Lot 6
  • 6

Gentile di Niccolò Massio, called Gentile da Fabriano

250,000 - 350,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Gentile di Niccolò Massio, called Gentile da Fabriano
  • Saint Peter
  • inscribed with the name of the saint in the halo, and inscribed in pencil on the reverse: St. Petrus/Apostel and with the numbers 2 and 5
  • gold ground, tempera on panel, unframed


Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, on loan 2009-2011.


A. De Marchi and M. Mazzalupi, Pittori ad Ancona nel Quattrocento, Milan 2008, pp. 49-51, 92, reproduced in color.


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 panel is curved from left to right but has received no reinforcements on the reverse. There is mild cracking to the paint layer but there is no instability apparent. The gilding has been nicely repaired but seems to show a good deal of original gold. Restorations are clearly visible under ultraviolet light in isolated spots in the figure, but the face is mostly un-restored and the restorations that have been applied are accurate and careful. 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

These elegantly rendered depictions of Saint Peter and Saint Bartholomew are two of a set of six recently rediscovered panels by Gentile da Fabriano, each of which comprise a major and exciting new addition to the artist's oeuvre.  They most probably formed part of a group of twelve apostles of full-length format, perhaps used to decorate the pilasters of an altarpiece.  The others in the group, which represent Saints John the Evangelist, James, Jude Thaddeus and Matthew were sold in New York, Sotheby's, 29 January 2009, lots 2-5 (see figs. 1-4). Prior to their sale and re-introduction to the art market, the entire set of six panels remained together in a Swedish private collection unknown to scholars.1 All of the saints, naturalistically posed in the tall and narrow picture planes of the panels, are identified with their names, which are rendered in elegant gothic script inscribed in their halos. 

Early in his career, Gentile had left his native Fabriano for greater artistic centers in Northern Italy, eventually settling in Venice.  During his sojourn there, where he was recorded by July 1408 until 1414, the artist was to become one of the most important in the city, working not only for private patrons, but also producing altarpieces for a number of churches, and indeed for the Venetian republic itself, painting frescoes (together with his assistant Pisanello) in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Ducal Palace.2  While much of his work in the city has been destroyed or dispersed, these small panels of Saint Peter and Saint Bartholomew would appear to date from that moment in Gentile's career, circa 1405,  just before his great, early masterpiece, the Valle Romita polyptych. However, more than the grand and much larger panels of full-length saints from that altarpiece, the present pair of standing saints are comparable to the more intimate and emotive figures of the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist in the Crucifixion, the polyptych's pinnacle panel which only resurfaced in the early 1990s.4  The pose of the figures, and the articulation of the folds of their drapery falling to puddles of fabric at the saints' feet, are all comparable in their naturalism.

An even closer comparison, however, is afforded by a set of four panels, two of which are in the Berenson collection (Villa I Tatti, Florence, see figs. 5 and 6) and two of which were recently rediscovered in the deposit of the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna by Daniele Benati.5  They represent Saints Peter, another male Saint (perhaps Paul or James) and two Apostles (perhaps Barnabas and Matthew) respectively.  Although strikingly similar to the present saints, these panels are certainly from a different altarpiece; the punchwork is more simplified and the presence of Saint Peter in both groups (one at I Tatti and the other from the Swedish group which is not included in the present sale) precludes an association.  In fact, scholars have regarded these Berenson/Bologna santini as connected to one of Gentile's most important commissions in Venice, an altarpiece painted for the Sandei family for their chapel in Santa Sofia, Venice.  Early descriptions of the Sandei altarpiece describe an elaborate and highly ornamented complex centered around a panel of the figures of Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit (which now exists only in fragmentary form).6  The Berenson/Bologna panels would presumably have decorated piers between the various elements of this elaborate polyptych, and it seems likely that the present saints were intended for the same or similar purpose.  The figures in all the panels are the same size (the Berenson/Bologna panels are in fact very slightly larger) and all of the figures occupy narrow, arched spaces. Gentile also paints each figure on the same red floor.  The modeling of the drapery is almost exactly alike, with a crisp, sharp description of the folds in the various saints' tunics and mantles.   In passages, Gentile appears to use unmixed white pigment to suggest highlights on the fabrics of the robes, giving them in parts an almost metallic sheen.   There are however some subtle differences between the two sets.  The Berenson/Bologna panels, which are in a rather more compromised state, do not have the name of each saint incorporated into the punchwork of their halo, but do have touches of mordant gilding along some of the hems of the robes (or in the case of one of the Bologna panels, touches of sgraffito decoration scratched through the robe painted in deep green lacquer), a decorative touch which is lacking in the present set of saints. 

Andrea De Marchi, who was the first to recognize the rediscovered set and their relationship to the Berenson/Bologna saints, feels that they must date slightly earlier than the Sandei panels and also the Valle Romita altarpiece.  Rather, he supposes that the present panels were once part of a now broken-up altarpiece of which the central panel is the Madonna and Child  in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia  (inv. 129, see fig no. 7) a suggestion which Keith Christiansen also favors.  In that painting, the Madonna is shown enthroned on an unusual open-work seat, decorated with trefoil arches and quatrefoil roundels, all entwined with lush greenery.  The exquisite detail and handling of the Madonna clearly reflect the influence of the Venetian school, and it has been dated to circa 1405, thus presupposing an arrival of Gentile in Venice a few years before he was first securely recorded there (see footnote 2).  In addition, De Marchi has noted that the handling of the fleshtones and the darker shadows betrays this influence (see op. cit., p. 94).  

The Perugia Madonna is one of the most important and elegant pictures of Gentile's very early career, and appears to have been painted for the church of San Domenico in Perugia, where it was possibly mentioned by Vasari  ('In Perugia he painted a very fine panel in San Domenico").7  The Madonna remained in the basilica complex until it was removed to the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria in 1863. It seems likely, therefore, that it was broken up at some point earlier, possibly as early as the 18th century, with the church retaining the central image of the Madonna and Child in order to decorate a less prominent room in the church's novitiate, while other parts, presumably including these small panels, were dispersed.  The altarpiece most likely comprised one tier only, and if these small Apostle panels are indeed related to it (which seems highly likely) then they would have been arranged in groups of three each, along pilasters on either side of the figure of the enthroned Virgin as well as on the outer edges at the side of the still missing or unidentified side panels.  The reappearance of these two saints, together with the other four panels for the group, therefore, allow a partial reconstruction and understanding of one of Gentile's very earliest works, which must have been as grand, impressive and important as the Valle Romita altarpiece in the Brera, and, in fact, likely to have predated it by a few years.  We are grateful to Andrea De Marchi and Keith Christiansen for their comments on the present panels.

1. The paintings had retained their traditional—and correct—attribution to Gentile while in the collection, and are inscribed on the reverse with the names of the saints (sometimes in Swedish) in a late 19th/ early 20th century hand.
2.  Although only firmly documented in the city in 1408, it has been suggested that Gentile may have arrived in Venice much earlier.  The unexpected death of his patron Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan, in September 1402 would have released him from his obligations in Lombardy, and it is reasonable to suppose that he could have made his way to Venice soon after.
3.  The Valle Romita altarpiece (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), which depicts the Coronation of the Virgin with lateral panels depicting various saints, was painted for the monastery of Santa Maria di Valdisasso, which had been endowed in 1405 by Chiavello Chiavelli, the lord of Fabriano.  He appears to have patronized the hermitage there for a number of years and made embellishments, and even expressed his desire to be buried there.  The date of Chiavelli's donation in 1405 gives a solid date post quem for Gentile's altarpiece, and most scholars believe that it must date from the artist's very early time in Venice, and sent back to his native city on completion.
4.  Sold at Phillips, London, 10 December 1991, lot 78 (as by Studio of Ugolino de Nerio).  That picture was recognized as by Gentile da Fabriano by Everett Fahy amongst others, and was eventually acquired by the Brera.
5.  See D. Benati in Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Catalogo generale 1. Dal Duecento a Francesco Francia, Bologna 2004, p. 180, figs. 62a-b, reproduced.
6.  The altarpiece was seen in situ by Francesco Sansovino before 1581, where he notes the unusual iconography. A fragment of the Head of St. Paul the Hermit which is generally considered to be part of the central panel of the Sandei altarpiece was formerly in the Loeser collection, Florence, and is now in an American private collection (see Gentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, pp. 142-3, cat. no. III.4).
7.  In a recent study, Maria Rita Silvestrelli has suggested that the altarpiece by Gentile was placed in the sacristy of the church of San Domenico, and the patron was Matteo di Pietro Graziani (cf. M.R. Silvestrelli, "Perugia al tempo di Gentile. Artisti, botteghe, committenti," in Nuovi studi sulla pittura tardogotica. Intorno a Gentile da Fabriano, A. De Marchi, ed., Livorno 2007).