Nardo di Cione in Context: Early Renaissance Paintings from the Brooklyn Museum Collection
- Dates: April 1, 1995 through July 1995
- Collections: European Art
January 20, 1995: BROOKLYN, NEW YORK--An important 14th-century Florentine altar piece, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Zenobius, John the Baptist, Reparata, and John the Evangelist, painted by Nardo di Cione, has been acquired by The Brooklyn Museum, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, from the New-York Historical Society sale at Sotheby’s, it was announced today by Museum Director Robert T. Buck, who negotiated the purchase.
The altarpiece was a gift to the New-York Historical Society in 1867 by Thomas Jefferson Bryan, whose collection introduced Italian religious paintings to America.
“By purchasing this important work from the Historical Society, The Brooklyn Museum will preserve it for the people of the City of New York and, indeed, the United States. This painting, which is more than six feet high, represents an extraordinary example of the monumentality and tactility for which Florentine pre-Renaissance painting is known. It will make a significant contribution to the already notable collection of Italian pictures at The Brooklyn Museum and in our view represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add a painting of such awesome majesty and significance to our collection,” comments Mr. Buck.
When the altarpiece was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1982, Keith Christiansen, Wrightsman curator of Italian painting there, wrote that it “bids to be by far the greatest painting in America from the middle years of the fourteenth century.”
The Brooklyn Museum purchased the altarpiece by special arrangement with Sotheby’s for $320,000, plus a buyer’s premium of $34,500, when the work, valued between $600,000 and $800,000, failed to meet its reserve at auction last week as a part of a group of important Old Master Paintings that were the property of The New-York Historical Society and consigned for sale at Sotheby’s.
Funding for the purchase of the Nardo di Cione altarpiece came from a variety of Museum funds that are restricted for the purchase of works of art for the permanent collection.
Nardo di Cione, active circa 1343-1365/66, was a brother of the better known Andrea di Cione, also known as Orcagna. In Florentine painting a line of descent may be traced from the work of Giotto through that of his pupil Maso di Banco, who is represented in The Brooklyn Museum’s collection by an important small triptych, to that of Orcagna.
“This altarpiece will become the centerpiece of a group of about 30 early Italian panel paintings, many from the Babbott collection, which have long played a central role in the Museum’s collection of European paintings before 1800,” states Sarah Faunce, curator of the department of European Paintings and Sculpture.
In this panel, painted with ground gold and tempera, Nardo di Cione combines the weightiness of Giotto’s figures with the gold tooling with which the Trecento is identified. Recognized for the realism with which he rendered his figures and for creating draperies with a sophisticated sense of color, Nardo di Cione has created in this altarpiece an image that is both hierarchical, with the Madonna enthroned larger and higher in the picture than the surrounding saints, and tactile, with figures that display a three-dimensionality rare in this period.
The European galleries on the top floor of The Brooklyn Museum will shortly be closed to the public and deinstalled because of work to be done on the roof and skylights. The Nardo [d]i Cione alt[a]rpiece will be presented for the first time at The Brooklyn Museum when the galleries are reinstalled and reopened in 1996.
Date unknown, 1995: The 14th-century Florentine altarpiece painted by Nardo di Cione, purchased at the recent New-York Historical Society sale at Sotheby’s, will be the centerpiece of an exhibition in the Lobby Gallery on long-term view. Entitled Nardo di Cione in Context: Early Renaissance Paintings from The Brooklyn Museum Collection, it will include more than 20 Italian panel paintings, most of them trecento and quattrocento works.
“Through the acquisition by The Brooklyn Museum of this extraordinary 6-foot high painting, it will be preserved for the people of The City of New York. A long-planned installation of The Brooklyn Museum’s superb collection of Italian panel paintings provided the perfect opportunity [to] make it immediately accessible to the public,” states Museum Director Robert T. Buck.
The recently acquired Nardo altarpiece, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Zenobius, John the Baptist, Reparata, and John the Evangelist, “bids to be by far the greatest painting in America from the middle years of the fourteenth century,” according to Keith Christiansen, Wrightsman Curator of Italian painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the painting was on loan in recent years.
It was purchased for $360,000, in large part with funds accumulated through gradual deaccessioning of selected works in The Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection of European paintings, following the first scholarly study of the collection in a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The funds realized from such deaccessioning are restricted for the purchase of art.
In September 1995 the Nardo altarpiece will move to the laboratory at The Brooklyn Museum to be evaluated for possible conservation, but the balance of the exhibition will remain through the end of the year.
Apart from frescoed walls, the most significant painting format in the quattrocento was the altarpiece, from the single panel to simple shuttered triptych to the grand, many-paneled polyptychs commissioned by or for the church. The Nardo is a large, single-panel painting, and was possibly made for the Cathedral of Florence.
Among the other Renaissance panel paintings on view will be The Madonna of Humility by Lorenzo Monaco, a portable triptych by Maso de Banco, an altarpiece by the Sienese painter Sano di Pietro, and Carlo Crivelli’s Saint James Major.
The European galleries on the fifth floor of The Brooklyn Museum will be closed for several months because of roof renovations. During this time the exhibition of Renaissance panel paintings and an installation of an important selection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European works installed together with the Rodin sculpture collection in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery will be on view.
The exhibitions have been organized by Sarah Faunce, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at The Brooklyn Museum, with Associate Curator Elizabeth Easton.
September 2000: For the first time in nearly 150 years, the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s altarpiece by Nardo di Cione, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, will be shown complete with its uppermost panel, Christ Blessing, which was recently acquired by the Museum. The complete work, considered the most important mid-14th-century Italian painting in America, is part of Nardo di Cione: The Reuniting of an Altarpiece, an exhibition at the BMA opening November 17, 2000, that celebrates the early Renaissance master and the reunion of these two panels. The exhibition closes on February 18, 2001.
The Museum’s Madonna and Child with Saints is one of the most remarkable achievements of Nardo di Cione, whose known oeuvre comprises fewer than thirty works. The Museum purchased that panel from the 1995 Sotheby’s sale of art from the New-York Historical Society, and has been able to complete the altarpiece with the recent purchase of the pinnacle, representing Christ. The two pictures were last seen together at an auction in 1851.
The Christ Blessing panel was first severed from the rest of the altarpiece to facilitate transport from Italy to Paris when Artaud de Montor purchased the work in 1808. The two panels remained together in that collection until 1851, when they were sold separately. The main altarpiece, Madonna and Child with Saints, was purchased by Thomas Jefferson Bryan, who later bequeathed the work to the New-York Historical Society in 1867. The Christ Blessing panel, long thought to be lost, and known only through an engraving, was in fact in a private collection, and resurfaced in a sale in England in the Spring of 2000.
Related works by Nardo di Cione will also be included in the exhibition, to give a context to this masterpiece. The exhibition will also present information about the various processes used by Museum curators and conservators to analyze works of art.
Nardo di Cione is being organized by Elizabeth Easton, Chair of the Department of European Painting and Sculpture. The exhibition will be presented in the Museum’s Galleries of European Painting and Sculpture.