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Paolo di Giovanni Fei
The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

tempera on wood, transferred to hardboard
painted surface: 146.1 × 140.3 cm (57 1/2 × 55 1/4 in)
Commissioned in 1398[1] for the chapel of San Pietro in Siena Cathedral,[2] where it remained at least until 1482. [3] It is probable, however, that the altarpiece was removed only between 1580 (when a new, richly decorated marble altar was commissioned for the chapel) and 1582 (when the decoration of the new altar was completed). At this time it was then either consigned to the cathedral’s storerooms or sold. [4] H.M. Clark, London, by 1928. [5] Edward Hutton [1874-1969], London. [6] (Wildenstein & Co., New York), by 1950; [7] sold February 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; [8] gift 1961 to NGA.

[1] Gaetano Milanesi, Documenti per la storia dell'arte senese, 3 vols., Siena, 1854: 2:37; Scipione Borghesi and Luciano Banchi, Nuovi documenti per la storia dell'arte senese 1, Siena, 1898: 62; Monica Butzek, "Chronologie," In Die Kirchen von Siena, multi-vol., ed. Waltee Haas and Dethard von Winterfeld, vol. 3, part 1.1.2, Munich, 2006: 102. Payments to Paolo di Giovanni Fei “per la tavola di sancto Piero et sancto Pavolo, per sua fatiga e colori” were made, specifies Monica Butzek (2006), between 1398 and April 1399.
[2] Pietro Lorenzetti’s altarpiece of the Birth of the Virgin, also painted for the Cathedral of Siena in 1342 (see Carlo Volpe, Pietro Lorenzetti, ed. Marco Lucco, Milan, 1989: 152-154), is surmounted, like The Presentation of the Virgin discussed here, by three arches included in a heavy frame. The present appearance of these paintings is misleading, however. Fourteenth-century altarpieces were generally realized on rectangular panels, not silhouetted like these, and integrated above by triangular or trapezoidal gables partially overlapped by the integral frame. See Monika Cämmerer George, Die Rahmung der toskanischen Altarbilder in Trecento, Strasbourg,1966: 144-165; Christoph Merzenich, Vom Schreinerwerk zum Gemälde. Florentiner Altarwerke der ersten Hälfe des Quattrocento, Berlin, 2001: 43-56.
[3] Enzo Carli, Il Duomo di Siena, Genoa, 1979: 85-86.
[4] On 9 September 1579, the Congrega di San Pietro, patron since 1513 of the chapel dedicated to this saint (the second altar from the entrance in the north aisle), commissioned the stonecutters Girolamo del Turco and Pietro di Benedetto da Prato to realize a new marble structure around the altar. This sculptural decoration was completed in April 1582. It is presumed that between the two dates Paolo’s panel, considered antiquated, was removed. See Butzek 2006, 197.
[5] Daily Telegraph Exhibition 1928, 162. Concerning the unknown whereabouts of the painting between 1582 and 1928, a handwritten note on a photograph of the painting, formerly owned by Bernard Berenson (now in the Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, Florence), suggests a provenance from the collection at Corsham Court, Wiltshire, which the British diplomat Sir Paul Methuen (1672–1757) had formed in the eighteenth century, and which, by the mid-nineteenth century, had been enriched with paintings from the collection of the Rev. John Sanford (1777-1855) through the 1844 marriage of Sanford’s daughter and sole heir, Anna Horatia Caroline Sanford (1824–1899), to Frederick H.P. Methuen, 2nd baron Methuen (1818-1891). See Benedict Nicolson, "The Sanford Collection," The Burlington Magazine 98 (1955): 207–214. However, this suggestion appears to be in error. James Methuen-Campbell, who inherited Corsham Court in 1994 and has extensively researched the family collections, kindly reviewed the manuscript material for both the Sanford and Methuen collections, and found no reference to the painting (see his e-mail to Anne Halpern, of 15 February 2012, in NGA curatorial files). The painting also does not appear among those disposed of by Sanford on the occasion of two London sales: a sale by private contract under the auspices of George Yates (24 April 1838, and days following), and a sale at Christie & Manson (9 March 1839).
[6] Information given in Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1956.
[7] According to the handwritten note on the photograph referenced above (see note 5), the painting was with Wildenstein by October 1950.
[8] The bill of sale (copy in NGA curatorial files) is dated 10 February 1954, and was for fourteen paintings, including Presentation of the Virgin by Bartolo di Fredi; payments by the foundation continued to March 1957.
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