THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
The fragment once formed part of a tondo, most likely depicting the same composition as the Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and an Angel, executed by members of Botticelli’s workshop, in the National Gallery, London (fig. 1; inv. no. NG275). The London tondo depicts the same angel at right, his head tilted forward in a similar manner to allow for the inward curve of the panel’s rounded edge. At some point in the last century, the present painting was modified and an addition was appended to the upper right corner, giving the panel a rectangular format. When observed in raking light, the curve of the tondo’s original edge is still faintly visible beside the angel’s hair.
Infrared reflectography (fig. 2) provides a fascinating insight into the panel’s original format. Not only is the curved edge instantly perceptible, but prominent diagonal lines display the typically idiosyncratic structure of panels used by Botticelli, and the characteristic oblique wooden boards of one intended as a tondo. Orienting the wood grain at an angle was a deliberate decision as the stress and weight of the panel could be distributed more evenly. Since a tondo has no flat edge, the weight of the entire panel falls on one point and if that point were to coincide with a vertically or horizontally aligned grain, the panel might be more likely to split or warp. Also evident under IRR are changes to the angel’s hair, most likely made by Botticelli himself. Once more voluminous, the hair was brought closer to the angel’s head at the crown and the right side and the more outlying curls have been tamed. In the lower left section of the IRR image is an area of dark paint that has since been painted out. According to the composition of the London panel this would have been the point at which the mantle of the Virgin originally overlapped the angel’s sleeve.
We are grateful to Professor Laurence Kanter for his invaluable assistance in the cataloguing of this lot upon firsthand inspection.
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