Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 143



140
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
How much do you want a Botticelli? Lord
Ashburnham has a great one – one of
the greatest: a Death of Lucretia, a cassone
picture to rival the Calumny in the Uffizi. I
understand that, though the noble lord is not
keen about selling it, a handsome offer would
not insult him. I should think it would have
to be around £3000. If you cared about it,
I could, I dare say, get you the best terms. It
would be a pleasure to me to be able in some
sort to repay you for your kindness on an
occasion when I needed your help.4
It was typical of Berenson to pretend to be motivated
by a desire to repay Mrs Gardner for her earlier
generosity, rather than by any sordid commercial
considerations, and also to suggest that he himself
had discovered that the picture was for sale, giving
the impression that he was dealing directly with the
owner, rather than through Colnaghi as intermediaries.
Indeed, for most of the seven years that Mrs Gardner
was buying pictures supplied by Colnaghi, he was at
pains to minimize their involvement, failing to disclose
to her the fact that he was receiving commission from
them and, in many cases, owned paintings in shares
with them. In at least one case, this was to lead to
serious accusations of dishonesty for which Colnaghi
took the blame.5 The price mentioned by Berenson
Fig. 3 / Adolf de Meyer, photograph
of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1906,
Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner
Museum.
Fig. 4 / Sandro Botticelli, Madonna
and Child with an Angel (also
known as The Madonna of the
Eucharist or Chigi Madonna),
1470-1474, tempera on panel,
85.2 × 65 cm, Boston, Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum.
(although a fraction of the £21,000 paid two years
later for Titian’s Rape of Europa, and about a fifth of
what she paid for Botticelli’s Madonna of the Eucharist
in 1899) was over twice what she had paid two years
earlier for the Vermeer Concert, which represented
her first foray into collecting Old Master pictures.
This underscores the fact that the sale represented a
turning-point in her collecting.
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
141

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