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Lorenzo Monaco (Florence 1370/75-c.1425/30)
Lorenzo Monaco (Florence 1370/75-c.1425/30)

The Prophet Isaiah

Details
Lorenzo Monaco (Florence 1370/75-c.1425/30)
The Prophet Isaiah
inscribed 'ECCE VIGO COCIP' (center right, on the scroll)
tempera and gold on panel
7 ¾ in. diameter (19.7 cm. diameter)
Provenance
Probably the Church of San Procolo, Florence, for the altar endowed by Antonio di Andrea del Pannocchia (died 1412/13), until the church was suppressed in 1778 (thought to be the original location of the Accademia Annunciation altarpiece to which this tondo belonged).
(Possibly) the Badia Fiorentina, Florence, by 1795 and before 1810 (where, according to a label on the reverse, the Annunciation altarpiece was found).
Alexis-François Artaud de Montor (1772-1849), Paris; (†) his sale, Schroth, Paris, 17 January 1851, lot 51.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1987, lot 20, where acquired by the present owner.
Literature
(Possibly) F. Bocchi and G. Cinelli, Le bellezze della città di Firenze, Florence, 1677, p. 389, as by an unknown artist (referencing the Annunciation altarpiece).
(Possibly) L. Lanzi, Storia pittorica della Italia dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso alla fine del XVIII secolo, Bassano, 1795-96, I, p. 19, as Giotto (referencing the Annuniciation altarpiece).
A.-F. Artaud de Montor, Peintres primitifs: Collection de tableaux rapportée d'Italie et publiée pa M. le chevalier Artaud de Montor, 3rd ed., Paris, 1843, no. 51, pl. 17, as Cimabue.
A. Schmarsow, 'Maîtres italiens à la galerie d'Altenburg,' Gazette des beaux-arts, ser. 2, no. 20, 1898, p. 502, as Antonio Veneziano.
O. Sirén, Don Lorenzo Monaco, Strasbourg, 1905, p. 44.
G. Pudelko, 'The Stylistic development of Lorenzo Monaco, I,' Burlington Magazine, LXXIII, 1938, p. 248, note 33.
W. and E. Paatz, Die Kirchen von Florenz, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1940-54, I, pp. 292, 315, no. 144, p. 316, no. 151; IV, pp. 694, 700, no. 31 (referencing the altarpiece).
M. Eisenburg, The Origins and Development of the Early Style of Lorenzo Monaco, PH.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1954, pp. 283-88, 310-11.
M. Eisenberg, 'Un frammento smarrito dell'Annunciazione di Lorenzo Monaco nell'Accademia de Firenze,' Bolletino d'arte, ser. 4, no. 41, 1956, pp. 333-35.
G. Previtali, La fortuna dei primitivi: Dal Vasari ai Neoclassici, Rome, 1964, p. 232.
M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370-1400, Florence, 1975, p. 352.
M. Eisenberg, Lorenzo Monaco, Princeton, N.J., 1989, I, pp. 149-50, illustrated p. 150.
L. Kanter, Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1994, pp. 270-71, illustrated p. 271.
D. Gordon, The Fifteenth Century: Italian Paintings, National Gallery Catalogues, London, 2003, I, pp. 177, 186, note 64, fig. 20.
D. Parenti, in Lorenzo Monaco: A Bridge from Giotto's Heritage to the Renaissance, A. Tartuferi and D. Parenti, ed., exhibition catalogue, Florence, 2006, pp. 179-85, no. 27b, illustrated pp. 179 and 181.
D. Parenti, ‘Qualche approfondamento su Lorenzo Monaco e sulla Chiesa di San Procolo a Firenze,’ Intorno a Lorenzo Monaco: Nuovi studi sulla pittura tardogotica, D. Parenti and A. Tartuferi ed., Florence, 2007 pp. 20-31.
L. Kanter, Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection, New Haven, 2010, pp. 69-73, no. 20, illustrated.
S. Rossi, I pittori fiorentini del quattrocento e le loro botteghe : da Lorenzo Monaco a Paolo Uccello, Todi, 2012, p. 48.

Exhibited
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection, 28 May-12 September 2010, no. 20.

Lot Essay

One of the leading painters in 15th century Florence, Lorenzo Monaco was born Piero di Giovanni and took the name Lorenzo Monaco, meaning 'Lorenzo the Monk', in 1390 when he joined the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence. He is known not only for his exquisite devotional paintings on panel but also for frescoes and illuminated manuscripts. The rhythmic, flowing lines that characterize his style lend his figures a sense of graceful movement, enhanced by a delicate and harmonious use of color.
This beautiful bust depicts the Prophet Isaiah, identifiable by the inscription on his scroll ECCE VI[R]GO CO[N]CIP[IET ET PARIET FILIUM] (“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,” [Isaiah 7:14]). The tondo was recognized by Marvin Eisenberg in 1956 as one of the missing pinnacles from Lorenzo’s magnificent Annunciation altarpiece in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence (fig. 1, inv. no. 1890 n. 8458). The triptych's central scene is flanked by Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Anthony Abbot at left and Saints Proculus and Francis at right. The polyptych's exquisite figures are painted with remarkable grace, appearing almost to sway in front of the viewer, unrestricted by the gabled framing device that contains them. The throne is draped in cloth-of-gold shot with crimson which, combined with the gilt background, surrounds the Virgin in a celestial light. The Angel of the Annunciation hovers serenely on a series of clouds, yet the gold lines radiating from his legs and feet and the undulating drapery gives the impression of his being surrounded by swirling air. This sense of drama and movement justifies the pose of the Virgin who flinches, shrinking into her seat.
The pinnacle surmounting the central panel remains intact, with a tondo of the Eternal Father looking down and right, toward the Virgin, his left hand raised in a blessing and holding in his right a gilded globe. The decorative upper sections of the two lateral panels as they appear today, however, are reconstructions; their original troisfoil pinnacles were sawn off just above the heads of the saints. It is within one of those two missing pinnacles that this Prophet Isaiah would have been placed. That this roundel belongs to the Accademia triptych is universally accepted by scholars, but the matter of reconstructing its original placement, whether above the left- or right-hand wing, is less easily resolved. Eisenberg initially proposed that the Prophet Isaiah would have surmounted the right-hand panel, an assertion contradicted by Daniela Parenti. Based on the direction of the prophet's gesturing hand and gaze, Parenti places him above the left-hand wing, looking inward, toward the scene of the Annunciation (loc. cit., p. 179). Though, as Laurence Kanter notes, Isaiah points to his scroll, rather than to the scene beneath, and, even if he were within the left pinnacle facing right, his gaze would not rest on the central figures (loc. cit., p. 70). The light source, illuminating the prophet’s hooded cloak from left, corresponds with that in the right-hand panel, in which Saints Proculus and Francis are similarly lit from left (ibid.). But even this correlation cannot be relied upon as conclusive, since the left-hand panel is lit inconsistently, with Saint Catherine illuminated from right and Saint Francis from the front and slightly left (ibid.). Until the missing third tondo resurfaces Isaiah’s original intended position remains conjectural.
The matter of reconstructing the altarpiece’s predella is similarly unresolved. As the basis of his proposed reconstruction, Osvald Sirén used the predella of an Annunciation executed late in Lorenzo’s career (circa 1420-24), for the Bartolini-Salimbeni chapel in Santa Trinità, Florence (fig. 2; loc. cit.). Matching the scenes represented in the lower section of that polyptych, Sirén united the Nativity from the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 3); the Visitation and the Adoration of the Magi from the Courtauld Gallery, London; and the Flight into Egypt from the Lindenau-Museum, Altenburg. While these panels may indeed relate to one another, their relation to the Accademia Annunciation and to this Prophet Isaiah have since been rejected. Kanter subsequently proposed that the Funeral of an Unidentified Bishop Saint in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice (fig. 4) may have belonged to the Accademia altarpiece. Kanter believes that the Funeral scene was likely painted by the young Fra Angelico, working in Lorenzo Monaco’s workshop (Kanter 2010, op. cit.). He argues that the unusual iconography implies the saint in question was not regularly depicted. The bishop Saint Proculus would fit just this description and his being the eponymous saint of the Florentine church which initially housed the Accademia Annunciation “may be more than a tantalizing coincidence” (ibid.). The mourners wear the habits of Camaldolese monks, a reformed Benedictine order, an illusion, Kanter suggests, to the fact that Saint Proculus’ remains were interred in a Benedictine monastery (ibid.).
The first mention of this Prophet Isaiah as an object independent from the altarpiece came in 1843 when it was published in the catalogue of Alex-François Artaud de Montor (loc. cit.). The author had included an engraving of the work which, along with eight other paintings from his collection, he attributed to Cimabue. A pioneer in collecting Early Italian paintings, prior to the Leopoldine and Napoleonic suppressions, Artaud de Montor had amassed a collection of some 108 works by 1810, dating from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries (Kanter op. cit.). Publishing the painting in 1898, August Schmarsow proposed an attribution to Paolo Veneziano (loc. cit.) but it was Osvald Sirén in 1905 who, on the basis of that same catalogue engraving, recognized the prophet as the work of Lorenzo Monaco. Misreading the last letters of the prophet’s scroll as [S]CO CIP[RIANO], Georg Pudelko identified the subject as Saint Cyprianus (loc. cit.). He suggested it may have belonged to Lorenzo’s Coronation of the Virgin, painted for the Camaldolese monastery of San Benedetto fuori della Porta Pinti, Florence circa 1407-09 and now in the National Gallery, London (inv. no. NG1897). Pudelko’s theory was later disproved following Eisenburg’s reconstruction in 1954.
While it is not known when the two lateral pinnacles were removed, we do know that by 1812 the altarpiece entered the Accademia without them. A label on its reverse reveals that, at the time of the Napoleonic suppression the altarpiece was housed in the Badia Fiorentina, a Benedictine abbey and church in the center of Florence. The triptych is plausibly the “Nunziata” (Annunciation) described in the Badia in 1795-96 by Luigi Lanzi (loc. cit.), who mistook it for an early work by Giotto and thought it to be “una delle sue prime opera” (“one of his first works”). When the monastery was suppressed, many of the artworks housed there were removed and the abbey complex itself was separated out into houses, offices and shops. It was two years later that the altarpiece entered the collection of the Galleria dell’Accademia.
The question remains, however, as to where the altarpiece was located prior to the Badia. Walter and Elizabeth Paatz suggested the inclusion of Saint Proculus (the blond-haired warrior with a sword in the right-hand wing) might align it with an altarpiece mentioned by Francesco Bocchi and Giovanni Cellini in 1677 (loc. cit.). Bocchi and Cellini described “una Nunziata dipinta da incerto sul legno nel 1409” (“an Annunciation painted by an unknown on panel in 1409”) in the church of San Procolo, Florence. The inclusion of the church’s eponymous saint certainly gives weight to the Paatz’s argument and their hypothesis for the San Procolo provenance is widely accepted by scholars, with the exception of Eisenberg, whose doubts (based on the saint’s hagiography) have since been convincingly disproven by Kanter and Parenti. (Eisenberg 1989, op. cit.; Kanter 1994, op. cit.; Parenti 2007, op. cit.).
The exact date of this Prophet Isaiah (and of the Annunciation altarpiece as a whole) remains the subject of scholarly debate. Paatz and Kanter date it to 1409 (Paatz and Kanter 1994, op. cit.), while Mirella Levi d’Ancona and Miklòs Boskovits placed it a little later between 1410 and 1415 (M. Levi d’Ancona, ‘Bartolomeo di Fruosino,’ Art Bulletin, 1961, 43, p. 93; Boskovitz, op. cit.). Luciano Bellosi and Eisenberg, meanwhile, had initially considered it to have been painted earlier, settled on a date between 1415 and 1420 (loc. cit.). Parenti tentatively hypothesizes that the original inscription as described in 1677 may have been misread as MCCCCVIIII (1409) rather than MCCCCXIIII (1414) (Parenti 2006 and 2007, op. cit.). If such an error did indeed occur – whether during the transcription or due to damage obscuring an accurate reading – then this dating would align the Annunciation altarpiece with Lorenzo’s Coronation of the Virgin altarpiece of 1413 for the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

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