Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

The Story of Coriolanus: a cassone front

The Story of Coriolanus: a cassone front
tempera and gold on panel
16 ¾ x 61 in. (42.5 x 155 cm.)
Count Palmieri-Nuti, Siena, as 'Lorenzo di Pietro, called Vecchietta'.
Otto H. Kahn (1867-1934), Sutton Place, New York, by 1914, as 'from the Saraceni Palace, Siena', and by descent to Mrs. Otto Kahn; Christie's, London, 28 July 1939, lot 58, as 'Vecchietta', where acquired for 350 gns. by Sir Alec Martin on behalf of the following,
Sir Thomas Merton F.R.S., K.B.E. (1888-1969), Stubbings House, Maidenhead, and by descent.
Anonymous sale [Property from the Estate of a Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 7 December 2010, lot 7, where acquired by the present owner.
F.J. Mather, Jr., 'Two Sienese Cassone Panels', in Art in America, II, 1914, pp. 397-401, fig. 1, as 'School of Lorenzo Vecchietta'.
P. Schubring, Cassoni: Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Frührenaissance. Ein Beitrag zur Profanmalerei im Quatrrocento, Leipzig, 1915, p. 327, no. 458, as 'Lorenzo di Pietro, called Vecchietta'.
R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Paintings, The Hague, XVI, 1937, p. 248, note 1, as 'School of Vecchietta'.
A. Scharf, A Catalogue of Pictures and Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Merton, F.R.S. at Stubbings House, Maidenhead, London, 1950, pp. 20-21, no. VI, as 'Florentine School, ca. 1460'.
B. Fredericksen, The Cassone Paintings of Francesco di Giorgio, Los Angeles, 1969, p. 14, note 15, as 'The Master of Fucecchio'.
G. Hughes, Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests, 1400-1550, London, 1997, p. 139, illustrated, as 'Lo Scheggia'.
L. Bellosi and M. Haines, Lo Scheggia, Florence and Siena, 1999, p. 86, as an 'opera di maturità' by Lo Scheggia.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Italian Art and Britain, 2 January-6 March 1960, no. 324, as 'Florentine School, circa 1460'.
Florence, Museo Stibbert, Le Opere e I Giorni, 26 September 2015-6 January 2016, no. 4.5.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Collection Alana: Chefs d’œuvre de la peinture italienne, 13 September 2019-20 January 2020, no. 38.

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Lot Essay

For its vibrant palette and its sense of space, with the narrative set before beautifully tended arable fields, a fantastical Tuscan city protected by impenetrably high walls, and a landscape that follows a meandering river to a mountainous backdrop and, eventually, the sea, this is one of Lo Scheggia’s most impressive works as a painter of cassone. The panel, of particularly imposing scale, belongs to a group, previously attributed variously to the Masters of Fucecchio and the Adimari Cassone, which have more recently been recognised as by Lo Scheggia, brother of Masaccio, who after the latter's death was strongly influenced by such artists as Domenico Veneziano, Paolo Uccello and Giovanni di Francesco. He was a versatile artist, but is at his best as a painter of cassone fronts and deschi da parto, receiving commissions both in his native Valdarno and in Florence. He was employed by many of the leading patrons of Florence and its surrounds, not least among them the Medici for whom he produced the desco da parto with the Triumph of Fame for the occasion of the birth of Lorenzo de Medici, later known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Sienese provenance of this cassone may not be accidental, as four spalliera panels by the artist are in the Pinacoteca Nazionale there.

The dominant, even unusual, colour scheme is achieved by the low viewpoint which allows for a surprisingly large proportion of sky, here shown in brilliant blue dotted with scudding clouds, as well as the richly coloured city walls. These two features dominate to a far greater degree than is normal in such cassone. The foreground itself, where the narrative takes place, is equally inventive, and of particular note are the acutely observed foreshortening of the conference tent from which Coriolanus emerges and the audacious conceit in the centre right foreground where just the tops of the tents are shown, implying a point of view from further back within the military encampment. The composition achieves a more credible sense of space than most cassone of the period.

The panel was acquired in 1914 by Otto Kahn, the great New York collector, philanthropist and patron of the arts. Kahn, who was born and raised in Bavaria, moved to London and then to New York where he became a citizen in 1917. He supported contemporary artists such as the poet Hart Crane, the composer George Gershwin, and the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. Kahn maintained several residences, including the 126-room Oheka Castle on his Long Island Estate and an 80-room Italian Renaissance palazzo-style mansion on Carnegie Hill. His collection included such masterpieces as Domenico Ghirlandaio's Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni and Carpaccio's Young Knight (both now, Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum).

The panel was subsequently purchased by Sir Alec Merton on behalf of Sir Thomas Merton at the 1939 sale. Merton, who served as a Trustee of the National Gallery, formed a distinguished collection of early Italian and Northern pictures and drawings and had a particular interest in the technique of Renaissance artists. Among the pictures were the portrait of Guillaume Fillastre attributed to Rogier van der Weyden (London, Courtauld Institute) and two works by Botticelli, as well as a predella panel by Bernardino Fungai (York, City Art Gallery), and the ravishing Madonna and Child with a saint by Bartlomeo Montagna (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery), the finest picture from the collection of Dr Alfred Mond to be withheld from his bequest to the National Gallery. Among Merton’s collection of drawings was Luca Signorelli’s exceptional study in chalk of a young warrior, now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. In addition to the present lot, Merton owned two further cassone panels by Scheggia, including that previously in the collection of the Earls of Crawford and most recently sold at Christie’s, London, 5 July 2011, lot 56. For a full summary of Sir Thomas's career, see the introduction to lots 36-39, offered at Christie's, London, 7 December 2006.

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