Completed Continental European after 1800, Continental European before 1800 33 What is the source of this image of Savonarola?

Topic: Artist

Whatever the source of this image of Savonarola, it cannot be Masaccio, who died long before Savonarola was born.

The collection comments: 'There is a label on the reverse of this painting that reads: "No. 11 Portrait of Savonarola/(Massaccio)/from the collection of the Marquis de Valois. Sale 15/2/1892." It was then put up for sale again at Christie's in 1903 but was unsold and returned to the owner. However, it does not feature in the relevant sale catalogue apparently.'

Andrew Greg, British 19th C, except portraits, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has been agreed that this picture should be entitled 'Portrait of a Franciscan Monk' and that it is probably ‘Italian School’, perhaps 19th century.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Francis Mouton,

The most prominent feature of Savonarola is probably his Roman nose, which is quite different in all known paintings of him compared to this one. So I doubt that this is actually a portrait of Savonarola.

Tanya Pia Starrett,

yes, I completely agree with the above comment, Savonarola had quite a prominent nose. And after recently visiting the Museo di San Marco/San Marco Church in Florence where he used to pray and preach, there is a portrait of him by fra Bartolomeo from 1498, the year Savonarola died. There are several portraits of him, none of which look like the portrait above. Consequently in all probability I seriously doubt this is a portrait of Savonarola.

Jacob Simon,

Savonarola was Dominican. This looks more life a Franciscan. So the wrong question is being asked. It's indeed unlikely to be a portrait of Savonarola.

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now also linked to the 'Continental European before 1800' group.

Mell Fraser,

Savonarola was born after Masaccio had died. Why would this be by a) Masaccio and b) a portrait of Savonarola - who was a Dominican who wore a black habit, with a white under cassock! IMO as a professional art historian, it is not Savonarola. Therefore, it begs the question who is this man (clearly wearing a Franciscan habit) ?

Jacinto Regalado,

I will play devil's advocate here: what if this is actually a picture of an old woman and not of a monk at all?

Martin Kemp,

Not Savonarola, not period, not necessarily Italian, not necessarily a man, and not very impressive. Sorry!

Kieran Owens,

Additional to the mystery of subject, period, nationality, painter, and gender, who was the Marquis de Valois, from whose collection this painting came? Little or nothing can be found online about him.

Martin Hopkinson,

Could this be a misreading of the Marchese d'Avalos?

Kieran Owens,

Could Sheffield Museums provide a photograph of the label from the back of this painting please?

Jacinto Regalado,

Looking more carefully at the hair, what can be seen of it, suggests this is a man with close-cropped hair. The hooded garb may well be a monastic habit, but not necessarily. It did cross my mind that this could conceivably be a representation of Dante, but the more or less customary laurel wreath is absent. I suppose the most probable candidate is a monk.

Museums Sheffield,

I will take a snapshot of the label when I am next up at the store.

Kieran Owens,

Thank you Museums Sheffield for sending the images of the back of this painting. If my suggestion is accepted, they will have proven to be invaluable in identifying the work being discussed.

This painting is undoubtedly the one that is entitled 'Portrait de Moine' ('Portrait of Monk') (23cm x 17cm), as is featured as lot 68 on page 21 of the catalogue for the sale of 'Tableaux Anciens' of Dutch, Flemish, French and Italian schools from the 'Anciennes collections' of (amongst others) the Marquis Charles de Valori, Prince de Rustichelli (1821 - 1883).

The sale took place in Paris at the Vente Hotel Drouot, Salle no. 8, at 2.30pm on Monday 15th February 1892 (the same date that is referenced on the label in the top left-hand corner of the back of the frame, and as shown in img-5638.jpg above).

This sale contained works from the schools of or attributed to Bellini, Cuyp, van Eyck, van der Hagen, Longhi, and Metzu, amongst others, as well as a collection of works from the schools of various nations, including Germany, Holland, Italy, France etc.

The full 1892 catalogue can be seen here:

Significantly, when rounded up, the dimensions of the painting, (23cm x 17cm, as given in the catalogue), perfectly match those of the work being discussed (22.1cm x 16.8cm). No other painting in the catalogue is of a similar size with the same subject matter.

Importantly, as well, there is no inclusion in the catalogue of any work by Masaccio, nor is there any work entitled 'Portrait of Savonarola'. It would seem that the attribution and title, as suggested by the painting's label information, were added so as to present the work as something more valuable than it actually was.

Charles Ferdinand Louis de Valori d'Estilly, Marquis de Valori and Prince de Rustichelli, was a sophisticated man, a writer and a poet, and an avid art collector. His portrait, from the collection of the castle of Sully-sur-Loire, can be seen here:

The Marquis died in 1883, but this sale might have been precipitated by the death, at Keyes, in Mali, on the 18th September 1891, of his only son (born in 1852), Taldo Anne Zozime Claude Joseph Nel Rustichelli de Valori, an Infantry Captain in the French army and the successor to the title of Marquis de Valori.

In light of the above information, I would courteously recommend that Museums Sheffield should now consider re-titling the painting as "Portrait of a Monk / Italian school / unknown artist".

Osmund Bullock,

Very well done, Kieran.

It may or may not throw up anything of interest, but I have just emailed my contact at Christie's Archive to see if the stencilled stock number on the back (almost certainly one of theirs) can be tied to an appearance at the auction house in 1903 or whenever - and if so, how it was catalogued then, and who the vendor was.

Martin Kemp,

This is clearly correct. Well done! Martin Kemp

Kieran Owens,

As a mark of respect to the donor of this painting, amongst his many gifts to Sheffield's cultural life, attached is the obituary notice for John George Graves (1866 - 1945), which appeared in the Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer on Friday 20th July 1945. Graves was 77 years old when he donated this painting to Sheffield's public art collection.

Osmund Bullock,

Well, I have my reply**, but it tells us little: "We are reading this [the stencilled stock no.] as '667AR'. This was a consignment of 11 pictures that came in on 7th March 1904. They were however never entered into a sale but returned to the consignor: Gladwell Bros., 8 Eastcheap, EC."

Gladwell were (and as Gladwell & Patterson still are) an old and important firm of art dealers, framers, printsellers and publishers. Harry Gladwell (1857-1927), the art dealer son and heir to the elder of the two brothers who were 'Gladwell Bros', spent a lot of time in Paris in the late C19th (he was a close friend of Vincent van Gogh), and must have been well connected there.

So perhaps it was Gladwell's who bought the picture in Feb 1892...or they could equally have been only a later owner. Anyway, it looks as if not long after the Paris sale – the cutting about Savonarola pasted on the back is copied from the Westminster Review of Jan-June 1892 ( ) – someone tried to improve the portrait's desirability by giving it an identity and an artist; very common practice, of course, in an age when art historical expertise was rare, and enthusiastic new collectors with money were many. I see that Graves began collecting in 1899 – I would hazard a guess that this was quite an early acquisition, when his reliance on the advice (and probity) of dealers was great.

**My thanks to Jeff Pilkington and Lynda McLeod at Christie's Archive for their unfailing helpfulness.

Tim Williams,

In the final image, between the Sheffield label and the bracket is an ink inscription in French 'L'en....'.

Osmund Bullock,

Not sure it's an L-apostrophe, Tim. It could be a 'P', and the first word 'Pierre' or 'Pietro' - possibly even 'Perugino' is intended (I've certainly seen it misspelled 'Pierugino').

Kieran Owens,

Has this discussion's question been adequately answered? As suggested above, this painting is the one that is entitled 'Portrait de Moine' ('Portrait of Monk') (23cm x 17cm), as is featured as lot 68 on page 21 of the catalogue for the sale of 'Tableaux Anciens' of Dutch, Flemish, French and Italian schools from the 'Anciennes collections' of (amongst others) the Marquis Charles de Valori, Prince de Rustichelli (1821 - 1883).

It this is an acceptable attribution, as well as an acceptable recommendation that Museums Sheffield should now consider re-titling the painting as "Portrait of a Monk / Italian school / unknown artist", could ART UK please move this from the Active to the Completed list?

Kieran's work has been excellent and provides a very plausible new title for the paintings. It is interesting though that the lot description, unlike some others, does not specify that it was from the collection of the Marquis Charles de Valori.

This is just a reminder to contributors that each Discussion is attached to one or more Groups, which each have a Group Leader. One of the Group Leader's roles is to monitor Discussions and, if they think appropriate, make recommendations for closure. So it is not Art UK's direct responsibility to close Discussions.

Art UK and I monitor all Discussions over the long term and remind Group Leaders of Discussions that might warrant closure, but we should not I think be harrying them to close discussions within days of a possible conclusion being reached. Indeed some contributors have complained about Discussions being too hurriedly terminated. There is a balance to be found!

Kieran Owens,

Attached is an image of the introductory page of the 1892 sale catalogue. The impression given is that the works on offer come from old collections belonging to eminent personages (Marquis, Baron...), but the Monk painting could have come in under the "etc., etc." banner, which allows for a multitude of possible sources.

Regarding the long-term monitoring of these discussion, you make a very good point very well. My intention was never to harry, and I will now keep a patient lid on any such unwelcome urges in the future.

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Martin Hopkinson,

The works cited in Stefano Dall'Aglio's essay on the years after Savonarola's execution in Alison R Frazier's collection 'The Saint between Manuscript and Print in Italy, 1400-1600', Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, Toronto, 2015 could prove helpful to this discussion [ this volume is reviewed in Print Quarterly, XXXV, 2018, pp. 54-6.
This book is in the British Library, Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian and the libraries of Leeds and St Andrews Universities

Osmund Bullock,

Andrew's point about the provenance is interesting. At the beginning of the 1892 catalogue just three former owners' names are listed, and the same three are the only ones mentioned in the lot descriptions - of the 81 lots (all but 6 are oils), 52 are given as from the Charles Marquis de Valori Collection, one from that of Baron de Beurnonville, and two from Sellar. The others (including #68 'Portrait of Monk') say nothing about their origins. It is furthermore clear that each and every lot with a provenance is specified as such, even where there is a run of them from the same source, and where there is next-to-no detail to give about the work, e.g. (and following page)

Of course an error may have been made by the cataloguer - but failing that it seems highly likely that Lot 68 was in fact *not* from the de Valori collection at all. Again one is left with the strong suspicion that the subsequent owner, probably a dealer, who invented a sitter and an artist for the picture also added an impressive provenance-by-association for luck. I fear Mr Graves was well and truly stitched up.

Kieran Owens,

May I be clear, Osmund and Martin, that you both agree that the painting featured in this discussion is Lot #68 'Portrait de Moine' ('Portrait of Monk') (23cm x 17cm), even though it is most likely not from the collection of the Marquis de Valori, but is one of the 26 works, showing no provenance, that fall under the 'Etc., etc.' category, as printed on the catalogue cover?

It would appear from the label, on the top left corner of the back of the painting, that the deception as to the subject and the artist originated in France, after the sale - for if it were before the sale that catalogue entry would surely have read 'Savonarola' by Masaccio (impossible and all as that could be)) - but before the painting reached England. The title is given in French as 'Portrait de Savonarola" by 'Musaccio' (sic). It is possible that this label was placed on the frame prior to the painting being purchased by or on behalf of J. G. Graves, or by some agent or gallery in between its arriving in Grave's collection.

On the same label, in a different, English, hand, it states that the painting came from the 'Collection of the Marquis de Valori sale 15/02/1892', which technically is not the same as claiming that it came for the 'Collection of the Marquis de Valori'. Given the large percentage of works included from the Marquis de Valori's estate (52 out of 81 lots, as stated by Osmund, above), and given that his name appears first in the list of sellers, the auction would most likely have been referred to by his name.

If it is agreed that the painting is Lot #68, surely there is not much more to discuss here. And if it is agreed that the subject is not Savonarola, perhaps Martin could explain why he believes that Stefano Dall'Aglio's essay might be of any relevance?

Martin Hopkinson,

I have never believed it to be a portrait of Savonarola - but it is important that anybody still does look at reputable publications and not simply rely on untested images supposed to be of him found on the internet.

Kieran Owens,

That is an excellent observation. Many thanks for it.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, Kieran, I agree this must be that lot, beyond any reasonable doubt. You make two good points about the top left rear label that I'd failed to take on board (and that make the simplistic analysis in my last post look a bit silly): (a) that what seems to be the first identification of it as Savonarola by Masaccio is written in French, and (b) that the English note about its provenance added to the same label makes no claim that it came from the Valori collection itself, only that it came from that sale. So, as you say, if there was a post-sale deception, then prima facie it came in France, not in England. But was there?

On reflection it seems perfectly possible to me that the label, with its erroneous indentifications of both sitter and artist, *was* there before the 1892 sale. From the catalogue notes of several other works in the sale it is clear that auctioneers were really quite knowledgeable; if they they found the identifications as absurd as we did, I can see that they might not wish even to mention them in the catalogue, particularly in view of the painting's indifferent quality - 'Italian School' and 'Portrait of Monk' was all they could honestly say about it. Subsequent (British) hands it passed through may have been less informed about Italian art and history (and/or less scrupulous), and latched on to an old label as good enough evidence for a confident, if disingenuous attribution.

Kieran Owens,

Having hopefully established what this painting is not, when all discussion between by the relevant official parties is exhausted, Museums Sheffield might then consider at least the removal of the 'Savonarola' title and 'Masaccio' attribution and additionally, as suggested above, re-titling and re-attributing the painting as "Portrait of a Monk / Italian school / unknown artist".

For some later investigation, based on Christies' records as accessed by Osmund three weeks ago, it might be worthwhile identifying the other ten lots that formed part of the consignment by Gladwell Bros. of the 11 pictures that came in to them on 7th March 1904. Did they end up being sold to Graves after that consignment was returned by Christies to Gladwell Bros.? On the basis of this discussion's findings, there might be justifiable concern about those lots and the validity of their attributions.

Given the presence of similar features from the back of this discussion's painting's frame (the '7/38' label, the identical framing structure, the similar dimensions of the title labels), as compared to those on that of the following Sheffield holding...

... would it be possible for Museums Sheffield to list their Stock numbers 1000 to 1011, to see if there are any identifiable details that tie these works together?

It has been agreed that this is a Franciscan monk and nothing to do with Masaccio. Many thanks to Kieran for finding the 1892 sale details. A title 'Portrait of a Franciscan Monk' would be satisfactory. The attribution is probably Italian, perhaps 19th century.