Lot 2
  • 2

AMBROGIO LORENZETTI | Saint John the Baptist

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Lorenzetti
  • Saint John the Baptist
  • tempera on panel, gold ground, a roundel
  • diameter: 3 7/8  in.; 9.9 cm.


Anonymous sale, Munich, Hampel, 10 December 2015, lot 222 (as Sienese School, circa 1400).


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 painting has been recently restored and is in very good, sound condition. Many of the details and the vibrantly colored pigments are well preserved. Retouching is found in the beard, along the right and left edges of the garment and throughout the hill. The recessed punched decorations in the outer portions have been regilded but the gilding in the background is comparatively untouched. The panel has a barely noticeable convex warp. The painting needs no treatment and can be hung 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 exquisite roundel depicting Saint John the Baptist, a recent discovery, is unmistakably the work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, one of the most influential painters of the early 14th century. While the paintings of the artist's brother, Pietro, adhered to a more traditional style, Ambrogio continually strove for innovation, looking beyond his native Siena for inspiration.  In the wake of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Ambrogio built upon the invention of the older artist, absorbing the advancements of his Florentine contemporaries in naturalism and spatial awareness and incorporated them into Sienese painting.   The saint's depiction displays Ambrogio’s remarkably naturalistic approach to figure painting.  Saint John’s countenance simultaneously projects a sense of serenity and intensity, expressed with the quiet restraint that characterized later works by the artist. The sparse mound of earth and slender tree in the background at left serve to remind the viewer of the saint’s solitary life in the wilderness.  His unkempt hair and beard and his disheveled hair shirt are painted with a miniaturist’s precision and he expertly juxtaposed with the smooth silk of his violet mantle.  Ambrogio represents the folds of the cloak, knotted carelessly at Saint John’s neck, with subtle transitions in color and its luxurious gold lining is denoted by a fine line of mordant gilding applied along its edge.  

Perhaps the most famous work by Ambrogio Lorenzetti is the extraordinary series of six frescoes representing the Allegory of Good and Bad Government, decorating the Sala dei Nove in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (fig. 1).  Painted in 1338-39, these moralistic scenes of Sienese government were intended to promote peace and warn against the rise of tyrannical politicians.  Despite this high profile civic commission, the majority of Ambrogio's works, the present panel included, were intended for religious devotion.

The roundel, likely dating to the 1340s, once formed part of a larger pictorial complex, and would have been positioned between two larger wings of a polyptych.  During this period in Siena, it was typical for one such roundel to sit between each panel, though occasionally they imitated Florentine models, incorporating two.  Rather than framed or affixed as individual elements, these saints would have been integral to their larger panels.  Remnants of stippled tooling are still visible beyond the raised perimeter border at the right edge of this panel, demonstrating the manner in which the decoration would have radiated outwards from the roundel.  A jewel-like object of significant beauty, this fragment holds its own as an individual painting and has as much impact alone today as it would have had as a single element forming part of a larger complex.  

We are grateful to Professor Laurence Kanter for endorsing the attribution to Ambrogio Lorenzetti, based on first-hand inspection.