Lot 5
  • 5

Master of the Osservanza, possibly the the young Sano di Pietro

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Master of the Osservanza, possibly the the young Sano di Pietro
  • Saint John the Evangelist
  • tempera and silver on panel
  • 8 3/8  by 9 in.; 21.3 by 23 cm.


Art Market, Monaco;
Where acquired by the present owner. 


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. The central figure of this small panel is in remarkably good condition in light of the panel's having been removed from its original setting. The background of this lunette would have been gilded but has been repainted, presumably to contend with extensive wear of the original gold leaf. Remnants of the gold are visible in the recesses of the punch marks in the decorative border encircling the figure. In the figure, retouching is found primarily around the perimeter of the figure, where small losses have occurred at the interface between the figure and gold ground. A near-horizontal crack below the middle of the picture has also been retouched. The panel is a single piece of horizontally grained-wood. A number of pieces of wood have been added to the back and perimeter, presumably to provide extra support and to assist in framing. The above-mentioned grain-oriented crack, visible from the front in raking light, has been repaired from the reverse. The painting 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 extremely refined yet highly emotive figure of Saint John the Evangelist once formed part of an altarpiece predella, flanking an image of the Crucifixion or Pieta in the center, with a depiction of the mourning Virgin at the left. Its author, The Master of the Osservanza, has been described as ‘unquestionably one of the outstanding Sienese artists of the second quarter of the fifteenth century’.1 The name of the painter derives from a triptych in the Church of the Osservanza outside Siena.The triptych, which was painted for San Maurizio, Siena, has on it an inscription and a date of 1436, which refers to the date of the chapel's foundation rather than the year it was painted. Roberto Longhi was the first to group together works by the Master, drawing together paintings formerly given to Sassetta and Sano di Pietro, among others.3 The artist has variously been identified as Sassetta (by Pope-Hennessy, Cavalcaselle and initially Berenson); as the young Sano di Pietro (by Brandi, Berenson, Boskovits and more recently De Marchi);and least convincingly of all as Francesco di Bartolomeo Alfei.5 Graziani's rather tentative proposition that the Master of the Osservanza might be identified with Ludovico (Vico) di Luca, a documented assistant of Sassetta, was seen as the most likely hypothesis until recently.6 In 2011, however, documentary evidence relating to an altarpiece of the Nativity of the Virgin at Asciano was published by Maria Falcone identifying its creator – the Master of the Osservanza – as the young Sano di Pietro.7 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.