Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 11. Lucas Cranach I (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar), Lucretia, signed with the artist’s winged-serpent device (lower right), oil on panel, transferred to board24 x 16 in. (61 x 40.6 cm.). Estimate USD 1,200,000 - USD 1,800,000. © Christie's Images Limited
It is the kind of sale that once would have engendered criticism, perhaps even sanctions: The Brooklyn Museum is putting 12 works up for auction at Christie’s next month — including paintings by Cranach, Courbet and Corot — to raise funds for the care of its collection.
But it is now completely within the parameters of loosened regulations, which are themselves a measure of just how financially damaging the coronavirus pandemic has been for cultural institutions.
“This is something that is hard for us to do,” said Anne Pasternak, the museum’s director. “But it’s the best thing for the institution and the longevity and care of the collections.”
Selling off work from a museum — known as deaccessioning — to pay for operating costs has long been taboo. The Association of Art Museum Directors has dictated that proceeds from such sales can only be used to acquire more work. And institutions take seriously the mandate to protect art and resist putting a monetary value on their collections.
But museums around the country are increasingly recognizing that the cost of maintaining and storing large stockpiles of art may not be sustainable, particularly during this pandemic, when museums lost substantial revenues while they were closed during lockdowns. And though many are reopening, they are doing so at diminished capacity and with precautions in place because of state-mandated limitations and almost nonexistent tourism.
This dire situation prompted the museum association to announce in April that, through April 10, 2022, it would not penalize museums that “use the proceeds from deaccessioned art to pay for expenses associated with the direct care of collections.
The Brooklyn Museum is the first major U.S. institution to take advantage of this two-year window. With an encyclopedic collection and a large building that is far from Manhattan’s Museum Mile, the organization has long struggled financially. Ms. Pasternak said it is aiming to establish a $40 million fund that can generate $2 million a year, to pay for the collection’s care.
Ms. Pasternak added that the museum was being “conservative” in its cost estimates to make sure the money would go only to direct care, like cleaning or transporting an artwork. It would also help cover a percentage of the salaries of those involved in such care, like registrars, curators, conservators and collection managers.
The money raised will not cover utilities, exhibitions or public programs. And the works to be sold represent a small fraction of the museum’s collection, which consists of more than 160,000 objects.
The deaccessioned works — selected by the curators and approved by the board — “are good examples of their kind but don’t diminish our collections in their absence,” Ms. Pasternak said. “We have a deep collection of high-quality art, but we have works that — like many museums of our size — have not been shown ever or for decades.”
They include works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Donato de’ Bardi, Giovanni dal Ponte, Francesco Botticini and a portrait attributed to Lorenzo Costa, all of which will be sold in Christie’s old masters live auction on Oct. 15.
Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 11. Lucas Cranach I (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar), Lucretia, signed with the artist’s winged-serpent device (lower right), oil on panel, transferred to board24 x 16 in. (61 x 40.6 cm.). Estimate USD 1,200,000 - USD 1,800,000. © Christie's Images Limited.
Provenance: A. Augustus Healy, by whom bequeathed in 1921 to
The Brooklyn Museum, New York (inv. no. 21.142)..
Literature: 'Museum Notes', The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, IX, no. 1, January 1922, p. 75.
L. Healy, 'Old Masters in the Brooklyn Museum', The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, X, no. 1, 1923, pp. 144-145, ill.
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin, 1932, p. 67, no. 198L.
C.L. Kuhn, A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in American Collections, Cambridge, MA, 1936, p. 36, no. 84.
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London, 1978, p. 117, no. 240J.
Exhibited: New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 30 May 1901-7 January 1902, on loan.
New York, The Brooklyn Museum, Loan Exhibition of Brooklyn Art Treasures and Original Drawings by American Artists, 20 November-[close date unknown] 1924, no. 5.
New York, The Brooklyn Museum, The Brooklyn Museum Collection. The Play of the Unmentionable. An Installation by Joseph Kosuth, 27 September-31 December 1990, pp. 50, 73.
Note: This striking depiction of the suicide of Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder is a superb example of what was probably the most in-demand of the many classical subjects treated by the painter. The story of the Roman heroine Lucretia attracted the intense interest of Renaissance artists and patrons in part because of its themes of sexual morality, honor, and political upheaval. Equally important to the subject’s appeal was the open eroticism it permitted. Cranach emphasized the erotic aspect in his numerous variations on the theme, each of which displays the naked or half-naked figure of Lucretia isolated from other elements of the narrative.
The tragic events of the Lucretia story take place in the late sixth century BC, a time of growing discontent over the rule of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (“the proud”), the tyrannical final king of Rome. From Livy, who gives the best-known account (Ad urbe condita 1,57–59), we learn that Lucretia was a beautiful, virtuous noblewoman and the wife of Collatinus, a relative of the king. During a late-night feast outside the city, Collatinus and the king’s sons began to debate the relative merit of their spouses, none of whom was present. To settle the matter, they went to observe the women at their homes: while the princes’ wives were discovered to be reveling, Lucretia was still busy spinning wool, which proved her superiority. One of the princes, Sextus Tarquinius, immediately became infatuated with her. On a night when Collatinus was away from home, Sextus Tarquinius visited Lucretia, was refused by her, and then raped her at knifepoint. Afterward, the anguished Lucretia revealed the crime to her family and demanded vengeance. Then, wishing to expunge the dishonor of the rape, she drew a dagger and plunged it into her heart, killing herself. Brutus, a witness to her suicide, vowed swift revenge against the Tarquins; he led an uprising that expelled the king, ended the monarchy, and established the Roman republic. Lucretia’s violation and suicide thus occasioned a turning point in Roman history. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance she was seen as an exemplar of virtue because of her chastity, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.
This painting shows Lucretia seated before a black curtain which is open at the right, revealing a view onto a mountainous river valley. She clasps both hands around the pommel end of a dagger, aiming it at her chest. Her red velvet, fur-lined robe has dropped to her waist, and several locks of hair that have slipped loose from her snood are blowing in the wind. She wears a gold chain around her shoulders; a gold band set with gemstones and hung with pearls adorns her neck. Her facial expression – lips gently parted, eyes turned slightly upward, brow smooth and unfurrowed – is one of calm pathos and stoic resolve.
With regard to attribution and date, the present lot is consistent with works of highest quality produced by Cranach in the period of about 1525 to the mid-1530s. A date before 1537 is certain based on Cranach’s serpent insignia below the window ledge, the wings of which (damaged but discernible) are raised; from 1537 onward the wings were instead rendered as lowered. Although the painting’s current appearance is somewhat compromised by old surface losses and discolored retouchings, for example in the body of the figure and in the landscape, overall it is characterized by the deft, assured, and efficient brushwork for which Cranach is known. Of special note are the sensitive handling of the facial features, the calligraphic rendering of the highlights in the hair, the convincing modeling of volume in the hands, and the striking intensity of the red folds of the robe. In form and quality, the face compares particularly well to that of the smaller-format Portrait of a Woman of ca. 1525/27 in the National Gallery, London (fig. 1). The handling is also closely comparable, for example, to that of the Suicide of Lucretia of 1529 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (fig. 2). X-radiography of the present lot reveals a distribution of whites in the flesh that gives a strong impression of volume and relief (fig. 3). That appearance is characteristic of many pictures by Cranach, and it reflects but one of a range of methods used by the artist and his workshop to model the flesh tones (see G. Heydenreich, Lucas Cranach the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice, Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 194–206). Another typical technical detail is visible in the X-ray: to either side of the figure, at shoulder and thigh level, one sees dark tangles of a fibrous material. Frequently the Cranach workshop affixed masses of long fibers to the unprepared panel before applying the ground layer, possibly as a means of stabilization. Once thought to consist of plant fibers, these are now known to have been sourced from animal tendons (see G. Heydenreich, D. Görres, and B. Wismer, eds., Lucas Cranach der Ältere: Meister, Marke, Moderne, exhibition catalogue, Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Munich, 2017, p. 258). While neither the particular flesh-tone buildup nor the fibrous applications assist in distinguishing hands, they do once again anchor the painting firmly within the workshop of Cranach.
Scholarship on Cranach has long noted the special challenges of separating autograph works from those by assistants, a point explored in great detail in recent literature (see G. Heydenreich, op. cit., 2007, esp. pp. 289–298). Given the workshop’s large volume of production, the standardized methods used to balance efficiency with quality, and the apparent aim of eliminating differences between the various hands, it is increasingly recognized that even in outstanding pictures the participation of assistants at various stages cannot be ruled out. However, absent obvious weaknesses, as is the case with the present lot, it is nevertheless justified to assume the authorship of Cranach himself.
In his nearly five decades as court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, Cranach returned time and again to the subject of Lucretia. More than forty versions are known to survive. The earliest examples, from about 1510, are closely cropped, half-length depictions before a neutral black background. It has been suggested that they take their inspiration from northern Italian examples, such as those of Francesco Francia, which may have been known in Wittenberg (see G. Messling, ed., Die Welt des Lucas Cranach, exhibition catalogue, Palais des beaux-arts, Brussels, 2010, pp. 149–150, nos. 80–83). In the years that follow, in accordance with Cranach’s general artistic and entrepreneurial development, we observe a marked expansion in compositional variety. Continual variation became one of the distinguishing features of his vast production and is familiar from the numerous versions of other subjects as well, such as the Judgment of Paris, the Nymph of the Spring, or Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Thus, by the 1520s, Cranach presents Lucretia in ever-shifting combinations of pose, costume, emotional expression, and setting. We encounter her, for example, in windowed rooms with various landscape views or against a neutral black background, sometimes fully undressed, as in the 1528 full-length version in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (see Cranach Digital Archive, www.lucascranach.org, no. SE_NMS_1080), and at other times elaborately clothed, as in the 1529 example in Houston noted above (fig. 2), which varies the expression by introducing a look of distress in the eyes. Contrast that with the 1533 version in the Gema¨ldegalerie, Berlin (see Cranach Digital Archive, www.lucascranach.org, no. DE_smbGG_1832), in which Lucretia is shown nude and in full length before a black background, with a seductive expression which makes her almost indistinguishable from a Venus.
Like any other painter of his time, Cranach kept a stock of drawings in the workshop for use as models. In the case of Lucretia, two small sheets by the artist from about 1525 are preserved in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin (the date of 1509 and insignia on one are probably by a later hand; see Düsseldorf, op. cit., 2017, pp. 67–68). These sketches show variants of the compositional type used for the present lot and for other generally similar versions. Given the rigorous practice of variation maintained by Cranach, it is likely that such drawings functioned not as models for repetition in paintings, but expressly as points of departure. It is conceivable, furthermore, that drawings of this sort could have been made as ricordi, meant to preserve a record of compositions that had left the workshop – a basis for variation in future paintings.
At first glance, the almost serene emotional tenor of the present lot seems to be at odds with the violent act taking place. Yet it is in line with the steadfast moral rectitude that Lucretia was understood to embody. Moreover, as scholars have noted with regard to other images of Lucretia, the depiction of a quiet demeanor in the moment before death establishes a parallel with Christian martyrdom (see C.M. Schuler, “Virtuous Model, Voluptuous Martyr: The Suicide of Lucretia in Northern Renaissance Art and Its Relationship to Late Medieval Devotional Imagery,” in Saints, Sinners, and Sisters, ed. J.L. Carroll and A.G. Stewart, Burlington, 2003, pp. 15–17). That connection is perhaps especially relevant to the present work because of the heroine’s clasped hands, which are reminiscent of the praying hands of a martyr saint before execution. The clasped hand position is in fact unusual among Cranach’s Lucretias: while they most often wield the dagger with one hand, and in some cases with both, only in rare other instances, such as the version in the Gema¨ldegalerie, Kassel (see Cranach Digital Archive, www.lucascranach.org, no. DE_MHK_GK14), are the hands folded together in this evocative manner. Thus, in the present work, especially in light of the figure’s calm countenance, the virtues represented by the pagan heroine were possibly augmented by an impression of Christian piety. Such a notion may have appealed to the Christian humanist sensibilities of Cranach’s courtly and learned patrons.
Ultimately, the question of display and interpretation of the present lot remains open. Scholarship has revealed a variety of uses for Lucretia imagery during the Renaissance: for example, in the domestic sphere as the verso decoration of marriage portraits, or in public contexts as political propaganda concerning ideals of governance. A rare documented context for a Lucretia by Cranach is, however, in keeping with the eroticism of his depictions: in 1513, the Roman heroine’s suicide was among several classical subjects with which Cranach decorated the nuptial bed of Duke Johann the Steadfast and Princess Margaret of Anhalt (see D. Koepplin and T. Falk, Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Basel, 2. vols., Basel and Stuttgart, 1974-76, pp. 21, 563).
Joshua P. Waterman
Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 4. Donato de' Bardi (Active in Lombardy and Liguria 1426–1450/51), Saint Jerome, tempera, oil and gold on panel,45 x 18 5/8 in. (114.2 x 47.2 cm.). Estimate USD 80,000 - USD 120,000. © Christie's Images Limited.
Provenance: A. August Healy (1850-1921), New York, by 1917 and by whom bequeathed in 1921 to
The Brooklyn Museum, New York (inv. no. 21.138).
Literature: B. Berenson, Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century, New York, 1916, pp. 25-27, as Jacopo Bellini.
'Museum Notes', Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, IV, 3, July 1917, p, 170, as Jacopo Bellini.
'Museum Notes', Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, IX, 1, January 1922, p. 75, as Gentile Bellini.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Oxford, 1932, p. 75, as Jacopo Bellini.
R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, The Hague, 1935, XVII, p. 103, as Jacopo Bellini.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School, New York, 1957, I, p. 37, as Jacopo Bellini.
F. Zeri, 'Quattro tempere di Jacopo Bellini', Quaderni di Emblema 1: Diari di lavoro, Bergamo, 1971, p. 49, note 9.
B. Frederickson and F. Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge MA, 1972, pp. 23, 602, as Jacopo Bellini.
F. Zeri, 'Rintracciando Donato de' Bardi', Quaderni di Emblema 2: Miscellanea, Bergamo, 1973, p. 46, note 15, plate 42.
F. Zeri, 'Aggiunte a Donato de' Bardi', Diario di lavoro 2, Turin, 1976, pp. 47-50, figs. 39-43.
L. Bellosi, 'Su alcuni disegni italiani tra la fine del Due e la metà del Quattrocento', Bolletino d'arte, 30, March-April 1985, pp. 39-40, fig. 90.
A.G. Candela in La pittura in Italia: Il Quattrocento, Milan, 1987, II, p. 609.
R. Longhi, 'Escursioni belliniane 1925-1926', Il palazzo non finito: Saggi inediti 1910-1926, ed. F. Frangi and C. Montagnani, Milan, 1995, pp. 367, 392, note 8, as Antonio Vivarini.
S. Manavella, 'Il “Maestro della Madonna Cagnola” nel contesto della pittura mediterranea', Arte cristiana, 918, 2020, p. 188, fig. 11.
Exhibited: New York, Brooklyn Museum, on loan, 4 May 1917-12 March 1919, as Gentile Bellini.
New York, Brooklyn Museum, Curators' Choice: Quattrocento, Early Italian Panel Paintings, June 1991-February 1992.
New York, Brooklyn Museum, Renaissance Paintings from the Museum's Collection, 3 October 2003-21 September 2006.
New York, Brooklyn Museum, European Paintings (permanent collection installation), 1 October 2008-February 2009.
Note: Known today as a prominent and influential painter of the early Renaissance, for centuries Donato de’ Bardi had languished in obscurity until his importance was recognized and brought to light by Federico Zeri. In 1972, Zeri ascribed a triptych in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to Donato de’ Bardi, on the basis of its affinity with the artist’s remarkable Crucifixion in the Pinacoteca Civica, Savona (figs. 1 and 2 respectively; F. Zeri, in a letter to the Metropolitan Museum, dated 5 April 1972). The Metropolitan Museum triptych had long been mistaken for the work of Donato Bragadin due to its signature, reading OP[V]S DONATI. From there, Zeri went on to reconstruct the artist’s career and among the first works to be grouped together in his 1973 publication was the beautiful, full-length Saint Jerome presented here (loc. cit.). The saint’s features, with a slightly protruding lower lip and mournful eyes, recall those of Saint Andrew in the Metropolitan Museum triptych and the crisp, almost geometric folds of his robe are similar to the treatment of drapery in the Savona Crucifixion.
Born in Pavia (the year of his birth remains unknown), Donato moved to Genoa, where he was active by June 1426, though few documents relating to him survive. Genoa was a thriving commercial center and its harbor sustained strong trading links with France and the Netherlands. It is unsurprising then that Netherlandish paintings would become so influential in the city and indeed Donato became a leading proponent of the Flemish style. His acute observation is evident here in the waving hair of Saint Jerome's beard, the creases of his knuckles and the highlights on the fingernails and cuticles. The greatest care was taken in his treatment of the quill, defining the plumage at its top and the gradation of ink, having soaked up into the nib over time, all minute details that are clearly indebted to Northern painting.
Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 5. Giovanni di Marco, called Giovanni dal Ponte (Florence 1385-1437/8), The Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Barbara, Dominic, John the Baptist and Anthony Abbot, inscribed 'ECCE·AG(...)S·(...)·QUI·TOLI' lower left, on the banderole and 'AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA DOMINUS TECO' lower edge, on the frame, tempera and gold on panel, shaped top, in an engaged frame,32 3/8 x 19 ¼ in. (82.1 x 49 cm.). Estimate USD 70,000 - USD 100,000. © Christie's Images Limited.
Provenance: Marchese Rosselli Del Turco collection, Florence.
Leo Healy, Brooklyn, from whom acquired on 26 February 1925 by
The Brooklyn Museum, New York (inv. no. 25.53).
Literature: F. Guidi, 'Ancora Giovanni di Marco', Paragone, 239, 1970, fig. 8.
B. Frederickson and F. Zeri, Census of pre-nineteenth-century paintings in North American public collections, Cambridge MA, 1972, p. 655, as Jacopo del Casentino.
R. Freemantle, Florentine Gothic Painters from Giotto to Masaccio: A guide to painting in and near Florence, 1300-1450, London, 1975, fig. 731.
L. Sbaraglio and A. Tartuferi, Giovanni dal Ponte: protagonista dell'umanesimo tardogotico fiorentino, Florence, 2016, p. 208, no. 53.
Note: Given its scale, this Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Barbara, Dominic, John the Baptist and Anthony Abbot by the Florentine Renaissance painter, Giovanni dal Ponte, would likely have been intended for private devotion. Angelo Tartuferi, to whom we are grateful, published the painting in his catalogue accompanying the Florence exhibition on the artist (loc. cit.) and dates it between 1420 and 1425, a moment when the artist’s work was marked by the influence of Masolino and Massaccio (written communication, 8 September 2020).
Gaetano Milanesi noted a mention of one Giovanni di Marco, recorded by Giorgio Vasari as ‘Giovanni dal Ponte’ or ‘Giovanni of the Bridge’ (G. Vasari, Le vite de' piu' eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, G. Milanesi ed., Florence, 1878, I, p. 633, note no. 2). This playful sobriquet was likely due to the proximity of the artist’s workshop to the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte (beside Florence’s Ponte Vecchio) where he would eventually be buried. Milanesi’s initial identification permitted a preliminary reconstruction of the painter’s oeuvre by Carlo Gamba and Pietro Toesca in 1904 (C. Gamba, ‘Giovanni dal Ponte’, Rassegna d'Arte, IV, 1904, pp. 177-186; P. Toesca, ‘Umili pittori fiorentini del principio del Quattrocento’, L'Arte, VII, 1904, pp. 49-58). While it was traditionally thought Giovanni trained in the workshop of Spinello Aretino, Miklòs Boskovits considered it more likely that he learned from a variety of artists, absorbing the influence of contemporary painters such as Lorenzo Monaco and Gherardo Starnina (M. Boskovits, The Martello Collection, Florence, 1992, pp. 82-83).
Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 1. Francesco Botticini (Florence 1446-1498), Saints Anne and Joachim, tempera and gold on panel, unframed, a fragment, 8 ½ x 5 3/8 in. (21.6 x 13.5 cm.). Estimate USD 30,000 - USD 50,000. © Christie's Images Limited.
Provenance: William H. Herriman (1829-1918), Rome, and by whom bequeathed in 1921 to
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York (inv. no. 21.466).
Literature: L. Kanter, 'Francesco Botticini, Predella panel: The Marriage of the Virgin,' in The Bernard and Mary Berenson Collection of European Paintings at I Tatti, C.B. Strehlke and M. Brüggen Israëls, eds., Florence, 2015, pp. 173ff, under no. 18.
Note: This panel is a fragment of a Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, another part of which is today in the Saibene Collection, Milan. Laurence Kanter has perceptively suggested the Brooklyn and Saibene panels likely formed part of a predella that also included three panels – The Birth of the Virgin and two kneeling donor portraits – in the Colonna collection, Rome, as well as The Marriage of the Virgin in the Bernard and Mary Berenson collection, I Tatti, Florence. On account of their compositions, Kanter proposed an arrangement with the Colonna panel at left, the Berenson panel in the center and the Brooklyn/Saibene panel at right. Kanter further noted that though his proposed reconstruction defies narrative sequence, it follows the scenes' appearances in the liturgical calendar (Kanter, op. cit., p. 175). It remains unclear whether the donor portraits would have separated each of the narrative scenes or been set at the two ends of the predella. Furthermore, the combined width of the Brooklyn and Saibene panels is only approximately 42.5 cm., whereas the narrative scenes in the Berenson and Colonna collections have widths of 60 cm. and 60.4 cm., respectively, suggesting another section of the scene is yet unknown.
Provided the widths above are accurate, the total width of the predella would have come to just under 240 cm., far greater than any early altarpiece by Francesco Botticini and matched only by his Palmieri altarpiece from San Pier Maggiore (National Gallery, London). The gilt pilasters that divided the predella scene are also entirely foreign to Botticini's other works but are identical to many of those found in the predellas of his master, Neri di Bicci. Kanter (op. cit., p. 175) takes this as evidence that Francesco, a youth still in his early teens, painted this predella for Neri while he was apprenticed to him between 22 October 1459 and 24 July 1460, noting that between this time Neri's Ricordanze records his activity on four altarpieces. One of these, a Coronation of the Virgin seated on clouds and flanked by four saints and angels commissioned for the high altar of San Felice (the main panel is today in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence), is virtually identical in size to the reconstructed predella and has a suitably appropriate subject to be associated with it (fig. 1).
William H. Herriman was a wealthy Brooklyn-born art collector who moved to Rome in 1865 and assembled an extraordinary collection of old master and modern paintings. Upon his death, Herriman bequeathed his collection, which included such masterpieces as Gustave Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Jean-François Millet's Shepherd Tending His Flock (Brooklyn Museum), to various American and Italian institutions.
Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to support museum collections. Lot 1. Attributed to Lorenzo Costa (Ferrara 1460-1535 Mantua), Portrait of a gentleman, bust length, in a green doublet, a red and gold coat and a red beretta, signed with the letter 'C' (lower left, on the ledge), tempera and oil on panel, transferred to board, 18 7/8 x 13 in. (47.9 x 33 cm.). Estimate USD 30,000 - USD 50,000. © Christie's Images Limited.
Provenance: Comte Leon Mniszech; his sale, Georges Petit, Paris, 9-11 April 1902, lot 32, as Florentine School, 15th century.
George Donaldson, London.
Mrs. Watson B. Dickerman, Long Island, by April 1935 and bequeathed in 1954 to
The Brooklyn Museum, New York (inv. no. 54.193).
Literature: B. Berenson, '"Sainte Justine" de la collection Bagatti-Valsecchi', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 55, no. 672, June 1913, p. 475.
M. Morsell, 'Loan Display at Knoedler Gallery', Art News, 33, 29 April 1935, p. 6, as Alvise Vivarini.
B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere, revised edition, Milan, 1936, p. 515, as Alvise Vivarini.
B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance: A list of principal artists and their works, Venetian School, London, 1957, I, p. 195, plate 341, as Alvise Vivarini.
S. Keck and C. Keck, 'Conservation Laboratory', Brooklyn Museum Annual, II-III, New York, 1960-62, p. 101, as Alvise Vivarini.
F. Heinemann, Giovanni Bellini e i Belliniani, Venice, 1962, V, p. 274, no. V.392, fig. 777, as Alvise Vivarini.
B.B. Frederickson and F. Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge MA, 1972, pp. 216, 524, 602, as Ferrarese School, 15th century.
J. Steer, Alvise Vivarini: His Art and Influence, Cambridge MA, 1982, p. 182, no. 59, plate 58, as Lorenzo Costa.
E. Negro and N. Roio, Lorenzo Costa (1460-1535), Modena, 2002, p. 30, fig. 45, as Francesco Francia.
Exhibited: New York, M. Knoedler and Co., Fifteenth Century Portraits, 15-27 April 1935, no. 9, as Alvise Vivarini.
New York, World's Fair, Masterpieces of the Art, 1939, no. 104, as Alvise Vivarini.
New York, Brooklyn Museum, Curator's Choice: Quattrocento, Early Italian Panel Painting, 14 June 1991-February 1992.
New York, Brooklyn Museum, About Time: 700 Years of European Painting, 3 October 2003-3 January 2008.
Note: This commanding, bust-length portrait was considered for much of the 20th century to be the work by Alvise Vivarini and as such was discussed within the context of Venetian portraiture. In his 1982 monograph, however, John Steer noted the complexity of the sitter’s clothing had little to do with Alvise and proposed instead that the painting is 'almost certainly' by the Bolognese painter, Lorenzo Costa (loc. cit.). The painting was later included in the 2002 Costa monograph by Emilio Negro and Nicosetta Roio, who instead give it to Francesco Francia (loc. cit.). Negro and Roio have not had the opportunity to assess the painting firsthand but recently renewed their attribution to Francia on the basis of updated photographs (written communication, dated 8 September 2020).
The portrait’s association with Costa, however, appears to be more compelling. Both Steer and Carl Strehlke (written communication, 10 September 2020) compare the painting to Costa’s Portrait of Giovanni II Bentivoglio in the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence (fig. 1), dating to the early 1490s. The solidity of form and the almost sculptural approach to the facial modelling are remarkably similar, as is the firm positioning of the head and its backward tilt on the neck.
While little is known of Lorenzo Costa’s life and artistic training, the influence of the Ferrarese painters, Cosimo Tura and Ercole de’ Roberti in his early work is marked and it is thought he may have worked under the latter. By 1483, Costa had settled in Bologna where he was occupied with the fresco decoration of numerous chapels as well as the production of easel paintings. One the few paintings by the artist that can be securely dated is his 1492 altarpiece, The Madonna and Child with Saints, in the city’s church of San Petronio. In 1507, he moved to Mantua to succeed Andrea Mantegna as court painter to the Gonzaga family, for whom he had already completed various commissions, and would remain in Mantua until the end of his life.
We are grateful to Carl Strehlke for endorsing the attribution and to Emilio Negro and Nicosetta Roio for proposing an alternative attribution to Francesco Francia.
That same day, the auction house’s European Art sale will include works from the museum by Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, Hendrik Willem Mesdag, Charles-François Daubigny and Philip Wilson Steer. Works by Jehan-Georges Vibert and an anonymous artist from the Netherlandish School will also be sold online starting on Oct. 1.
“Can we still tell the story of that artist? Can we still tell the story of that moment? Can we still have the kinds of conversations that we want to without damaging our ability to do any of this?” said Lisa Small, the museum’s senior curator of European art. “If the answer is yes, after a lot of research and thought, then that becomes a good candidate for de-accession.”
Christie’s high estimates for these works range from $30,000 for Vibert’s “Spanish Bullfighter With Flowers” to $1.8 million for Cranach’s “Lucretia,” an oil on panel that exemplifies “his work from the 1520s to the mid 1530s,” said Joshua E. Glazer, a specialist in old master paintings at Christie’s.
Despite an art market that is heavily focused on contemporary work, Glazer said that demand for old masters remains strong and that the provenance of a museum adds luster. “We do find quite a few bidders coming when we are offering paintings that are exciting like this,” Glazer said. “Knowing that these are works that have been seen by generations gives people confidence when they’re buying.”
Pasternak said the de-accessioning effort represents the culmination of “a lot of really deep thinking” about how the museum can continue to responsibly look after its collection, given the significant costs of maintenance and storage. Other institutions have been engaged in a similar process. The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, for example, recently embarked on an ambitious effort to rank each of the 54,000 items in its collection with a letter grade (20% received a D, making them candidates to be sold or given to another institution).
Culling a collection to acquire other works is routine for museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, which last November sold “Pope,” a Francis Bacon painting from its collection, at Sotheby’s for about $6.6 million.
The Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art recently made a point of selling work to acquire more art by women and artists of color. And earlier this month, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, announced that it would de-accession a painting by Jackson Pollock to diversify its collection, selling it at Christie’s evening sale of 20th and 21st Century art on Oct. 6.
But in the past, museum association sanctions have been imposed on institutions including New York’s National Academy of Design, the Delaware Art Museum and the Berkshire Museum for using the proceeds from art sales for operating costs. And selling art from a museum collection is often fraught, given curators’ concerns about de-accessioning decisions they may come to regret, donor restrictions and a potential hue and cry from purists or members of the public.
“You don’t sell off the thing that is the core of a museum — you don’t sell books out of a library,” said critic and curator Robert Storr. “This is the last resort, and it is a very, very bad move to be making. What we’re witnessing is an institutional and social betrayal of lasting impact and we need to put the brakes on.”
“The blame falls squarely on trustees,” he added. “Similarly, Christopher Knight, an art critic at The Los Angeles Times, on Monday decried the Everson Museum’s Pollock sale as “inexcusable,” saying the museum is “betraying its legacy.”
But museums like Brooklyn argue that evaluating their collections with an eye for redundancies or lesser examples is crucial to future survival. “Works that have never been shown or have rarely been shown are not core to our mission,” Pasternak said. “Not all institutions have giant endowments and billionaire board members.”
“What’s more core,” she asked, “having an appropriately sized conservation team or works that don’t see the light of day in a collection?”
Pasternak acknowledged, though, that de-accessioning can be a slippery slope for institutions with board members looking to offload their financial responsibilities. “You could have trustees who say, ‘Don’t ask me for money,’” she said, “‘just sell the collection.’”
Christine Anagnos, the executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said the Brooklyn Museum’s steps “make sense.”
“The financial challenges that the Brooklyn Museum has faced are well-known," Anagnos said. “So this approach looks like it will address both their near-term financial needs and, in the process, create an endowed pool of funds with long-term benefits to the museum in ways that are consistent with our guidelines.”
Moreover, while de-accessioning can prompt intense internal divisions among curators. Eugenie Tsai, a curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum, said the decision reflected collective concern among her colleagues about the institution’s overall livelihood.
“The curators at the Brooklyn Museum realize that these are unprecedented times,” Tsai said. “It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and it’s definitely cross-departmental and everyone is on board.”
Pasternak said the museum plans to sell additional pieces — which have yet to be determined — but would never include contemporary artwork. “You don’t de-accession living artists,” she said. “It would just be the wrong thing to do.”
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