With French & Co., New York, before 1957.
Niccolò was the son of Sozzo di Stefano, a notary and illuminator documented between 1293 and 1321.1 Niccolò is first recorded in 1340 when he and Lippo Vanni are paid by the Comune of Siena. An altarpiece now in the Pinacoteca nazionale, Siena, dated 1362 is signed jointly by him and Luca di Tommè (act. 1356–89).2 In his work as a miniaturist Niccolò’s dependence on models by Lorenzetti has been noted and it is likely that he trained in the latter’s workshop. This composition, like many by the artist, bears the influence of this master. In the photo library of the Fondazione Zeri, the work is attributed to an anonymous painter in the circle of Lorenzetti. Indeed, the present composition is close to a painting by Pietro of the same subject, which forms the central panel in a small triptych now in the collection of Monte dei Paschi, Siena, in which the mourning figures of the Virgin and St John bear a striking resemblance to their counterparts here in both pose and facial expression.3
Characteristic of Niccolò’s style is his bold treatment of drapery and the distinctive physiognomy of his figures with their deep-set features. In details such as the palms raised in mourning and the dishevelment of loosely hanging hair reaching to her waist, the figure of the Virgin evokes Mary Magdalene, a feature found also in the works of Pietro and his brother Ambrogio (act. 1319; d. probably 1348). The Virgin’s grieving companion is the doleful figure of St John, wrapped in a voluminous cloak of a vibrant red tonality. Comparable in style is an Annunciation in the Museo civico, Siena, attributed to Niccolò by Bellosi, that depends on Ambrogio's painting of the same subject dated 1344 at the Pinacoteca nazionale, Siena.4
The gold on this panel is embellished with a rich and varied pattern of punch decoration.5 A border of four-lobed punch marks within a double ring runs along three sides. Along the top edge that pattern is interrupted by the inscription ‘INRI’ fastened to the cross. A different pattern – punched with a tri-lobed arch tipped with heart-shaped leaf and tiny circle – runs as an inner border. The haloes have been done with a six-petal rosette punch, the intervening spaces granulated with a tiny punch to create a distinct texture. The red lining of the Magdalene’s cloak overlaps a sequence of punch marks near her face.
The cross is painted in azurite that has darkened over time rather than in tones of brown to resemble wood. De Marchi has pointed out that a white edge, visible near the foot of the cross, is found in paintings by Niccolò di Segna, a probable collaborator of Niccolò di Sozzo.6 The reverse is covered with a layer of gesso, painted with a fictive deep red in imitation of porphyry.
We are grateful to Prof. Andrea De Marchi for his help in the cataloguing of this lot.
1. G. Moran and S. Fineschi, ‘Niccolò di Ser Sozzo Tegliacci or di Stefano?’, Paragone, XXVII, no. 321, November 1976, pp. 58–63.
2. Inv. no. 51; see N. Torriti, La Pinacoteca nazionale di Siena, i dipinti dal XII al XV secolo, Genoa 1977, pp. 150–51, reproduced figs 161–62.
3. Central panel with pointed top: 60 x 31 cm.; reproduced in C. Volpe, Pietro Lorenzetti, M. Lucco (ed.), 1989 Milan, p. 156, no. 125.
4. Inv. no. 88; Torriti 1977, pp. 124–25, reproduced fig. 124. L. Bellosi in F. Bisogni and M. Ciampolini, Guida al Museo Civico di Siena, Siena 1985, p. 120, no. 372.
5. De Marchi pointed out in written communication with the owner that Frinta published a similar punch mark with heart-shaped leaf in a work by Niccolò di ser Sozzo, his Saint John the Baptist, Trinity College, Austin Arts Center, Hartford, Connecticut; M. Frinta, Punched decoration on late medieval panel and miniature painting, Prague 1998, p. 318, no. I57. The tri-lobed arch is more common; in works by Niccolò see for instance nos 100 and 123 in E. Skaug, Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico. Attribution, chronology, and workshop relationships in Tuscan panel painting, with particular consideration to Florence, c. 1330–1430, Oslo 1994.
6. See further N. Matteuzzi, ‘Niccolò di Segna: un’ipotesi di ricostruzione e proposte per la cronologia’, in Arte cristiana, vol. XCVI, 2008, 848, pp. 321–30.
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