Lot 5
  • 5

Sano di Pietro

150,000 - 200,000 USD
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  • Sano di Pietro
  • Saint John the Evangelist
  • tempera on panel, gold ground


Robert Lehman, New York, by 1957.


New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lehman Collection, 1954;
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Exposition de la collection Lehman de New York, 1957, no. 46;
Cincinatti Art Museum, The Lehman Collection, New York, 8 May - 5 July 1959, no. 53.


B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, London 1932, p. 500 (as "Madonna of Humility [?]");
T.A. Heinrich, "The Lehman Collection," in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1954;
Exposition de la collection Lehman de New York, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1957, cat. no. 46;
The Lehman Collection, New York, exhibition catalogue, Cincinnati 1959, p. 15, cat. no. 53 (as "Saint John [?]");
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1967, vol. I, p. 377 (as "Saint John the Evangelist").


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 small panel, originally a component of a larger artwork, remains in very good condition. Of particular note are the beautifully preserved head and hair of the figure, and the perfectly intact delicate pattern along the collar. The simple, hilly setting also remains in excellent condition. The green garment displays a slight degree of wear and tiny spots of old, discolored varnish. Only the red garment appears to have sustained damage requiring retouching, with the restoration clearly visible under ultraviolet illumination. Although the retouching is widespread in this passage, it is possible much of it is focused on restoring a faded or worn red lake glaze used to model folds and shadows, rather than dealing with complete losses. A few vertical losses, visible in raking light, have been retouched but not filled to level the surface. The gold ground displays normal wear, scattered insect exit-holes and age-related craquelure. The varnish is even and does not appear discolored. The wood panel is comprised of a single, horizontally grained board of a soft wood. On the back, a fair amount of wood worm tunneling is visible; the support appears to be sound regardless. Wood strips have been nailed around the perimeter of the painting, presumably to aid in framing. Although the restoration in the red garment is less refined than it could be, the painting does not otherwise need cleaning and may be displayed in its current state.
"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 tender depiction of Saint John the Evangelist by Sano di Pietro once formed part of an altarpiece predella, flanking an image of the Crucifixion at the right side, with a depiction of the mourning Virgin at the left.  The attribution to Sano di Pietro was first proposed by Bernard Berenson in 1932 (see Literature) and has since been upheld by Prof. Laurence Kanter following firsthand inspection.

Saint John the Evangelist is depicted with a sensitivity typical of Sano; the gestures are measured and graceful and his grief is expressed with a poignancy that is understated and restrained.  The artist placed the saint in a deliberately sparse landscape in order to encourage the viewer’s contemplation of the Crucifixion scene and minimize distraction.  The accompanying Virgin would presumably also have been shown seated similarly on the opposite mound.  The undulating line of the horizon and treatment of the grey earth is reminiscent of that in Sano’s Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist in the National Gallery, Washington DC (fig. 1).  There, Sano employed a similar paint effect in his representation of the bare earth, creating a darker outline for the edge of the hill and transitioning softly to a paler hue at the foot of the painting.  While his treatment of the figures in the Washington panel is faintly more gothic in style, it is interesting to note that the artist appears to have used the same tool in the border for the row of very fine stars as in the present painting.  Unlike the Washington picture, which has lost the majority of its punched border, here the beautiful punching and elaborate, floral stippling still frame the image. 

The identity of the saint was been repeatedly misinterpreted over the course of the painting’s publication.  Berenson, for example, listed the subject as the “Madonna of Humility (?)” but it has also be thought to be Mary Magdalene, perhaps on account of the saint’s red robes.  The similarities in the representation of the present figure and the one at the right side of Sano di Pietro’s Man of Sorrows, in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (fig. 2), suggests this is in fact an image of Saint John the Evangelist.  The flower motif, which perhaps fueled the mystery of the saint’s identification, was likely to have been painted in at a later date.  The vertical line in the figure’s left was intended to represent the crease in the palm formed by the flesh of the thumb.  One hypothesis is that this line was misunderstood by a well-meaning restorer who, assuming something must be missing, added the delicate bloom, transforming the line into the extended stem of a flower.

We are grateful to Prof. Laurence Kanter for endorsing the attribution following firsthand inspection.