News Issue No. 12 Autumn 2001
Andrea del Sartos Rediscovered Botti Madonna
Andrea dAgnolo, known as Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531), ranks after Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo amongst the greatest painters of the Florentine Renaissance. The Courtauld Institute of Art has carried out the conservation of a Madonna and Child by Andrea that had been missing for 350 years, and is devoting an exhibition to the painting beginning on November 13th.
For a lost Renaissance masterpiece to re-emerge after such a long time in obscurity is a rare event in itself. But the story that has unfolded around Andrea del Sartos Botti Madonna, with elements of romance, intrigue and political danger, adds a fascinating extra dimension to the painting. It involves the Medici court in Florence, a cunning Vatican plot, the catastrophe of King Charles Is reign in England, and Royalists fleeing to a new life in North America.
In sixteenth-century Florence, the painting belonged to Marchese Matteo Botti, a wealthy and important Florentine. It was described by a contemporary, Francesco Bocchi, in 1591, as follows:
"In the house of Matteo and Giovanni Battista Botti [hangs] a painting of our Lady with the Child by the hand of Andrea del Sarto, done with extreme diligence, admired by connoisseurs and artists, with that softness of handling and strength of modelling for which this singular artist is superior to all others."
When I was approached for advice on the conservation of a 16th century Italian panel painting, I responded by sending a list of Englands best qualified conservators for work of this type and date. Not surprisingly, this list included a member of staff of our own department.
Even before seeing the list Anthony Kerman, a lawyer from the firm representing the owners of the painting, realised how appropriate it would be to have the painting conserved at the Courtauld, given the fact that the painting had once been located at Somerset House.
In addition, the paintings potential importance as a work of Andrea del Sarto was first noticed by Professor John Shearman, (Deputy Director, Courtauld, 1974 to 1978). It therefore has a connection not only with Somerset House but also with the Courtauld. So it was that Stephen Gritt was commissioned to undertake the conservation. His intervention has had three results; it has stabilised the object, revealed work of great quality and impact and permitted a confirmation of its identification.
The painting, now cleaned and restored, appears to be the del Sarto Virgin and Child (known as the Botti Madonna), from an owner of c1600. It depicts the Virgin seated, three-quarter length, with the Christ child in front of her on a ledge, the intense relationship between the two expressed not only by the Virgins gaze but also by the tender gesture of her hand on Christs mouth.
The painting will be exhibited in the Courtauld at Somerset House from 13 November, accompanied by a catalogue. This will include an assessment by John Shearman of its attribution, an account of its conservation by Stephen Gritt, a study of the 17th century frame, by Adriana Turpin and the history of the painting by Arthur MacGregor.
Professor Eric Fernie