Lot 24
  • 24

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

100,000 - 150,000 USD
325,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Master of the Osservanza, possibly the the young Sano di Pietro
  • The Virgin
  • 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. 

Catalogue Note

This extremely refined yet highly emotive figure of The Virgin once formed part of an altarpiece predella, flanking an image of the Crucifixion or Pieta in the center, with a depiction of Saint John the Evangelist 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 Basilica 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 and Alberto Graziani were 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 

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 Saint John the Evangelist (sold in these rooms this past January 2018 for $975,000; fig. 1), 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 work.

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.