Lot 106
  • 106

BARNABA DA MODENA | Saint Nicholas of Bari

60,000 - 80,000 USD
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  • Saint Nicholas of Bari
  • tempera on poplar panel, gold ground
  • 13 by 10 in.; 33 by 25.5 cm.


Private collection, Belgium.


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 panel is in sound condition overall. The horizontally grained poplar panel appears to be comprised of 4 boards and displays a marked vertical convex warp. The non-original rectangular frame has been carved to match the warp perfectly. Under raking light, planar anomalies visible in the bottom few inches of the image may be related to old wood worm tunneling visible on the reverse. A wood button adhered to the reverse indicates an old repair, which, along with glue residues, suggests that at some point the middle join began to fail; this is echoed on the front where narrow bands of restoration run across the saint's shoulders. A few other grain-related losses have been restored in the lower third of St Nicholas' face. The dark pigment(s) used for the collar, book, and bottom border have fared least well over time, and display a considerable amount of retouching. The spiraling end of the saint's crook has been partially reconstructed. The strong fluorescence of the varnish hampers clear confirmation of earlier restoration campaigns, however it appears the modeling in the red garment has been aided to some degree by restoration.
"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 panel is an important addition to the œuvre of Barnaba da Modena, one of the most significant artists working in Northern Italy in the second half of the 14th century. Born and trained in Emilia Romagna, Barnaba is first documented in Genoa in 1361-62, hiring assistants for his large and successful workshop, which dominated the artistic scene in the city at this time. His influence was also strongly felt in Pisa, where he worked in the late 1370s and 1380s. The present work most probably dates to this latter period, the soft modelling and fine features of Saint Nicholas reflective of Tuscan painting, in contrast to Barnaba’s earlier productions, which are characterized by a more Byzantine sensibility. This panel, in which the wood grain runs horizontally, was most likely part of a horizontal framing element of a large polyptych, possibly a pinnacle. Such a formation is found in the artist’s polyptych for the cathedral in Murcia, with four half-length figures of saints in pinnacles above panels depicting scenes from the life of Saint Lucy. Barnaba’s other polyptych sent to the Manuel chapel in Murcia is also pertinent as a point of comparison in the analogous half-length figure of Saint Nicholas, which forms one of the flanking panels around the Madonna and Child in the center.1 It has been suggested that the present panel may have constituted one of the pinnacles atop Barnaba’s polyptych intended for the church of Sant’Andrea e Lucia in Ripoli di Lari.

We are grateful to Dr. Laurence Kanter for confirming the panel's attribution to Barnaba da Modena and suggesting its function as a framing element after firsthand inspection.

1. For both polyptychs, see J. Sander, Italienische Gemälde im Städel 1300-1550. Oberitalien, die Marken und Rom, Mainz am Rhein and Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 14, reproduced p. 15, fig. 12.