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GIOVANNI DI PIETRO, CALLED LO SPAGNA (ACTIVE PERUGIA, 1470-1528 SPOLETO)
GIOVANNI DI PIETRO, CALLED LO SPAGNA (ACTIVE PERUGIA, 1470-1528 SPOLETO)
GIOVANNI DI PIETRO, CALLED LO SPAGNA (ACTIVE PERUGIA, 1470-1528 SPOLETO)
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PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
GIOVANNI DI PIETRO, CALLED LO SPAGNA (ACTIVE PERUGIA, 1470-1528 SPOLETO)

The Madonna and Child in a landscape

Details
GIOVANNI DI PIETRO, CALLED LO SPAGNA (ACTIVE PERUGIA, 1470-1528 SPOLETO)
The Madonna and Child in a landscape
oil on panel
14 ½ x 12 3/8 in. (36.8 x 31.4 cm.)
Provenance
Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819-1907), 1st Baron Aldenham, Hertford, by 25 July 1887 (no. 179), as 'Pietro Perugino'.
Catherine Barker Hickox, and by descent to,
Barker Welfare Foundation; Sotheby's, New York, 17 January 1985, lot 117.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 12 January 1996, lot 57.
[Property of the Rodriguez Family]; Christie's, New York, 8 June 2011, lot 38, where acquired by the present owner ($566,500).
Literature
F. Todini, La Pittura Umbra dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento, I, Milan, 1989, p. 314; II, p. 605, fig. 1402.
Exhibited
London, Guildhall, 1890, no. 38, as 'Perugino'.
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, on loan, 1973, as 'Perugino'.

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Lot Essay

Formerly known as the 'Aldenham Perugino' due to its early provenance in Baron Henry Hucks Gibbs' important collection, for the past quarter of a century the attribution of the present painting has been securely given to Giovanni di Pietro, known as Lo Spagna. Of Spanish origin - hence his nickname - Giovanni di Pietro is first documented in Perugia, where he was active through 1504. While the details of his early artistic training are uncertain, he is recorded as a member of Perugino's workshop in 1492, and without question his early work reflects the influence of that painter. Lo Spagna appears to have traveled throughout Umbria and the Marches, and is documented in 1502 in Spella, where it is possible that he briefly entered Pinturicchio's workshop. After a short period of activity in Todi, in 1516 he was awarded citizenship in Spoleto, where it is likely that he finished his career. After marrying into the prominent Martorelli family, in 1517 he was nominated Capitano delle Arti dei Pittori e degli Orefici. It is likely that he died from the plague in 1528, while working on a fresco cycle for San Giacomo di Spoleto, a commission that was completed by his assistants, Dono Doni and Cecco di Bernardino d'Assisi.

The present painting dates to Lo Spagna's early period, when he was still very much under the influence of Perugino. It appears to be closely related to another composition that has traditionally been ascribed to Perugino of which three replicas are known, although over the course of the past century the attributions of all three have been questioned. The finest of these is the Madonna and Child in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, which itself is of uncertain provenance. The two additional versions are in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. As in the Aldenham panel, the Madonna and Child in the Borghese composition sit on a stone ledge against a verdant, mountainous landscape whose horizon has been placed at the level of her shoulders. Though he executed his panel on a slightly reduced scale (the Borghese panel measures 45 x 37 cm.), Lo Spagna must have taken this composition as his point of departure, as in both paintings the disposition of the Madonna's torso, left arm and hand, as well as the idiosyncratically twisted veil that runs just below her neckline are nearly identical. The possibility of a now-lost common source, however, should not be ruled out.

Yet there are numerous features in the present panel that remove any doubt about its attribution to Giovanni di Pietro. The overall handling of the drapery, for instance, which exhibits a calligraphic flare that at times contradicts the viewer's assumptions about the unseen body that it conceals is a hallmark of Lo Spagna's style. Moreover, the Virgin's oval face, which is almost sculptural in its modeling, her bee-stung lips and slender yet boldly arched eyebrows, together with the distinctive articulation of her fingers and the Christ Child's toes, all find parallels in other works by the Spanish painter. All of these features are visible in Lo Spagna's Madonna and Child in The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, in which the Christ Child's head, torso and right leg are nearly identical to those in the present painting. Likewise, the handling of the trees in the background do not find parallels in Perugino's oeuvre, but are consistent with Lo Spagna's hand. With these questions of attribution now resolved, this private devotional panel may assume its rightful place as one of Giovanni di Pietro's finest works.

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