PAOLO BONTULLI | SAINT FRANCIS
Property of a Private Collector
Percanestro circa 1480 - circa 1530
tempera and gold ground on panel, pointed top and with an engaged arch
panel: 66¾ by 16⅛ in.; 169.5 by 41 cm.
The panel is uncradled. Overall, the painting appears to have suffered from a general rubbing, although the basic structure of the image still reads well. There are areas in the robe of the saint that have been worn down to the ground, and the face has been rubbed and retouched. The gilt background appears to be well retained in the areas immediately near the figure of the saint, and parts of the background that originally covered (the edges) have been regilt. The angel in the pinnacle has been rubbed with age. There are a few cracks to the panel concentrated near the lower edge.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby's, 18 May 2006, lot 75 (as Neapolitan School, circa 1500);
Paolo Bontulli was active in Umbria from about 1500-1530. His distinct style revealed knowledge of artists such as Vittore Crivelli, Carlo Crivelli, Perugino and Lorenzo d'Alessandro, among others. One of his earliest signed works is his triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints, which he painted for the church of San Giacomo, Potenza Picena in 1507.
Previously known only through his body of works, Paolo Bontulli has recently emerged as a more defined personality through the discovery of archival information.1 The artist was born in the small village of Voltellina (Percanestro), between Camerino and Foligno, in the Marche, the son of a certain Ansovino. The earliest record of him would appear to be in reference to the commission in 1500 for a painted coat of arms of the comune of Usito between Saints John the Baptist and Margaret. The following year he is again mentioned as a witness in a legal document, although he seems to have been relatively young. In 1510 he is called “magister Paulus pictor” in a list of citizens of Voltellina, thus noting by that point he had achieved a certain artistic status. Unfortunately, very little of what has surfaced in the archives can be connected to his painting and mostly attests to his family, which included a brother who was a priest, and no less than five sons. A document of 18 December 1533, mentioned that his home in Percanestro now belonged to the “heirs of master Paul” thus providing a date ante quem for his death.
The present panel depicting Saint Francis may have once served as the left wing of a large and impressive triptych by Bontulli. A similarly sized, shaped, and composed panel of Saint Anthony Abbott, today in a private collection, likely served as the right wing.2 It seems plausible that these two saints would have once flanked Bontulli's Madonna and Child Enthroned, a previously unpublished panel of comparable dimensions and handling that is today in a private collection (fig. 1).3
A close examination of the pinnacle of the present panel reveals an interesting detail. The artist seems to have originally planned for the Angel Gabriel, rather than the kneeling Virgin, to fill this space, for pentimenti showing a haloed figure with upraised hands are clearly visible. Instead, the Angel Gabriel appears in the pinnacle above Saint Anthony Abbott in the right-most panel in the triptych mentioned above. Such Annunciations 'from the right' are relatively uncommon, serving here as a relatively rare illustration of the subject.
We are grateful to Prof. Filippo Todini for first suggesting that this painting might be the work of Paolo Bontulli da Percanestro. We are further grateful to Dr. Matteo Mazzalupi for also independently suggesting this attribution, for sharing his archival research on the artist, and for proposing the reconstruction of the altarpiece.
1. For the recent discovery of this archival evidence, see M. Mazzalupi, "Documenti d’archivio per Paolo Bontulli," in Un'opera salvata. La Madonna col Bambino e santi di Paolo Bontulli a Potenza Picena, 2013.
2. Tempera and gold ground on panel, with an engaged arch, 169.5 by 41 cm. Sold in these rooms on 18 May 2006, lot 76, with an incorrect attribution to Neapolitan School, circa 1500.
3. Private collection, Italy, tempera and gold ground on panel, 185.5 by 68 cm.