Girolamo Nardini (San Angelo in Vado, near Udine 1450-1516 ?)
Girolamo Nardini (San Angelo in Vado, near Udine 1450-1516 ?)

A donor in front of a frieze - a fragment

Girolamo Nardini (San Angelo in Vado, near Udine 1450-1516 ?)
A donor in front of a frieze - a fragment
inscribed and dated 'RAPHAEL VRBINAS [P]I XIT A·D·M·D·V·I' (upper centre)
oil on canvas, laid down on panel, unframed
32 7/8 x 24 ¼ in. (83 x 62 cm.)
With Oscar Klein, Central Picture Galleries, New York, where acquired by,
Michael Allen Fuleihan, by whom sold, through the Silberman Art Gallery, New York, in 1935 to,
The Detroit Institute of Arts, until at least 1948, and subsequently returned to,
Oscar Klein, Central Picture Galleries, New York.
Anonymous sale; Plaza Art Galleries, New York, 6 March 1975, when acquired by Michael Allen Fuleihan and John A. Shaw.
W.R. Valentiner, ‘An unknown Raphael’, in Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts of the City of Detroit, Detroit, XV, 2, November 1935, pp. 18-27, as by Raphael.
E. Wagner, ‘Ein unbekannter Raphael’, in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Berlin, V, 1936, pp. 288-291, as by Raphael.
‘Neuerwerbung eines Raffael’, in Pantheon, Munich, XVII, 1936, p. 98, ill. pp. 98 and 99.
W.R. Valentiner, ‘Zu dem Neugefundenen Raphael’ in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Berlin, VI, 1937, pp. 327-329, as by Raphael.
S. Ortolani, Raffaello, Bergamo 1942, second ed. 1945, third ed. 1988, p. 21.
F. Zeri, 'Me Pinxit: 9. Raffaele Arcangelo e Raffaello Sanzio', in Proporzioni: studi di storia dell'arte, Florence, 1948, II, pp. 178-180, as by Nardini.
E. Camesasca, Tutta la pittura di Raffaello, I Quadri, Milan 1956, second edition 1962. (Biblioteca d’Arte Rizzoli 24/5.), pp. 82-83.
L. Dussler, Raffael. Kritisches Verzeichnis der Gemälde, Wandbilder und Bildteppiche, Munich 1966, no. 23.
L. Dussler, Raphael: A critical catalogue of his pictures, wall-paintings and tapestries, London, New York, 1971, p. 58.
N. Nicosia, Historical-technical study and considerations regarding the fragment's authenticity: "The Donor" by Girolamo Nardini (end 1400 - beginning 1500), Urbino, 1999.

Lot Essay

In 1935, when acquired by the Detroit Museum of Art, this picture was believed to be a newly rediscovered work by Raphael. During the subsequent campaign of restoration the naked foot of Saint Sebastian was revealed, proving that the picture was a fragment of a larger altarpiece, probably a Sacra Conversazione with the Madonna and Child amongst Saints with a donor in prayer beneath. The signature, the primary reason for the attribution to Raphael, had not altered during the cleaning process, and was therefore considered genuine.
In 1948 Federico Zeri reported the discovery of a cache of around 200 photographs (op.cit.), probably dating to the end of the 19th century and possibly once belonging to a dealer or scholar. Amongst these images was an altarpiece with the Madonna and Child enthroned on a pedestal, flanked by Saint Sebastian to her left and the Archangel Raphael with Tobias to her right. Below the Virgin’s throne and on the pedestal a latin inscription read: Franciscus. Ugucionus. De. Pergula. Quadrerius / Ac. Exercitus. Magr. // Mi. Et. Exc///.Emtissimi.D / Guidiubaldi. Urbini. Ducis Santeq. Ro. Ec. Genera. / Capita. Tpre. San. D. N. D. Iulii. II. Sacellum. Hoc. Beate. Vir. / Arcan. Raphaeli. Divoq. Sebast. Erexit. Ano. D. M. V. I. Beneath this inscription appeared a donor in prayer, before a frieze, and this lower section was recognised by Zeri as the Detroit Raphael.
After studying the altarpiece as a whole, Zeri concluded that it could not have been painted by Raphael but rather by one of the Nardini brothers, probably Gerolamo. However, this re-attribution raised the question of the signature, which had survived the restoration process and was therefore believed to be genuine. In response to this, Zeri turned his attention to the epitaph below the Madonna which read: Arcan. Raphaeli. Divoq. Sebast. Erexit. Ano. D. M. V. I. This final line is that which appears just over the donor and corresponds to the signature in the fragment. Given that there was no evidence of a signature in the photograph of the entire altarpiece, that final sentence of the epitaph, which contains the word “Raphael” already, must have been transformed into the signature that is now visible.

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