2nd half of the 15th century
Virgin and Child (sometimes called the Ferrara Madonna)
97 x 66 cm
Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Skulpturensammlung, Inv. SKS 2634.
Florence, Stefano Bardini (1901); Berlin, Skulpturensammlung/Altes Museum (1901-1904); Berlin, Skulpturensammlung/Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (1904-1939); Berlin, storage (1939-1945); Soviet Union, secret storage (1945/46-1958); East Berlin, Skulpturensammlung/Bode-Museum (1958-1990); Berlin, Skulpturensammlung/Bode-Museum (1990-present).
Bought in 1901 from the Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini, for 5,350 Italian lire. Acquisition file n°4308/01 (Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin).
Schätze der Weltkultur von der Sowjetunion gerettet, East Berlin, National-Galerie and Pergamonmuseum, 1958, cat. D 49.
• Ferrara, Museo di Casa Romei. Painted stucco, 76.6 x 52.5 cm. Provenance: Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara.
• Formerly Amsterdam, Art Market (1925). 77 x 53 cm. Provenance: Berlin, Adolf von Beckerath; his sale (Nachlass Adolf von Beckerath Berlin, sale cat. Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 23-26 May 1916, Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 1916, p. 11 lot 67 pl. 14, as Donatello); C. Castiglioni collection (his sale, Amsterdam, 1925, lot 91).
• Formerly Florence, Art Market (Paolo Paoletti). Painted stucco, 81.3 x 55.3 cm. Provenance: Stefano Bardini, Florence; Raoul Tolentino, Florence; his sale (Important and Rare Italian and French Works of Art, sale cat. New York, American Art Galleries, 22-26 April 1924, lot. 894: as by Donatello, 30 x 22 inches, “from the Stefano Bardini Collection, acquired in Florence many years ago”); San Simeon, Willam Randolph Hearst collection, until 1958; San Francisco, D. C. Ashley collection, until 1963; New York, Sotheby’s, 22 June 1989, lot 49.
This image of the Virgin and Child seems very serene at first: the mother is adoring her son with her joined arms on her breast. A second look shows that the relationship between the figures is far more dynamic: the Virgin is grasping the garment of the Child, while the latter grabs his mother’s wrist, in order to keep his equilibrium (the boy’s right pinky has been lost, but is visible in other versions). The Child’s seat has disappeared but its original shape is clearly understandable; Jesus’ right foot seems to be pushing on the lower edge of the frame. The colors add to the realistic effect of the representation, even if much of it has been repainted over the centuries (at least four layers of paint can be distinguished; Klaus Leukers, oral communication, August 2014).
The relationship to Donatello’s oeuvre has always been underlined. The head of the Virgin is especially similar to works by the artist and his circle, such as the Madonna with four Cherubs in Berlin (Inv. SKS 54) or the Altman Madonna in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Inv. 14.40.680), whereas the composition of the adoring Virgin and the sitting Christ recalls not only the Madonna della Seggiola in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see Inv. SKS 67), but also the Piot Madonna in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (Inv. RF 3967). The drapery and the dynamic attitude contribute to this Donatellesque mood.
The material of this work – painted stucco – has led art historians to think that this relief was not the original version by Donatello – the latter may have been in marble or terracotta (only Colasanti 1931 thought of a direct attribution to the master). Indeed, technical analyses indicate that the work was cast in a mold and not modeled (Klaus Leukers, oral communication, August 2014). Some weaknesses are especially visible in Christ’s feet and in the reworked hem of the Virgin’s cloak, indicating that the work may be seen as a very close derivation from a creation by Donatello.
Three other versions of this relief have been recorded, none being of sufficiently high quality to be by Donatello. The absence of the seat of the Child in every version indicates that the process of reproduction may have been made after an original work by Donatello where the seat was already damaged. The ancient provenance of one of these Madonnas from Ferrara (the version now in the Casa Romei) has led art historians to presume a provenance from this city, where Donatello is documented in 1451 (Bellandi 2006, Gentilini 2007). Such a hypothetical provenance may also explain why the frame of our Madonna (and of the work known as the Paoletti Madonna) is composed of elements in a Gothic taste (the plinth of the frame having probably been extracted from a piece of furniture): in Florence, the shape of such a tabernacle would certainly have been in the Antique fashion.
Wilhelm Bode, Florentiner Bildhauer der Renaissance, Berlin, Bruno Cassirer, 1902, pp. 110, 113 fig. 46: after Donatello.
Paul Schubring, Donatello. Des Meisters Werke in 277 Abbildungen, Stuttgart and Leipzig, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1907, pp. 85, 198: mentions a similar version in the Beckerath collection in Berlin.
Frida Schottmüller, Die italienischen und spanischen Bildwerke der Renaissance und des Barocks in Marmor, Ton, Holz und Stuck, Berlin, Georg Reimer, 1913, p. 21 cat. 44: school of Donatello, after a design by Donatello.
Nachlass Adolf von Beckerath 1916
Nachlass Adolf von Beckerath Berlin, sale cat. (Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 23-26 May 1916), Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 1916, p. 11 lot 67: compared to the Beckerath version, for sale.
Wilhelm Bode, Florentiner Bildhauer der Renaissance, Berlin, Bruno Cassirer, 1921, p. 107 fig. 62: school of Donatello.
Arduino Colasanti, Donatello, Rome, Valori Plastici, s. d., pl. CCXL; French trans., Paris, Crès, 1931, p. 89, pl. CCXXXII: Donatello.
Frida Schottmüller, Die italienischen und spanischen Bildwerke der Renaissance und des Barock. Erster Band. Die Bildwerke in Stein, Holz, Ton und Wachs, Zweite Auflage, Berlin and Leipzig, Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1933, pp. 11-12: workshop of Donatello; probably the same pupil who made the tondo in Berlin Inv. SKS M 24; replica without frame once in the Beckerath and Castiglioni collections.
G. Medri, “I marmi di Casa Romei: abbozzo di catalogo”, Atti e memorie della deputazione provinciale ferrarese di storia patria, XIV, 1955, cat. 22, p. 222. (reference to be checked)
Schätze der Weltkultur… 1958
Schätze der Weltkultur von der Sowjetunion gerettet, exh. cat. (East Berlin, National-Galerie and Pergamonmuseum, 1958), East Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1958, cat. D 49: workshop of Donatello.
C. Muscolino, Casa Romei. Una dimora rinascimentale a Ferrara, Imola, 1989, p. 49. (reference to be checked)
Richard John Stemp, Sculpture in Ferrara in the Fifteenth Century. Problems and Studies, Ph.D. (Cambridge University, 1992), I, p. 16; II, fig. 8: mentions the Berlin version, the Virgin and Child from the Casa Romei, and the one formerly in the Tolentino collection, Florence.
Anna Jolly, Madonnas by Donatello and his Circle, Frankfurt am Main et al., Peter Lang, 1998, pp. 135-136, cat. 36.3: after Donatello, late 1450s. The Berlin version, lost in WWII (sic), was slightly inferior to the two other versions; it is probably a defective cast from the Florentine relief.
Alfredo Bellandi and Pietro Di Natale, in Vittorio Sgarbi (ed.), Domenico di Paris e la scultura a Ferrara nel Quattrocento, Milan, Skira, 2006, pp. 108-109 cat. II. 6: called the Ferrara Madonna, workshop of Donatello, ca. 1440-50; the Virgin and Child in the Cathedral of Ravenna confirms the influence of Donatello in the area; related to Domenico di Paris.
Giancarlo Gentilini, “La ‘Madonna del Presepe’ ed altre immagini mariane tra Donatello e compagni”, in Giuseppe Adani, Giancarlo Gentilini and Cristina Grimaldi Fava (eds.), La Madonna del Presepe da Donatello a Guercino. Una devozione antica e nuova nella terra di Cento, exh. cat. (Cento, Pinacoteca Civica, 2 December 2007-13 April 2008), Bologna, Minerva Edizioni, 2007, pp. 116-117, 135 note 44: Donatello and workshop; close to the Piot Madonna in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (Inv. RF 3967); and to the Madonna della Seggiola in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Inv. 57-1867), both by Donatello.
Neville Rowley (24 May 2016)