Lot 3
  • 3


400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Bramantino
  • Madonna and Child
  • oil and tempera on panel
  • 14 3/8  by 11 in.; 36.5 by 28 cm.  


Giorgio Augusto Wallis (1770–1847), Florence;

His deceased sale, Berlin, Heberle, 24 May 1895, lot 120 (as Venetian School, early 16th century); Georg Gronau, Kassel;

Dr Eduard Simon, Berlin, by whom acquired in 1924;

His sale, Berlin, Cassirer & Helbing, 10 and 11 October 1929, lot 7 (unsold and returned to the Dr Eduard Simon estate);

Reoffered from the Dr Eduard Simon estate and consigned by a consortium of banks (Deutsch Bank und Disconto-Ges., Dresdner Bank, Commerz –und Privatbank, Bankhaus Mendelssohn & Co.), Berlin, Paul Graupe, 23–24 March 1936, lot 116a (unsold); 

With Gallery Matthiesen, Viktoriastrasse 33, Berlin (according to a mount at the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg);

With Galerie Caspari, Munich (offered to the Galerie Heinemann on 17 Nov 1936 for RM 10,000);

Acquired by the father of the present owner in the 1950s. 


G. Frizzoni, 'Intorno al Bramantino e alle sue presunte relazioni col Luini', Rassegna d'arte, 15, 1915, p. 150, reproduced p. 149, fig. 4 (as datable to after Bramantino's trip to Rome); A. Venturi, Studi dal vero attraverso le raccolte artistiche d'Europa, Milan 1927, pp. 361–62, reproduced on p. 362, fig. 244;

L. Venturi, Pitture Italiane in America, Milan 1931, under pl. 357 (as a very similar work by Bramantino to the one in the Metropolitan Museum, whereabouts unknown);

H.B. Wehle, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish and Byzantine Paintings, New York 1940, p. 150, under 12.178.2;

W. Suida, Bramante pittore e il Bramantino, Milan 1953, pp. 105, 124, 230, pl. CXXVII, fig. 165 (as the first of two very similar versions done after the trip to Rome);

M.L. Gengaro, 'Problemi di metodo per la storia dell'arte: Il Bramantino', Arte lombarda, 1955, p. 122, under 'Bibliografia relativa alle opere documentate e variamente attribuite al Bramantino', 'Berlin' (citing bibliography);

B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1968, vol. I, p. 60, reproduced in black and white vol. III, pl. 1378;

G. Mulazzani, L’opera completa di Bramantino e Bramante pittore, Milan 1978, p. 92, no. 21, reproduced (as the earlier of the two versions; dates them to 1505–07; questions autograph status but holds off passing judgment since he has not seen it; location unknown);

F. Zeri with the assistance of E.E. Gardner, Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School, New York 1986, pp. 6–7 (under New York version, as another version);

P. Coen, ‘‘Di dottrina e di pratica’. Pietro Toesca e la fotografia al servizio del mercato dell’arte’, in Pietro Toesca e la fotografia. ‘Saper vedere’, P. Callegari and E. Gabrielli (eds), Milan 2009, p. 171 (Toesca saw it in Simon’s house in Berlin in summer 1927); 

M. Natale in Bramantino: l’arte nuova del Rinascimento lombardo, M. Natale (ed.), exh. cat., Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Milan 2014, p. 288, under no. 48 (as one of two versions of the theme).


The following condition report is provided by Tom Caley, from Shepherd Conservation, who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Bartolomeo Suardi, called Bramantino: Madonna and Child Structure and Condition The original panel, which is probably of poplar, is now approximately 3mm thick, having been thinned as part of a treatment to manage the cracks and woodworm that are characteristic of poplar panels of this period. A 5 mm backing panel of flat-sawn oak was attached to the reverse of the original panel, obscuring the appearance and condition of the panel. A cradle of red meranti, or mahogany, is attached to the back of the oak backing panel; it has five vertical fixed members, and five horizontal sliding members. The cradle and backing panel are clean and crisp, and are comparatively recent. The cradle is seized (the sliding members are not free to slide any more), but the structure appears stable. The painting has a gesso ground, probably sealed with oil or the like before painting. The nature of the paint medium is ambiguous, but it appears to be oil, by dint of the flow and the smooth modelling, but tempera is also very malleable on a small scale. Evidence of the use of oil or oil resin might be inferred in the green paints, where there has been interaction with the medium and the copper in the pigment, leading to a transparent brown discolouration. In one part of the background, the tree above the wall at the right, there has been a decided flow of the paint in the process of drying, such that there is a 'roll' of paint at the lower edge of that passage. A characteristic of this work is underdrawing, which is visible to an extent with the naked eye. This is especially noticeable in the sky, where the perspective construction lines of the castle were drafted, and projected downwards as vertical guidelines. The layering of the paint is very systematic, there being preparatory colours under most of the design layers, such as the darker blue underneath the finished sky, and also the widely applied bright green under most of the middle distance; also the pale pink under the lighter passages of the flesh, and the dark grey under the darker passages of the flesh. In general the condition of the paint is very good. The sky has suffered a number of small losses, and some abrasion; the latter allowing the constructional underdrawing to show through. There is one larger loss in the centre of the sky, and another to the left-hand side. Other small losses are scattered across the surface. Except for the sky, there is little abrasion. Treatment The panel, though altered by older treatments, is stable, and would seem best left undisturbed. A deep orange-brown tone, owing to a heavily discoloured old varnish, pervaded the painting on its arrival in the studio. The Infant's arm, legs, face, and neck had broad retouchings that had blanched and become unsightly. The same effect was apparent in the sky. After the removal of a very light deposit of surface dirt, the aged varnishes were removed, and along with them the old retouchings. Some older discoloured material remained on the surface, but was removed in a separate process. An isolating varnish of a kind that will not discolour was applied, saturating the colours to a level a little closer to the look of paint that has aged, but without the obvious effects cleaning. Areas where there are losses were filled, and toned to something approaching the colour of the gesso as it appears now. Retouchings were carried out using the same resin as was used for the new varnish, mixed with pigments carefully chosen to be as close to the original as far as this was possible and practical. The final finish was again the varnish used to isolate the surface, this time sprayed on.
"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 small panel by the rare and innovative artist Bramantino, whose works are today preserved largely in museums, has re-emerged after nearly a century. Bartolomeo Suardi – better known by his nickname Bramantino, after his teacher the painter and outstanding Renaissance architect Donato Bramante (1443/4–1514) – was a painter of panels and frescoes, a designer of tapestry cartoons and an architect, and is first documented as apprenticed to a goldsmith. This painting’s masterful use of perspective and balanced composition lend it a vivid sense of presence despite its small scale. Datable to the first decade of the sixteenth century, opinion is divided over whether it dates from before, during or after Bramantino's trip to Rome in 1508, where he was employed at the Vatican by Pope Julius II. Since its first appearance in the literature in 1915, when Gustavo Frizzoni publishes it, commentators have pointed out the panel’s similarity to a Madonna and Child by Bramantino at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, of comparable dimensions (fig. 1).1 Yet there are also significant differences between the two. Both compositions are centred on the figure of the Madonna who holds up a fruit in her right hand: in the present work a large citrus fruit, often associated with the Virgin Mary,2 and in the New York version an apple (on the identification of the citrus see below). In both, the Christ Child reaches out to grab it.3 In this painting the Child is seated on His mother’s lap, her hand circling His thigh, while in the other He stands beside a vase of carnations. A green dark-veined marble block painted parallel to the picture frame here serves as a seat, while in the Metropolitan’s picture it is set at an oblique angle and the Virgin stands behind it. As was noted by Mariarosa Gabbrielli, the stone seat is a motif favoured by the artist.4 It occurs in different forms and is similar, for instance, to the one that the Christ Child stands upon in the Holy Family at the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (fig. 2).5

The picture space is articulated by a perspective structure that is both rigorously symmetrical and profoundly poetic in its use of light and shadow.6 With deceptive ease Bramantino conveys a sense of space beyond the figures. The Madonna appears in the grounds of a fortified building, a pair of crenellated towers at its corners and a pair of taller towers beyond. An open gateway invites the viewer into a courtyard. Similar but not identical in its construction to the building in the Metropolitan painting, the one here, which is better preserved and finer in its details – see for instance the paired arched windows and dentilled sills – is inhabited. Tiny figures populate its roofs, balconies and windows. A banner flutters breezily from one of the far rooftops. Two birds – one white, the other black – face one another as if in courtship on the roof of the balcony. The metal grilles on the ground floor windows are carefully rendered. The rigour of the composition’s strictly symmetrical arrangement is softened by the tilt of the Madonna’s head and by the green vegetation that punctuates the space between the figures and the building. The setting is considerably more barren in the New York painting, a garden walled-in to the left.

Infra-red reflectography shows differences also in the underdrawing (fig. 4). In this work folds in the Madonna's ample cloak and dress are broadly indicated with curving strokes executed with a brush, while details such as feet, hands and facial features are carefully drawn. The upper contour of the Virgin’s head, drawn in two different positions, was reduced in height by Bramantino in the final painted solution. Also he adjusted the Virgin’s upper lip. The placement of the raised forearm and the inner contour of the arm also show modifications. For the figure of the Christ Child the volume of the left thigh was slightly reduced in the final painting. The underdrawing of the background architecture is executed according to the principles of single point perspective and is set out with the help of guide lines drawn at progressively closer intervals that serve to mark out the receding planes of the castle walls. Over time, owing to the natural transparency of oil paint as it ages, some of these have become partially visible to the naked eye. The horizontal lines are absent from the Metropolitan painting, which may suggest that the latter depends on the design set out here.7 One other detail may also support this hypothesis. Although both Madonnas hold up a fruit, the positions of their hands differ. In the New York painting the little finger of the Virgin does not serve to support the apple, whereas here the citrus is grasped by all four fingers. This indicates perhaps that the latter solution was adapted for the New York painting, which shows considerable reworking in the underdrawing of the hand. Bramantino’s modulation of tone is very subtly done, particularly in the areas of the Virgin’s skin and in the rounded volumes of the Christ Child.

The foreshortening of the Virgin's arm extended towards the viewer perhaps exaggerates the apparent size of the citrus fruit that she holds, but it is still substantial, and much larger than a lemon. We are grateful to Helena Attlee for suggesting that it is either a cedro (citron) or a limone-cedrato – a cedro-lemon hybrid, and to Nola Anderson for her suggestion that it might have been a cedro grown then as now at Orsenigo, which enjoys a micro-climate on the shores of Lake Como, and which mounts a Festa del Cedro in early April each year.8 

Opinions on the exact dating of the work vary but most authorities place it in the first decade of the sixteenth century. In Frizzoni’s opinion both this and the New York version were painted after Bramantino’s trip to Rome in 1508 on account of the broad handling of both. Lionello Venturi, writing in 1931 about the Metropolitan version, which he calls a late work, then discusses this picture, also implicitly dating it to that period.9 William Suida in 1953 believes both versions were done after the trip to Rome. Germano Mulazzani reversed this current, publishing this in 1978 as the earlier of the two versions and dating them both to 1505–07, without first-hand knowledge of the painting and unaware of its location, he questioned its authorship. In the catalogue of the Metropolitan's collection of 1986, Federico Zeri writes that the medieval buildings in the background may possibly suggest that the picture was painted prior to Bramantino’s trip to Rome in 1508. Close study of the IRR of the Metropolitan painting has revealed the word 'ROMA' inscribed on the neckline of the Madonna's dress after the words 'AVE REGINA CELLA'. This suggests that Bramantino painted it during his sojourn there. Documented in the city in 1508 he may have painted it then, though Longhi and others have put forward arguments for a first trip prior to that date. Be that as it may, it remains an open question whether this version was painted before or after the Metropolitan painting.

Adolfo Venturi, writing in 1927 about this version, draws attention to two distinctive aspects that are characteristic of the artist’s production: firstly, the motif of the ample cloak that envelops the Virgin, which is treated as a major object of interest within the composition; and secondly the symmetry of its background. These traits are common to major works by the artist such as The Madonna and Child enthroned with Saint Ambrose and Saint Michael, also known as the ‘Madonna delle Torri’ (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan; fig. 3), of 1505.10 In gesture and arrangement and in the geometry of the mantle, the figures of the Madonna and Child are remarkably like their counterparts at the Ambrosiana. Another comparable painting, closer in scale to the present work, is Bramantino’s Holy Family, a work dated by Marco Tanzi to about 1503–04 and by Mauro Natale to around 1510 (Brera; fig. 2).11 The Virgin wraps a voluminous blue cloak lined with green around the Christ Child in a similarly protective gesture to the one seen here, while the Child reaches out energetically. While some in the past have criticised Bramantino for the anatomical incongruities of his figures, others have celebrated his genius and have rightly recognised him as one of the most independent and original artists of his time. 

We are grateful to Charles Robertson for his interesting comparisons between this work and the frescoes of the Madonna and Child and of the Muses in the Castle at Voghera, which date before 1503. We are grateful also to Andrea Bayer and Keith Christiansen for their help in the cataloguing of this lot. 

Note on Provenance

Giorgio Augusto Wallis (1770–1847) was a painter of Scottish extraction, who was in Rome from 1794–1806, London in 1812, Heidelberg in 1815, but who settled in Florence in 1818. He was a correspondent of Goethe, and when in Spain assisted the dealer William Buchanan in his acquisitions. The sale of his Florentine Gallery nearly fifty years after his death reveals an eclectic collection of paintings, including Rubens oil sketches, a Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Dutch landscapes and still lifes, as well as Florentine, Sienese and North Italian Renaissance and Mannerist pictures.

Eduard Georg Simon (1864–1929) was a scion of the family textile firm Gebrüder Simon, one of the richest men in Berlin, and like his cousin James Simon, a collector of considerable stature as well as a philanthropist, supporting the Kaiser-Friedrichs-Museumsverein with major donations, as well as Jewish causes. Shortly after 1900 he commissioned Alfred Messel to build him a substantial villa, austerely classical on the outside but with lavish interiors inspired by the Renaissance, at Viktoriastrasse 7 in Tiergarten in Berlin. He only started collecting seriously after its completion, acquiring the six large grisaille canvases originally commissioned by the Porto family from Giandomenico Tiepolo for their palazzo in Vicenza, which Messel incorporated into the decoration of the dining room (fig. 5; sold in these Rooms, 5 July 2013, lot 42). Advised by Wilhelm von Bode, he added a Madonna and Child by Botticelli, a predella panel by Giovanni di Paolo, an Andrea del Sarto of the Madonna and Child with St John, a Bacchiacca of Tobias and the Angel, and portraits by Bugiardini and Bronzino. Of the Northern Schools, he possessed works by Juan de Flandes, Patinir, Claude Lorrain, and the Jan Gossaert sold in these Rooms, 9 December 2015, lot 6 (fig. 6). His suicide in 1929, perhaps prompted by the effects of the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash on the viability of the family firm, occasioned a landmark sale of his collection later that year.  

Eduard Simon acquired the Bramantino in 1924 with the help and advice of Georg Gronau, who according to some sources may have owned.  Gronau, who retired as Director of the Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister in Kassel in the same year to live in his villa in Fiesole. Gronau's son Hans was also an art historian, who with his young wife Carmen left Germany for London in 1933 and became a consultant to Sotheby's. After his premature death his widow Carmen succeeded him at Sotheby's, and with Peter Wilson founded the Old Master Paintings Department in the 1950s.

1.  Acc. no. 12.178.2; tempera on wood, 34.3 by 28.6 cm., trimmed at top and bottom.

2.  On account of its healing properties, the lemon was also taken as an allusion to salvation. The citrus fruit on its own, as here, is relatively uncommon, the lemon tree occurring more frequently; see M. Levi d’Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting, Florence 1977, pp. 205–09.

3.  A Madonna and Child with Saint Matthew and Saint John the Evangelist by a follower of Bramantino (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris) repeats the gesture of the Madonna holding an object aloft – in the case of the latter an ear of corn, as the child reaches out for it (oil on panel, 92.6 by 65.2 cm.); reproduced in Lugano 2014, p. 287.

4.  M. Gabbrielli, ‘Aggiunte a Bramantino’, Bollettino d’arte, 27 June 1934, p. 571. The ‘Madonna’ of Berlin cited by Gabbrielli on p. 572 may be a passing reference to the present work.

5.  M. Natale in Lugano 2014, p. 220.

6.  On Bramantino’s use of symmetry and perspectival contruction, see P.C. Marani, 'Disegno e prospettiva in alcuni dipinti di Bramantino’, Arte Lombarda, 100, 1992, pp. 70–88. 

7.  Where the Met painting differs in its architecture, for instance the presence of a wall on the left, guide lines are indicated as part of the underdrawing. For a discussion of the underdrawing of the New York painting see G.Poldi, ‘Il disegno di Bramantino alla luce delle analisi scientifiche: dalla carta al dipinto’ in Bramantino e le arti nella Lombardia francese (1499–1525), M. Natale (ed.), Milan 2017, pp. 265–66, 274 n. 24, figs 98a–b and 99.

8.  Email communication, 9 April 2018 and 27 March 2018 respectively. Helena Attlee points out that such citrus fruits were readily transportable and perished only slowly, so could plausibly have been imported from elsewhere.

9.  Venturi 1931, under pl. 357; Its whereabouts by that date were not known to him.

10.  Known also as the ‘Triptych of Saint Michael’ because of its former tripartite structure. (inv. 96) is discussed and reproduced in colour in Bramantino a Milano, G. Agosti, J. Stoppa and M. Tanzi (eds), exh. cat., Milan 2012, pp. 164–179, no. 11.

11.  Oil on panel, 61 by 47 cm.; M. Tanzi in Milan 2012, pp. 152–161, no. 9 and M. Natale in Lugano 2014, pp. 220–25, no. 34.