over five decades and included large altarpieces, manuscript illuminations, and small-scale paintings for private devotion, such as the present work, in which the delicacy and refinement of his technique and lyricism of feeling are most readily revealed.

Born Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, Sano's early artistic training probably took place in the workshop of the great Sienese revolutionary Sassetta (c. 1400-1450), several of whose unfinished works he completed after the elder artist's death in 1450. Although Sassetta undoubtedly remained his strongest artistic influence, Sano's paintings also reveal his awareness of the art of Domenico di Bartolo and suggest that he knew the work of Paolo Uccello and Fra Angelico as well. Indeed, the Christ child and the two beatific angels peering in from the upper corners in the present work have an innocence and sweetness of expression hearkening back to paintings for which the older Florentine master earned the sobriquet Angelico, or 'angelic one'.

It is likely that this enchanting, ethereal quality accounted for Sano's enormous success amongst contemporary Sienese patrons, for whom he produced numerous portable, devotional images. In order to meet the constant demand, Sano oversaw a thriving workshop of assistants, many of whose hands are discernible in his more repetitive, later pictures. This example, however, exhibits the freshness of feeling and clear, rich coloring that distinguish Sano's earliest and best works: the Christ child's interaction with his mother is especially tender, his cheek pressed against hers as he reaches for her hand as if pleading for affection, while her vivid blue mantle provides a stunning burst of color against the luminous, elegantly tooled gold background.

In the early 20th century, the present panel was framed as a tabernacle and surmounted by a lunette depicting the Resurrection of Christ.

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