Lot 1
  • 1

Giovanni da Milano

30,000 - 40,000 USD
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  • Giovanni da Milano
  • The Righteous of the Old Testament, a fragment from a Descent into Limbo
  • tempera on panel with gold, in an engaged frame


Carlo Lasinio, Campo Santo, Pisa (bears wax seals of both Lasinio and Campo Santo on reverse of the panel and an old attribution to Fra Angelico).


The following condition report has been provided by Karen Thomas of Thomas Art Conservation LLC., 336 West 37th Street, Suite 830, New York, NY 10018, 212-564-4024, info@thomasartconservation.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's.This portion of a predella panel is in very good condition for much of the figure grouping. Damage has been sustained on the left side, where a red-garmented figure is missing nearly all his head, the pink-and-ochre-garbed figure is missing portions of his upper face, and a third figure behind the two is only known by a section of remaining hair and forehead. Losses are also clearly visible along the bottom edge of the composition. The garments of the foreground figure are rubbed, in some places down to the ground. The details of the still-complete faces and the rocky background are well-preserved. Compensation for some losses has been accomplished with trateggio although no attempt has been made to address the abovementioned fragmentary faces. The horizontally grained wood panel is planar and structurally stable. Some lifting and planar distortion is visible in the upper left corner. The surface is fairly matte. Retouching to knit together the damaged garments would improve the appearance as would visually suppressing the large bright loss in the upper left. Given the existence of other panels from same altarpiece, it is possible the figures could be reconstructed to some degree, especially the partially-extant face of the front-most figure.
"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

This beautiful panel was recognized by Keith Christiansen as a predella fragment of a now dismembered altarpiece by Giovanni da Milano, depicting the Descent into Limbo.1  The subject suggests the predella would have been made up of scenes from after the Death of Christ and Daniela Parenti suggests this may in fact be the lost third panel of the predella formerly in the Bacri collection.2  The present panel would have been the first, leftmost panel; in the center would have been the panel representing the Appearance of Christ to Peter, the Resurrection, and Noli Me Tangere, now in a private collection; and at right would have been the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, also now in a private collection.  Parenti has proposed a reconstruction of the altarpiece, with Christ the Redeemer as the central panel; Eleven Saints at left; and the Virgin, Christ of the Apocalypse and Saint John the Baptist forming the cuspids above (fig. 1).3  The altarpiece is thought to date between 1365 and 1369, though its reconstruction remains incomplete and details of it commission or original location are as yet unknown.

According to Christian doctrine, in the time between Christ’s Death and Resurrection, he descended to Limbo to release the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament.  We see those figures crouched here, at the entrance to Hell; though not damned, they were unable to pass to Paradise until the coming of Christ.  Giovanni da Milano appears to be aware of Giotto’s treatment of the subject, now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, sharing much the same iconography.  The figure in red and blue looks upward toward Christ, who would have been represented standing at left.  Christ’s hand is still visible at the left edge, and the angle suggests he would have been standing, perhaps leaning over the huddled figures similar to Giotto’s composition.  He grasps the arm of the prophet in the foreground to lead him from the Limbo which is similarly portrayed as the open mouth of a dark cave. 

We are grateful Keith Christiansen for suggesting the attribution upon firsthand inspection and to Daniela Parenti and Andrea De Marchi for endorsing it on the basis of photographs.


1.  Private written communication, dated 6 August 2014, on the basis of firsthand inspection.
2.  Private written communication, dated 16 October 2014, on the basis of photographs.
3.  For more information on the altarpiece reconstruction see D. Parenti, Giovanni da Milano, Capolavori del gotico fra Lombardia e Toscana, exhibition catalogue, pp. 242-249; Christ the Redeemer now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (inv. no. 1008); Eleven Saints now in the Galleria Sabaudi, Turin (inv. no. 14); the Virgin, Christ of the Apocalypse and Saint John the Baptist now in the National Gallery, London (inv. no. 579 A).