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Studio of Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510)
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Studio of Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510)

The Madonna and Child with a goldfinch

Studio of Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510)
The Madonna and Child with a goldfinch
oil, tempera, and gold on panel, arched top
29¼ x 16 in. (74.3 x 40.6 cm.)
with Conte Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Rome and New York, by 1926-1927.
Felix M. Warburg, New York, by 1927; given in memory of Felix M. Warburg by his wife and children in 1941 to
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, XII, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation, The Hague, 1931, p. 241, fig. 148, as School of Botticelli.
F. Zeri and E. Gardner, Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School, New York, 1971, p. 166, as Follower of Botticell.
B. Fredericksen and F. Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge, 1972, pp. 34, 319, 608, as 'school, shop, or studio' of Botticelli.
R. Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978, II, p. 122, no. C13.
Westport, Connecticut, Westport Community Art Association, 12-24 February 1955 (no catalogue).
Little Rock, Arkansas Arts Center, Five Centuries of European Painting, 16 May-26 October 1963, p. 8, as a follower of Botticelli.
Stamford, Connecticut, Stamford Museum and Nature Center, Renaissance Paintings, 2-17 May 1964 (no catalogue).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum, 15 June-15 August 1971 (no catalogue).

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Lot Essay

In this grand painting, a beautiful Madonna stands before an open-aired, pietra serena niche. She tenderly supports the Christ Child, who gazes out at the viewer while raising his hand in blessing. He holds a goldfinch in his left hand, a frequent motif in Florentine Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child, which alludes to the Passion. The Christ Child sits on a gold-fringed cushion resting on a stone pedestal, an reference to the altar of sacrifice and the sacrament of the Eucharist. The classicizing reliefs on its sides depict putti, rabbits and acanthus leaves, evoking fecundity. While the reliefs may simply reflect the Florentine Renaissance fascination with antiquity, they may also have been intended to symbolize the world ante and extra Revelationem (see G. Cornini, 'Sandro Botticelli' in Botticelli e Filippino. L'inquietudine e la grazia nella pittura fiorentina del Quattrocento, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 2004, pp. 206-209). As Longhi observed (written correspondence, Oct. 1926), the unusual foreshortening of the architecture is typical of Botticelli and his workshop. It is not strictly perspectival--note for instance, the recession of the pedestal's molding--but rather designed to accentuate the figures and add drama to the composition.

When this painting was in the Contini-Bonacossi collection in the early 20th century, several scholars considered it an autograph work by Botticelli, including Gronau, Von Hadeln, Mayer, Swarzenski, Suida and Longhi, the latter two of whom dated the panel to c. 1485 and c. 1483-1485, respectively (see F. Zeri and E.E. Gardner, loc. cit.). Indeed, several elements in the present picture relate to other works by the artist. The elegant Madonna, for instance, with her impossibly long neck and slender face tilted to the right, recalls the Virgin depicted in Botticelli's San Barnaba altarpiece (Florence, Uffizi, no. 8361), while the Christ child closely compares with the Christ in the San Ambrogio altarpiece (Florence, Uffizi, no. 8657). Although Van Marle and Zeri questioned whether the present painting might have been produced by a follower outside of Botticelli's workshop (op. cit.), more recently, Lightbown catalogued it as a studio work, datable to c. 1500-10 (loc. cit.). Botticelli himself combined the two figures from the aforementioned altarpieces into a single composition, The Madonna and Child, with a pomegranate in an alcove with roses behind (sold Christie's, London, 7 December 2006, lot 39 (£7,497,053)), which was surely the primary source for the Metropolitan's painting. The present work draws on many of the motifs found in this impressive, larger Madonna, which was formerly in the collection of Sir Thomas Merton, including the curved stone niche. Variations such as the Christ child's seated pose, the substitution of the goldfinch with a pomegranate, and the elimination of the rose garden in the background suggest that the present painting was produced by a talented painter in the master's workshop, using Botticelli's own designs.

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