Donato de' Bardi (Italian, Lombard, active by 1426–died 1450/51)
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Central panel, overall 23 1/2 x 13 1/8 in. (59.7 x 33.3 cm), painted surface 23 1/8 x 12 3/4 in. (58.7 x 32.4 cm); each wing, overall 23 5/8 x 6 in. (60 x 15.2 cm), painted surface 23 1/4 x 5 1/2 in. (59.1 x 14 cm)
Exquisite in facture and delicate in expression, this is the earliest known work by Donato de' Bardi. It is possible that it was painted in Pavia (south of Milan), where Donato would have known the great miniaturist Michelino da Besozzo and where he would have encountered French illuminations. In 1426 he moved to Genoa, where he became the leading painter. A possible patron is Duke Filippo Maria Visconti (1392–1447) and his mistress Agnes del Maino, as their names match those of the two saints appearing on the wings of the triptych. The frame is original.
The Virgin is shown seated on a cushion on the marble pavement, as a Madonna of Humility. The infant Christ wears a coral amulet as a talisman and coral beads around his wrists. He plays with a goldfinch, symbol of the Resurrection. The figures are rendered with exceptional attention to details, such as the teeth of the mother and child and the transparent cloth on the infant’s body. In the left wing is shown the apostle Philip and in the right one is Saint Agnes, who holds a martyr’s palm and her attribute, a lamb with a cruciform halo signifying the Lamb of God.
The signature on this refined triptych was long thought to refer to the Venetian painter Donato Bragadin—a sometime associate of Jacopo Bellini. However, in 1972 Zeri ingeniously proposed an attribution to the Lombard painter Donato de’ Bardi, who was principally active in Genoa; his masterpiece is a large canvas of the Crucifixion in the Pinacoteca Civica of Savona. Zeri (1973) went on to reconstruct the career of this artist, who emerges as a defining figure of Renaissance painting in Liguria. The MMA triptych would be an early work, in which Donato’s training in the late-Gothic traditions of Milan and Pavia, as represented by Michelino da Besozzo (see MMA 43.98.7), are updated through his awareness of French miniature painting. There are no certain dates for establishing Donato’s chronology, but most scholars now place the MMA panel in the 1430s. Strehlke (1998) has suggested that the triptych was painted in Milan, prior to Donato’s move to Genoa, and proposed as patrons Duke Filippo Maria Visconti and his mistress Agnes del Maino, as their names match those of the two saints appearing on the wings of the triptych.
The individual panels have been thinned and cradled and the original frames are no longer engaged, as they once were. However, the paint surface is in good condition.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
Inscription: Signed (bottom, central panel): OP[V]S DONATI
[Arthur Sambon, Paris, by 1929–?before 1935]; [conte Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence, about 1935–36; sold to Kress]; Samuel H. Kress, New York (1936–37)
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Early European Paintings," January 7–30, 1949, no. 1 (as by Bragadin).
Madrid. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. "El renacimiento mediterráneo: Viajes de artistas e itinerarios de obras entre Italia, Francia y España en el siglo XV," January 31–May 6, 2001, no. 68.
Museu de Belles Arts de València. "El renacimiento mediterráneo: Viajes de artistas e itinerarios de obras entre Italia, Francia y España en el siglo XV," May 18–September 2, 2001, no. 68.
Alba, Italy. Fondazione Ferrero. "Napoleone e il Piemonte: capolavori ritrovati," October 28, 2005–February 27, 2006, no. 16.
Arthur Sambon. "Donato Bernardo di Giovanni Bragadin: Pittore veneto in contrada di San Lio." L'arte 32 (January–February 1929), pp. 15–21, ill., as in a private collection; attributes it to Donato Bragadin and dates it about 1452.
Margaret Sloane Patterson in "A Gift of Two Italian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 33 (January 1938), pp. 6–8, ill., attributes it to Bragadin.
"New Metropolitan Pictures." Art News 36 (Janauary 15, 1938), p. 13, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 171–72, ill., attributes it to Bragadin and calls it a Madonna of Humility.
Herbert Friedmann. The Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. Washington, 1946, pp. 114, 156, pl. 91 (detail of central panel), attributes it to Bragadin; notes the unusual detail of the drooping or dead goldfinch held by the Christ Child.
Roberto Longhi. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946, pp. 51–52, pl. 29, attributes the MMA painting and a Presentation in the Temple (private collection, Lombardy) to Bragadin.
Luigi Coletti. Pittura veneta del Quattrocento. Novara, 1953, p. XXX, pl. 60A, attributes it to Bragadin.
Carlo Volpe. "Donato Bragadin ultimo gotico." Arte veneta 9 (1955), pp. 17, 21, fig. 22, attributes it to Bragadin and dates it about 1440.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 49, pl. 58, attributes it to Bragadin.
Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 2, Italian Schools: XV–XVI Century. London, 1968, p. 29, no. K1101, fig. 69, attributes it to Bragadin and dates it probably about 1450.
Pietro Zampetti. A Dictionary of Venetian Painters. Vol. 1, 14th & 15th Centuries. Leigh-on-Sea, 1969, p. 35, attributes it to Bragadin.
K[runo]. Prijatelj inDizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 13, Rome, 1971, p. 669, attributes it to Bragadin.
Federico Zeri. Letter. April 5, 1972, attributes it to Donato de' Bardi and calls it an early work, "close to four saints, hitherto without any attribution, in Genoa".
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 35, 328, 367, 444, 607, as by Bragadin.
Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 3, Italian Schools: XVI–XVIII Century. London, 1973, p. 389, Addenda, accepts Zeri's attribution [see Ref. Zeri 1972] to Donato de' Bardi.
Federico Zeri. "Rintracciando Donato De' Bardi." Quaderni di Emblema 2 (1973), pp. 35–46, figs. 35 (overall), 36a, 36b (details), attributes it to Donato de' Bardi and dates it about 1430–40, comparing it to French miniatures; adds the Four Saints in the Accademia Ligustica, Genoa, to the painter's oeuvre [see Ref. Zeri 1972].
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 10, Ricerche sulla pittura veneta: 1946–1969. Florence, 1978, p. 47, pl. 25, reprints text of Ref. 1946.
Elena Rossetti Brezzi. "Per un'inchiesta sul Quattrocento ligure." Bollettino d'arte 68 (January–February 1983), p. 8, fig. 5, follows Zeri's attribution and dating, comparing features of the composition of the Madonna and Child to a painting in the Santuario di Santa Maria della Castagna, Quarto (Genoa) signed by Andrea de Aste and dated 1424.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 1–2, pl. 8, call it apparently an early work by Donato de' Bardi, suggesting a date of about 1430 or possibly earlier; give information on the state of preservation.
Federico Zeri. "Un problema nell'area di Donato de' Bardi." Paragone 37 (May 1986), p. 10, attributes four panels to a painter close to Donato; notes that the form of their haloes is extremely rare and that similar types appear only in the MMA painting and in the Four Saints in the Accademia Ligustica, suggesting that they may all be products of the same workshop.
Mauro Natale inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 1, p. 16.
Mauro Natale inArte in Lombardia tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1988, p. 188.
Andrea De Marchi. "Andrea de Aste e la pittura tra Genova e Napoli all'inizio del Quattrocento." Bollettino d'arte 76 (July–October 1991), pp. 124–25, 129 nn. 47–48, fig. 22, discusses the dating, calling the MMA work later than the Four Saints in the Accademia Ligustica.
Vittorio Natale inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 3, New York, 1996, p. 226, dates it probably 1430s and calls it "a key example of the exchanges between northern Italy and transalpine Europe," noting the influence of both Pisanello and Bellini, and also of French illuminations and Provençal painting.
Carl Brandon Strehlke. "'Li magistri con li discepoli': Thinking about Art in Lombardy." Quattro pezzi lombardi (per Maria Teresa Binaghi). Brescia, 1998, pp. 35–37, pl. 6 (detail), dates it to the 1430s and notes that its small size indicates that it was made for a private patron; suggests Filippo Maria Visconti and his mistress Agnes del Maino, whose names match those of the two saints appearing on the wings of the triptpych.
Mauro Natale inEl renacimiento mediterráneo: Viajes de artistas e itinerarios de obras entre Italia, Francia y España en el siglo XV. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2001, pp. 426–31, ill. (color), and figs. 68a, 68c (details), dates it about 1435; on the basis of its reserved character and sober iconography suggests it was commissioned by a person of high social rank; finds the figure types indicative of northern Italian art in general and not specifically Venetian.
Carl Brandon Strehlke. "Madrid and Valencia, the Mediterranean Renaissance." Burlington Magazine 143 (May 2001), p. 319.
Massimiliano Caldera inNapoleone e il Piemonte: capolavori ritrovati. Ed. Bruno Ciliento and Massimiliano Caldera. Exh. cat., Fondazione Ferrero, Alba. Savigliano, Italy, 2005, pp. 174–77, no. 16, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Ilaria Fiumi inGentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Ed. Laura Laureati and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, p. 234 [Italian ed., "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento"], relates it to Antonio da Fabriano's "Saint Anne with the Infant Mary and Saints Joachim and Joseph" (Pinacoteca Civica, Gualdo Tadino).
Stefania Buganza. Palazzo Borromeo: la decorazione di una dimora signorile milanese al tramonto del gotico. Milan, 2008, pp. 168, 193 n. 158, fig. 79 (center panel).
Christine Seidel. "Jean Bapteur zwischen Nord und Süd." Die Apokalypse der Herzöge von Savoyen: Begleitband zur Faksimile-Ausgabe des Manuskripts Cod. E. Vitr. 5 der Real Biblioteca des Monasterio di San Lorenzo im Escorial. Simbach am Inn, Germany, 2011, p. 96, fig. 3.
A portable triptych with its original frames, which were disengaged and partially regilt when the panels were cradled.