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Scenes from the Passion of Christ:Peter protesting at Christ washing
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These four paintings are the only known surviving examples of an Italian 14th-century narrative cycle painted on a linen fabric support. They almost certainly formed part of a larger series representing The Passion of Christ. The scenes from the Passion were normally depicted either as single, separate subjects or as cycles of consecutive scenes; their portrayal made popular in the 13th century by the Franciscan and Dominican orders. The Passion is thought to begin with The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and to end with The Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, with interim scenes consisting of any of the following; The Last Supper, Christ Washing the Feet, The Agony in the Garden, The Betrayal of Christ, The Denial of Saint Peter, The Trial of Christ, The Mocking of Christ, The Flagellation, The Crowning with Thorns, Ecce Homo, Christ on the Road to Calvary, The Stations of the Cross, Christ stripped of His Garments, The Raising of the Cross, The Crucifixion, The Descent from the Cross, The Pietà, Bearing the Body of Christ, The Entombment, The Descent of Christ into Limbo, The Resurrection, The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, Christ appearing to His mother, Noli me tangere, the Road to Emmaus, The Supper at Emmaus, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, and The Ascension. Since the number of episodes varies greatly from one cycle to another, it is difficult to ascertain how many paintings there may have been in the series to which these four canvases originally belonged and no other canvases from the series have come to light. Although individually they are four of the most frequently depicted subjects - Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples, The Betrayal of Christ (or The Kiss of Judas), The Mocking of Christ and The Flagellation - the proximity in the chronology of the last two scenes would suggest that it is unlikely that the canvases stood alone, without being part of a larger decorative and iconographic scheme. The paintings are remarkable for their size but also for their unusual medium and support. It is very rare indeed to find 14th-century paintings in tempera on a linen fabric support, and the few extant examples for the most part originate in the Veneto. The paintings are datable on stylistic grounds to circa 1385-90, more likely to a date around 1390. Now generally attributed to Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, the paintings were traditionally associated with other artists working in Gerini's circle in Florence; namely Jacopo di Cione and Spinello Aretino.1  The attribution to Niccolò di Pietro Gerini was tentatively put forward by Caroline Villers in her extensive essay on the four paintings in The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (see Literature, 2000). This attribution has since been independently endorsed by The Corpus of Florentine Painting, where the late Prof. Miklos Boskovits had filed photographs of the Withyham paintings under Gerini; by Dr. Laurence Kanter on the basis of photographs;2 and Prof. Gaudenz Freuler after first hand inspection.  Further supporting an attribution to Gerini is the similarity between the Withyham paintings and a cycle of paintings, of similar format and subject matter, executed by Gerini with Mariotto di Nardo in the church of the monastery of Santa Brigida al Paradiso on the outskirts of Florence, in the final years of the Trecento.3\nAlthough the paintings' function is not entirely clear it does seem unlikely that they would have been used as processional banners, particularly since they constitute only a part of what must have been a much larger narrative series of scenes showing Christ's Passion. Banners were carried during processions, especially during Passion week, and because of their frequent use and their fragile nature very few examples survive. As Caroline Villers has pointed out, great processional banners belonging to the lay confraternities were works of the highest quality and fabric supports were employed for practical reasons of mobility. Here too, no expense seems to have been spared in the materials used: the painter has employed a broad palette of pigments including ultramarine, made from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. The paintings are cut along all four sides, with portions of a multi-coloured chevron border visible on all of them and, as Villers has pointed out, it is reasonable to assume that this border design originally surrounded each scene. These decorative borders with geometric designs were a feature of both wall paintings and banners at this time; see, for example, Spinello's frescoes in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The fact that their linen support does not show any signs of deterioration associated with tensioning on a strainer or stretcher, nor did it require relining during the paintings' restoration campaign in the 1990s, would indicate that they were originally attached to some form of solid support or simply hung freely. Villers hypothesises that the paintings were probably displayed unframed, perhaps mounted on a solid support, and points out that their thick brittle ground would have made it impractical to fold or roll the paintings: 'These decorative borders are a feature of both wall paintings and banners in the fourteenth century, and they should be taken to indicate that the works were not intended to be framed in another way. The evidence of the painting technique suggests that they were unsuited to rolling for storage or to frequent movement'.4\n\nPAINTING TECHNIQUE\nAs Villers remarks, Gerini adopts the same painting technique in the Withyham paintings as that generally used on panels. Contrary to Cennino Cennini’s suggestion that paintings on fabric supports should have a thin ground layer – Cennini suggests a single layer of gesso scraped on with a knife – the ground in the Withyham paintings is thickly applied, filling in the weave of the fabric and thus providing a very smooth surface to paint on, rather like that of a wooden panel. The presence of this thick ground layer is further evidence to suggest that the paintings were never intended to be rolled or folded away, as the presence of the thick brittle ground would have severely damaged the paint layers in either scenario. Another characteristic of panel-painting technique is the presence of extensive underdrawing in the Withyham paintings: these are clearly visible in infra-red reflectographs, and in some areas to the naked eye, as confident fluid lines, suggesting the application of a liquid medium with a brush. The underdrawing seems to fall into two categories: it consists of fine cross-hatching to model the form (as, for example, on the figure of Christ in The Flagellation; fig. 1); and outlines to denote the positioning of the figures and the fall of their drapery folds (as, for example, on the figures of Christ and Judas in The Betrayal of Christ; fig. 2). As Villers has observed, there are no significant pentimenti which is consistent with what one might expect of a Trecento painting. Please note that infra-red reflectographs of all four Withyham paintings are available on request.\nThe colour palette is exceptionally varied and the strong, vibrant colours are frequently starkly juxtaposed. The extensive use of both gold- and silver-leaf also adds to the paintings' rich visual effect. This, together with the exaggerated facial expressions of the figures, is meant to heighten the painting's visibility and legibility from a distance. This may indicate that the series of wall paintings might have been intended to substitute a fresco cycle; something more appropriate to lay confraternities' often-temporary premises. A useful comparison is provided by the four paintings by a certain 'Maestro delle Tempere Francescane', showing The Madonna and Child with saints, The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis, Flagellation and Crucifixion (the last two of these now in a private collection). The paintings' scale and technique are not dissimilar to the Withyham pictures: each canvas measures 130 by 135 cm. and their decorative borders act as frames linking one scene to another. The paintings were clearly part of a larger programme and Ferdinando Bologna, who first published them, suggested they may have been united in a continuous hang.5  We also know that in 1367 Matteo Giovannetti painted scenes from the life of Saint Benedict on 56 linen canvases at Avignon, almost certainly for the college of the saint founded by Pope Urban V at Montpellier: though these are now lost, their significance cannot be overlooked for the surviving documentation does suggest that the canvases were intended to cover a whole wall as a vast cycle. Besides these, the most pertinent comparisons of painting cycles on linen may be found - as indeed Vasari notes - among Venetian examples; namely the series for the Scuole by Jacopo and Gentile Bellini.\n\nPROVENANCE\nSince nothing is known of the paintings' original function or location, their documented provenance only goes back to the early 19th century. William Young Ottley first went to Italy aged twenty in 1791, and lived there - mainly between Florence and Rome - for almost a decade, collecting paintings, drawings and miniatures in the opportune conditions which prevailed in the wake of the invading French armies. The pictures he brought back to England in 1799 included works by Raphael (The Vision of a Knight), Parmigianino (Portrait of a Collector and The Marriage of Saint Catherine), Botticelli (The Nativity) and Titian (The Holy Family); works now central to the collection of the National Gallery, London, of which he wrote the first official guide in 1826. Ottley was probably the first Englishman with extensive knowledge of Italian painting before 1500 and he is regarded as one of the great pioneers in the appreciation and collecting of the Italian primitives. Dr. Gustav Waagen, who visited his collection in June 1835 (and published his observations three years later), listed works by some of the greatest names in early Italian art: Ugolino da Siena, Duccio, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Cimabue, Simone Martini and Masaccio. He said of Ottley that he was 'one of the few persons who recognized the noble and rich intellectual treasures in these ancient works of art at a time when they were, in general, despised and forgotten'.6  Indeed the excellent state of preservation of the Withyham paintings is in large part due to Ottley never having had them restored. Waagen states: 'Mr. Ottley is also a great enemy to picture-cleaning, so that most of the pictures are still in a pure state, a circumstance peculiarly important in pictures in distemper, because, with the original varnish, their glaze-colours, and with them the harmonious mellowness, is lost'.7\nThe paintings passed by inheritance to William Young Ottley's nephew, Edward John, by whom they were presented to the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in 1849. Edward also donated a stained-glass window to the same church in memory of his parents, William Young's brother Warner and his wife, in 1854. There seems to have been a trend in the first half of the 19th century of lending paintings, especially Italian primitives that were 'out of fashion' at the time, to local parish churches. Another such example are the 'Littleton Pilaster Saints' attributed to Jacopo di Cione and his workshop, currently on loan to the National Gallery, London, which come from the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, Littleton, Middlesex (NG inv. L1080-1084). These paintings, like the Withyham canvases, originally formed part of William Young Ottley's collection and were later given to a parish church.8\n\n1.  The attribution to Spinello Aretino was based on two things: the fact that Spinello is known to have painted on linen (the double-sided banner in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is one of the finest surviving examples of its type) and the similarity in compositions between the Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples here and a detail in Spinello's fresco of the same subject in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.\n2.  From photographs Dr. Kanter considered three of the four paintings to be autograph works by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, whilst he remarked that The Kiss of Judas looked closer to Spinello Aretino.\n3.  Information kindly provided by Dott.ssa Sonia Chiodo of The Corpus of Florentine Painting.\n4. See C. Villers, under Literature, 2000, p. 4.\n5.  F. Bologna, I Pittori alla Corte Angioina di Napoli 1266-1414, Rome 1979, pp. 235-45, plates XVII-XX. Hoch proposed that they hung in the Annunciation Chapel of Santa Maria Maddalena, an Augustinian convent in Naples (see A.S. Hoch, "Pictures of Penitence from a Trecento Neapolitan Nunnery", in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 61, no. 2, 1998, pp. 206-26).\n6. Although there was no question of the Trustees of the National Gallery taking any interest in acquiring Ottley's own collection of early Italian paintings during his own lifetime, some of his pictures have over time made their way there: amongst them parts of Ugolino's high altarpiece of Santa Croce, Florence; The Baptism of Christ attributed to Lorenzo Monaco, Ercole de' Roberti's The Institution of the Eucharist; and Botticelli's Mystic Nativity.\n7.  See G. Waagen, Works of Art and Artists in England, 1838, vol. II, p. 121. Ottley's collection is not described by Waagen in his better-known Art Treasures of 1854 because the collection had by then been dispersed.\n8.  Like the Withyham paintings, the Littleton Pilaster Saints were included in the Warner Ottley sale, London, Foster, 30 June 1847, lot 23 (as attributed to Jacopo del Casentino). They appear later in the Fuller Russell sale, 18 April 1884, lots 87 (as Sienese, according to Waagen), and subsequently remain unrecorded until hanging on the wall of the Lady Chapel in the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, Littleton, on 30 August 1928 (according to a postcard).
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notes

Please note additional literature for this lot: A.S. Hoch, "Pictures of Penitence from a Trecento Neapolitan Nunnery", in Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte, vol. 61, no. 2, 1998, p. 224, the Flagellation reproduced p. 225, fig. 12. We are grateful to Dott. Andrea de Marchi for endorsing the attribution to Niccolo' di Pietro Gerini and for proposing a date at the very beginning of the 1400s. Dott. De Marchi believes the paintings would have formed part of a contiguous hang, imitating the effect of a fresco cycle, and has proposed a possible reconstruction (please contact the department for details).

medium

A set of four, all tempera with gold and (degraded) silver leaf on linen canvas

creator

Niccolò di Pietro Gerini

condition

The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden, who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's. These paintings are on linen canvas laid onto a wooden support. They evidently form part of a larger series probably hung around a chapel. In contrast to the distemper paintings on linen by Mantegna and Bellini a century later, which have always remained unvarnished, these appear to be in tempera and to have a distinct substance and craquelure. These are also rather too large in scope to have been banners. They appear to have long been framed and protected under glass, perhaps even since they were brought to this country from Italy at the end of the eighteenth century. This has undoubtedly helped to preserve them. Apparently restored at the Courtauld Institute a decade or so ago, their unusual condition, and indeed existence, has been discussed in various papers. There do not appear to have any tears or major damages. The edges may have been trimmed in one or two of the paintings and most of the evident restoration is around the edges. Many of the pigments have resisted change and remained strong, such as the vivid vermilion. Certain yellow areas are also outstandingly well preserved with beautiful brushwork and sometimes with characteristic colour changes worked in. Only in the scene of Christ washing the disciple’s feet have the heads behind been quite worn, and left unretouched. Christ’s white embroidered robe in the mocking of Christ is perfectly preserved, while many greens have been more liable to deteriorate or alter, with retouching around the green architectural border in this painting and elsewhere in the foreground occasionally. A few other vegetable colours have faded, and the blues in the scourging of Christ have some retouching. The deeper flesh tones seem sometimes to have been slightly strengthened while the brushwork in the highlights remains sure and strong. Overall it is astonishing that such works have survived at all and in such good condition. This report was not done under laboratory conditions. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

dimensions

(in order) 95.5 by 101 cm.; 37 5/8  by 39 3/4  in.; 95.5 by 100 cm.; 37 5/8  by 39 3/8  in.; 89.5 by 92 cm.; 35 1/4  by 36 1/4  in.; 89.5 by 91.5 cm.; 35 1/4  by 36 in.

literature

R. Windsor Sackville, 7th Earl De La Warr, Historical Notices of the Parish of Withyham, London 1857, pp. 38-39 ('Pictures in the Chancel. Over the Altar is a Picture of Christ before Herod, mocked and arrayed in a gorgeous Robe.  Hanging upon the South Wall are two others: The Washing the Disciples Feet, and The Betrayal. On the North Wall is, The Flagellation. These Pictures are of the School of Giotto... These Pictures are much prized on account of their great Merit, and owing to the celebrated School of Painting to which they belong. They are in a good State of Preservation.'); The Rev. C.N. Sutton, Historical Notes of Withyham, Hartfield and Ashdown Forest, Tunbridge Wells 1902, pp. 47-48 (as 'four pictures in the chancel, relating to the Passion of Our Lord, of the school of Giotto'); Withyham, St. Michael and All Angels (church guide book), n.p. 1960 (as hanging in the Lady Chapel); E.K. Waterhouse, "Some Notes on William Young Ottley's Collection of Italian Primitives", in C.P. Brand, K. Foster & U. Limentani eds., Italian Studies presented to E.R. Vincent, Cambridge 1962, pp. 276 and 278 (as 'School of Giotto' and noting that The Scourging [sic The Flagellation] alone was in Col. Warner Ottley's possession in 1899. NB. Pevsner noted only three panels in Withyham in 1965, see below); I. Nairn & N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex, Harmondsworth 1965, p. 638 ('Three panels of the Life of Christ, also Trecento and inspired by Giotto. These pieces were bought in Italy by the pioneer of the appreciation of Italian Primitives, William Young Ottley, and reached the church via the chapel of Buckhurst'); R. Gunnis, Withyham parish church and the family of Sackville, Tunbridge Wells 1968, p. 4 ('(1) the four pictures of the Passion of Our Lord in the South aisle; they are Italian work of the 14th century, and were brought from Italy by William Ottley, whose nephew presented them to the church in 1849'); Withyham parish church (guide book), 1968; D. Sutton, "From Ottley to Eastlake", in Apollo, 122, 1985, p. 84; C. Villers, L. Stevenson & J. Sharp, The Technique of Four Fourteenth-Century Italian Paintings on Fabric Supports, in ICOM 10th Triennial Meeting, Washington D.C., 22-27 August 1993, vol. I, pp. 104-9; C. Villers, "Painting on Canvas in the 14th Century", in Zeitschrift Kunstgeschichte, vol. 58, no. 3, 1995, pp. 338-58; C. Villers, "Four Scenes of the Passion Painted in Florence around 1400", in C. Villers ed., The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, London 2000, pp. 1-10, reproduced pp. 2-3, figs. 1-4, and details on pp. 4-6, figs. 5-7 (as 'attributed to Niccolò di Pietro Gerini').

provenance

William Young Ottley (1771-1836), by whom probably acquired in Italy (perhaps in 1791-99); Thence by inheritance to his brother Warner Ottley (1775-1846), of York Terrace, Regent's Park, and Stanwell House, Middlesex; Thence by descent to his second son Edward John Ottley (b. 1821), Captain of the Royal Rifle Regiment of Mil.; Warner Ottley's deceased sale (sold by the Executors of Warner Ottley's Estate), London, Foster, 30 June 1847, lot 14 (as 'School of Giotto. 1300. A set of four – Christ washing the feet of his Disciples; the Betrayal of Christ; the Mocking of Christ, and the Scourging of Christ'), where unsold at 11 gns. and returned to the family (they did not appear again in the 1850 Warner Ottley sale); Presented by Edward John Ottley to the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Withyham, East Sussex, in 1849 (the Rector of Withyham, the Rev. C.N. Sutton, states that the four pictures 'were brought from Italy by William Ottley, whose nephew presented them to the church in 1849'. Corroborating with this, each picture had a label on the reverse inscribed: DEO et ECCLESIE de WITHYHAM – Memoriale Edwardi J. Ottley. Arm. FEST. S. MICH. AD 1849); The paintings hung in the chancel of the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Withyham, until the last quarter of the 19th century whereupon they were removed (possibly by Reginald Sackville West, 7th Earl De La Warr, and former Rector of the church) to the Earl De La Warr's private chapel at Buckhurst Park, Sussex (this happened sometime after the chapel was built in the 1880s but before 1902, when the Rector Rev. C.N. Sutton refers to their being at Buckhurst); The paintings were returned to the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Withyham, in 1920 and hung there, on the South Wall of the Lady Chapel according to church pamphlets of 1960 and 1968, until 1990 whereupon they were removed and taken to the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, for restoration (1990-95); On loan to Leeds Castle, Kent, from 1997 until recently.

consignmentDesignation

Property of the Parish of Saint Michael and All Angels, Withyham

creator_nationality_dates

Active in Florence, Pisa and Prato between 1366 - circa 1414/15


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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