Lot 8
  • 8


80,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • The Nativity
  • tempera on panel, gold ground, with a painted reverse 
  • 14 1/8  by 6 1/8  in.; 36 by 15.7 cm. 


Private collection, Milan. 


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 is in very good condition overall. The paint layers appear to be well preserved, particularly in light of the age of the picture and its having been taken from an altarpiece. Any retouching is very accomplished and difficult to detect, including under UV due to the fluorescence of the varnish. The most notable areas of losses include a portion of the wall on the upper left and the ground adjacent the stable, otherwise restoration to address losses is minor. The contours in several locations (the livestock, the blue mantle) have been reinforced. On the reverse side, the geometric pattern appears original, with obvious old losses. The vertically grained wood support displays a mild convex lateral warp. The framing hardware should be adjusted to reduce cross-grain pressure but otherwise this painting has no need of conservation and 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

The author of this tender Nativity scene is so named after a predella depicting the Birth of the Virgin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 1).1  Datable to circa 1380-1390, it can likely be considered a late work of this Florentine painter, and it once formed part of a private devotional triptych.  Rendered with a vivid palette and a graceful charm, and retaining much of its original gilding, this panel ranks among this anonymous artist’s finest creations.  Though little is known of this elusive artist’s life, he trained in Orcagna's workshop in the 1360s and continued his work there following his master’s death in 1368, when the workshop passed to Orcagna's younger brother, Jacopo di Cione.2  He is known to have assisted Orcagna from 1367-1368 with the Saint Matthew triptych, today in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence,3 and he has also been identified as the collaborator in Jacopo’s elaborate, large scale Crucifixion altarpiece of 1369-1370, today in the National Gallery in London.4 With the influence of his two teachers as his foundation, this master developed his own individualized style that is most clearly visible later in his career.  As seen in this panel, his visual vocabulary is characterized by his engaging figural types (such as the seated Joseph), his delicate design elements (such as the gold that trims Mary’s veil) and charming anecdotal details (such the pot and staff on the ground, as well as the heads of the animals in the stable). 

This panel once formed the left wing of a small devotional triptych, whose central panel would have shown a Madonna and Child with Angels, the right wing a Crucifixion, and the upper pinnacles possibly scenes from The Annunciation.  The arrangement within this triptych had its foundation in eminent Florentine examples from generations prior, such as Bernardo Daddi’s triptych today in Florence's Museo del Bigallo (1333)5 and Taddeo Gaddi’s today in the Staatliche Museein, Berlin (1334).6  The reverse of the present panel was painted with a decorative geometric motif in a style known as Costmatesque, which would have been appreciated when the triptych was closed.   

We are grateful to Professor Laurence Kanter for endorsing the attribution of the present lot after firsthand inspection and for suggesting a date of circa 1380-1390.

1. Tempera on panel, gold ground, 37.4 by 65.2, inv. no. A47.  See The Ashmolean Museum: Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Paintings, Oxford 2004, p. 141, reproduced.  

2.  L. Kanter, Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450, exhibition catalogue, New York 1994, p. 193.

3.  Tempera on panel, 257 by 264 cm., inv. 1890, no. 3163.  See Gli Uffizi: Catalogo Generale, Florence 1979, p. 396, cat. no. P1120, reproduced.

4.  Tempera on panel, 154 by 138.5 cm., inv. no. NG1468. See C. Baker and T. Henry, The National Gallery: Complete Illustrated Catalogue, London 1995, p. 118, reproduced.

5.  See R. Offner, The Works of Bernardo Daddi, Florence 1989, pp. 170-183, reproduced.

6.  See A. Ladis, Taddeo Gaddi, Colombia, Missouri 1982, pp. 127-129, cat. no. 7, reproduced.