Lot 15
  • 15

Luca Signorelli

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Luca Signorelli
  • A processional banner: The Presentation in the Temple
  • distemper on canvas


Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. (1817-1901), Richmond, by 1901;
Thence by descent to Sir Frederick Cook, 2nd Bt. (1844-1920), Richmond;
Thence by descent to Sir Herbert Cook, 3rd Bt. ( 1868-1939), Richmond;
Thence by descent to Sir Francis Cook, 4th Bt. (1907-1978), Richmond;
Sold to Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London on the 30th April, 1946 for £850 (as part of a group of 16 paintings, all individually priced);
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London;
With A. Morandotti, Rome;
Private Collection, Italy;
Anonymous sale, Venice, Semenzato, 17 October, 2004, lot 3 (as attributed to the Maestro della Madonna Villamarina, Luca Signorelli?).


London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Pictures of the Umbrian School, 1909-10, pp. 37-8, cat. no. 46 (as attributed to Fra Carnevale);
London, Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., Summer Exhibition of Fine Old Masters, June- July, 1948, cat. no. 23 (as by Giovanni Santi);
Sansepolcro, Casa di Piero, Nel Raggio di Piero, 1992, cat. no. 20, (as follower of Piero della Francesca [Perugino?]).


Pictures of the Umbrian School, exh. cat., London 1910, pp. 37-8, cat. no. 46 (as attributed to Fra Carnevale, noting the opinion of Berenson that the picture was of Venetian provincial origin);
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond.(Belonging to Sir Frederick Cook, Bart., Visconde de Monserrate.),1907 & 1914 editions, p. 47;
T. Borenius, "La mostra dei maestri umbri a Londra", in Rassegna d'Arte, vol. X, 1910, pp. 44-5 (as school of Piero della Francesca);
U. Gnoli, "La pittura umbra alla Mostra del Burlington Club," Rassegna d'arte umbra, I, 1910;
U. Gnoli, "L'art Italien aux expositions de Londres en 1910," Revue de ll'art Chrétien, IX, 1910, p. 320;
B. Geiger, "Marco Marziale und der Sogenannte Nordische Einflusz in seinem Bildern", in Jahrbuch der Königlich Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen, vol. XXXIII, 1912, pp. 122-48 (as a Modenese artist influenced by Piero della Francesca; not Marco Marziale as it had previously been described);
T. Borenius, (H. Cook, ed.), A Catalogue of the Paintings at Doughty House Richmond & Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook Bt., Visconde de Monserrate: Volume 1, Italian Schools, London, 1913, pp. 56-7, cat. no. 48, reproduced plate 48 (as school of Piero della Francesca, but with an attribution to Lorentino d'Arezzo favored by Herbert Cook);
M.W Brockwell, Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House..., London 1932, p. 80, cat. no. 48 (as attributed to Piero);
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Oxford 1932, p. 456 (under Piero della Francesca as perhaps executed by Marco Marziale);
B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento, Milan 1936, p. 391 (under Piero della Francesca as perhaps executed by Marco Marziale);
R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. XVI, The Hague 1937, p. 153, reproduced, p. 150, fig. 82 (as Lorentino d'Arezzo);
K. Clark, ''Piero della Francesca's Augustinian Altarpiece'', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. LXXXIX, 1947, pp. 205-9 (as Lorentino d'Arezzo?);
D. Carritt, "Old Masters at Leger's and Agnew's," in The Burlington Magazine, vol. XC, July 1948, p. 203 (as "intelligently ascribed to Giovanni Santi");
F. Zeri, ''Il Maestro dell'Annunciazione Gardner'', in Bollettino d'Arte, vol. XXXVIII, 1953, pp. 125-39, pp. 132-134 (as attributed to Perugino, but also referring to Lionello Venturi's attribution to Raphael);
M. Salmi, Luca Signorelli, Novarra 1953, pp. 7-8, 45-6 (as perhaps by Signorelli?);
M. Salmi, ''Un nuovo Signorelli?'', in Rivista d'Arte, vol. XXVIII, 1953, pp. 60-65 (as attributed to the workshop of Piero della Francesca, Signorelli?);
U. Baldini, in M. Salmi (ed.), Mostra di quattro Maestri del primo Rinascimento, exh. cat., Florence 1954, p. 126 (quoting C. Ragghianti's opinion which attributed the picture to Giovanni Santi);
G. Briganti, ''Piero della Francesca Werkstatt, 'Darstellung im Tempel"', in Die Weltkunst, vol. XXIV, 1954, p. 3;
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Venetian School, London 1957, p. 112 (under Marco Marziale as inspired by Piero della Francesca);
A. Martini, "The early work of Bartolomeo della Gatta", in Art Bulletin, 42, 1960, pp. 139-41 (as attributed to Signorelli);
P. De Vecchi, L'opera completa di Piero della Francesca, Milan 1967, p. 108, cat. no. 61 (as formerly attributed to Piero);
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1968, p. 341 (where described as executed by Marco Marziale, inspired by Piero della Francesca);
E. Battisti, Piero della Francesca, Milan 1971, vol. II, p. 96 (as follower of Piero della Francesca, Piero di Castel della Pieve?);
C.L. Ragghianti & G. Dalli Regoli, Firenze 1470-1480 Disegni dal Modello, Pisa 1975, pp. 17-18, and p. 42 note 32 (as attributed to Giovanni Santi);
P. Scarpellini, Il Perugino, Milan 1984, pp. 18, 69 (as attributed to a follower of Piero della Francesca, Perugino?);
L. B. Kanter, "Luca Signorelli, Piero della Francesca, and Pietro Perugino", in Studi di Storia dell'Arte, vol. I, 1990, pp. 96-7, 100 (as Luca Signorelli);
E. Battisti, Piero della Francesca, Milan 1992, vol. II, p. 566 (as Piero della Pieve?);
G. Damiani, in L. Berti (ed.), Nel Raggio di Piero, exh. cat., Sansepolcro 1992, p. 118 (as attributed to a follower of Piero della Francesca, Perugino?);
A. De Marchi, "Pedanterie pierfrancescane", in Prospettiva, 72, 1993, pp. 86-7 detail reproduced p. 86, fig. 3 (as attributed to Luca Signorelli);
P. Scarpellini, "Una postilla pierfrancescana. La scuola dell'artista tra settimo e ottavo decennio del Quattrocento", in Commentari d'Arte, I.1, 1995, p. 26 (no attribution);
T. Henry and L.B. Kanter, Luca Signorelli. The Complete Paintings, New York 2002, p. 13 (as follower of Piero della Francesca, Signorelli?), and pp. 258-259 under Appendix 5, reproduced (under paintings of uncertain attribution, attributed to a follower of Piero della Francesca, Pietro di Galeotto?);
V. Garibaldi, Perugino, Milan 2004, p. 20 (as follower of Piero della Francesca, not Perugino);
T. Henry, in L. Teza (ed.), "Perugino e Signorelli", in Pietro Vannucci detto il Perugino. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studio, 25-28 ottobre 2000, Perugia 2004, pp. 75-90 (as attributed to a follower of Piero della Francesca, Pietro di Galeotto?);
P. Scarpellini, "Riflessioni sugli esordi di Perugino", in V. Garibaldi and F.F. Mancini (eds.), Perugino. Il Divin Pittore, exh. cat., Perugia 2004, pp. 47-53 (as attributed to Perugino);
T. Henry, "La formazione di Pietro Perugino", in V. Garibaldi and F.F. Mancini (eds.), Perugino. Il Divin Pittore, exh. cat, Perugia 2004, pp. 73-9 (as attributed to Pietro di Galeotto?);
A. Marabottini, "In margine alla mostra del Perugino: gli anni giovanili sino alla partenza per Roma", in Commentari d'Arte, vol. VIII, nos. 21-23, (2002, published in 2006) pp. 40-41, reproduced p. 39 (as attributed to Perugino);
T. Henry in L. Fornasari, G. Gentilini and A. Giannotti (eds.), "Le prime opere di Luca Signorelli a Cortona ed Arezzo", in Arte in Terra d'Arezzo: il Quattrocento, Florence 2008, pp. 172-83, reproduced in color p. 174, fig. 6 (as attributed to Luca Signorelli);
T. Henry, "One picture, ten names, and a proposal for the early career of Luca Signorelli", in 1492. Rivista della Fondazione Piero della Francesca, vol. II, 2010, pp. 21-40 (as attributed to Luca Signorelli);
T. Henry, The Life and Art of Luca Signorelli, New Haven and London 2012 (forthcoming; as attributed to Luca Signorelli; for an full and newly updated summary of his opinion, please see note below).


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This large work is painted on two sections of fine linen joined vertically through the center. There do not appear to be any other noticeable structural damages, despite the retouching which exists throughout. Given the scale of the work and the fact that it was used as a banner, the condition although compromised is still fairly respectable. The figure group on the right of the child seems to be in impressive condition and although there are restorations in the lighter colored gown of the figure holding Christ, restorations to this group are minimal. In the figure of Christ, his mother and the two figures to her left, abrasion and paint loss has occurred in the faces and the figure of Christ and in the blue gown of the Madonna. In the floor beneath the feet, again in the paler colors, there are restorations and in the architecture. In the sky above the figures there is a significant amount of retouching addressing a compromised paint layer. There has been very little reconstruction of any details but he veil of the Madonna, some of the articulation to the figure of Christ, his necklace and his eyes, have been strengthened, and the oil lamp in the upper center has also been quite carefully recreated. One would not want to revisit this restoration or the framing, and the painting should be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Until recently known almost exclusively from old black-and-white photographs, this Presentation in the Temple was painted by the young Luca Signorelli while still in Piero della Francesca's workshop.  Piero's strong influence is clearly evident in the figural types, composition, and spatial configuration of the present canvas, and indeed, Vasari noted that the young artist studied with Piero and had done his best to emulate and surpass his master:

molto nella sua giovanezza l'osservò; et ogni fatica mise per potere non solo paragonarlo, ma di gran lunga passarlo. Per il che cominciò a lavorare et a dipignere nella maniera di Maestro Pietro, che quasi l'una da l'altra non si sarebbe potuta conoscere.1

Its reappearance and recent restoration has allowed a reassessment of the painting, and it is a significant addition to the corpus of Signorelli's early work.

The Presentation in the Temple has generated a wealth of literature attributing it to various hands and has played an important role in the discussion of Piero della Francesca's influence on later painters. It is generally agreed that the Presentation is part of a group of works which was painted by a pupil or follower of Piero active in the 1460s or 1470s. The broad and surely first-hand knowledge of Piero's work can be felt throughout. The overall setting, especially in its mathematical accuracy and the subtlety of the sophisticated vaults and floor are closely reliant on Piero,and there is a striking resemblance of the child to that in the Madonna and Child attended by Angels in the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown.2 The feet and the draperies of the figure at right depend on the Frick's Saint John3 while the accomplished design of the vaulted setting looks back to the Montefeltro Altarpiece in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.4 Indeed the links to Piero's oeuvre are so strong that it is not inconceivable that Piero himself might have provided the compositional drawing, as was quite common for workshop productions. As the extensive publication history of the work testifies, several relatively small hands from Piero's workshop have been proposed as the author of the banner.    Most significantly, however, the Presentation has been repeatedly associated with the youthful phases of Pietro Perugino (1446/50-1523) and Luca Signorelli, artists who would become two of the leading painters of the successive generation.

After the present painting's recent restoration, Dr Tom Henry has revisited his earlier doubts regarding the attribution to Signorelli, now endorsing fully the idea that the work was executed by Luca in Piero's workshop, and has published it as such.5 He dismisses previous scholars' ideas that the work might be by Perugino since there is little or no evidence that he ever trained with Piero in marked contrast to Signorelli. Along with other scholars, he feels that the author of the present painting must be the same artist who painted a number of similar works: the damaged fresco of 1474 in Città di Castello, which is traditionally ascribed to Signorelli; the central angel in the Madonna and Child with Angels at Christ Church, Oxford; and possibly other paintings in Venice and Boston.6

He also proposes that based on what is known about Signorelli's origins, the painting would fit with what can be conceived of as his youthful style. Presumed to have been born around 1450, Signorelli would already have been an established painter with over ten years of independent activity by the time of his earliest documented work from circa 1481, so it is more than likely that several works must predate this. Moreover, we know that Signorelli trained with Piero (probably in the 1460s),7 that his early work was in Arezzo and Cortona, where Piero was active, and as Vasari mentioned (see above) his early style so closely resembled that of his master that the two were not always distinguishable.8 As Kanter notes, we should not therefore expect Luca's early work to necessarily resemble his later documented paintings so closely since he was deliberately painting in the idiom of Piero rather than one of his own invention.9 However, the draperies in the present composition do find parallels in Signorelli's later work of the 1480s, especially the Sistine chapel frescoes and his early Madonnas.10 The close interest in the figures' affected hand movements can be compared with Signorelli's Apostles at Loreto11 while the marbling in the floor finds parallels in Signorelli's work around 1490 such as the Circumcision in London and the Annunciation in Volterra.12

Though one would normally associate a work of its size with an altarpiece, this picture was in fact conceived as a processional banner for use by a confraternity in religious processions, although it may have doubled as an altarpiece when not being processed. This suggestion is confirmed by its canvas support, as altarpieces are almost exclusively on panel, and by its decorative gem-studded borders which would be most unusual in an altarpiece. It is recorded that such banners were commissioned from the young Signorelli (see Vasari, op. cit.), and the Presentation could possibly be identified with either one of two documented banners painted around this time. We know that Luca painted a standard for the church of San Domenico in Cortona in 1475-6 for which he received 158 lire (approx. 23 florins) for his work.13 Unfortunately the subject of the banner is not specified, nor is the Dominican order to whom that church belonged known for a particular connection with the subject of the Presentation.

A second and more likely possibility is that the Presentation is the work painted for the confraternity of the Santissima Trinità in Arezzo. Vasari writes that Signorelli painted a banner for this body which was so close in style to Piero that it might have been by the latter himself ("non paia di mano di Luca ma di Pietro da 'l Borgo").  This he dated to about the same time as another standard and with some frescoes painted  in 1472 by Signorelli for the church of San Lorenzo, Arezzo.14 Martini (see Literature) suggested that the present canvas might be identified as the reverse of the Santissima Trinità banner, though this has been largely dismissed in subsequent scholarship even though Signorelli is known to have painted a double-sided example.15 Dabell and Franklin's findings in particular have suggested that the confraternity had in fact commissioned a banner from Piero which almost certainly did represent the Trinity as early as 1464.16 The documents do not state whether it was single- or double-sided, so this must remain conjecture, however. Both Dabell and Franklin suggested that Vasari's reference is to this earlier banner, concluding that Signorelli had probably painted the Trinity commission whilst he was still a member of Piero's workshop. To connect these documents with the present painting we must assume either that Piero was commissioned to paint a Presentation in the Temple which was then passed to Luca to paint, or that the banner would have been double-sided, with our banner the reverse and the depiction of the Trinity executed by Piero on the front face. In either case Signorelli would have painted the work around 1465 when he is known to have been active in Piero's workshop.

We are most grateful to Dr Tom Henry for his assistance with this lot.  We are also very grateful to John Somerville for his assistance in clarifying the provenance and publication history of this painting.

Please note this work has been promised for the exhibition Luca Signorelli "de ingegno et spirito pelegrino" to be held in the Galleria Nazionale d'Umbria, Perugia, from 20 April-26 August 2012, where it will be exhibited as a fully autograph work by Luca Signorelli.

1. "very much in his youth observed him, and took every pain to not only parallel him, but even to far surpass him. For when he worked and painted in the manner of his master Piero, it was practically impossible to distinguish the one from the other."  G. Vasari, Vite, 1550.
2. See De Vecchi under Literature, p. 99, cat. no. 20, reproduced.
3. Idem, p. 101, cat. no. 23 C, reproduced.
4. Idem, pp. 106-7, cat. no. 29, reproduced.
5. See Henry under Literature 2008, 2010 and 2012.
6. See T. Henry, 'Perugino e Signorelli', in L. Teza (ed.), Pietro Vannucci detto il Perugino. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studio, 25-28 ottobre 2000, Perugia, 2004, pp. 75-90.
7. See the contemporary evidence in L. Pacioli, Summa de Arithmetica Geometria Proportioni et Proportionalità, Venice 1494, fol. 2r: \"'... E in Cortona Luca del nostro maestro Pietro degno discipulo". G. Vasari, Le Vite ..., Florence 1550 and 1568, ed. R. Bettarini, and P. Barocchi in Le Vite ... nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, Florence 1966-87, vol. III, pp. 294-5, stated that Signorelli stayed with Lazzaro Vasari when studying with Piero, an aside that suggests his apprenticeship took place in Arezzo, before the elder artist died in 1468.
8. G. Vasari, Le Vite ..., Florence [1550 and 1568], ed. R. Bettarini and P. Barocchi in Le Vite ... nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, Florence, 1966-87, III, p. 634.
9. See Kanter, under Literature, 1990, p. 100.
10. See Henry and Kanter, under Literature 2002, cat. nos. 1, 2 and 3, all reproduced.
11. Idem, pp. 163-65, cat. no. 5, reproduced.
12. Idem, pp. 175- 77, cat. nos. 22 and 23, both reproduced.
13. See D. Bornstein, "Provincial painters: local artists in Quattrocento Cortona and the origins of Luca Signorelli", in Renaissance Studies, 14.4, 2000, pp. 448-49.
14. See G. Vasari, op. cit.
15. A. Martini, 'The early work of Bartolomeo della Gatta', Art Bulletin, 42 (1960), p. 140. For the double-sided banner see Henry and Kanter, under Literature 2002, pp. 194-95, reproduced.
16. F. Dabell, 'New Documents for the History of the Compagnia della SS. Trinità in Arezzo', Arte Cristiana, LXXIX / 747 (1991), pp. 412-17, and D. Franklin, 'An unrecorded commission for Piero della Francesca in Arezzo', The Burlington Magazine, CXXXIII (1991), pp. 193-4.