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Italian Old Masters in New York: Glowing gold-ground works offered by Moretti Fine Art
Simone di Filippo, called ‘Dei Crocifissi’ (Bologna, documented from 1354, died 1399), Virgin and Child between Saints John the Baptist and Bartholomew (central panel); Archangel Gabriel, Saint Petronius, Saint Christopher and Saint Anthony (left panel); Virgin Annunciate, Saint Jerome, a Bishop Saint (Ambrose?) and Saint Florian (right panel). Tempera on panel, central panel 9⅞ x 19½ in, 25 x 49.5 cm; side panels 5⅛ x 19½ in , 13 x 49.5 cm.

NEW YORK, NY.- Moretti Fine Art will stage their third annual winter exhibition of early Italian Old Masters at their gallery at 24 East 80th Street, New York, from 18 January to 10 February 2012. Entitled The Middle Ages and Early Renaissance: Paintings and Sculpture from the Carlo de Carlo Collection and other provenances, the exhibition will comprise twenty-four paintings and two sculptures, all of which are as remarkable for their beauty as they are for their rarity.

Carlo de Carlo (1931-1999) was Florence’s undisputed leading authority in matters of connoisseurship. He was a self-made man blessed with an innate intuition for artistic quality, who developed a special love of early Tuscan painting, particularly for the elegant and colourful world of Sienese art. As well as being a successful and highly-respected dealer, he formed a private collection which was a monument to his expertise. Gaudenz Freuler writes in his introduction to Moretti’s exhibition catalogue: “Quality was a hallmark of a De Carlo painting. If anyone bought a painting from him he could be sure of owning a painting of considerable artistic significance and quality and, invariably, in good condition.”

One of the key examples from the De Carlo collection, which illustrates the collector’s aesthetic in this New York exhibition, is a triptych of the Enthroned Virgin and Child with Angels and Saints; the Redeemer; the Annunciation by the Master of the Richardson Triptych (c.1370-1415). This delightful work is remarkably well preserved, retaining its side panels, while the chalk paste decoration ornamenting the three compartments is almost intact. A comparison with the photograph of the painting published by Berenson in 1918 shows no significant change in its condition. (price in excess of $1,400,000).

Saint Michael the Archangel Weighing the Souls and the Devil and Saint Raphael the Archangel and Tobias by the 15th century Master of the Demidoff Triptych also has the same distinguished provenance. Saint Michael is depicted with a pair of scales with which he weighs the souls of the dead – depending on how the scales hang, the soul is either saved or condemned. The devil is shown grasping one pan to make it hang in his favour but the Archangel defeats him, crushing him with his foot and piercing his jaws with a lance. The iconography of Satan in the painting is truly unique: usually shown as a semi-human being with monstrous features, here he appears as a dog – no other painting is known with such a representation. These paintings were once part of a triptych in the collection of the Demidoffs, a noble Russian family. The most important member was Nikolay (Saint Petersburg 1773-Florence 1828), an entrepreneur, ambassador of the Tsar Alexander I, philanthropist and passionate collector of works of art that he gathered together from 1824 onwards in Palazzo Serristori in Florence. (price in the region of $500,000).

Amongst the most prized paintings from another provenance in the exhibition is a Virgin and Child with Saints by Gherardo Starnina (documented 1387-1409), which was commissioned for private devotion. In its original golden gilt frame, the adoring saints – Saint Nicholas of Bari on the left and Saint Stephen on the right – witness this privileged vision of heavenly bliss. A crescent moon below the Virgin’s feet alludes to the Woman of the Apocalypse. On the base of the painting are the angel’s words addressed to her during the Annunciation: AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA, words also used by the faithful during their prayers. The painting was commissioned by the Lorini and Venturi families, both members of the Florentine merchant elite, probably on the occasion of the wedding of Antonio di Filippo Lorini and Agnola di Jacopo di Francesco Venturi in 1407, as their coats-of-arms are to be found on the base of the painting. (price in excess of $2 million).

Another triptych intended for private devotion shows the Virgin and Child Enthroned between Saints on the central panel with the Annunciation and Saints on the side panels by the Bolognese painter Simone di Filippo, called ‘Dei Crocifissi’ (documented 1354-d.1399). On the left panel is the bust of Saint Petronius, the first patron of the city of Bologna, while on the right panel is Saint Florian who was also a patron of Bologna from 1376. The presence of the two saints suggests that the bishop depicted next to Saint Florian is likely to be Saint Ambrose, another patron saint of Bologna. (price in excess of $800,000).

One of two sculptures in the exhibition is a polychromed and gilded wood figure of the newborn Christ Child wrapped in swaddling clothes by Mariano d’Angelo Romanelli (documented 1376-1410) and probably coloured by Bartolo di Fredi around 1375. During the 14th century an increasing emphasis was placed on spirituality and contemplation of the life of Christ and Mary’s motherhood. This led to such rituals as the display of figures of the newborn Christ on the main altar or in a cradle in a chapel dedicated to the Virgin at Christmas which is still practised today. The Moretti sculpture, from the Tammaro de Marinis collection in Florence, may have been handed to the faithful during services at Christmas and then put back in a cradle. (price in excess of $1 million).

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is a Crucifixion by Giovanni da Rimini (documented 1292-1336). Recent conservation, during which crude overpainting was removed, has revealed not only the subtlety of the brushstrokes but also the outline of the loincloth and the texture of the gold ground. The painting was exhibited in Amsterdam in 1929 by the Jewish Dutch dealer Jacques Goudstikker. When the Nazis invaded Holland during the Second World War he sought safety in England only to tragically die, having fallen into the hold of the ship, on the journey. His extensive collection was looted by the Nazis, then recovered by the Allied forces in 1945 and entrusted to the care of the Dutch government. This particular painting was placed in Utrecht’s Aartbisschoppelijk Museum until 1987 and then in the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht until 1997. In 2006, after a long dispute, the heirs obtained the restitution of this Crucifixion and other paintings formerly owned by Goudstikker and sent them to Christie’s where they were auctioned in London in 2007. (price in the region of $300,000)

It is always satisfying when a painting is reunited with its provenance. The art historian Gaudenz Freuler has recently identified the origins of a panel depicting Saint John the Baptist kneeling in adoration with the Angel of the Annunciation by the Sienese painter Martino di Bartolomeo (circa 1365/70-1435). He has established that it is a lateral section of a large altarpiece, which was in the church of Falzano near Cortona destroyed by fire in 1944. The central panel of the Assumption of the Virgin is now in the Museo Diocesano in Cortona and there was another panel with the figure of Mary Magdalen on the other side but its whereabouts are unknown since being published by Berenson in 1968. (price in the region of $250,000)

As Gaudenz Freuler writes: “If this small selection of outstanding works from the Carlo de Carlo collection stands as a modest, yet fitting, homage to the most distinguished Italian art dealer of modern times, the other section of the exhibition embodying a small but worthy group of early Italian paintings and sculptures owned by Moretti Fine Art unequivocally shows that the collecting of early Italian art has retained all of its long-standing fascination and that the enduring beauty of these wonderful and inspiring works, produced centuries ago by the elite of Italian artists, has lost none of its allure for today’s beholder. Thus the trade in early Italian art continues to thrive and, unlike other areas of collecting, this particular field is not susceptible to fast changing fashions.”

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