Botticini practiced an eclectic style, influenced successively by Verrocchio and Botticelli. In the present painting the two angels drawing back the curtains depend from those in the altarpiece painted by Botticelli in 1483 for San Barnaba in Florence and now in the Uffizi. Painted for the church of the Servi at Fucecchio (near Empoli), this altarpiece was later in the Collegiata. The frame, though old, is not original.
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Fig. 1. Bedroom, Carl W. Hamilton's Apartment, New York
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Title:Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angels
Artist:Francesco Botticini (Francesco di Giovanni) (Italian, Florentine, ca. 1446–1497)
Medium:Tempera on wood
Dimensions:Arched top, 110 1/2 x 69 in. (280.7 x 175.3 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of George R. Hann, in memory of his mother, Annie Sykes Hann, 1961
The Artist: Though one of the most prolific Florentines of his day, Francesco di Giovanni di Domenico, known as Botticini, was entirely ignored by the sixteenth-century biographer Giorgio Vasari. Vasari mistakenly ascribed several of Botticini’s paintings to Sandro Botticelli, presumably because of their similar names (interestingly, however, the surname Botticini appears in contemporary documents only in relation to Botticini’s son Raffaello and never to Francesco, who in his time was known only by his patronymic, Francesco di Giovanni). In his commentary on Vasari published in 1878, Gaetano Milanesi recognized that one of the works mentioned by Vasari—the Tabernacle of the Saint Sebastian at the collegiate church in Empoli, a few miles west of Florence—is actually by the same painter as the Tabernacle of the Sacrament in the same church, documented to Francesco di Giovanni, i.e., Botticini, in 1484–91. Subsequent research proved that the another of Vasari’s misattributions, the Assumption of the Virgin for the humanist Matteo Palmieri’s chapel in San Pier Maggiore, Florence (National Gallery, London), is also a documented work by Botticini of 1475–77. In 1994 Lisa Venturini published an extensive monograph on the artist, clarifying many other attributions and dates.
Botticini was born in Florence in 1446. His father Giovanni was a naibaio, or painter of playing cards, and was probably Francesco’s first teacher. The young artist later transferred to Neri di Bicci’s workshop, where he is documented from October 22, 1459 until July 24, 1460. He must have next come into contact with Andrea del Verrocchio and the many gifted young artists active in his studio (Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Perugino) before establishing his own workshop in 1469, where in addition to painting altarpieces for Florence and the surrounding towns (Empoli, Prato, Poggibonsi, and Staggia) he also produced a steady stream of devotional panels for domestic interiors. On his death in 1497, his workshop passed to his son Raffaello, who worked until about 1520. Stylistically speaking, Botticini’s oeuvre shows a unique synthesis of the most famous Florentine painters of the day: his strong sense of modeling reflects his early study of Verrocchio; his preference for expansive bird’s-eye landscapes is inspired by the brothers Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo; and his melancholic figure types are reminiscent of Botticelli’s works of late 1470s and early 1480s. His most important altarpieces, such as the Palmieri Assumption, the tabernacles in Empoli, the Pietà for the Compagnia del Bechella (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris) and the Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Mary of Egypt and Bernard for the high altar of the Florentine Cestello (Musée du Louvre, Paris), reveal the high quality he was capable of achieving.
The Picture: This imposing altarpiece shows the Virgin seated on a splendid throne of variegated marble with bronze embellishments. She supports the standing Christ Child on her knee as he delivers a blessing to the viewer. Flanking the throne are two angels, identically dressed in brilliant orange robes and wings made of peacock feathers; they draw aside a pair of embroidered curtains lined with ermine fur, an animal associated with paradise. Beneath the throne are four saints, each identifiable by their typical attributes: from left to right they are Saint Benedict, dressed in his black habit and carrying a birch discipline; Saint Francis of Assisi, with the stigmata (wounds of Christ); the bishop Sylvester, with the dragon he is said to have tamed at his feet; and Saint Anthony Abbot, with a T-shaped staff and accompanied by a pig. The composition is loosely inspired by Botticelli’s altarpiece from the high altar of San Barnaba, Florence, painted in the second half of the 1480s (now at the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence).
Attribution: The earliest critical mention of the picture dates to 1883, when it was recorded in the famous collection of Giuseppe Toscanelli in Pisa with an attribution to Domenico Ghirlandaio. Three years later, it was published by Bode as the work of an anonymous Florentine whom he called the Master of the Rossi Altarpiece, after a panel of the Crucifixion with Saints inscribed with the name of its patron, Filippo de’ Rossi (formerly Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, Berlin; destroyed 1945). In 1909, Berenson assigned all of the paintings by this artist—excluding The Met’s picture, of which he was then unaware—to Francesco Botticini, to whose oeuvre The Met’s altarpiece was officially added by Van Marle (1931). The attribution has since been questioned only by Bacci (1966), who assigned the work to an anonymous artist she called the Master of the Adorations. Yet as noted by Fahy (1967), “all the pictures ascribed to this master. . . .are perfectly autograph works by Francesco Botticini.”
Botticini’s authorship was ultimately confirmed when Villani (1988; 1992) published the altarpiece’s contract, dated July 11, 1493, as well as its payments, the last of which were made in August 1495. These documents report that the altarpiece was painted for the high altar of the oratory of the Compagnia della Vergine della Croce, a penitential confraternity also known as the Frustati Bianchi, in the town of Fucecchio, about twenty-five miles west of Florence and seven miles east of Empoli. Villani also found the documents describing how in 1790 the picture was moved to the nearby collegiate church of San Giovanni Battista in Fucecchio, which sold it to Giuseppe Toscanelli in 1857.
Style and Date: Villani (1992) and Venturini (1994) argued that the altarpiece was completed by 1495, a suggestion confirmed by the painting’s style, which is typical of Botticini’s late phase. The cool palette, harsh modeling of the figures, and close attention to reflected light are all very close to the Rucellai altarpiece from San Girolamo in Fiesole (National Gallery, London), datable on external evidence to about 1494. In that altarpiece Botticini also used some of the same preparatory drawings that he used here, with the pose of Saint Eustochium corresponding to that of Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paula to the present panel’s Saint Francis (though in reverse). Comparisons can also be drawn with Botticini’s little-known Resurrection at San Lorenzo in Poggibonsi, for which his son Raffaello collected payments in 1499. There, the angels are shown with the same multicolored wings and the same tight clinging draperies rendered in thick, swirling folds. The dramatically cast shadows in The Met’s picture—such as those thrown by the Christ Child’s arm onto his chest or by Anthony’s staff onto his draperies—are likewise similar to each of the works mentioned above, as well as to the splendid tondo of the Adoration of the Christ Child (Galleria Palatina, Florence), the Rinuccini altarpiece from San Pier Scheraggio, Florence, datable on documentary evidence to just after 1495 (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, on loan from a private collection), and the somewhat earlier Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Mary of Egypt and Bernard, originally in the Florentine Cestello (Musée du Louvre, Paris). This last work, which Vasari misattributed to Cosimo Rosselli, features a pair of heavy fur-lined curtains framing the composition, akin to the device in The Met’s altarpiece.
Iconography: The lower part of the painting is noteworthy in that the saints are shown standing on a grassy terrain replete with an array of meticulously described plants and animals. As Friedmann (1967) observed, the plants and animals that can be positively identified have symbolic connotations. Among the animals, the dove is a common allusion to the Holy Spirit, while the two goldfinches—one beneath the throne and the other to the right of the dove—allude to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection (according to popular legend, a goldfinch landed on Christ’s crown of thorns at the Crucifixion and became stained with his blood; another claims the bird would hibernate in the winter to awake in the spring, around the time of Christ’s Resurrection). There is also a sun lizard (podarcis muralis), a species common in Italy, which was believed to spend time in the sun to cure its own blindness; that the lizard is here shown gazing at the Christ suggests a parallel to Christian salvation. The meaning of the tortoise beneath Saint Francis’s feet is more obscure, but because of its protective shell it has been read as symbol of both chastity and as protection against evil. Among the plants, the thistles (beneath Saint Benedict) allude to Christ’s crown of thorns, while the buttercup (to the left of the tortoise), Lady’s Mantle (next to the tortoise), and bindweeds (to the right of the dove) were all popularly dedicated to the Virgin. The daisies and coltsfoot (surrounding the dove) were believed to have healing properties. Because the plant life is restricted to the enclosed area that also houses the figures, the setting as a whole can be read as the garden of paradise as well as the hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden, a popular symbol of Mary’s virginity.
Friedmann (1967) wondered if the zoological details were stipulated by a patron or a learned advisor, but they are typical of Botticini and were probably added of his own accord. Similar plants and animals, rendered with equal precision, occur in some of Botticini’s other important works, such as the Tobias and the Three Archangels of 1471–72 (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence) and the tondo at the Galleria Palatina, Florence, to name just two.
Christopher Daly 2021
Inscription: Inscribed: (left, on border of Madonna's robe) AVEMARIAGRAZIA PRENA DOM[VS?]; (on hem of Madonna's robe) ·INMVLIERIBVS·EBEN EDITVS· FRVTVS· (Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord [is with thee, blessed art thou] among women, and blessed is the fruit [of thy womb])
Compagnia della Vergine, Fucecchio (until 1790); Collegiata di San Giovanni Battista, Fucecchio (1790–1857; sold together with another work for 800 scudi to Toscanelli); Cav. Giuseppe Toscanelli, Pisa (1857–83; cat., 1883, pl. XVIIb, as by Domenico Ghirlandaio; his sale, Sambon's, Florence, April 9–23, 1883, no. 77, as by Domenico Ghirlandaio); [Riblet, Florence, 1883–about 1886]; [art dealer, London, until mid-1930s; sold to Hamilton]; Carl W. Hamilton, New York (until 1942; sold to Hann); George R. Hann, Sewickley, Pa. (1942–61)
Greensburg, Pa. Westmoreland County Museum of Art. "Christmas Exhibition: Madonnas and Saints from the George R. Hann Collection," December 16, 1959–January 31, 1960, no. 5.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
Compagnia della Vergine. Contract. July 11, 1493, cc. 13v–14r [Archivio della Collegiata di San Giovanni Battista di Fucecchio, V. VIII, 2; published in Villani 1992], commissions this altarpiece from Francesco Botticini for 80 gold florins.
Alessandro Masini. Relazione delle pitture. Nota di tutte le chiese . . . compagnie soppresse e altre chiese di tutta la diocesi di San Miniato. [ca. 1785–87], under no. II [Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Compagnie Religiose Soppresse, San Miniato, A CCLXIX, n. 20, fascicolo G; published in Ref. Villani 1988], records it as still in the Compagnia della Vergine (here called della Croce), Fucecchio, and attributes it to Ghirlandaio.
Gaetano Maria Rosati. Manuscript. 1856 [Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Capirotti di Finanza, 91, Galleria e Debito Pubblico, 1844–1859, Quadri della Collegiata di Fucecchio, 1856; see Ref. Villani 1992], proposes selling it together with a Stigmatization of Saint Francis for 800 scudi to Giuseppe Toscanelli.
Collection Toscanelli: Album contenant la reproduction des tableaux et meubles anciens. [1883?], pl. XVIIb, attributes it to Domenico Ghirlandaio.
W[ilhelm]. [von] Bode. "Die Ausbeute aus den Magazinen der königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Berlin." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 7 (1886), p. 235, attributes it to the Master of the Rossi altarpiece.
W[ilhelm]. [von] Bode. "La reniassance au musée de Berlin (4e article): Les peintres florentins du XVe siècle." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 37 (June 1888), p. 480.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 13, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation. The Hague, 1931, p. 416 n. 1, lists it among works by Botticini.
George M. Richter. Letter to Carl W. Hamilton. July 24, 1940, attributes it to Botticini and notes its connection with Botticelli's San Barnaba altarpiece of 1483 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence).
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 41; vol. 2, pl. 1059, lists it among works by Botticini, dating it 1470–75; erroneously calls it "homeless".
Mina Bacci. Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1966, p. 117, tentatively attributes it to an anonymous artist she calls the Master of the Adorations.
Everett Fahy. "Some Early Italian Pictures in the Gambier-Parry Collection." Burlington Magazine 109 (March 1967), p. 137 n. 35, rejects Bacci's [see Ref. 1966] attribution and calls it an autograph work by Botticini.
Herbert Friedmann. "Footnotes to the Painted Page: The Iconography of an Altarpiece by Botticini." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28 (Summer 1969), pp. 1–17, figs. 1, 7, 9, 11, 15, 21, 22 (overall and details), ill. on cover (color detail), accepts the attribution to Botticini and discusses the iconography.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, p. 126, ill. p. 127, consider it among the best examples of Botticini's advanced period, and note the influence of Castagno, the Pollaiuolos, and Botticelli; date it to about the middle of the 1480s.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 35, 326, 372, 378, 396, 450, 609.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 78, ill., states that it "was apparently painted for Ss. Annunziata, Florence, about 1485".
Anna Padoa Rizzo. "Per Francesco Botticini." Antichità viva 15 (September–October 1976), p. 18 n. 44, as a late work by Botticini.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Florence, 1977, pp. 135, 541, discusses the botanical iconography.
Roberta Roani Villani. "'Relazione delle pitture': contributo alla conoscenza del patrimonio artistico della Diocesi di San Miniato." Erba d'Arno no. 32–33 (Spring–Summer 1988), pp. 6, 12, 32–33 n. 4, pl. 4, publishes the report of Alessandro Masini [see Ref. n.d.] who records it as still in its original location shortly after the suppression of the Compagnia.
Paola Richetti. "Fra Valdarno e Valdelsa. Cenni pertinenti alla produzione artistica nel XV secolo." Il 'Maestro di San Miniato'. Ed. Gigetta Dalli Regoli. Pisa, 1988, p. 145 n. 18, fig. 98.
Roberta Roani Villani. "Il contratto di allogagione a Francesco Botticini della pala con la 'Vergine e Santi' del Metropolitan Museum di New York." Studi di storia dell'arte 3 (1992), pp. 251–54, fig. 1, publishes the contract between the Compagnia della Vergine of Fucecchio and Francesco Botticini [see Ref. 1493], stating that the altarpiece was probably completed by 1495; notes that the assets of the Compagnia passed into the nearby Collegiata di San Giovanni Battista in 1790, and cites documents related to the sale of the altarpiece to Giuseppe Toscanelli [see Ref. Rosati 1856].
Lisa Venturini inMaestri e botteghe: pittura a Firenze alla fine del Quattrocento. Ed. Mina Gregori et al. Exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Milan, 1992, pp. 102, 245.
André Chastel. La pala, ou le retable italien des origines à 1500. Paris, 1993, pp. 160–61, 273, no. 43, ill. (color, overall and detail), apparently unaware of the 1493 Botticini contract [see Ref.], dates it about 1475 and suggests that it was made for a convent of Sylvestrine nuns.
Lisa Venturini. Francesco Botticini. Florence, 1994, pp. 10, 14–15, 81, 83, 128–29, 223, no. 83, fig. 124, dates it 1492–95.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 23, ill.
Anna Padoa Rizzo inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 4, New York, 1996, p. 506.
Jennifer Sliwka. Visions of Paradise: Botticini's Palmieri Altarpiece. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2015, pp. 92–93.
"American Dionysus: Carl W. Hamilton (1886–1967), Collector of Italian Renaissance Art." Journal of the History of Collections 31, no. 2 (2019), p. 417, fig. 5.
The saints are (from left to right): Benedict, Francis, Sylvester, and Anthony Abbot.
This painting was installed in the New York collector Carl W. Hamilton's bedroom from the mid-1930's until 1942 along with the Crucifixion by the workshop of Francisco de Zurbarán (65.220.2, see fig. 1 above).
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