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A Florentine Masterpiece Brought Back to Life

Lorenzo di Credi (Italian, 1456/59–1536). Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (restored and in its new frame), early 1490s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.197)

Lorenzo di Credi (Italian, 1456/59–1536). Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (restored and in its new frame on display in gallery 603), early 1490s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.197)

What do you do when you have a Renaissance masterpiece in a truly cheap, junky, modern frame? You travel to Florence and have a handcrafted copy made of an original one.

In 1909, the Museum purchased, from a dealer in Paris, an important work by the fifteenth-century Florentine painter Lorenzo di Credi, Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel. It must have been painted for a prestigious Florentine household, as its design was repeated by pupils in Credi's busy workshop. At the time of the acquisition, the picture was not in pristine condition, and for over a century its exquisite qualities were hidden beneath a varnish that was tinted to camouflage various damages.

Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (before cleaning and restoration)

Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (before cleaning and restoration)

If you haven't seen this work on one of your visits to the Museum, it's no surprise at all, as it has not been seen in the galleries for decades. Well, a decision was finally made to attempt to clean this beautiful work, which turned out to be in much better condition than previously expected. Indeed, it has passages that, in the subtle play of light over the forms of the drapery and the shadow that falls across the floor of the background room, recalls the work of Lorenzo di Credi's great contemporary Leonardo da Vinci, as well as that of the Netherlander Hans Memling, whose paintings were much appreciated by Florentines.

Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (after restoration)

Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel (after restoration)

Once it was clear that this was not only a very important picture but a very beautiful one, the issue of its frame became crucial. We knew that two copies of the picture belong to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and that one of these is still in its original fifteenth-century frame, which, presumably, closely resembles the one that must have been on the Met's painting.

Workshop of Lorenzo di Credi. Madonna and Child with an Angel (shown in its original late fifteenth-century frame). Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Workshop of Lorenzo di Credi. Madonna and Child with an Angel (shown in its original late fifteenth-century frame). Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

We therefore approached a master carver and a gilder in Florence to copy that frame. Presented below are two informal videos made on the occasion of visits to the two studios during the production of the frame. The first, taken by George Bisacca (our specialist in panels, who arranged to have the frame made), shows a visit to the carver's shop. The second, taken by me, shows the frame at the gilder's shop just prior to the application of the gold leaf. Yes—there are still brilliant craftsmen at work in Florence!


George Bisaca takes a look inside the carver's shop in Florence.


Keith Christiansen views the frame at the gilder's shop before the application of gold leaf.


Related Link
Now at the Met: "The Latest on the Jabach Portrait: What, No Frame?" (November 6, 2014)

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