Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 162

Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
Fortunately for the British nation, if not for Frick, she
the recommendations were in favour of the landed
was rescued at the eleventh hour and secured for the
interests and a more laissez-faire approach than
National Gallery, following a heroic campaign by
had been adopted in Italy. Such an approach was
the National Art Collections Fund. The significance
even adopted by prominent members of the heritage
of this near loss seemed to awaken Britain to the fact
lobby, such as Dugald Sutherland MacColl, Keeper
that it too, like Italy, had a heritage that required
of the Tate Gallery, who explicitly rejected any kind
protecting. The debate was not without complications.
of “PACCA law like the Italian” as “a tyranny.”89
In a speech delivered at the opening of an exhibition
While some of the witnesses called by Curzon were
of Old Masters at the Grafton Gallery on 3 October
in favour, or partially in favour, of export controls,
1911, Lord Curzon pointed out that while the Italian
these were not really adopted until 1952 when,
Government were seeking to protect their historic
following the Waverley Report, Britain introduced
art by export controls, much of the art in Britain was
the first proper mechanism of export licensing.90 But,
not British and therefore “it would be an intolerable
with a typically British instinct for compromise, the
encroachment on individual liberty” to attempt
solutions that were finally introduced in the UK did
the same in Britain. A Holbein once belonging to
arguably succeed in creating a regime, including tax
Henry VIII was one thing, but to invoke the same
incentives, which effectively balanced the protection
protection for works of art that might have been in
of the heritage with the rights of owners.
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
the country for less than a hundred years (as had been
the case with Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus “saved” by the
With regard to Italian legislation, it was not until June
In early December 1901 the Chigi Madonna finally
the Rape of Europa (see fig. 18). Relations between
National Art Collections Fund in 1904) was a trickier
1902 that any sort of national system of listing and
arrived in Boston and, shortly afterwards, was
Isabella Stewart Gardner and Colnaghi, which had
issue. Probably more significant, as far as the British
export control throughout united Italy was enacted
installed in Gardner’s new house in Fenway Court.
been cool at the best of times, had taken a down turn
establishment was concerned, was a sense that the
with the Pacca Edict becoming the Pacca Law. It
What she thought of the Botticelli once it had arrived
after 1901, and in 1902 she stopped buying from
strict export controls and system of “notification” of
was not until 1909 that the law was further tightened
there we do not know. Certainly, there was none
them altogether, observing to Berenson with bitter
heritage items instituted in Italy would threaten the
requiring all municipalities, religious, charitable, and
of the ecstasy that greeted the arrival of Titian’s
satisfaction that they had “killed the goose that laid
individual property rights of the landowning classes
educational bodies to report all objects of art in their
Europa five years earlier. However, she must have
the golden egg;” 94 however, when, she decided on the
at a time when the British aristocracy, impoverished
possession to the national authorities, and stipulating
appreciated the colouristic qualities of the Chigi
advice of Richard Norton to buy a third ‘Botticelli’,
by the combination of agricultural depression, death
that such works of art were to be kept in proper repair
Madonna because she placed in front of the work a
the Antinori Nativity (fig. 23) without Berenson’s and
duties, and high taxation, desperately needed to be
on penalty of confiscation by the government. Some
fragment of a mid-fourteenth-century glass mosque
Colnaghi’s expertise underpinning her purchase,
able to turn their heirlooms into cash. So when
thought this legislation had come too late, others that
lamp whose colours and gilt correspond to those of
she ended up with what is now generally regarded as
in 1912, Lord Curzon, pillar of the upper classes,
it was overly draconian. Undoubtedly, it helped stem
the Botticelli (fig. 22) in a similar way to how she
substantially a workshop production, so arguably it
set up a committee to consider these very issues,
the flow of masterpieces out of Italy.
had hung one of her favourite Worth gowns beneath
was Isabella who had killed the goose.
Fig. 22 / View of the Long
Gallery showing Sandro
Botticelli’s Madonna of the
Eucharist above a fragment
of a mosque lamp, Boston,
Isabella Stewart Gardner


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