Paolo Veneziano (active Venice 1333/58-before 1362)
SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE COLLECTING OF RENAISSANCE ART This introduction is intended to shed some light on patterns in the collection of what we broadly call Renaissance art. I will touch on some of the forces that drove the extraordinary interest that this era has generated; why this area has long held such a remarkable fascination for collectors; who were the collectors and what were the forces that influenced their taste. Great old master paintings are somewhat like characters from a Shakespearian comedy, caught up in violent storms and then tossed up on a remote land and involved in love affairs, often through a series of misadventures, mistaken identities and the intervention of a third party. My observations will be limited to the collecting of painting from the eighteenth century and will barely stray beyond the middle of the twentieth. Of course major Italian families such as the Borghese, Giustiniani and Aldobrandini, and Dutch merchants such as Cornelis van der Gheest and Jan Reynst, amassed major holdings of Renaissance art in the seventeenth century, and served as important exemplars and sources for succeeding generations of collectors. Likewise, the French royal collections of Renaissance art were largely formed then as well. The collecting of Renaissance art was rarely pursued in isolation from other schools and periods. Always most prized were works by those artists who were seated at the head of Vasari's high table: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo, and most subsequent appreciations of Renaissance art placed these artists as the destination at the end of the road along which all the great earlier painters, Giotto, Masaccio and Piero della Francesca had trod. In 1767 Horace Walpole fulminated: 'There is little to be said of the Florentine School as there was so little variety in the masters; and except Andrea del Sarto and the two Zuccheros their names are scarce known outside Tuscany. Their drawing was hard and their coloring gaudy and gothic, in short all the qualities of a perfect painter never met but in Raphael, Guido and Annibal Carracci'. In the National Gallery in London, are eleven panels by Ugolino di Nerio (fig. 1), an important follower of Duccio. They form part of the altarpiece he painted for the high altar of Santa Croce in Florence between 1325 and 1328. It was removed in the 16th century and eventually moved into the Friar's upper dormitory. Sometime in the 1790's those parts of the altarpiece thought worth preserving were bought by an English collector who was a pioneering connoisseur of early Italian art, William Young Ottley (1771-1836). Ottley was in Italy, in the 1790s, where he acquired many of the drawings which now form the core of the Ashmolean Museum's holdings of Raphael and Michelangelo. He also took advantage of the turmoil following the French invasion of Italy in 1796, buying pictures from the Aldobrandini, Borghese, Colonna and Corsini families, including Botticelli's Mystic Nativity (see fig. 9) and Raphael's Dream of a Knight, both now in the National Gallery, London. And he was not alone: as Haskell remarked in his essential Rediscoveries in Art (1976): 'That the nobility and gentry [of England] could now decorate their houses in the same style as the aristocrats of Rome, Venice and Genoa on whom they had called on their Grand Tours would have been unimaginable only ten years earlier. Suddenly it became possible -- almost easy if the money was available -- and as the meal was digested, the appetite grew. Floods of agents, dealers, unsuccessful artists and adventurers of all kinds descended on Italy to take their pickings from the resident nobility who were obligated to pay swingeing fines imposed by the invading French armies. For more than a decade it seemed as if the whole of Europe -- from dukes and generals to monks and common thieves -- were involved in a single vast campaign of speculative art dealing. George III noticed what was happening and commented sarcastically that 'all his noblemen were now picture dealers.' Upon his return to London in 1799, Ottley established himself as a marchand-amateur. He advised major collectors, most notably the first Marquess of Stafford. He published a series of plates engraved after the works of the most eminent masters of the early Florentine school, which helped propagate an interest in the so-called Italian 'primitives', i.e., paintings executed before 1500. He died in 1839 and his collection was sold after the death of his younger brother, Warner. Of the eleven panels by Ugolino offered at auction none found a buyer at the sale, an indication of the thin market for early paintings at the time. However two important collectors later intervened and added them to their collections -- both, by chance, members of the cloth: the Rev. Walter Bromley Davenport (1787-1862) (fig. 2) and the Rev. John Fuller Russell (1814-1888). The Rev. Walter Bromley Davenport assembled an extraordinary group of over 180 Italian primitives which included a polyptych by Taddeo Gaddi (sold Christies, London, 24 May 1991, lot 33, fig. 3) and the celebrated Journey of the Magi by Sassetta (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), then attributed to Gentile da Fabriano. There were other notable collectors in this field at the time, among them the Rev. John Sanford (1777-1855), who following his scandalous marriage to the divorced Eliza Morgan, moved from his parish in Somerset to Florence in 1830. As with almost all buyers of primitives at that time, his taste was not limited, and among his greatest paintings was Poussin's Landscape with Orion, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. In Italy he amassed a group of paintings purporting to be by Bronzino, Pontormo and Andrea del Sarto. What remains of his collection now hangs at Corsham. Significant migrants include the panels depicting of the Story of Joseph by Bachiacca at the National Gallery, London and the exquisite St. John the Baptist by Piero di Cosimo (fig. 4), now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. An equally interesting early collector of primitives was William Roscoe (1753-1831). A banker from Liverpool of unspectacular means who never once went to Italy, he assembled a group of some 200 paintings of which he said 'their value chiefly depends on their authenticity, and the light they shed on the history of the arts.' In other words, his was intended as a didactic collection, over a quarter of which consisted of primitive paintings. Such an aspiration was to be expected in a period which saw an explosion of public collections, notably in Florence, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and London. The idea of art as a popular, edifying experience fueled interest in early art with such exhibitions as that at the British Institution in 1848 which was seen as a 'novelty bringing to the public a series of pictures from the times of Giotto and Van Eyck'; it reached a peak in 1857 with the Great Exhibition of Art held in Manchester (fig. 5). In four months, 1,500,000 people filed past a vast array of works, including pictures by Bartolo di Fredi and Sano di Pietro -- not to mention the panels from the Santa Croce altarpiece lent by the Rev. J. Fuller Russell. It was that exhibition which excited a new appetite for English swagger portraiture of the eighteenth century, which along with great works from the Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age, was to be one of the key ingredients for a new paradigm of collecting which would emerge later in the century. Underpinning the revival of interest in Renaissance art was an influential intellectual support. We have seen how unpalatable Horace Walpole found the genius of the early Renaissance, but others stepped in to play a critical role in developing the dialogue which put the Renaissance at the forefront of the educated person's consciousness. It can be no coincidence that so many collectors of early Italian art in England were members of the cloth. But one of the chief conundrums facing devout Christian thinkers and critics was how to reconcile the religious and pagan elements which had co-existed happily in quattrocento Italy. Nearly four hundred years later, John Addington Symonds (fig. 6) could not but admit, 'I am bound to affirm my conviction that the spiritual purists of all ages -- the Jews, the iconoclasts of Byzantium, Savanarola, and our Puritan ancestors -- were justified in their mistrust of plastic art. The spirit of Christianity and the spirit of figurative art are opposed, not because such art is immoral, but because it can not free itself from sensuous associations'. And though that passage was written in the 1880's, the sentiment goes some way to explain the interest in Gothic painting championed most influentially by the critic Alfonse Rio, described by Haskell as an 'enormously influential, extreme catholic reactionary'. Rio's L'Art Chrétien, first published in 1830, spoke eloquently for the virtues of Gothic art, always emphasizing the perfect alignment of art and spiritual authenticity. His assessment of Fra Bartolommeo provides a good example of his penchant for moralizing opprobrium: 'Son premier aprentissage lui donna pour condisciples Piero di Cosimo et Mariotto Albertinelli, c'est a dire un fou et un debauché'. Notwithstanding Rio's enormous influence, the enthusiasm for collecting Renaissance art in France does not seem to have been remotely comparable to that in England, or even Italy. The main French collectors of note in this area were both relatives of Napoleon: his uncle, Cardinal Fesch (a source for many of Bromley Davenport's paintings and the owner of Mantegna's Agony in the Garden, National Gallery, London, fig. 7) and Lucien Bonaparte. Vivant Denon, a man of wide-ranging and impeccable taste, earlier in the century was a tireless looter and brought many important Italian and Northern Renaissance paintings to the Louvre and the regional French museums. As with other admirers of the Renaissance, he was charged with the mission to obtain for the Musée Napoleon a small but remarkable group of Italian Primitives in order to demonstrate the developments that led to the glorious achievements of the late 15th and early 16th centuries; to fill 'une lacune: les plus anciens peintres italiens, ceux qu'on commençait alors a appeler les 'primitifs', n'y étaient pas réprésentés commençant à Cimabue et finissant à Raphael'. With the Napoleonic suppression of the religious orders in 1810 and the subsequent dispersal of religious works, the opportunity to fill this lacuna became far easier. These would include the Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico (fig. 8), The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio and the Presentation in the Temple by Gentile da Fabriano. An interesting postscript to this is that following Napoleon's fall from power in 1815, while icons such as the horses of St Mark's basilica in Venice were repatriated, some of the Italian commissaires, especially the Tuscans, 'abandonnèrent avec dédain au musée du Louvre... les peintures primatives, qu'on ne goutait pas encore chez eux'. The growth of interest in Italian primitives over the course of the nineteenth century was driven by complex issues: some political, some economic, some academic and some even literary. William Blake as early as 1809 describes the 'knocking down and putting up' of artists. Any modern visitor to the Uffizi will be struck not only by the lengthy queues to gain admission but by the crowds admiring the masterpieces of Sandro Botticelli -- the Primavera, the Birth of Venus and the Madonna of the Magnificat. But such was not always the case. William Young Ottley was ahead of his time when he acquired the Mystic Nativity by Botticelli in 1799 (fig. 9). There are reasons for Botticelli's sudden fall into the abyss of obscurity. His last years 1500-1510 saw a decline in his powers which were overshadowed by the rising stars of Leonardo and Michelangelo. His two most spectacular masterpieces 'remained hidden and unknown in the grand ducal villa of Castello outside Florence and could not be seen by the public until 1815'. Vasari did not do the artist justice and later treatises on Italian painting such as Aglionby's Painting Illustrated in three dialogues, 1685, decided that he was a painter in whose work 'there wanted a Spirit and Life and particularly an Easiness.' But by the late 18th century notice was beginning to be taken. The S. Barnaba Altarpiece was engraved in an Italian journal in 1791 and Luigi Lanzi praised Botticelli's frescoes in the Sistine chapel in 1795. Ingres copied Moses and the daughters of Jethro in 1814. Once again, however it was Alfonse Rio who took up the cause, and 'his rapturous discovery of Botticelli is in fact the catalyst for British emotions about the painter'. Meanwhile, French collectors (notably Cardinal Fesch, but also Artaud de Montor) were starting to acquire what they believed to be works by the artist and the German brothers Riepenhausen, Nazarene painters as well as writers, also showed an interest. In 1828 Von Rumohr had acquired for Berlin Botticelli's great Santo Spirito altarpiece, the Madonna and Child with the two SS John. English collectors as late as 1838 still lagged behind, and excepting the portrait of a youth then attributed to Masaccio, Ottley's picture was the only painting by the artist in the country. Part of England's resistance lay in a Protestant ambivalence about the decadence of both the Medicean court, which promoted pagan values, and Botticelli's approach to religious art which seemed to the Victorian audience to evoke pain and sorrow rather than uplifting spirituality. By the second half of the century, however, momentum was gathering. Eastlake bought a tondo for the National Gallery and tried to buy the Pucci pictures, encouraged by Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894). In 1868 an important collector Alexander Barker bought the great Mars and Venus which six years later was acquired by the National Gallery, London. By now, what had once counted against Botticelli was in his favour. Aesthetes of the ilk of Swinburne in 1868 and Pater in 1870 extolled the swooning expression of his Madonnas. Of the Madonna of the Magnificat (fig. 10) Pater writes, the Madonna may be writing 'my soul doth magnify the Lord but the pen almost drops from her hand, and the high cold words have no meaning for her'. And of the Birth of Venus, a chromolithograph of which was published that year making it accessible to a wider public, Pater writes: 'what is unmistakeable is the sadness with which he has conceived the goddess of pleasure, as the depository of a great power over men.' As Levey pointed out, Pater's significance is that through this analysis 'his work has removed strict considerations of the moral, and justified simply by being beautiful'. This coincided with a revival in historical fantasies about this now golden age. Lorenzo the Magnificent is reinstated as great patron and statesman and every female figure is identified with Simonetta Vespucci or some lover of the young Giuliano de'Medici. It also coincided with a new aesthetic wherein the demand for three-dimensional realism, often regarded as a weakness of Botticelli, was replaced with a new emphasis on line and pattern, such as one sees in the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley. In 1893 the first monograph (by Ulmann) appeared. Between 1900 and 1920, more books were published on Botticelli than any other great painter. It is sometimes easy to forget that those whose importance we take for granted -- Piero della Francesca would be another example -- have often suffered centuries of neglect. When Henry Hugh Armstead was commissioned to sculpt a tableau of the pantheon of great artists for the base of the Albert Memorial in 1863, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca and El Greco were all excluded. As late as 1863 there persisted this imaginary pantheon which to varying degrees was based on merit, critical approval (beginning with Vasari) but also to market forces, the most important being the confluence of availability and great wealth. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars resulted in an extraordinary flood onto the market of great masterpieces. Until then, most had been secure in the great collections of the rulers of Spain, Vienna, Florence and Rome. In 1792 Philippe Égalité, Duc D'Orléans, sold his entire collection to Jean-Joseph de Laborde de Mereville who, in turn, had to sell it on himself. The French and Italian paintings were bought in 1798 by a consortium: Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, his nephew Earl Gower, later 1st Duke of Sutherland, and Thomas Bewick. The number, quality and range was extraordinary. It included Titian's The Rape of Europa (fig. 11), Poussin's Seven Sacraments, Rembrandt's The Mill, The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo, paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Correggio, thirty-three by the Carracci and Raphael, to name but a few. The collections were exhibited publicly in London where they were seen by the writer William Hazlitt who went on to say 'my first initiation into the mysteries of art was at the Orléans gallery: it was there that I found my taste such as it is so that I am irreclaimably of the old school in painting. A mist passed from my sight. The scales came off. A new sense came upon me, a new heaven and a new earth stood before me'. What was so remarkable was not the taste, for many Grand Tourists would have already been familiar with the artists represented in the Orléans collection. Zoffany had been commissioned by the English Royal family to paint the Tribuna in the Uffizi, the exemplar of high taste. Among those portrayed in that painting is George, 3rd Earl Cowper, an expatriate who lived in Florence, where he acquired in the 1770s, among other things, two paintings by Raphael now in the National Gallery, Washington and a Fra Bartolommeo now in the Getty Museum (fig. 12). What was so remarkable about the arrival of the Orléans collection in England was that it spurred a passion for collecting grand art on the highest level for the entire nineteenth century and beyond. This appetite provided a handsome income for dealers such as William Buchanan who found works of art for both the aristocracy and a rising class of men of great wealth, among them the Barings, Thomas Hope, John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), an immigrant from Russia whose collection formed the basis of the National Gallery founded in 1824. Among Angerstein's purchases were Raphael's Portrait of Pope Julius II, Correggio's Christ Praying in the Garden and Titian's Ganymede as well as the Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano (fig. 13). Sir Abraham Hume (1749-1838) was another of this generation of 'Orléans taste' collectors. A connoisseur and director of the British Institution, he wrote the first book in English on Titian, and among other more optimistic attributions owned the great Death of Acteon, an Orléans picture now in the National Gallery, London, happily now reunited with the two other mythologies by Titian, bought by the Duke of Sutherland. Hume was unusual in his focus on the works by Titian, but even he owned a great Rembrandt, Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer, now in the Metropolitan Museum. The Hopes and the Barings, as so many of this ilk, bought across national boundaries, acquiring later Northern paintings with at least as much enthusiasm as for Italian painting. Of course Thomas Hope acquired the great Veronese paintings, the Choice between Virtue and Vice and Wisdom and Strength now in the Frick Collection. The other great Titian from the Orléans collection, the Rape of Europa, was sold in 1824 by Bewick to Earl Darnley, collector and fanatical cricketer, of Cobham Hall. The pattern that emerges of these 'Orléans taste' collectors was that their interest chiefly lay in trophy purchases and that their collections, while often varied, were not systematic and were concerned with gathering easily identifiable masterpieces by the major painters in the national schools. Dealers such as William Buchanan fed this frenzy, importing works like Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne into England to sell to clients such as 'The old Earl Wemyss [a] lecherous dog...[who] has a particular rage for naked beauties, and plenty of the ready to pay for them with'. Theirs was an entirely different approach to the more academic method discussed earlier, undertaken on an institutional basis by Vivant Denon and later by Charles Eastlake, and in a more personal way by collectors such as Bromley Davenport. But the Orléans paradigm would survive, and inform the collecting habits of the new rich of France and America at the end of the nineteenth century and beyond. A development of this expansion of collecting in Victorian England was the desire of collectors to share their spoils with a wider public. Among those who exhibited their collection publicly one of the most interesting was the eccentric Lord William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley (1817-1885). He showed his collection of early Italian masters at the Egyptian Room in 1851 where huge numbers admired his Crucifixion by Raphael (now National Gallery, London), Crivelli Pietà (now Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Perino del Vaga (Kress Foundation, National Gallery of Art, Washington). A fellow collector of this moment was Robert Holford (1808-1892) who amassed an important collection of early illuminated manuscripts, early Italian painting as well as some northern paintings, including five attributed to Rembrandt. 'Living before the controversy of 'art for art's sake', he rejected Nieuwenhuys's famous Titian 'Tarquin and Lucrece'. His collection ranged from works by Romanino and Moretto da Brescia (artists to whom Charles Eastlake was especially attached) as well as a number of Florentine quattrocento works. Holford was a founding member of the Burlington Club. The original members included inheritors of treasures at Hamilton Palace, Bowood, and Deepdene. Other members, such as Sir Robert Peel, the English Rothschilds, Mr. Thomas Baring, Mr. Gambier Parry, Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Holford were forming collections for themselves. All agreed in wanting a common meeting place to compare their treasures'. The committee consisted of such luminaries as Robert Benson, Prof. Tancred Borenius, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, Henry Harris and Sir Robert Witt. Sir Charles Robinson was the secretary. The membership crossed social strata and brought together a plethora of collectors. It even included living artists such as James McNeill Whistler who was, however, struck off for assaulting a fellow member in a tavern in Paris. The Burlington club held regular exhibitions, largely chosen from the collections of their members. One collector, conspicuous by his absence, is Francis Cook (1817-1901) who was advised by Sir John Charles Robinson, secretary of the Burlington Club. After the death of his father in 1869, Francis became one of the three richest men in England. At about that time, he became close to the former director of the South Kensington Museum (now the V & A), Charles Robinson, who catalyzed Cook's interest in art. He went on to form one of the most important collections of the nineteenth century, and although his initial preference was for the Italian school (he owned the great Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi (National Gallery of Art, Washington) (fig. 14) his taste broadened to embrace Van Eyck and Velázquez. But as Cook's grandson put it, it was a point of pride that the collection owed its strength to a good eye: 'Sir Francis Cook never cared to buy "ten-thousand pounders".' Robinson played a dual role as advisor and agent, which anticipates that of Berenson some years later. Sir Francis's son, Sir Herbert, inherited Doughty House and his father's treasures but continued to add to the collection with such notable works as La Schiavona by Titian (National Gallery, London). He supported the young Berenson and himself wrote a monograph on Giorgione in which he correctly attributed the Allendale Nativity to Giorgione. Sir Herbert was also instrumental in founding The Burlington Magazine. It is worth digressing briefly to consider how the vogue for Renaissance art touched other Northern countries. We have seen that German scholars were at the vanguard of the study of Renaissance painting and also that the newly formed museum in Berlin was an active purchaser of works of this period, many bought from the important English collector Edward Solly (1776-1844). Having made his fortune in timber, he lived in Berlin during the Napoleonic wars, and having started collecting in 1811, went on to purchase over three thousand paintings by artists such as Raphael, Moroni, Botticelli and Cranach. In 1821 he sold many of his finest pictures to the Prussian State. However, in Dresden, the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong and his son Frederick Augustus, formed one of the greatest European collections assembled in the eighteenth century. The core of the collection was the acquisition in 1746 en bloc of one hundred paintings from Francesco d'Este III, Duke of Modena. In 1754 the purchase of Raphael's Sistine Madonna ensured the enduring fame of a collection which already included Giorgione's Sleeping Venus and Titian's Tribute Money. The collection at Dresden also houses over 50 paintings by the local hero Lucas Cranach. Collecting 'Great Art' also became a central interest further east at the Russian court where Peter the Great and then Catherine began to form a significant collection which would eventually be displayed at the Hermitage. Following the example of Peter the Great, the Empress Catherine added substantially to the Imperial collections. This she did in part with two massive purchases: the first was the collection of Pierre Crozat in 1772. This collection of over 50 Italian Renaissance works was, besides that of the duc d'Orléans, the finest collection of Italian works in France in the eighteenth century. Among the highlights was the Judith by Giorgione. In keeping with the century's taste for the High Renaissance, the collection included paintings by artists such as Fra Bartolommeo (fig. 15) and Veronese but there was nothing from the fourteenth century or before. Catherine's second great purchase was the collection of Robert Walpole, bought at Christie's in 1779. This sale was primarily of great paintings from the Dutch Golden Age though Italian works were also on the block. The wealth of the aristocracy as well as the example set by Catherine the Great and successive Tsars ensured that the collecting of old masters was almost de rigeur among members of Russian society. A family like the Stroganovs might have had its origins mining salt, but by the 18th century they were enobled and occupied the magnificent Stroganov Palace built by Francesco Rastrelli (1752-1756) (fig. 16). The earliest member of the family to buy paintings of real note was Count Alexander, whose taste was for the severely classical art of Poussin (eg. Rest on the Flight to Egypt, Hermitage) as well as Venetian cinquecento art, an exquisite St. Sebastian by Boltraffio (Pushkin Museum, Moscow) and an beautifully tender Holy Family by Bronzino. The family continued to add to the collection through the sons of Alexander's nephew and heir, Grigory and Pavel. Grigory lived in Rome where he acquired the Duccio Madonna and Child now in the Metropolitan Museum as well as a Madonna and Child by Giampetrino (fig. 17), and works by Filippino Lippi, Simone Martini, Fra Angelico and Andrea Vanni. Next to the Stroganovs, perhaps the best known family of Russian collectors were the Galitzins, remarkable for having opened their collection to the public in purpose-built museums no less than three times during the nineteenth century. Alexander Mickailovich (1772-1821) was Ambassador to Rome, where he purchased the superb Crucifixion by Perugino. That painting was sold in 1886 at one of the various insolvency sales forced on the family, where it was acquired for the Hermitage. Sadly for Russia, it was one of the masterpieces sold by the Soviet government in 1930, and now hangs in the same room as Raphael's Alba Madonna at the National Gallery in Washington (fig. 18). Other notable Russian collectors include Dmitry Tatishchev who was a collector of Italian and Northern Renaissance art. Again, one of the most brilliant jewels of his collection, the Crucifixion and Last Judgment by Jan van Eyck and studio, now hangs in an American museum, the Metropolitan in New York. Perhaps the most colorful of all the Russian collectors were the Demidovs of whom generations lived in Tuscany at the Villa Donato which Nicolai Nikitich built having secured a post as Russian ambassador to the Tuscan court in 1824. Nicolai amassed a large collection, seemingly of dubious merit, but his son Anatoly (1812-1870) was the most exacting collector, buying such major works as the Demidoff Altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli now in the National Gallery, London. A corollary of this association between status and high art, as in every country, was the purchase of Old Masters to satisfy social aspirations. An example were the Sapojnikovs, who had made their fortune trading fish, bread and gold. With their newfound wealth they started to acquire old masters, most famously a Madonna and Child by Leonardo da Vinci. It was given to the architect Leonti Benois on the occasion of his marriage to their daughter, Maria. Thereafter it became known as the Benois Madonna. In 1912, Joseph Duveen persuaded the family to part with it for 500,000 francs. News of this transaction leaked out, causing an uproar in St. Petersburg. Public campaigns were launched to keep the picture in Russia and eventually the family agreed to sell it to the Hermitage for the relatively modest sum of 150,000 rubles. The outcry which its proposed sale abroad in 1912 created speaks eloquently to the passion for Renaissance art which existed in educated centers such as St. Petersburg and Moscow among Russians, even those not in a position to acquire Old Masters themselves. I have touched on a few of the more prominent collectors, but there were many more: almost half the collection of Italian pictures painted between the 13th and the 16th centuries now in the Hermitage entered the collection after the October Revolution in 1917. Scholarship was to play a critical part in the development of a taste for Renaissance art. While on the one hand 'tastemakers' such as Ruskin, Swinburne and Pater played a crucial role in opening the eyes of the public to new artists or new ways of looking at familiar ones, a more formal, academic approach to art history was to be a significant part of the landscape. Early writers such as Vasari and Ridolfi were a starting point, but in a world where the price of art was rapidly rising, the reassurance of experts became of paramount importance. Early work in a more systematic approach to laying out the history of art had been undertaken by Luigi Lanzi and then Domenico Fiorillo, who wrote in German. Indeed much of the most serious art history was to be undertaken by Germans: Von Rumohr, Passavant, Waagen and Gert Scharf all made substantial contributions. Their successor in the twentieth century was the great Willem von Bode. In many cases, these scholars were asked to give advice on specific purchases, and Von Rumohr and Von Bode themselves made important purchases for German museums. The development of connoisseurship was advanced by Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891), a doctor by training, who devised a system of attribution based solely on recognizing the unique way a single artist might paint an eye, an ear or a finger. Morelli's approach was particularly influential for Bernard Berenson, without doubt the most influential art historian/advisor of all time. One of his earliest works was an essay on Renaissance churches and he soon after published a beautiful monograph on Lorenzo Lotto. The work on which his reputation mainly stands are the volumes he produced, divided into the three essential schools -- Venetian, Florentine, Northern and Central -- in which he lists what he regarded as authentic works by all the Renaissance artists from the regions. This was an extraordinary undertaking given the poor lighting in many of the sites he visited and the quality of photography by which the paintings were recorded. Much has been made in recent books about the art trade in the era of Colnaghi, Knoedler and Duveen about the conflict of interest that existed for someone who was an art historian, a trusted advisor and an agent working closely with the trade. Of course Berenson did benefit financially from this world, but that fact should not overshadow his colossal achievement as an art historian and connoisseur. Nor should it be overlooked that were it not for the confidence which his genius inspired in collectors, museums such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner and the National Gallery, Washington would not have many of the major works the public enjoys today. Though of Lithuanian origin, Berenson grew up in Boston, where he rapidly impressed the art historical establishment at Harvard, most importantly Charles Eliot Norton and his friend Isabella Stewart Gardner. The milieu in which Berenson grew was one which admired, almost to the exclusion of anything else, the achievements of the Renaissance. But long before Berenson arrived in America, two major mid-century collectors had already made their mark: Thomas Jefferson Bryan and James Jackson Jarves. The Bryan collection, originally exhibited as the Bryan Gallery of Christian Art, consisted largely of early Italian paintings such as the Medici Birthplate now at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. A more focused group was the collection formed by Jarves, which was eventually bought by Yale University for $22,000 in 1871. It included an exceptionally rare panel by Antonio Pollaiuolo (fig. 19). Most of the early American collectors such as Benjamin Altman and Isabella Stewart Gardner started with contemporary work by artists such as Corot or Millet. But just as England at the turn of the nineteenth century was able to combine the new wealth created by the canal-builder, the Earl of Bridgewater, with the upheavals in France and Italy to form great collections, so too the suffering English economy produced a need for the English to sell their own collections of great art to their newly wealthy American cousins. A number of these new and neophyte American collectors realized that the opportunity to acquire great art had arrived once more. And it is noteworthy that they tended to divide between the Orléans camp (Frick, Huntington, Widener and Mellon) and those with a more academic agenda. The Orléans taste had been modified over the century with the addition of Turner, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Fragonard, Boucher, Hals and Vermeer and the subtraction of the entire Italian seventeenth century. The more focused collectors (Isabella Stewart Gardner, Johnson, Blumenthal, Friedsam, Davis, Altman and Lehman) remained committed to the pursuit of Italian Renaissance art, even though some flirted with standards of the Grand Style. Isabella Stewart Gardener, for example, tried desperately to secure Gainsborough's Blue Boy from the Duke of Westminster as well as the Mill by Rembrandt (an ex-Orléans picture) from Lord Landsdowne. The director of Colnaghi, Otto Gutekunst, said 'neither you nor we have ever had such a windfall as Mrs. G before, nor shall we in our lives have another.' This letter was addressed to the celebrated art historian Bernard Berenson, who was her trusted advisor. Of the twenty-four paintings she bought from Colnaghi, sixteen were painted before 1600 and of them, the vast majority were Italian. The two Italian masterpieces she bought from Colnaghi were the Rape of Europa by Titian (also ex-Orléans, see fig. 11) and the early Botticelli Madonna of the Eucharist. Another great addition to her collection was the Death of Lucretia by Botticelli. At one point Isabella Stewart Gardener remonstrated "woe is me! Why am I not Morgan or Frick". She understood as early as 1892 that she could not be competitive with this new generation of collectors led by Henry Clay Frick. Frick was, through business, a friend of other wealthy collectors such as Andrew Mellon and Carnegie with whom he travelled to Europe. There, they were most impressed by the collection of Lord Hartford which combined Titian, Poussin, Rubens, Hals and Watteau. Impressed as Frick may have been by this visit, his own collection was to be entirely different and emphatically protestant. The template for collectors such as Frick was the also relatively recently formed collection of Rodolphe Kann. It included major examples by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hals, Vermeer and Rembrandt, all artists firmly at the center of any American's canon. Frick bought primarily through the charismatic Charles Carstairs, with whom Colnaghi's Otto Gutekunst had a close relationship. Nothing is known about Frick's motives when buying, but he assembled what is arguably the finest focused collection in the world -- and that was in the twentieth century. Among the great Renaissance paintings he acquired were two portraits by Titian (one of Pietro Aretino), The Ecstasy of St Francis by Giovanni Bellini, the Portrait of Thomas More by Holbein and the two Allegories by Veronese formerly in the Orléans collection, sold to him by the Hope family in 1910. Of interest is the fact that both Henry Clay Frick and Mrs. Havemeyer both bought portraits by Bronzino -- Frick in 1915 (fig. 20) and Mrs Havemeyer in 1929. Bronzino was not as celebrated as he is today, and although Frick paid $28,000 more for a double portrait of the Bligh sisters by John Hoppner, bought in the same year, it is interesting that a Mannerist artist would have been of such importance to collectors. Perhaps their imaginations went back to the Tribuna in the Uffizi where portraits by Bronzino were equally successful projections of courtly elegance and power as the swagger portraits of Van Dyck and Gainsborough for whom the robber barons had so great an affection. The Frick Collection was to be further enriched by Renaissance works owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose Piero della Francesca and Verrocchio were both donated. Henry Clay Frick died in 1919 and his collection was endowed as a museum, today known as the Frick Collection. Contrary to public perception, the endowment provided for continued acquisitions, making it one of the richest buying museums in the world; these included some of the great treasures of the museum, among them Ingres' Portrait of comtesse d'Haussonville, and the panels by Paolo Veneziano and Gentile da Fabriano. The traffic in Old Masters in America continued unabated in the 1920s, in a world now increasingly dominated by Lord Duveen, operating from his gallery on Fifth Avenue and advised by Bernard Berenson. Among his most voracious clients was Andrew Mellon, who acquired from him a number of Great British portraits, among other works. But the supply of 'masterpieces' was beginning to dry up. Gutekunst, director at Colnaghi, wrote to Robert Sterling Clark 'I find it is increasingly difficult to get & find supreme things, old or new & notions of value have become completely distorted through the disastrous activities of a certain titled dealer!' Duveen's stranglehold was strengthened by his propensity to buy entire collections en bloc, as he did with that of R.H. Benson, which contained 114 early Italian paintings, ranging from Duccio to Leandro Bassano. Nevertheless, Colnaghi continued to find good early paintings for their American clientele including the majestic Virgin and Child by Piero della Francesca acquired by Robert Clark. Space does not allow for much discussion of the plethora of collectors of Renaissance paintings who competed for great things between 1900 and 1929. But a stroll through the Metropolitan Museum in New York gives a sense of the activities of magnates such as J.P. Morgan (his Raphael, acquired for $450,000, was then the most expensive painting ever sold), Benjamin Altman, Michael Friedsam (who was mainly interested in the Northern Renaissance), and George Blumenthal, to name a few. However, it is worth singling out John Johnson, lawyer to the plutocrats, who on a much smaller budget was a compulsive shopper for early paintings, Northern and Italian. His collection, which is now housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, includes great works by Fra Angelico, Masaccio and Rogier van de Weyden. If Johnson had a hearty appetite for the works of this period, it does not compare to that of Samuel Kress, also a Pennsylvanian, who made a fortune with a chain of 'five and dime' stores spread all over America. Born in 1863, his collecting began in earnest in the 1920s when he began forming a collection which would have over 1000 Italian paintings alone. The range went from the thirteenth century to fine works from the eighteenth century and was intended to be encyclopedic. The most important paintings, such as the Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi (see fig. 14), were donated to the National Gallery, Washington, while many others were sent to cities where he had a store, to be housed in the local museum. Thus, art lovers all over the country had in their home town an opportunity to enjoy Old Master paintings first-hand. One of the most remarkable instances of the confluence of dire circumstance, on the one side, and great wealth on the other brought to America one of the greatest single troves imaginable. In 1930 the Soviet government had a desperate need to build up Russia's cash reserves and decided to sell a group of paintings from the Hermitage Museum. A consortium of dealers (Zatzenstein, Colnaghi and Knoedler) secured the backing of Andrew Mellon to finance this transaction, with the proviso that Mellon could choose what he wanted for his own collection. This was like another Orléans sale, if on a smaller scale. Among the greatest masterpieces of this group was the Annunciation by Van Eyck, the Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli and the Alba Madonna by Raphael, a sublime work painted in 1510 which had belonged in the eighteenth century to the Spanish House of Alba, but in 1836 was acquired by Tsar Nicholas I. Notwithstanding these extraordinary purchases, the supply of Old Masters, and great ones especially, was already declining. And since the middle of the last century, the market internationally has grown significantly smaller in size. There will never be another dispersal such as that of the Orléans collection. Nevertheless, great Renaissance paintings have been added to private and public collections since the 1960s. Foremost among these was the collection assembled by Norton Simon, which includes Raphael's Madonna and Child, a major work by Dieric Bouts and one of the great masterpieces by Jacopo Bassano (fig. 21). The National Gallery in Washington has added a transcendent portrait by Leonardo da Vinci and the Metropolitan Museum has acquired masterpieces by Lorenzo Lotto, Pietro Lorenzetti and, of course, the exquisite Madonna and Child by Duccio (fig. 22), a painting which passed through the hands of Count Grigoriy Sergeyevich Stroganov and Adolphe Stoclet, one of the most discerning collectors of early Italian paintings of the twentieth century. In England too, the enlightened tax laws, as well as the generosity of both individuals and the government, have made it possible to acquire works of the calibre of Altdorfer's Christ taking leave of his Mother, Holbein's Portrait of a woman with a squirrel and most recently, the two Orléans mythologies by Titian bought in 1798 by the Duke of Sutherland. So too, a new generation of private collectors from all over the world are buying major Renaissance works, and the long lines to recent exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery, London and The Renaissance Portrait at New York and Berlin, bear witness to the enduring appeal to a broad public of this extraordinary period in the history of art.
Paolo Veneziano (active Venice 1333/58-before 1362)

The Veil of Saint Veronica

Paolo Veneziano (active Venice 1333/58-before 1362)
The Veil of Saint Veronica
tempera and gold on panel
8½ in. (21.7 cm.), circular, in the original engaged frame
Henry Harris (circa 1870-1950), London; (+), Sotheby's, London, 24-25 October 1950, lot 175, as 'Venetian School, 14th century', where acquired by
Sir John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994), New York, and later, Florence, from whom acquired by the present owner.
G. Fiocco, 'Le primizie di Maestro Paolo Veneziano', Dedalo, XI, 1930-1931, p. 892.
S. Bettini, 'Aggiunte a Paolo Veneziano', Bollettino d'arte, XXVIII, 1935, p. 476.
L. Coletti, 'Pittura veneta del tre al quattrocento', Arte veneta, I, 1947, pp. 5-19, as by the son of Paolo.
M. Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death, Princeton, 1951, pp. 36-37, note 94.
V. Lasareff, 'Maestro Paolo e la pittura veneziana del suo tempo', Arte veneta, VII, 1954, p. 86.
R. Pallucchini, 'La pittura veneziana del trecento' (outline of course taught at Universitá di Bologna), Bologna, 1955, pp. 124, 126.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School, London, 1957, I, p. 128.
R. Pallucchini, La pittura veneziana del trecento, Venice and Rome, 1964, pp. 45-48, fig. 152.
M. Muraro, Paolo da Venezia, Milan, 1969, pp. 68, 78, note 47, 121, 153, pl. 103.
M. Muraro, Paolo da Venezia, University Park, Pennsylvania and London, 1970, pp. 63, 73 note 47, pp. 90, 113, pl. 103.
J. Pope-Hennessy, Learning to Look, New York and London, 1991, p. 89.
M. Lucco et al., La pittura nel Veneto: Il Trecento, Milan, 1992, I, pp. 39-40, 82, note 46, fig. 28.
F. Pedrocco, Paolo Veneziano, Milan, 2003, p. 210, no. A19, as by a follower of Paolo Veneziano on the basis of photographs.

Brought to you by

Alan Wintermute
Alan Wintermute

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

According to various apocryphal sources, a young woman named Veronica encountered Christ as he carried the cross to Calvary, and gave him a cloth to wipe the sweat from his brow. The cloth subsequently revealed a miraculous image of Christ's face, and, according to legend, was transported by Veronica to Rome where it was revered as an object with the power to heal and even raise the dead. Like the Mandylion, the Byzantine version of this subject, the Veil of Veronica, also known as the Sudarium, is an example of Acheiropoieta: images not made by hand but miraculously created. Because such images of Christ were formed when a piece of fabric was pressed against him, they became doubly significant as both miraculous portraits and the rarest of relics: those bearing traces of the Redeemer's physical body. The story of Veronica's veil appeared early on in the writings of Roger d'Argenteuil in the 13th century and became widespread through the Meditations on the Life of Christ by the so-called Pseudo-Bonaventure, written about 1300.

Datable to circa 1354, the present panel is a mature work by Paolo Veneziano, the most important Venetian painter of the 14th century. In its original carved and gilded circular frame, the image of Veronica's veil is inscribed within a quatrefoil. The blue and red striped cloth on which the Redeemer's image appears is set against the gold leaf background, projecting his visage forward as a hypnotic and powerful presence. According to Fiocco, an inscription on the verso, now no longer legible, indicated that this picture was carried back from Constantinople by a sea captain. Although Paolo Veneziano is not known to have traveled to the East, his awareness of Byzantine art is here seen in Christ's rigid frontality, long hair, furrowed brow, and the solemnity of his gaze. Like many of his Venetian contemporaries, Paolo Veneziano took inspiration from the shimmering colors, decorative brilliance, and deliberately archaizing iconography of Byzantine painting.

The present work was first published by Fiocco as a work of the Sienese school. Although Coletti and Pedrocco ascribed it to 'a son of Paolo' and by a follower of Paolo, respectively, Pallucchini, Berenson, Muraro, and Pope-Hennessy, among others, have all given it in full to the master. Everett Fahy has also confirmed the attribution to Paolo Veneziano based on firsthand inspection. The Veil of Saint Veronica can be compared stylistically to Paolo's polyptych of the Relic of the Cross at the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, Bologna, datable to about 1350, as well as to his Campana polyptych in the Louvre, Paris, dated 1534 (inv. MI 396). Muraro has suggested that this slightly later date is more likely (Muraro, op. cit., p. 113). Scholars have also agreed that the roundel has been cut from a larger complex. It is possible that the Veil of Saint Veronica was originally part of an altar front or tympanum, and thus would have been an important object of veneration during the ceremony of Mass.

The picture was acquired in 1950 by Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994), among the most eminent scholars of Italian art of his generation and Chairman of the European Paintings Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

More from Renaissance

View All
View All