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Domenico Veneziano
Saint John in the Desert

c. 1445/1450
tempera on panel
28.4 x 31.8 cm (11 3/16 x 12 1/2 in)
Main altar of the church of Santa Lucia de' Magnoli, Florence, probably until the early 18th century. [1] Sacristy of the same church, by 1728. [2] Third altar on the right of the nave of the same church, by 1762 and probably until the early 1800s. [3] Bernard Berenson [1865-1959], Settignano, acquired, perhaps in London, by July 1913; [4] presented 1919 by his wife, Mary Berenson, to Carl W. Hamilton [1886-1967], New York; [5] sold 1942 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; [6] gift 1943 to NGA. [1] The altarpiece is cited as being on the main altar (erroneously, as a work of Andrea del Castagno) by Giovanni Cinelli in Francesco Bocchi, Le bellezze della città di Firenze, ed. Giovanni Cinelli, Florence, 1677 (originally 1591): 280. It was probably moved on the occasion of restoration work done in the church between 1712 and 1715 (see Walter and Elisabeth Paatz, Die Kirchen von Florenz, 6 vols., Frankfurt am Main, 1941: 2:607). [2] Cited as being there by Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimbaue in qua, 5 vols. (originally 6 vols.), ed. F. Ranalli, Florence, 1845-1847 (originally 1728): 3:95 n. 1. [3] The altarpiece was described there by both Giuseppe Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese florentine, 10 vols., Florence, 1754-1762: 10:294) and Vincenzo Follini and Modesto Rastrelli, Firenze antica e moderna, 8 vols., Florence, 1789-1802: 8:254). Among early writers, G. Lanzi (Storia pittorica della Italia, Bassano, 1795-1796: 1:58) is the only one who mentions the predella, which at that time must still have been attached to the main panel. That in 1827 the usually careful Rumohr, the first to read and transcribe the signature of Domenico Veneziano on the altarpiece, did not mention the predella, leads one to suppose that by this date it was no longer in the church. See Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, Italienische Forschungen, 3 vols., ed. by Julius Schlosser, Frankfurt am Main, 1920 (originally Berlin, 1827-1831): 387. In fact, Rumohr presumably saw the panel during his second stay in Italy, between 1816 and 1820. (See E. Sigismund, "R.C.F. Freiherr von Rumohr," in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Ulrich Thieme, Felix Becker, and Hans Vollmer, 37 vols., Liepzig, 1907-1950: 29[1935]:202.) [4] According to his own statements (see Bernard Berenson, Abbozzo per un autoritratto, Florence, 1949: 228-229), Berenson collected art works only for the furnishing and decoration of his house, and ceased purchasing toward the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century. The period in which he came into possession of NGA 1943.4.48 can therefore be placed between about 1900 (when he moved to Villa I Tatti near Florence) and about 1915. The 1913 date was supplied by Carl Strehlke (curator, Philadelphia Museum of Art; e-mail to David Brown, 7 April 2011, in NGA curatorial files), who kindly shared his research in Berenson records at I Tatti. In the files of temporary import licenses for which Berenson applied are both a receipt dated 24 July 1913, on printed stationary of A.L. Nicholson in London, for "Picture on Panel / 'A Saint in the Wilderness' School of Fra Angelico," and Berenson's declaration to the Soprintendenza that he brought from London: "Dipinto su tavola con cornice Fig. S. Giovannino nel deserto." Both these documents probably refer to the NGA painting. [5] See Nicky Mariano and Kenneth Clark, Forty Years with Berenson, New York, 1966: 18, who claim that it was Mary Berenson who gave the present, and the rectification by David Alan Brown, "Berenson's Contribution to Scholarship, Taste, and Collecting," in Berenson and the Connoisseurship of Italian Painting, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979: 22-23. [6] Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols., Washington, D.C., 1979: 1:159-162. Hamilton offered his painting to Samuel H. Kress in a letter dated May 1942 (copy in NGA curatorial files); the offer was accepted in the same year.
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