Saint John the Evangelist is here depicted with a sensitivity and technical prowess representative of this Sienese master. What immediately captures the viewer's attention is the profile presentation of the Saint who, in anguish, buries his head into his burgundy robes. This simple yet poignant gesture strikes a surprisingly modern tone, as the lamenting Saint expresses a universal and timeless sense of grief. The simplicity with which John's profile is presented contrasts rather strikingly against the billowing and complicated folds of his mantle, which fall vertically in wide, triangular columns.
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.
While a complete reconstruction of the original polyptych for which this panel was created remains elusive, two works from the same predella have been identified--the aforementioned Mourning Virgin, and a slightly wider (21.6 by 36.5 cm) panel depicting Saint Donatus of Arezzo encountering and taming the Dragon (sold Christie’s London, 23 June 1967, Lot 69). In each of these works, along with others by the artist from the 1450's, the halos are patterned using punched dots to create a repeated oval-shaped design. Their upper and lower edges are gilded in oxidized silver, tooled with a row of round hole punches.
An entry written by Andrea De Marchi endorsing the attribution to the Master of the Osservanza accompanies this lot.
1. K. Christiansen in Painting in Renaissance Siena 1420–1500, exhibition catalogue, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 20 December 1988 – 19 March 1989, p. 99.
2. Reproduced in C. Alessi and P. Scapecchi, ‘Il Maestro dell’Osservanza: Sano di Pietro o Francesco di Bartolomeo?’, Prospettiva, vol. 42, 1985, p. 18, fig. 9, and a detail on p. 24, fig. 16. The predella is in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.
3. R. Longhi, ‘Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio’, in La Critica d’Arte, vol. 5, nos 3–4, 1940, pp. 188–89.
4. C. Brandi, Quattrocentisti senesi, Milan 1949, pp. 69–87.
5. Alessi and Scapecchi 1985, pp. 13–37; Alessi and Scapecchi substantially postdate his activity.
6. Graziani 1948, pp. 75– 88. Christiansen tentatively agreed with the identification put forward by Graziani, seeing it as the most likely solution (see Christiansen in New York 1988–89, p. 100) but Machtelt Isräels has more recently noted that Vico is an unlikely candidate on the basis of documentary evidence (see M. Isräels, Sassetta’s Madonna della Neve. An Image of Patronage, Leiden 2003, p. 29, note 75).
7. M. Falcone, ‘La giovinezza dorata di Sano di Pietro: un nuovo documento per la Natività della Vergine di Asciano’, in Prospettiva, 138.2010, 2011, pp. 28–48.
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