PROPERTY FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE EUROPEAN PAINTINGS ACQUISITION FUND
This depiction of the Madonna and Christ Child flanked by Saints John the Evangelist and Jerome is a rare intact portable triptych by Sano di Pietro, datable to circa 1450-1455. The simple, rectangular-shape format, of which few Sienese examples are known, is a departure from the gabled Gothic triptych form.2 The tender depiction of the Madonna and infant Christ, with their cheeks pressed together, conforms to the iconic Byzantine Glykophilousa, or “affectionate type.” Christ holds an apple in one hand, signifying the fruit of Salvation, and reaches with the other for cherries, a symbol of the Passion, held by the Virgin. On the wings, Saint John the Baptist (left) and Saint Jerome (right) are depicted in the wilderness where both lived as ascetics. Remarkably, the outside of the triptych still retains its original painted decoration (fig. 1).
Note on the provenance:
For much of the 19th century, this triptych was in the famed Costabili collection in Ferrara. This collection was formed by Giovanni Battista Costabili Containi (1756-1841) in the latter part of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The collection, some 600 paintings, as well as an extraordinary library of manuscripts and incunabula, was housed in the Costabili Palace on via Volapaletto, originally built by the Counts Bevilacqua Aldobrandini in 1430.3 Costabili’s nephew inherited the collection and kept it intact, though began to sell paintings in the late 1850s. Charles Eastlake, the first Director of the National Gallery, London acquired two paintings for the museum in 1858.4 Following the younger Costabili’s death, the remainder of the collection, including this triptych, was sold at auction in Milan in 1885. By 1928, the triptych was in the American collection of Jesse Isidor Straus (1872-1936). Jesse, a son of Isidor and Ida Straus who both died on the Titanic, was President of R.H. Macy and Co. and Ambassador to France under Franklin D. Roosevelt. His widow, Irma, gifted the Sano di Pietro triptych to the Metropolitan Museum in 1964.
1. In 2011, documentary evidence relating to an altarpiece of the Nativity of the Virgin at Asciano was published by Maria Falcone identifying its creator – the Master of the Osservanza – as the young Sano di Pietro; aee M. Falcone, “La giovinezza dorata di Sano di Pietro: un nuovo documento per la Natività della Vergine di Asciano,” in Prospettiva, 138.2010, 2011, pp. 28-48.
2. See D. Sallay, 2015, under Literature, pp. 136-137, 139, note 4.
3. See J. Anderson, under Literature, pp. 540, 542.
4. Sandro Botticelli (formerly Follower of Botticelli), St. Francis, (NG 598) ; and Francesco del Cossa, St. Vincent Ferrar (NG 597).
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