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THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN

Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, called Sano di Pietro
SAINT DONATUS CHASTISING THE DRAGON
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LOT SOLD. 759,000 GBP
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2

THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN

Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, called Sano di Pietro
SAINT DONATUS CHASTISING THE DRAGON
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
500,000700,000
LOT SOLD. 759,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London

Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, called Sano di Pietro
SIENA 1406 - 1481
SAINT DONATUS CHASTISING THE DRAGON

Provenance

Emil Weinberger, Vienna;

His posthumous sale, Vienna, Wawra and Glückselig, 22–24 October 1929, lot 455 (as Saint Syrus of Pavia);

Julius Henckel-Haas (1869–1931), Detroit, Michigan;

By inheritance to his wife Lilian Henckel-Haas (1879–1960), Detroit, Michigan;

Thomas Sheridan Hyland (1917–91), Greenwich, Connecticut;

By whom sold, London, Christie’s, 23 June 1967, lot 69, for £13,500 to 'Robson';

With Agnew's, London;

From whom acquired and thence by family descent.

Exhibited

Detroit, Michigan, Institute of Arts, Loan Exhibition of Italian Paintings from the XIVth to XVIth Centuries, 1933, no. 54;

Waltham, Mass., Brandeis University, Major Masters of the Renaissance, 1963, no. 1;

Kings Lynn, Fermoy Art Gallery, A Collection of the Ninteen-Sixties, 22 July – 5 August 1972, no. 1.

Literature

B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, Milan 1936, p. 429 (as Saint Sirus and the dragon);

B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1968, vol. I, p. 375;

G. Agnew and E. Joll, A Collection of the Nineteen-Sixties, exh. cat., Fermoy Art Gallery, Kings Lynn, 1972, p. 5, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

The most popular and prolific artist in Siena in the fifteenth century, Sano di Pietro was the master of a large workshop producing altarpieces, polyptychs and devotional works for churches and patrons in the city and surrounding towns. Although he worked on a large scale, Sano was best known for his many small devotional panels, and in these – and in particular in predella panels such as this – his work reveals a remarkable gift for narrative fantasy and richness of colouring. Here we see Saint Donatus, bishop (and later patron saint) of Arezzo, head down astride his mule, fearlessly take on a local dragon, armed only with a whip and his faith. The disarming simplicity of the composition and its beautiful subtle colouring reflect Sano’s lifelong adherence to the beauty and traditions of Sienese Trecento gold-ground painting. The deliberately simple but deeply-felt devotional nature of Sano's work undoubtedly reflected doctrinal thinking then current in Siena, greatly influenced by the intense spirituality preached by San Bernardino (1380–1444) and the Franciscan observance movement, whose confraternities and convents provided him with considerable patronage.

The episode depicted here by Sano is described most fully in the life of Saint Donatus included by Jacobus da Voragine in his Golden Legend, written around 1260: 

‘Near Arezzo there was a poisoned spring, and anyone who drank thereof died immediately. And when Saint Donatus rode upon his donkey to the spring in order to purify the waters by his prayers, a terrible dragon rushed forth, twisted his tail about the donkey's legs, and reared up against Donatus. But the saint struck him with a whip, or, as others have it, spat in his face, and killed him in a trice. Then he besought the Lord, and the waters of the spring were purified forthwith.’

According to the Passio of his life written by the later Bishop Severinus of Arezzo, Donatus was a Roman nobleman by birth who converted to Christianity, but during the persecution of the Christians under the Emperor Julian 'the Apostate’, his parents were put to death and he was forced to flee to Arezzo, where he became Bishop and wrought many miracles. According to tradition, together with the monk Saint Hilary, his defiance of the prefect Quadracianus led to his execution on 7 August 362 AD.

An illuminator of manuscripts as well as a painter, Sano enrolled in the Siena painters’ Guild in 1428. His earliest signed work, the great Gesuati polyptych in the Pinacoteca at Siena, is dated as late as 1444, and any earlier phase of his career remains conjectural. It is likely that he was trained in the workshop of Stefano di Giovanni called Sassetta (1392–1450/1), and some scholars have identified the youthful phase of his work with that of the so-called Master of Osservanza, a painter working in a style very similar, responsible for an altarpiece of 1436 in the church of the Osservanza in Siena. It is possible that the two painters represent a single artistic personality, but more likely that their works were the product of a collaborative workshop to which they both belonged. Sano’s style remained to the end embedded in the habits and tastes of the early Renaissance in Siena. His increasing reliance onmembers of his workshop diluted much of his later work to conventional formulae, but his work as an illuminator remained consistently of the highest quality right up to his death. His obituary in the church of San Domenico, where he was buried, records him as 'pictor famosius et homo totus deditus Deo' (a famous painter and completely dedicated to God).

Neither the predella to which the present panel belonged, nor the larger altarpiece of which that formed part, has yet been identified. Only one other panel, which depicts the martyrdom of what is evidently the same bishop saint, formerly in the collection of James Jackson Jarves in Florence and now in the Yale University collection, New Haven (fig. 1), can so far be linked to the present work. Both panels are of similar size (that at Yale measures 21.6 x 39.4 cm.) and share the same distinctive punched border along both their upper and lower edges. Formerly attributed to Giovanni di Paolo, the Yale panel was first tentatively associated with Sano and his workshop by Oswald Sirén in 1916, an attribution which has remained to this day.2 Berenson, who knew both paintings, did not notice their connection, and retained the traditional attribution of the Yale panel and the identification of the saint as Syrus of Pavia.3 Both panels presumably formed part of the predella to an altarpiece dedicated to Saint Donatus, perhaps commissioned by a patron from Sano’s own parish of San Donatus in Siena, or else for a patron or church in the nearby city of Arezzo, where Donatus was once bishop and now patron saint. Sano returned to the subject of Donatus and the dragon in the predella of his polyptych of 1471 formerly at the Abbadia di San Salvatore in Badia e Isola, and now at the Museo Civico e d’Arte Sacra, Colle di Val d’Elsa.4 Here the design of the panel follows the same lines as the present picture, but with the addition of two standing figures to the right of the saint. Owing to the homogeneity of much of his later output it is difficult to suggest a chronology for Sano’s work, but on the basis of photographs Keith Christiansen has kindly suggested a possible dating to around 1460 for the present panel. He believes it to be a companion to the Yale panel, also typical of the painter. Dr Laurence Kanter has also kindly fully endorsed the attribution to Sano on the basis of photographs.

1 The Golden Legend, translated by W.G. Ryan, Princeton 1993, p. 60.
2 Inv. no. 1871.62. O. Sirén, A Descriptive Catalogue of the pictures in the Jarves Collection, belonging to Yale University, New Haven, London, Oxford 1916, pp. 159–60, no. 62.
3 See C. Seymour, Early Italian Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven and London 1970, pp. 204–05, cat. no. 154, reproduced (as workshop of Sano) and Berenson 1968, vol. I, p. 178. Saint Syrus of Pavia is often shown trampling on a basilisk or dragon, symbolic of his defeat of Arianism.
4 Berenson 1968, vol. II, reproduced pl. 588.

 

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London