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0035 Ljerka Dulibić and Iva Pasini Tržec, New information on the 19th century provenance of Albertinelli's Old Testament cycle

RIHA Journal 0035 | 6 February 2012

New information on the 19th century provenance of Albertinelli's Old Testament cycle

Ljerka Dulibić, Iva Pasini Tržec

Editing and peer review managed by

Andrej Žmegač, Institut za povijest umjetnosti / Institute of Art History, Zagreb

Reviewers

Jim Harris, Miroslav Gašparović

Abstract

Analysis of the correspondence of Bishop J. J. Strossmayer and his agents, and of W. Buchanan and his agents, has provided new evidence of the 19th century provenance of Mariotto Albertinelli's paintings The Expulsion from Paradise in the Strossmayer Gallery in Zagreb, and The Creation and Fall of Man in the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in London. The material analysed provides an insight into the then common practice of fragmenting artworks, sometimes very violently, and enables a revision of some assumptions and claims concerning the fate of the two paintings by Albertinelli, ultimately suggesting some guidelines for conclusions as to the original appearance of his Old Testament cycle.

* * * * *

  1. The painting The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Mariotto Albertinelli (fig. 1) was one of the last acquisitions of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer (Osijek, 1815–Đakovo, 1905)1 whose many years of vigorous collecting activity were crowned in 1884 by the achievement of his ultimate aim – the opening of his collection to the public.2 In that same year, 1884, just before the grand opening of today's Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters in the building newly constructed for this purpose in Zagreb, Albertinelli's painting arrived from Rome, bought for Strossmayer by Imbro Ignjatiević Tkalac (Karlovac, 1824–Rome, 1912), one of the bishop's most important agents and advisers in the procurement of artworks in Rome.3 This highly-educated politician, writer and journalist lived in Italy from 1863. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, he was a member of the Italian cultural elite, particularly closely connected with the Italian art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (Legnano, 1819–Rome, 1897).

1 Mariotto Albertinelli, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, ca. 1514, oil on panel, 56.8 x 55 cm. Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, HAZU, Zagreb, Bequest Josip Juraj Strossmayer 1884, SG-95 (photograph Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, Zagreb)

  1. Among the Strossmayer Papers in the archives of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU) there are forty-two letters from Tkalac addressed to Strossmayer, revealing Tkalac's role as a mediator in the acquisition of artworks for the Bishop's collection.4 Particularly detailed is the correspondence in which Tkalac reports on the process of purchasing the Albertinelli painting.5

  2. Tkalac first encountered the picture in 1881.6 It was offered for sale by "the son of the Roman art dealer Baseggio", who had come into possession of the painting after the division of the estate of his father "who thirty-forty years ago had the biggest and finest private gallery in Rome".7 Johann David Passavant, who published the painting in 1860 in his work about Raphael (suggesting the Albertinelli attribution), described it as "un petit panneau provenant d'un tableau a trois sujets", with the note that the dealer Baseggio had acquired it from Buchanan in 1835.8 Passavant's note about the painting is quoted by Tkalac in his letter to the bishop.9

  3. Although the purchase was relatively rapidly agreed, Strossmayer then withdrew his consent to the deal.10 Tkalac accordingly felt obliged to give additional explanation of the reasons he had decided to buy the painting.11 Among other things, he referred Strossmayer to Cavalcaselle's writing about Albertinelli and said that a pendant of the painting that he had determined to purchase was in the collection of the Duke of Carlisle in Castle Howard.12 To this he added: "This pendant, the consequence of the first sin, is also 'ein kleinod' and the paessaggio is so lovely that it can be ascribed to no painter but Fra Bartolommeo himself [who is] one of the greatest artists in the world."13 Quite offended, for he had found himself in a disagreeable situation because of the cancellation of the agreement to acquire the Albertinelli, Tkalac wrote to Strossmayer that after this "it would never again even remotely occur to him to buy anything in the world on [his] account".14

  4. Nonetheless, some years later, during May 1884, Strossmayer was in Rome and a direct meeting with Tkalac appears to have led to the smoothing over of relations between the bishop and his agent. Tkalac not only went on buying pictures for Strossmayer, but in the end purchased Albertinelli's Expulsion from Paradise as well.

  5. In 1884, the painting was in the Sterbini Collection, where the bishop himself had seen it during his Roman sojourn.15 At the outset, Strossmayer and Tkalac were sure that the painting was Sterbini's property; however it turned out that at that time it was still owned by Baseggio, who had given it as collateral to a bank, whence it had been taken by Sterbini, who probably wanted to keep it for himself if the debt to the bank should not be redeemed in time.16 Tkalac was informed of this by an unnamed mediator, who organised a meeting with the owner, at which they finally agreed on the sale.17

  6. Later in 1884, Tkalac again explained the importance and value of the Albertinelli to the bishop, this time referring to its similarity to another painting, today ascribed to Pietro Perugino.18 This painting, an Apollo and Marsyas, had been sold to the Louvre a year earlier by the English writer and collector Morris Moore, with an attribution to Raphael, after the London National Gallery had turned it down over doubts regarding its authenticity.19 "Apart from Morris Moore's Apollo and Marsyas, which this painting of Albertinelli's very closely resembles, I have not in my lifetime ever found a painting capable of being attributed as this can be with some likelihood to the young Raphael."20

  7. Not long after that, Strossmayer himself referred to his misgivings relating to the purchase of the Albertinelli, in the speech he gave at the opening of the Gallery in 1884:

"At the beginning I resisted buying this painting, for Albertinelli was better known to me as a conspirator and trader than a real and ideal artist; but when the last time being in Rome I observed the painting more closely, it seemed to me that the Adam and Eve in our painting are so excellently done that it was not from Albertinelli's hand but from that of Fra Bartolommeo the Dominican, one of the greatest artists of the fifteenth century, from whom Raphael himself learned much. Fra Bartolommeo, after the burning of his teacher Savanarola, fell into a melancholic decline and his spirits flagged. The plotter Albertinelli made use of this chance and clung for selfish reasons to Fra Bartolommeo with whom he allegedly at the same time painted pictures, later on to sell them expensively. There are then paintings that are ascribed to Albertinelli but are for the most part the work of Bartolommeo. It seems to me that our painting is within this class and that in particular the Adam and Eve are the work of his hand and not of Albertinelli's."21

  1. However, in spite of Strossmayer's wish for the work to be that of Fra Bartolommeo (with whose oeuvre the painting does indeed show certain similarities)22 the attribution to Mariotto Albertinelli is generally accepted23 and a hypothesis has been put forward as to its real origin. In relevant literature, the painting is correlated with a paragraph in Vasari's biography of Albertinelli, which mentions "tre storiette" done for the Florentine banker Giovanmaria di Lorenzo Benintendi, after the election of the Medici pope Leo X (1513).24 David Franklin expresses doubt that it was actually Giovanmaria Benintendi who commissioned this work, since he thinks that at twenty-two years old he was too young, but does not dispute the commission coming from another member of the family.25 Among other things, Vasari's ambiguous reference to these "three stories" encourages the identification of other possible components of the same whole. Thus, the Zagreb Expulsion from Paradise has been connected with a number of works from a group of Albertinelli paintings sharing a similar or related iconography: The Creation and Fall of Man, Courtauld Art Gallery, London (fig. 2); Cain Slaying Abel, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (fig. 3); The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (fig. 4); The Fall of Man and The Sacrifice of Isaac, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven;26 and Incident from Genesis (?), National Gallery and Alexandros Soutyos Museum, Athens.27

2 Mariotto Albertinelli, The Creation and Fall of Man, ca. 1514, oil on panel, 56.2 x 165.3 cm. Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London, Bequest Mark Gambier-Parry 1966, P.1966.GP.6 (photograph © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London)

3 Mariotto Albertinelli, Cain Slaying Abel, ca. 1514, oil on panel, 56.2 x 68.2 cm. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Bequest Giovanni Morelli 1891, 941-1891 (photograph Accademia Carrara, Bergamo)

4 Mariotto Albertinelli, The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, ca. 1514, oil on panel, 21.6 x 35.4 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes, 1906.5 (photograph Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  1. Already in 1903, Knapp describes the Expulsion as being "wohl identisch" with the Creation, and Berenson in his 1963 edition of Italian Pictures gives cross-references to the two pictures.28 Shearman mentions, along with these two pictures, the paintings from Yale and the painting from the Fogg Museum. However, he only considers the paintings from Zagreb and London to be part of the same cycle.29 Borgo likewise states that the paintings from Yale and the one from the Fogg Museum do not belong to the same whole as the works from Zagreb and London. However, inspired by Vasari's writing on the subject, he includes the painting from Bergamo as the third part of the proposed whole, and suggests their sequence as follows: first Zagreb's, second London's and third Bergamo's painting.30 In the year 1986, Zeri and Rossi accept the paintings from Zagreb, London and Bergamo as parts of the same whole, and integrate the work The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel from the Fogg Art Museum in the same cycle, identifying it as the upper left part of the Bergamo painting (fig. 5).31