European Art: 14th-16th Centuries

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Virgin and Child, 15th century

Giovanni Bellini

Italian, c.1430-1516
Oil on panel
33-3/4 x 26-3/4 in. (85.7 x 67.9 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1965.1.003.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Perhaps one of several studio versions (minus the landscape and donor) of Bellini’s Madonna and Child at Harewood House, Yorkshire, this painting and its main figures appear more geometrical, and as a result more mechanical, than the subtly modeled depictions of the holy pair by Bellini that Dürer admired and emulated on his two trips to Venice in the 1490s and early 1500s. Any trace of Bellini’s own hand in this picture would now be virtually impossible to detect, since the painting has suffered greatly in at least two Duveen campaigns to transfer it from panel to canvas in 1926, then to transfer it back to panel in 1938, both times adding extensive inpainting and varnish. When this work was suggested to Duveen in February of 1926 by the art historian Bernard Berenson, the condition was already noted as “worn,” with a comment about the child’s hair being completely repainted. By December of that year, a telegram from Duveen’s Paris office states that the transfer and restoration of the painting were nearly finished, and that “most of the small holes have been filled in.” Between 1974 and 1978 the painting was treated again, removing previous restorations, but by that point Mr. Simon’s staff considered it to be a “ghost of a painting,” and it has rarely been exhibited since.

Despite the painting’s current state and questionable authorship, it was most likely the same work that was listed in a 1659 inventory of the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and Burgundy, Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands (1614–1662). As one of the greatest collectors of the seventeenth century, Leopold Wilhelm managed to form the basis of what is now the core collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

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