Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Nativity

Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Siena 1439–1501 Siena)
Tempera on wood
Overall 20 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. (52.7 x 60 cm); painted surface 20 1/2 x 22 1/2 in. (52.1 x 57.2 cm); painted surface of reassembled work 33 1/4 in. (84.5 cm) high at center
Credit Line:
Gift of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
Not on view
Francesco di Giorgio was an outstanding architect, sculptor, painter, and theorist. Curiously, his fanciful paintings often show a disregard for perspective and anatomy and this has led to much discussion about his use of assistants. The upper part of this engaging composition is very inventive and was inspired by the sculptural reliefs of Donatello, while the lower part reflects Francesco's admiration for the work of the north Italian miniaturist Girolamo da Cremona, who worked on choirbooks in Siena from 1470 to 1474. So different in character are the upper and lower parts that they were separated in the nineteenth century; they were rejoined in 1988.
Charles Butler, London and Warren Wood, Hatfield, Hertfordshire (by 1897–1904; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1904–5; sold to Imbert]; [Alexandre Imbert, Rome, 1905–1911/12; sold for 15,000 lire through F. Mason Perkins to Blumenthal]; George Blumenthal, New York (1911/12–1941; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XXXI)
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Exhibition of Pictures of the School of Siena," 1904, no. 33 (lent by R. H. Benson) [see Notes].

New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Italian Primitives," November 12–30, 1917, no. 64 (lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition," May 8–August 1920, unnumbered cat. (p. 9, lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500," December 20, 1988–March 19, 1989, no. 65b.

Bernhard Berenson. The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance. reprinted 1903. New York, 1897, p. 143, as in the collection of Mr. C. Butler, London; as by Francesco di Giorgio.

Emil Jacobsen. Das Quattrocento in Siena: Studien in der Gemäldegalerie der Akademie. Strasbourg, 1908, p. 96.

F. Mason Perkins. Letter to George Blumenthal. November 29, 1911, urges him to buy this picture.

J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy: Umbria, Florence and Siena from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Tancred Borenius. Vol. 5, Umbrian and Sienese Masters of the Fifteenth Century. London, 1914, p. 157 n. 7.

Paul Schubring in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Vol. 12, Leipzig, 1916, p. 304.

Arthur McComb. "A Cassone-Panel by Francesco di Giorgio." Art in America 11 (February 1923), p. 107, compares the rocky landscape to that in a cassone panel depicting the story of Paris and Helen then in the Wheelwright collection, Boston (now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).

Arthur McComb. "The Life and Works of Francesco di Giorgio." Art Studies 2 (1924), pp. 15, 18, fig. 14, notes the influence of Girolamo da Cremona.

Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. XXXI.

Helen Comstock. "Francesco di Giorgio as Painter." International Studio 89 (April 1928), pp. 34, 36.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 202.

George Harold Edgell. A History of Sienese Painting. New York, 1932, p. 242, fig. 353.

Selwyn Brinton. Francesco di Giorgio Martini of Siena. Vol. 1, London, 1934, p. 109, compares it with Francesco's "Nativity" then in the Cook collection, Richmond, Surrey (now High Museum of Art, Atlanta).

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 174.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 16, The Hague, 1937, p. 273.

Allen Stuart Weller. Francesco di Giorgio, 1439–1501. Chicago, 1943, pp. 63–64, fig. 11.

Edoardo Arslan. Letter. April 21, 1952, calls it too weak for Francesco di Giorgio.

Federico Zeri. "Un intervento su Francesco di Giorgio Martini." Bollettino d'arte 49 (January–March 1964), pp. 41–44, figs. 1, 3 (reconstruction), identifies the fragment in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, as the upper part of this painting, notes the modern addition to the top edge, mentions the influences of Girolamo da Cremona and Vecchietta, and dates it not later than 1470.

Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 1, Italian Schools: XIII–XV Century. London, 1966, p. 154, accepts Zeri's [see Ref. 1964] reconstruction, and reports that x-rays of the panel in Washington reveal the upper edge of the Virgin's halo, as well as the roof of the hut and other details.

Everett P. Fahy. "Some Notes on the Stratonice Master." Paragone 17 (July 1966), p. 20.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 140, as a fragment, a companion to the picture in Washington.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 74, 268, 607.

Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, p. 394.

Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part IV, XXI: Giotto to Giorgione." Apollo 110 (July 1979), p. 242, fig. 17, accepts Zeri's [see Ref. 1964] reconstruction.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sienese and Central Italian Schools. New York, 1980, p. 12, pl. 65, date it about 1470.

Ralph Toledano. Francesco di Giorgio Martini: pittore e scultore. Milan, 1987, pp. 29, 31, 38, 49, 58, 60, 62–64, 81, no. 18, ill. pp. 20 (detail), 63 (color, overall), 64 (details), dates it 1470 at the latest.

Laurence B. Kanter in Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 320–22, no. 65b, ill. (color, reconstruction), dates it about 1471–72, based on comparison with Francesco's "Coronation of the Virgin" (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena) of that date.

Keith Christiansen in Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, p. 17, notes that although the work has been related to miniatures by Liberale da Verona and Girolamo da Cremona, the composition must derive from a relief by Donatello.

Alessandro Angelini. "Francesco di Giorgio pittore e la sua bottega: alcune osservazioni su una recente monografia." Prospettiva 52 (January 1988), pp. 17, 24 n. 29, considers it the work of a collaborator of Francesco, possibly after a design by the master.

Max Seidel. "Sozialgeschichte des Sieneser Renaissance-Bildes." Städel-Jahrbuch, n.s., 12 (1989), pp. 112, 137 n. 164, fig. 35 (reconstruction).

Keith Christiansen. "Notes on 'Painting in Renaissance Siena'." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), p. 213, fig. 59, illustrates the two reunited parts of the composition after treatment, and notes that the reassembled work will be exhibited alternately at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum.

Luciano Bellosi et al. in Francesco di Giorgio e il Rinascimento a Siena, 1450–1500. Exh. cat., chiesa di Sant'Agostino, Siena. Milan, 1993, pp. 52, 55, 62, 120, 199–200, 202, 231, 236 n. 29, pp. 284, 287, 289 n. 8, pp. 292, 298, 318, ill. p. 54, fig. 60, p. 230, fig. 4, p. 286, fig. 2 (overall and details), believe it to be one of the most important collaborations between Francesco di Giorgio and a member of his workshop, the "Fiduciario di Francesco"; Bellosi dates it to before 1467, while another contributor, Alessandro Angelini, dates it closer to the "Coronation of the Virgin" (Pinacoteca nazionale, Siena), which he dates 1472–74; compare it to some of Francesco's bronze reliefs; note that a painting by Liberale da Verona is inspired by this work; mention two weak replicas.

David Alan Brown in Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 278–82, ill. (color) and fig. 1 (both panels, before reconstruction), attributes it to Francesco di Giorgio and dates it about 1470.

Elisa Camporeale in Il segreto della civiltà: La mostra dell'Antica Arte Senese del 1904 cento anni dopo. Ed. Giuseppe Cantelli et al. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pubblico, Museo Civico. Siena, 2005, pp. 233, 498, 512 n. 119, ill. p. 233 (before reconstruction) and fig. 18 (after reconstruction).

Dóra Sallay. "Early Sienese Paintings in Hungarian Collections, 1420–1520." PhD diss., Central European University, Budapest, 2008, pp. 140–42, refers to it as one of the sources for the composition of a "Madonna and Child with Two Angels" in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, attributed to a follower of Francesco di Giorgio.

Fausto Nicolai. "More than an Expatriate Scholar: Frederick Mason Perkins as Art Adviser, Agent and Intermediary for American Collectors of the Twentieth Century." Journal of the History of Collections (Advance Access published November 16, 2015), pp. 4–5, 12 nn. 24–25, fig. 3 (color) [doi:10.1093/jhc/fhv034], cites letters in the Frederick Mason Perkins Archive, Assisi, which detail Perkins's role as agent for Blumenthal's purchase of this picture from Imbert for 15,000 lire, noting that the receipt for purchase is in Perkins's name and is dated December 15, 1911, and that Imbert's acknowledgment of payment for this picture and Cima's "Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Clare" (41.190.11) is dated February 23, 1912.

Sometime before 1897 the picture was sawn horizontally into two sections; they were rejoined in 1988. The upper part belongs to the National Gallery of Art, Washington (Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.5.8), and the lower part to the Metropolitan Museum.

There are two other versions of this subject by Francesco: an illuminated initial in the Museo della cattedrale, Chiusi (Antiphonary B, fol. 3v), and a painting in the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The source of all three works may be a "Nativity" by Girolamo da Cremona in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (no. 1871.71), which has a similar composition, in reverse. Girolamo was a Lombard painter and miniaturist who worked in Siena from 1470. [see Zeri 1964 and Zeri and Gardner 1980]

This picture is listed in the catalogue of the 1904 London exhibition of Sienese paintings as lent by R. H. Benson, and several subsequent references mention Benson as a former owner of the work. In fact, although Benson had the picture on approval from Agnew during 1904–5, he did not buy it. [see letter of 12/16/87 in archive file]
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