Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 138



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Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard
Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist
to Isabella Stewart Gardner
J ER EMY HOWAR D
The 2019 monographic exhibition, Botticelli: Heroines
This article, based on the extensive unpublished
+ Heroes at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in
correspondence in the Colnaghi archives, provides
Boston, celebrates one its most famous Renaissance
an opportunity to unravel the complicated story
pictures: Botticelli’s Story of Lucretia (fig. 1). Its
of the sale of the Chigi Madonna and reflect upon
acquisition in 1894 through the agency of Colnaghi
the debates which it provoked, as well as the wider
and the art historian Bernard Berenson (fig. 2), was
significance of the sale of both masterpieces by
a milestone in the history of collecting. It was the
Botticelli.3
first authentic Botticelli to arrive in America, the
first significant Renaissance painting to be bought
1894, the year that Isabella Stewart Gardner acquired
by Isabella Stewart Gardner, and its sale marked
her first Botticelli and came of age as an Old Master
the beginning of a vitally important triangular
collector, was also very significant year in terms of
relationship between the collector (fig. 3), her adviser
Colnaghi’s business. Founded in 1760 and located in the
Bernard Berenson, and one of London’s most
1890s just across the street from the National Gallery
venerable art galleries. This relationship led to the
in the building now occupied by Canada House, the
sale of thirty works of art to Mrs Gardner between
firm was extremely well-established in the art world. But
1894 and 1902, including Titian’s Rape of Europa,
throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth century
Cellini’s Bust of Bindo Altoviti, Fra Angelico’s Dormition
they were known primarily as print publishers: “a capital
and Assumption of the Virgin (celebrated in last year’s
print shop,” in the words of William Hazlitt (fig. 5). It
exhibition at the Gardner Museum), and the Botticelli
was not until the 1890s, spurred by the opportunities
Madonna of the Eucharist (fig. 4), which is the principal
offered by the break-up of the old aristocratic collections,
subject of the present article. While the history of the
that they moved prominently into Old Master picture
acquisition of the Story of Lucretia has been examined
dealing. One of the principal architects of this change
1
in some detail elsewhere and is discussed in Patricia
was the brilliant young dealer Otto Gutekunst (fig. 6),
Rubin’s essay in the Gardner Museum exhibition
who in 1894, the year of the first Botticelli sale to Mrs
catalogue, the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist
Gardner, joined the firm along with another partner
(or Chigi Madonna, as it was to be called, after the
Edmund Deprez; the latter, as we shall see, played a
collection from which it was acquired) has never been
crucial role in the acquisition of her second Botticelli,
properly scrutinized, despite its sensational export
the Madonna of the Eucharist. With the help of Bernard
from Italy which attracted huge publicity at the time.
Berenson and with Isabella Stewart Gardner as their
2

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