Lorenzo Monaco, the leading painter in Florence in the early fifteenth century, was active as a painter of illuminated manuscripts, frescoes and panel paintings. A major proponent of the International Gothic style, his style is characterized by luminous color and graceful, rhythmic, flowing lines. In this exquisite depiction of the Nativity, the compositional elements are brilliantly adapted to the quatrefoil field, and the rich and subtle color harmonies reflect the artist's skill as a manuscript painter. Particularly striking is the nocturnal setting, which is suffused by the supernatural light emanating from the Christ Child and the angel. This panel formed part of a predella, which also included a Visitation, an Adoration of the Magi, and a Flight into Egypt believed to have come from an altarpiece of the Annunciation by Lorenzo Monaco (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence).
Perhaps identical with a painting in the James Dennistoun sale, Christie's, June 14, 1855, lot 14 ("Don Lorenzo Monaco, the Nativity: the Virgin kneeling, Saint Joseph seated on the ground, the Infant in a manger, the shepherds and angels above. From the collection of M. Lauriani, Librarian at the Vatican"). The Dennistoun panel reappears in the sale of the Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley, Christie's, June 12-13, 1863, lot 46 ("Andrea Orcagna, The Virgin kneeling before the Infant in a cradle; on the right is Saint Joseph seated asleep, two figures in the background. This agrees with a picture by the same master in the National Gallery . From the collection of Mr. Dennistoun"). The Dennistoun sale included as no. 9 two panels of the Visitation and Adoration of the Magi as ascribed to Taddeo Gaddi, which also appear as nos. 14 and 15 in the Davenport Bromley sale with an attribution to Giottino. These are identical with the related panels by Lorenzo Monaco in the Courtauld Institute Gallery. Richard von Kaufmann, Berlin (Die Sammlung Richard von Kaufmann, Berlin, Cassirer and Helbing, Berlin, December 4, 1917, no. 5); Frank Channing Smith, Jr., Worcester (Mass.), from 1921. Acquired by Robert Lehman in 1934.
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