More about Virgin and Child with an Angel
A famed collector of Italian Renaissance art, Isabella Stewart Gardner would have never allowed a work by Sandro Botticelli to pass her by unpurchased.
In 1899, Gardner, the Boston art collector whose fabulous collection demanded its own museum, discovered that the Prince Chigi in Rome was selling a Botticelli painting for a mere $30,000. (The Chigi family were no strangers to great art; a few centuries before the prince tried to sell off his Botticelli, Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the family’s grand, ducal palace.) At this price, the Botticelli was a steal, especially for a piece that highlighted how the artist’s subtle symbolism distinguished him from his master, Filippo Lippi, the bowl of grapes and wheat being the symbolic elements in question; they are the raw ingredients that eventually become the wine and bread of the Eucharist.
Before buying the piece, Gardner sought the advice of Bernard Berenson, her art advisor and confidant. Gardner had acquainted herself with Berenson shortly after he graduated from Harvard. She ended up financing his travels to Italy, during which he collected Italian Renaissance artworks to fill the Venetian palazzo that Gardner had recreated in Boston. Berenson knew how to get her the goods. After all, he had already secured works by artists as famous as Giotto for her collection.
Now, imagine Gardner’s surprise when Berenson discouraged her from acquiring the Botticelli that she wanted so badly. Apparently, Berenson claimed that the painting was not worth the $30,000 asking price. According to him, it was just an early work by Botticelli, and it wasn’t even in good condition. Berenson also knew that many other buyers were interested, which would inevitably cause a bidding war that would drive the price higher than he thought reasonable. But, relentless in her mission to acquire masterpieces of Italian Renaissance art, Gardner persisted. Much to Gardner’s chagrin, the Prince Chigi had already raised the price to $70,000. Berenson suddenly changed his tune and recommended that she purchase it ASAP. Benevolently, Gardner did not fire Berenson.
Unfortunately, the drama does not end there. Believing that the Prince Chigi had unlawfully exported the painting from Italy to the United States, the press jumped on the opportunity to stir up a scandal. The prince was ultimately absolved of this apparent misstep, but the press coverage sparked so much interest that the painting was exhibited in London before finishing its final voyage to Boston.
- Hadley, Rollin van N. The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Isabella Stewart Gardner (Part I) Boston, Northeastern University Press. https://issuu.com/gardnermuseum/docs/letters_of_berenson_and_gardner_par. Accessed 11 August 2020.
- Hendy, Philip. “The Madonna of the Eucharist.” In European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1974. https://issuu.com/gardnermuseum/docs/paintings/56. Accessed 11 August 2020.
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple.” Collection. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/collection/12894. Accessed 11 August 2020.
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “Virgin and Child with an Angel.” Collection. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/collection/12419. Accessed 11 August 2020.
- Palazzo Chigi Ariccia. “The History of the Palace.” https://www.palazzochigiariccia.com/palazzo-chigi-ariccia/la-storia-del…. Accessed 11 August 2020.
- Smithsonian Institution. “Isabella Stewart Gardner letters to Bernard Berenson, 1887-1924.” Archives of American Art. Collections. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/isabella-stewart-gardner-letters-to-…. Accessed 11 August 2020.
Here is what Wikipedia says about Virgin and Child with an Angel (Botticelli, Boston)
Virgin and Child with an Angel also known as Our Lady of the Eucharist (Italian: Madonna dell'Eucarestia) is a painting in tempera on wood panel by Sandro Botticelli, executed in c. 1470. It is now held by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, having been acquired from Prince Chigi in 1899. The painting measures 85.2 × 65 centimetres (33.5 × 25.6 in) and is one of a series of paintings of the Madonna produced by Botticelli between 1465 and 1470. It shows influences from Filippo Lippi's Virgin and Child with Two Angels of c. 1465 in the Uffizi.
The Virgin Mary is shown in a three-quarter view, with the Christ Child held on her lap. A smiling angel, wearing a crown of myrtle, offers them a bowl containing twelve ears of wheat and grapes. The child raises a hand in benediction, and Mary holds one of the ears of corn.
The scene may be set in a walled garden or hortus conclusus, symbolic of Mary's virginity, with a landscape of hills and a river visible through an opening in the arcade around the wall. The wheat and grapes are symbolic of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which themselves symbolise the body and blood of the incarnate Jesus, and the number of ears possibly refer to the number of the apostles at the Last Supper.
Prince Chigi first offered the painting to Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899 for $30,000. She demurred initially, but by the time she decided to buy the price was $70,000. The sale was controversial in Italy, where there was press comment that the sale was illegal, and Prince Chigi was fined. The painting was exhibited at Colnaghi in London before being transported to Boston.
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