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Old Master Paintings
Part 1
Christie's New York
April 14, 2016
Sale 11933


Lot 104, Madonna and Christ Child with St. John the Baptist," by Botticelli and studio, tempera and oil on panel, a tondo, 45 3/4 inches in diameter

By Carter B. Horsley

The Old Masters Paintings auction Part 1 at Christie's New York April 14, 2016 is highlighted by numerous works from the collection of the Countess Nadia de Navarro of Glen Head, New York, a small El Greco, a large Bernardo Daddi and a very nice small pair of paintings by Guardi.
Lot 104 is a nice tempera and oil on panel tondo by Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (1444-5-1510) and studio that is "The Madonna Adoring the Christ Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist."  It is 45 3/4 inches in diameter.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary about the countess:

"Countess Nadia de Navarro-Farber was born in Pleven, Bulgaria. During her successful career as a musical comedy star in Bulgaria and Hungary, she starred on stage and in movies, lending her particular brand of grace and charisma to the silver screen. Thereafter, she married a Spanish count who was a diplomat to the Vatican; the couple soon took up residence in Monte Carlo, where they lived until the Count’s death in 1949.

"The Countess subsequently moved to New York, where she began a new chapter in her life as a philanthropist. She met Sid Farber, then just launching his home development company, through friends while lunching at the Plaza Hotel. The two wed in 1953, and settled in Glen Head on Long Island, where they ran their business building over 30,000 homes in the area. The Farbers became active philanthropists and were principal patrons of the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. In 1990, the countess received the Theodore Roosevelt Award for pledging a $1 million donation in memory of her late husband. "The two things we need to support most in order for our community to thrive are our schools and our hospitals. Without the hospitals we are a family without a home," she said on the occasion. On December 15, 1991, the fourth major expansion of Mather Hospital was completed with the dedication of the new Contessa Nadia Farber Emergency Pavilion.

"The countess did not limit herself to helping those closest to home. A master of eight languages, she was an active member of charitable and humanitarian organizations crossing geographical, ethnic and religious lines across the globe, including the Hebrew Immigrants Aid Society (HIAS), the Venezuelan Charity for Immigrants, the Red Cross in Monaco, The American Hospital in Paris, the Children Orphanage in Venice, as well as many others.

"In addition to her humanitarian interests, the countess was a discerning and passionate connoisseur of the arts. Soon after she wed Sid Farber, the couple started their art collection, through which they nurtured their preference for the Italian High Renaissance and Post-Impressionist periods. Their collection was exhibited in the Palazzo Reale, Milan, for two months under the title, Arte Europea da una Collezione Americana in 1964.

"Among the many accolades the Countess received, highlights include the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1996 (shared with Governor Pataki); special Congressional recognition in 1998; the Gold Medal from the French Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters; and the Silver Medal from the City of Paris. She was also inducted into the Order of Malta, the Order of St. Sepulchre, and the Order of St. Sava from King Peter of Yugoslavia.

"The Countess died shortly after the masterpiece of her collection, Marco d’Oggiono’s Madonna of the Violets [see below] was included in the historic Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition at The National Gallery, London, in 2011-2012, a wonderful coda to her remarkable life."

The painting was sold as a Botticelli by Lord Grimthorpe at Christie's in London in Mayk, 1906 and again in December, 1917 when it was acquired by Sir Ernest Cassel.  By 1951, it was with Jacob Heimann in Los Angeles and three years later wth French and Co., in New York from which it was acquired by the countess.

"This graceful tondo shows the Virgin adoring the Christ Child in the Tuscan countryside before a ruined stone structure. A paragon of Renaissance beauty, the Virgin wears a red gown with a blue cloak lined with green and a diaphanous veil, which rests over her shoulders. The nude Christ Child gazes up at his mother, reclining on her sacred garments. Depicting a subject that was popular in Botticelli’s native Florence, this panel was likely intended as an object of personal devotion, and perhaps was originally installed within a private family chapel. The young Saint John the Baptist - the patron saint of Florence - stands next to the Virgin with his right hand over his heart, thereby honoring and pledging devotion to his newborn cousin. John elegantly gestures to the Christ Child with his left hand, which also holds a banderol inscribed with the word 'Agnus....'

"Of the several versions that exist of this composition, the best two examples, in addition to the present work, are the tondos in the National Gallery, London and Amgueddfa Cymru - the National Museum Wales, Cardiff. All three versions exhibit differences, particularly in their landscapes. In both the London and Wales versions, the Christ Child rests on sheaves of wheat which do not properly support his head, leaving those compositions somewhat unresolved. Here, the artist more satisfactorily creates a makeshift cradle out of a pile of carved stone fragments and the Virgin’s robes. In addition, whereas in the other two somewhat smaller paintings, the Virgin’s hair is nearly entirely covered by her shawl, here her golden locks spill over her shoulders, with only a single braid at the top of her head covered by a transparent veil to preserve her modesty. Lionello Venturi considered this to be an autograph work, executed between 1480 and 1490, writing that 'the face of the Madonna is one of the most glamorous achievements of Botticelli' (written communication, 26 October 1949), and related the ruined masonry in the background to Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. Wilhelm R. Valentiner dated it to 1485-1490 (written communication, 2 April 1951)."

It has a modest estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $785,000 including the buyer's premium as so all results mentioned in this article.

The sale total was $30,476,500 with 18 of the 65 offered lots failing to sell.


Lot 111, "The Holy Family," by studio of Giovanni Bellni, oil on panel, 32 7/8 by 47 1/8 inches

Lot 111 is an oil on panel of "The Holy Family that the catalogue states is by the studio of Giovanni Bellini (? 1431/6-1516 Venice) It measures 32 7/8 by 47 1/8 inches.  The Countess Nadia de Navarro bought it from French and Co., in New York and previously it had been owned by Jacob Heimann of Los Angeles.  It is illustrated as a Bellini in Bernard Berenson's "Italian Painting of the Renaissance: Venetian School."

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"This serene Holy Family demonstrates the soft brushwork, sophisticated treatment of light, and subtle modeling associated with the late work of Giovanni Bellini and his workshop, as seen, for instance, in his Noah (Musée des beaux-arts, Besançon) and his Circumcision (National Gallery, London). Indeed, Bernard Berenson published this painting as an autograph work in his Italian Painting of the Renaissance (op. cit.). Fritz Heinemann knew the painting only from a photograph, and judged it to be of high quality “di buona qualità” but was unable to decide whether it was by Bellini himself (loc. cit.). Wilhelm Suida viewed the painting in Venice in 1937, and considered it to be one of the last Madonnas the artist ever painted, and its autograph status was similarly endorsed by Lionello Venturi and Wilhelm R. Valentiner (see Milan, loc. cit.). In an unpublished letter dated 31 May 1947, Ridolfo Pallucchini noted the monumentality of the present composition, stating that he considered it to be a work from Bellini’s last period, datable to around 1510 based on comparison to the Madonna and Child in the Detroit Institute of Arts (dated 1509) and the Madonna and Child in the Brera, Milan (dated 1510). Pallucchini further noted that the painting’s landscape reflects the influence of Giorgione. The design of the Christ Child, who gestures in benediction while sitting on his mother’s lap, must have been favored by Bellini, as the figure appears in other works produced by members of his workshop, such as the Virgin and Child with Four Saints and a Donor of c. 1500 attributed to Marco Bello (c. 1470-1523) in the Morgan Library, New York. Another version of the entire composition, which replicates the landscape and includes an additional figure of Saint Catherine standing behind the Virgin, is recorded in a photograph in the Fondazione Federico Zeri archives (no. 28333). That painting, the location of which is unknown, was attributed by Zeri to Bellini’s workshop.

It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It failed to sell.


Lot 141, "The Madonna of the Violets," by Marco d'Oggiono, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, 22 1/2 by 16 3/4 inches

Lot 141 is a very beautiful painting that is very close in style and technique to Leonardo and is known as "The Madonna of the Violets."  It is an oil on panel transferred to canvas and measures 22 1/2 by 16 3/4 inches.

The catalogue entry states that it is by Marco d'Oggiono (?Milan circa 1467-1524).

Its provenance includes Joseph, Cardinal Fesch (1763-1839) of the Palazzo Falconieri in Rome who maintained it was by Bernardino Luini, the Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley of Wootton Hall, Staffordshire, who sold it at Christie's in London in 1863 as by Leonardo, Stanley Mortimer of New York who acquired it at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York in1944 as the Milanese Master of the Circle of Leonardo da Vinci, Jacob Heimann of Los Angeles, and probably French and New York who sold it in 1960 to the Countess Nadia de Navarro.

Most literature attributed it to Leonardo until 1989 when it was attributed to Marco d'Oggiono by D. Sedini.

It was exhibited as a Leonardo at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1949 and was also shown at the National Gallery of Art in London in 2012.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Tenderness tinged with melancholy characterizes this moving depiction of the Madonna and Child seated before a marble parapet. Mary gazes lovingly at her son, her delicate features highlighted by the dark cloth that serves as a backdrop for the pair. Christ returns his mother’s stare, but while his twisting body speaks of a child’s restless energy, his eyes convey seriousness mingled with grief, thus revealing his awareness of his fate. Clutched in his right hand are a few violets, a symbol of humility associated with his Incarnation as well as the Crucifixion. Their purplish hue echoes the blue tonalities of the landscape visible beyond the gathered curtain, where a placid lake gives way to mountains steep enough to graze the clouds.

Marco d’Oggiono’s composition is deeply indebted to Leonardo da Vinci’s pen-and-ink drawing of the The Virgin and Child with a cat of about 1480 (fig. 1; Uffizi, Florence). Here, the unconventional feline attribute is replaced by more traditional violets, but the positional and psychological relationship of mother and child clearly owes much to the master’s haunting figures. The smoky modeling, known as sfumato, as well the skillful rendering of the feather-light, transparent veils reveal an intimate knowledge of Leonardo’s style. Gustav Waagen even went so far as to describe the present painting as a “very beautiful picture” from the “early part of Leonardo’s residence in Milan” (loc. cit., 1865). The 19th-century scholar later linked our Madonna of the Violets to The Madonna Litta (fig. 2; The State Hermitage, St. Petersburg), which he also considered an autograph work by the Florentine master. The latter painting is now usually given to one of Leonardo’s pupils - with Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio as a favored candidate - and shares much in common with the present work, such as the heightened plasticity of the Christ Child and the mountainous landscape enveloped in a bluish haze. In fact, David Alan Brown has proposed that the most plausible author of The Madonna Litta was not Boltraffio but rather Marco d’Oggiono himself, who appears to have already been working in Milan as a master with his own shop by 1487, when he is documented as having taken on an apprentice (see D.A. Brown, op. cit., pp. 25-34). Marco was living with Leonardo by September 1490 – on the 7th of that month, according to Leonardo’s memoranda, he fell victim to another member of the master’s workshop, the notorious Salaì, who stole Marco’s silverpoint stylus. In developing his theory about The Madonna Litta, Brown followed Wilhelm Suida, who also singled out Marco d’Oggiono as the author of The Madonna of the Violets in 1949, adding however that “the soft shadow and utmost refinement in the modeling of the Virgin’s head indicate Leonardo’s participation in this exquisite work” (loc. cit.).

Suida’s suggestion of Leonardo’s involvement in the execution of this painting, while no longer supported, points to the high quality of the picture both in terms of its formal arrangement and mysterious mood. Comparison of the Madonna of the Violets with Marco’s sole documented painting of the 1490s, The Grifi Altarpiece (a joint 1491 commission with Boltraffio by the brothers of the late Archbishop Leonardo Grifi for the chapel of San Leonardo in San Giovanni sul Muro, Milan) reveals strong affinities between the infant and adult Christ’s facial types (see Syson et al., op. cit., no. 65). Similarly full, pouting mouths and intensely modeled eyes that possess a slightly sunken quality occur in Marco’s Portrait of a Man aged 20 (the so-called “Archinto Portrait”, National Gallery, London; fig. 3) of 1494 as well as in his Saint John the Baptist of c. 1498-1500 (National Trust, Knightshayes Court, Devon). The latter’s contemplative mood and rich palette, dominated by ruby red and coppery browns, also share much in common with the present painting. Another parallel between The Madonna of the Violets and the Portrait of a Man aged 20 is the marble parapet with mottled earth tones that appears in both works. As for the landscape framing the Virgin and Child, its vast lake and verdant shores at the foot of a mountain range call to mind Marco’s hometown of Oggiono on lake Annone, as Antonio Mazzotta has observed (loc. cit.).

Detail of DaVinci
Detail of Lot 141

The treasured cornerstone of the De Navarro collection, The Madonna of the Violets had been kept out of the public eye since it was exhibited in Milan in 1964 until its inclusion in the seminal Leonardo retrospective held at the National Gallery, London, in 2011-2012. The painting was already much admired in the 19th century, when it was part of the collection of Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch in Rome, where it was attributed to Bernardino Luini. It was later acquired by the Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley (1787-1863), whose collection at Wootton Hall was, in the words of Francis Haskell “one of the most distinguished collections in England of early Italian painting” (Rediscoveries in Art, 1980, p. 203, n. 64).

It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It failed to sell.

Lot 105, "The Dead Christ," Circle of Andrea Mantegna, distemper on linen, 26 by 30 1/2 inches

Lot 105 is a version of "The Dead Christ" by Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo 1430-1506 Mantua).  A distemper on linen, it measures 26 by 30 1/2 inches and is part of the consignment in this auction from the Countess Nadia de Navarro who acquired it from French and Co.

Although Tietze accepted it as by Mantegna in 1941, various articles after 1961 suggest it is after Mantegna and it is described at this auction as "circle of Andrea Mantegna."

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"In April 1941, Hans Tietze first published this fascinating painting, suggesting that it might be Andrea Mantegna’s original treatment of his most famous composition - The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan....The theory that the present painting was a preparatory study, or modello, for the more developed painting in the Brera had earlier been expressed in unpublished letters by Adolfo Venturi, Pietro Toesca, Giuseppe Fiocco, Hermann Voss, Frederick Mason Perkins, Antonio Morassi, Wilhelm Valentiner, George Martin Richter, Wilhelm Suida, Amadeo Porcella, Rudolfo Pallucchini and Alfred M. Frankfurter (see Milan, op. cit., p. 6). Erica Tietze-Conrat also believed it to be the original modello, noting that it “displays the sobriety of a cartoon without any concession to the public” (loc. cit.).

"Mantegna’s radical treatment of Christ’s body, laid out on a tomb slab and dramatically foreshortened, is generally regarded as his masterpiece. Immensely powerful in its simplicity, the painting presents the viewer with a nude, muscular Christ, whose lower half is draped with a cloth. The Savior’s wounds are on full display, making this a profoundly moving treatment of the Passion. Yet at the same time, Mantegna’s radical use of foreshortening is doubly innovative as it not only demonstrates his technical skill in representing a body’s recession into space, but also reveals how the artist was able to manipulate the body’s proportions to create a more pleasing work of art. Looking closely, one sees that Mantegna reduced the scale of Christ’s feet, which would normally take up most of the lower part of the composition, perhaps to make his painting more decorous. As Keith Christiansen explains, “The key factor in appreciating the enormous influence of the Dead Christ on subsequent generations of artists, from Sodoma to Annibale Carracci, is its manipulation of foreshortening for emotive effect: its fusion of ‘ingegno’ and pictorial content” (op. cit., pp. 155-56).

"It is generally accepted that Mantenga produced more than one version of his foreshortened Dead Christ. Moreover, the early history of the version in the Brera is surprisingly uncertain for such an iconic work in the history of art. “Un Cristo in scurto” (a foreshortened Christ) was listed among the paintings in Mantegna’s house at his death in a letter by the artist’s son Ludovico, written to the Marchese Francesco Gonzaga on 2 October 1506 (for this and the following references, see R. Lightbown, op. cit., pp. 421-422). Ludovico mentioned “quello Cristo in scurto” (that foreshortened Christ) a second time in a letter to Isabella d’Este dated 12 November 1507, describing how he sold it, along with The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome (London, National Gallery), to Sigismondo Gonzaga, bishop of Mantua. In 1531, the Gonzaga painting became part of the decorations of the apartments in the Castello for the new duchess, Margherita Paleologa, as described by Ippolito Calandra in a 28 October letter that refers to “quello Cristo ch’è in scurto” (that Christ who is foreshortened). Finally, it is last recorded in the Gonzaga collection in 1627, hanging in the Camerino delle Dame of the Palazzo Ducale, listed as “un quadro dipinto: N.S. deposto sopra il sepolcro in scurzo con cornice fregiate d’oro di mano del Mantegna” (a painting: Our Lord placed above the tomb, foreshortened, in a golden frame, by the hand of Mantegna).

"As Tietze rightly observed, there is strong evidence to suggest that the celebrated painting in the Brera is not the painting recorded in these early documents. The Brera acquired its painting in 1824 from the painter Giuseppe Bossi, who had purchased it only seventeen years earlier, though he appears to have known of it as early as 1802 (R. Lightbown, op. cit., p. 421). Prior to Bossi, however, the provenance of the Brera painting is uncertain. Christiansen hypothesized that Bossi could have acquired the painting from the Aldobrandini, since the historic family was selling their collection in Rome at the beginning of the 19th century. A painting whose description perfectly matches that of the Brera Dead Christ was recorded in their 1603 inventory as “un Cristo in scorto su una tavola morto, con due dame che piangono, di mano di Andrea Mantegna” (A foreshortened Christ on a table, dead, with two women who mourn him, by the hand of Andrea Mantegna; K. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 158 note 30; see also E. Rossetti, op. cit., pp. 85-86 and M. Lucco, 2013, loc. cit.). Christiansen further suggested that if Bossi did in fact acquire his painting from the Aldobrandini, then there is 'a strong presumption' that the Brera painting ultimately came from the Este collection in Ferrara (as was the case with the Adoration of the Shepherds in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and that it may originally have been painted for Ercole d’Este (ibid., pp. 155 and 158 n. 30). Other versions of the Dead Christ appear in 17th-century inventories, although the question of their authorship and relationship to one another must remain open since they are untraced. These include a painting referenced in the 1661 inventory of Cardinal Mazarin’s Parisian palace, and one owned by Charles I and sold at Somerset House in May 1650 (this may be the same painting that was owned by Mazarin), which was also seen in 1665 by Gianlorenzo Bernini during his trip to the court of King Louis XIV (see R. Lightbown, loc. cit. and M. Lucco, 2013, loc. cit.).

"Tietze’s identification of the Navarro Dead Christ as the one cited in Mantegna’s estate inventory hinged on the fact that unlike the 17th century references cited above, the 16th century sources do not make any reference to the three mourners present in the Brera painting. Notably, several scholars from Fiocco to Camesasca found these two additional figures so disturbing as to consider them later additions, although Lightbown and others reject this theory, arguing that the mourners were planned by Mantegna from the beginning. While the origin of the Navarro Dead Christ remains uncertain, it is tempting to wonder whether it preserves Mantegna’s first conception of his masterpiece – a painting which the artist appears to have kept in his personal collection, perhaps for private devotion. This theory is especially intriguing since a notation by Giuseppe Fiocco on the reverse of a photograph of the present painting, preserved in the archives of the Fondazione Cini, Venice, records its provenance as coming from the Canonici collection, in Ferrara, placing it in close proximity to the Este and Aldobrandini families (see G. Agosti, loc. cit.). Now that the Navarro Dead Christ has reemerged after having been unseen by scholars for over sixty years, further study will hopefully cast new light on Mantegna’s most iconic creation."

Detail of Mantegna

It has a very modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It sold for $461,000.


Lot 110, "The Madonna of Humility," by Zannino di Pietro, tempera and gold on panel, 21 5/8 by 16 1/8 inches

Another work in the de Navarro consignment is Lot 110, "The Madonna of Humility," a tempera and gold on panel that measures 21 5/8 by 16 1/8 inches.  She acquired it from French and Co. as by Gentile da Fabriano but the auction catalogue states it is by Zanino di Pietro (active Bologna 1389, died by 1448, Venice).  It was shown as a da Fabriano in an exhibition of European Art from an American Collection in 1964 at the Royal Palace in Milan.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"As Adolfo Venturi put it, this 'delightful and precious little altarpiece' (deliziosa e preziosa anconetta) blends “the most beautiful ornamental fantasies of the flowery gothic style” (le più belle fantasie ornamentali del gotico fiorito) with “a new sweetness of gesture and expression” (una dolcezza nuova di ritmi e d'aspetti) and “a sense of deep and absorbed humanity” (un senso di umanità assorta e profonda). Indeed, the Madonna's tender embrace of her eager newborn, who reaches toward the tantalizing flowers on the ground nearby, conveys a typically protective maternal affection, while her wistful and longing gaze presages her child's fate. While the beautifully depicted flowering meadow on which the figures sit and the trees behind them suggest a worldly setting, the holy nature of the scene and its divine participants is also clear: the Madonna's robe is exquisitely brocaded with emblems of her status as Queen of Heaven; the richly embellished pillow on which they rest serves as an informal throne; and the radiant gold ground behind them, which is adorned with stippled striations as if to suggest light emanating from the figures themselves, reveals a pair of extensively tooled and inscribed haloes.

"From the time it first reappeared in the 1930s, this stunning Madonna of Humility was considered a work by Gentile da Fabriano, a painter universally acclaimed as one of the greatest of the early 15th century. Like Venturi, scholars including Pietro Toesca, Antonio Morassi, Giuseppe Fiocco, Wilhelm Suida, and Rodolfo Pallucchini (all written communication, 1930s) endorsed an attribution to Gentile, and compared the present work to some of that artist's most celebrated pictures. The similarities to Gentile's art are indeed profound: the richly patterned surfaces; soft, full faces with dreamy expressions; rhythmic articulation of the drapery; and attention to detail – particularly in the millefleur ground beneath the Madonna, which reveals an understanding of the French and Burgundian illuminations that were so influential to both artists – all speak to a close connection between the two painters.

"It is likely, in fact, that Zanino and Gentile met each other in Venice, where the former was working and where the latter spent five years beginning in 1408. Zanino himself was among the most important Venetian painters of the first quarter of the 15th century, and there can be no question that both artists influenced each other. Some of Zanino's illuminations have, for example, been shown to have directly inspired Gentile's early panels, such as the Madonna and Child with Saint Nicholas, Saint Catherine, and a donor (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie; fig. 1). Both Fiocco and Pallucchini dated the present work to Gentile's Venetian period, so clearly understood its connection to Zanino's art even without recognizing the correct attribution. In 2013, Keith Christiansen, to whom we are grateful, proposed an attribution to Zanino di Pietro on the basis of first-hand inspection. Justly reattributed, the present work serves as important evidence of Zanino's connection to, and influence on, Gentile da Fabriano, and counts among the artist's finest surviving panels."

It has a modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It failed to sell.


Lot 127, "Jason and the Argonauts," by Bernardino da Parenzo, called Parentino, oil on canvas, 38 1/4 by 105 3/4 inches

Another fine de Navarro picture is Lot 127, "Jason and the Argonauts," by Bernandino da Parenzo, called Parentino (circa 1450-circa 1500).  An oil on canvas, it measures 38 1/4 by 105 3/4 inches.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"This monumentally-scaled painting depicts an early event in the mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts. The young prince appears at left wearing a crown and riding a white horse as he departs from his uncle’s kingdom of Iolcus in search of the Golden Fleece. So as to more clearly signify to his Renaissance viewers that this is a story from Antiquity, Parentino transforms the Greek city into Rome by including a broken arch and a column topped with a pagan statue in the background as well as the Colosseum at left. The city’s gate, with its marble revetment and classical ornamentation, reflects Parentino’s fascination with the ancient world as well as his years of studying inscriptions on Roman monuments in his native Istria. Jason’s entourage of demigods and heroes marches forth before him in a frieze-like procession reminiscent of a Roman profectio. The muscular figure of Hercules is particularly conspicuous at center, dressed in the skin of the Nemean Lion and holding a golden standard. His companions carry four flags, each a different shape but all bearing the same black and white vertical chevron design which has yet to be identified. Remarkably, the background at right transitions from the Ancient Roman countryside to a 16th-century Venetian lagoon, complete with gondolas and island churches, thereby bringing the narrative from the distant past into Parentino’s world. Lending immediacy to the story, this device was meant encourage the viewer to take inspiration from the virtuous deeds unfolding before him."

The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It failed to sell.

El Greco

Lot 131, "The Entombment of Christ," by El Greco, oil on panel, 11 by 7 5/8 inches

Lot 131 is a small but very good oil on panel of "The Entombment of Christ" by Domenikos Theotokopoulos called El Greco (1541-1614).  It measures 11 by 7 5/8 inhces.

The catalogue entry notes that Professor Andrea Donati "has suggested that the present work was painted after El Greco had left the Farnese palace and enrolled in Rome’s Compagnia di San Luca, which he joined in October 1572, and when he would have been working for his living. Small-scale works of similar religious subjects were popular in Rome under Pius V, and would have been saleable to El Greco’s early Italian and Spanish patrons in that city. If it was acquired by a Spanish collector, the present
Entombment would have been among the first – if not the very first – of the artist’s pictures to enter a Spanish collection. Professor Donati also notes that the inclusion of Titian’s portrait in the present panel reinforces the much-debated theory that El Greco was the Italian master’s pupil. Indeed, as Professor Donati notes, El Greco was officially introduced in 1570 to Cardinal Farnese in Rome by Giulio Clovio as a student of Titian, and a contemporary copy of Vasari’s Lives owned by the jurist and scholar Durante Dorio da Leonessa also records this master-pupil relationship."

"This remarkable panel executed on a small scale packs eighteen figures into a tightly compressed space," the entry continued, "with all the expressive grandeur and brilliant colorism for which El Greco is renowned, but on the reduced scale of a cabinet picture. In a tempestuous landscape with the three crosses on Golgotha visible at upper left, a vivid blue sky with swirling clouds and distant mountains are outlined in flaming reds and pinks. The crowd of protagonists (including St Joseph of Arimethea, immediately recognizable as a portrait of the aging Titian – El Greco's great influence during his seminal visit to Venice in 1568-1570) cluster around the body of Christ which is solicitously lowered into his tomb, while the Magdalene and Virgin Mary together with a group of female attendants grieve. The instruments of the passion – the nails and crown of thorns – are placed in the immediate foreground. A thick veil of discolored varnish mutes what is undoubtedly a rich, iridescent palette....This panel has rarely been studied in person since it was first published by Aznar in 1950. This was rectified when it was examined and then published by Lopera and subsequently exhibited in Toledo in 2014. It belongs to a series of works depicting the Passion painted on a similar scale by El Greco notably a Pietà in the Hispanic Society, New York (fig. 1); another in the Johnson Collection, Philadelphia; and two other Entombments, one (now lost) formerly in the Palazzo Reale, Madrid and the second formerly with Giancarlo Baroni (fig. 2, sold Sotheby's, New York, 20 January 2013, lot 7). Another treatment of the same subject with additions giving it an arched format was in the Anstruther Collection (sold Christie's, 1965) and then the Marshall Collection (sold Bonham's, 28 March 1974). Based on 'an imprecise black and white photograph' Soener and Wethey rejected our panel which upon first-hand inspection has now been rehabilitated by Alvarez Lopera..., Leo Steinberg and Fernando Marias among others.  Our understanding of El Greco's Italian period has deepened, especially thanks to Lopera's recent work. Wethey had dismissed this entire group of early small-scale paintings as pastiches by another hand, perhaps an Italian workshop assistant, which ignored El Greco's evident references to what he was seeing in Italy. The debt to Michelangelo points to a Roman dating; Steinberg discusses this connection in a Burlington Shorter Notice (op. cit.) where he compares it to the dead Christ in Michelangelo's celebrated Bandini Madonna (fig. 3, now Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, Florence), then in Rome and also known through engravings by Cornelis Cort. Steinberg points to the rarity of such a direct quotation, writing: 'Such close replication is not normally found in El Greco…But in the Entombment, the whole of an alien figure, celebrated for unprecedented complexity and unmistakable, has been lifted, tilted and inserted intact. And so accurate is the transposition that one suspects the artist is not merely representing a Christ, but a Christ in quotation marks - 'Michelangelo's Christ.' El Greco is famous for his bold declaration that he could successfully repaint the Sistine Chapel, and it is entirely plausible to suggest that El Greco is, as Titian had done before, not just copying Michelangelo but competing with him. His figure of Christ is not merely a repetition of an instantly recognizable figure but an incorporation of it into a far more complex composition replete with all the expressive power of color and dramatic landscape which sculpture could not provide. Steinberg suggests that the prototype was painted in Rome, probably after El Greco saw the Pietà at Francesco Bandini's villa in Monte Cavallo, and that the other repetitions may have been painted in Spain. Of all the versions (and this differs in small details from the ex-Madrid and ex-Baroni versions), some known only from photographs, the present is of a superior quality and intensity of execution and should be regarded as the prototype. Marias writes of it, 'the London Entombment of Christ with the three crosses of Golgotha on the small hill on the left, and with the crown of thorns and basket on the left further away from the tomb, just under the arm of the Magdalene dressed in green rather than blue and yellow, is differentiated also by other stylistic features, from the finer drawing to the subtler light and color, and the different tones of tunics and cloaks, from the Ruiz Vernacci photo [ex-Madrid picture] and the other one or two panels'....

"This emotionally charged Entombment, early as it is," the entry continued, "exemplifies so many of the qualities which troubled El Greco's critics and enthralled his admirers. Imagined with little regard for the conventions of spatial perspective and Renaissance idealization in the drawing of face or body, the artist achieves, on a tiny scale, a vision of remarkable dramatic intensity: the complex knot of protagonists, rendered in vivid strokes of blues, green, carmines, pinks, greys and white. In this scene of restless movement enlivened with flickering accents of light, the action pushed forcefully to the very front of the picture plane, El Greco, though mindful of his sources, has already established himself as an independent master in every sense."

The estimate is $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $6,100,000.


Lot 125, "The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints," by Bernardo Daddi, tempera and gold on panel, 30 1/8 by 20 1/2 inches

Lot 125 is a fine small altarpiece of "The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints" by Bernardo Daddi (1318-1348).  It measures 30 1/8 by 20 1/2 inches and is tempera and old on panel. 

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"This magnificent miniature altarpiece is one of the finest and most important Trecento pictures to come to auction in the last decade. The central panel, framed along its upper edge with an ogival molding, features all the ravishing colors, painstaking attention to pattern and detail, and tender intimacy which characterize the highest achievements in Bernardo Daddi’s oeuvre. Described by Richard Offner as ‘certainly the greatest master in the Florence of his day’, Daddi worked both on a monumental, Giottesque scale – possibly even collaborating with Giotto on the decorations of the great Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence – and in a smaller format, producing private devotional pictures of great delicacy. These paintings, of which the present work is an exceptionally refined example, led Offner to describe Daddi as the epitome of what he termed the Florentine “miniaturist tendency,” a sophisticated style of painting which would become popular, in no small part due to Daddi’s enormous success, in the 14th century. The Enthroned Madonna surrounded by saints and angels at the center of this complex, probably originally conceived as the center of a triptych, reveals Daddi at his most lyrical and enchanting. The exquisitely modeled robes range from luxurious blues to cool, sage greens, to bright vermilion and deep rose, and are characterized by a consciously exaggerated, lyrical use of line. The background gilding is equally sumptuous, adorned with elegant punched decorations as well as sophisticated hand-tooled designs, and the mordant gilding which embellishes the figures’ robes is applied with similar meticulousness.
The richly embroidered cloth of honor behind the Virgin, which features a pattern common to Persian textiles that had become popular models in Trecento Florentine workshops, is carefully described to indicate its three-dimensionality: the sides are painted in a slightly darker shade to show their recession into space and shadow, and the cloth appears to fall with real weight, gathering in a swollen bunch at the seat of the throne and flowing naturalistically over its edge. The throne itself, meanwhile, is a tour-de-force of painted architecture, featuring a proliferation of fictive moldings and porphyry inlay. Its real, spatial presence is painstakingly delineated, from the carved arms and arches to the twisting florets surmounting the marble structure, and is underscored by the angels at left and right, who delicately grasp its vertical elements. Because he has placed this remarkable structure slightly off-center, Daddi has been careful to reveal a little more of the punched border at upper left than at upper right – most evident in two lone punches between the upper florets of the top of the throne at left. The insistent three-dimensionality of the scene proves that Daddi, even on such an intimate scale, never abandons the solidity of form and monumental figural presence pioneered by Giotto a generation earlier."

Detail of Daddi

Detail of Lot 125

The estimate is on request.  It sold for $3,861,000.


Lot 126, "Madonna and Child," attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna or a close follower, tempera and gold on panel, 27 5/8 by 18 inches.

Lot 126 is a tempera and gold on panel of "The Madonna and Child" that has been attributed to Duccio di Buoninsenga (flourished Siena 1278-1319) or a close follower.  It measures 27 5/8 by 18 inches.
Baby cross

Lot 109, "The Virgin and Child (The Madonna of the Cherries), by Joos van Cleve, oil on panel, 25 3/4 by 19 3/8 inches

Lot 109 is a very fine oil on panel of "The Virgin and Child (The Madonna of the Cherries" by Joos van Cleve (circa 1485-1540/1).  It measures 25 2/3 by 19 3/8 inches.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:


Lot 124, "The Crucifixion," North Netherlandish School, oil on panel, early 16th Century, 33 3/4 by 22 7/8 inches

Lot 124 is an oil on panel of "The Crucifixion" that is dated to the early 16th Century by the North Netherlandish School.  It measures 33 3/4 by 22 7/8 inches.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"The composition of this highly-refined painting is closely related to Gerard David’s Crucifixion probably begun after 1502 [in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin]. The two panels share much in common in terms of their arrangement, with the outline of the hilly landscape marking a clear separation between the earthly realm and the heavenly sky occupied by Christ and the angels (shown flying toward the scene in the Berlin painting). Moreover, in each case the holy mourners are concentrated to Christ’s right, while soldiers and mercenary figures appear to his left. The crosses in both images are virtually identical in terms of their oblique placement as well as their appearance, down to their knots and exposed bark —a reference to the Tree of Jesse. These latter two features are unusual in Netherlandish art, where typically the Virgin and Saint John stand on opposite sides of the cross, which is perpendicular to the picture plane. Several other details link the paintings, including the presence in each of a figure in a reddish cloak on a white horse to the right of the cross, and of another individual with a raised arm riding a rearing brown steed. Two diminutive female witnesses in white headdresses also appear in both paintings—between Mary Magdalene and Saint John in David’s composition, and between these saints and the cross in the presenting painting. These motifs are treated similarly but not identically in the two compositions; the small female onlookers in white, for example, are inverted in each case. As for the rider with a raised arm, in our panel he virtually buttresses the base of the cross while in David’s work he appears before a crenellated wall deeper in the landscape. Such discrepancies speak of a hand comfortable with adaptation, a fact confirmed by the present painting’s magnificent under-drawing (fig. 2). Devoid of any trace of pouncing, which would suggest the use of a cartoon, the under-drawing is remarkable for the level of detail lavished upon all parts of its composition. Especially noteworthy is the freely-drawn yet highly controlled hatching and shading that breathe life into the principle figures and their garments. In his catalogue, Lorne Campbell argues that the Berlin Crucifixion, together with the panel of Canon Bernardijn Salviati with Saints Bernardino, Martin and Donation now in the National Gallery, London, originally formed a diptych (L. Campbell, National Gallery Catalogues: The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, London, 1998, pp. 130-32). The altarpiece in question would have been commissioned in 1501 for the altar of Saints John and Mary Magdalene that Salviati endowed in that year in the Collegiate Church of St. Donatian, Bruges. It is possible that the author of the present painting had occasion to see David’s Crucifixion there, although it is just as plausible that both panels draw from a common source that has yet to be identified. The high quality of the present painting, with its serene palette and myriad expressive touches, lends itself well to the latter hypothesis."

The estimate is $300,000 to $500,000 It sold for $425,000.


Lot 136, "Susanna and the Elders," by Jan Massys, oil on panel, 51 3/4 by 43 7/8 inches

Lot 136 is an oil on panel of "Susanna and the Elders" by Jan Massys (Antwerp c. 1509 - 1575).  It measures 51 3/4 by 32 7/8 inches.  It is property from the collection of J. E. Safra.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary.

"This superb panel by Jan Massys epitomizes the sophisticated beauty synonymous with the mature phase of the Northern Renaissance. While retaining the meticulous technique developed by his Netherlandish forbearers, Jan Massys moved throughout his career toward a refined mannerist style that paid tribute to Italian art. Jan Massys was born the talented son of Quentin Massys, the leading painter in Antwerp in the early decades of the 16th century. Despite this prestigious ancestry, little is securely known of Jan’s seemingly peripatetic career. Along with his brother Cornelis, Jan most probably took over his father’s workshop upon his death in 1530....Although Jan’s style is much indebted to his father’s, his predilection for alluring depictions of the female nude became a feature unique to his art....A vivid tale of virtue assailed, Susanna and the Elders (recounted by Daniel 13:1-64) describes how two prominent elderly judges fell for the beautiful Susanna, the chaste wife of Joachim, a respected member of the Jewish community in Babylon. One day as she was about to bathe in her husband’s orchard, the lustful pair assaulted the young woman and threatened to denounce her as an adulteress unless she gave into their desire. With her strong morality and her faith in God, Susanna chose false accusation and certain death over dishonor and refused herself to the Elders....Dazzling in its minutely-rendered details, the idyllic garden and ornate cityscape beyond constitute a genuine homage to the Netherlandish landscape tradition initiated by Joachim Patinir in Massys’s native Antwerp. Bushes are dotted with virginal roses and lilies, while fanciful gothic edifices evoke the exotic splendor of Babylon. The painter’s subtle use of atmospheric perspective, with carefully grading blue tonalities to suggest spatial recession, carries an immense poetic appeal.

The lot was an estimate of $1,500,000 to $3,500,000.  It sold for $1,205,000.

The Seven Virtues

Lot  129, "The Seven Virtues," by Giovanni dal Ponte, tempera and gold on panel, 17 by 61 1/8 inches

Lot 129 is a lovely gempera and old on penel of "The Seven Vitures" by Giovanni dal Ponte (1385-1437).  It measures 17 by 61 1/8 inches.  It was acquired via the architect Stanford White from Stephano Bardini for William Collins Whitney and later Harry Payne Whitney.  It was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1920 and written about by Bernard Berenson in 1963.

Detail of the Seven Virtues

Detail of Lot 129

The catalogue entry notes that there is a companion piece, "The Seven Arts," at the Prado and provides the following commentary:

"This sumptuously decorated cassone panel is a rare and important work by Giovanni dal Ponte. The Seven Virtues was a popular subject for cassoni, which were often commissioned on the occasion of a marriage celebration in Renaissance Florence. Charity occupies the center, presumably with Marcus Amelius Scaurus at her feet. From left to right, the various Virtues are presented alongside their most notable historical or mythological exemplar: Fortitude with Hercules; Justice with Trajan; Faith probably with Marcus Atilius Regulus; Hope with Alexander the Great; Prudence with Solon; and Temperance with Scipio Africanus. Above each Virtue and Master, hovering putti animated with individualized gestures emerge from the sky....The present cassone frontal entered the prestigious collection of the American political leader and financier William Collins Whitney (1848-1904) around 1898, in a sale brokered with the leading Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini by the architect and decorator Stanford White. Whitney’s newly acquired fifty-four room New York mansion at 68th Street and Fifth Avenue was to be renovated, under White’s direction, with “Old World magnificence”, and our panel was certainly acquired with this goal in mind. Indeed, photographs of the mansion’s grand entry hall taken c. 1915-1930 (fig. 2) show the present work in situ at lower right in the grand entrance hall at Whitney’s new home, surrounded by tapestries and elegant Italian furnishings.

The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It sold for $557,000.


Lot 133, "The Outdoor Wedding Dance," by Pieter Brueghel II, oil on panel, 16 by 22 1/4 inches, 1615

Lot 133 is a fine small oil on panel by Pieter Brueghel II (1564-1637/8) of "The Outdoor Wedding Dance."  It measures 16 by 22 1/4 inches and is dated 1615.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Previously unpublished and never before offered at auction, this brilliantly colored panel is among the most recognizable images in the history of Flemish painting. The vibrant blues and reds of the paint layer – which remain particularly vivid – lend vital energy to the scene, whose myriad playful details, bawdy humor, and narrative sensibility make it as iconic today as it was in the 17th century. Whirling dancers in the foreground cavort tipsily, enjoying the bagpipe music and festive mood, a few tipping back large jugs of wine for a swig. Some, carried away, embrace amorously, while a few men at left, their backs to the viewer, relieve themselves discreetly at the party’s edge. At center, before a lavender sheet strung up between two trees, is the focus of all this revelry: the bride, sitting beneath a makeshift crown that honors her as 'Queen for a Day,' bemusedly watches guests place coins on the pewter plate before her. She is surrounded by eager onlookers, who greedily survey the offerings, and a robed man who diligently records her gifts.  Few details have come down to us regarding the life of Pieter Brueghel II...., who enjoyed a prolific career and early fame, eventually overseeing a thriving atelier in Antwerp which included at least nine pupils....His father was the great Pieter Bruegel I (c. 1525/30-1569), who achieved renown for his revolutionary landscapes and scenes of everyday life in the 16th-century Netherlands. His younger brother, Jan Brueghel I (1568-1625), became a master best known for his elegant, precisely rendered landscapes and floral still-lifes, of which the most celebrated were executed on copper. The Brueghel dynasty carried on well into the 17th century with Jan's son and stepson, the painters Jan Brueghel II (1601-1678) and David Teniers II (1610-1690). As with many of Pieter II's works, The Outdoor Wedding Dance belongs to a tradition largely established by his father, of which a celebrated example is the Wedding Banquet in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna....Its combination of landscape and genre elements, along with the artist's familiar pathos-imbued depiction of bawdiness in 17th-century life, explain the great contemporary appeal of The Outdoor Wedding Dance. The composition is known in numerous autograph versions, of which the earliest-known are signed and dated 1607 (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, inv. 37.364; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, inv. 8725). The composition of The Outdoor Wedding Dance relates to an untraced drawing or painting by Pieter Bruegel I, known from an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, published by Hieronymus Cock. A painted panel and a gouache by Jan Breughel I that derive from the same source are also known (Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Paris, Musée du Louvre). Pieter II's works featuring this composition can be divided into two groups: those painted in the same sense as Van der Heyden's engraving, and those in reverse. The present picture, together with the majority of autograph versions, belongs to the latter group, all believed to derive directly from a lost work by Pieter I rather than from the engraving."

The lot has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.  It failed to sell.


Lot  130,  capriccios, oil on panel, by Francesco Guardi, each 8 3/8 by 6 3/4 inches

Lot 130 is a handsome pair of capriccios by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793).  The oils on panel each measure 8 3/8 by 6 3/4 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"These fresh, intimately-sized panels exemplify the spirited, confident style of Guardi's full maturity. Charming in their conception and exquisitely painted, these works, along with a group of similarly-sized pictures that survive, demonstrate the considerable vogue of these late capricci among the artist's Venetian patrons. Unlike the more straightforward vedute prized by foreign collectors, these imaginary compositions revealed Guardi's power of invenzione (imagination), and were much admired by locals. As here, such works often feature diminutive figures in contemporary dress surrounded by ruined classical or Gothic architectural elements, often at the shore of the lagoon, and occasionally with a village or glimpse of Venice in the distance."

The lot has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.  It sold for $197,000.


Lot 113, "Portrait of Joost Aemszoon van der Burch," by Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen, oil on panel, 36 7/8 by 30 3/8 inches

Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen (Beverwijk c. 1500-c. 1559 Brussels)

Lot 113 is an impressive "Portrait of Joost Aemszoon van der Burch" by Jan Carnelisz. Vermeyen (circa 1500-circa 1559).  It is an oil on panel that measures 36 7/8 by 30 3/8 inches. Recently discovered in a private collection, the painting was attributed to the Dutch master following extensive research by Till-Holger Borchert, Peter van den Brink and Maximiliaan P.J. Martens, who will be publishing their findings in a forthcoming article. The extensive inscription on the frame identifies this confident gentleman as Jodocus Aemsz. van der Burch, legal counselor to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V at the Council of Brabant. The date 1541 likely refers to the portrait’s commission, or possibly its completion.

Renaissance Paintings auction at Christie's New York January 29, 2014 with the very spectacular Rothschild Prayerbook, a great Pontormo, a great Circle of  Leonardo da Vinci, a great Lucas Cranach, a marvelous Laocoon by Alessandro Allori, a very nice small Gerard David and a wonderful Adriaen Eisenbradt

Important Old Master Paintings auction at Sotheby's New York January 30, 2014 with fine works by El Greco, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Fragonard

Old Master Paintings Part I auction at Christie's New York January 29, 2014 with great works by Ter Borch and Sir William Beechey and Ferdinand Bol

The Courts of Europe Renaissance to Rococo at Sotheby's New York January 30, 2014 with a three-sided view portrait of a gyrfalcon, a great Benjamin West and a fine Willem van Tetrode

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters Auction at Sotheby's New York Winter 2013

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters Auction at Christie's New York Winter 2013

See The City Review article on the Renaissance auction at Christie's New York Winter 2013

See The City Review article on Old Master Drawings auction at Christie's Winter 2013

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Sotheby's New York Winter 2012

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Sotheby's Winter 2011

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Christie's Winter 2010

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Sotheby's Winter 2010

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Sotheby's Winter 2009
See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Christie's January 28, 2009
See The City Review article on the Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's April 15, 2008
See The City Review article on the Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's April 19, 2007
See The City Review article on the January 27, 2005 Important Old Masters Auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the January, 2004 Old Masters auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the January 24, 2003 Old Masters auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Winter 2001 Old Masters Paintings auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Winter 2001 Old Masters Paintings auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Old Masters auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Old Masters auction at Christie's January 26, 2001
See The City Review article on the Important Old Master Paintings Auction at Sotheby's, Jan. 28, 2000
See The City Review article on the Recap of Old Master Paintings auction at Sotheby's May 28, 1999
See The City Review article on the Recap of Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's, May 25, 1999
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