FOREIGN COLLECTIONS 
FILE : USA, Washington National Gallery of Art 1
TITLE : The Annunciation

LOCATION: Washington Gallery of Art Widener Collection

DIMENSIONS: diptych consisting of two arched panels; each panel is cm. 1999 x 78,5

PROVENANCE: From the destroyed chapel in the SS Annunziata’s in Firenze. Originally dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene by the Cistercians and named S. Maria Maddalena del Cestello . Both the panels were taken off in 1628, during the baroque restoration of the choir, and moved to the Carmelites’ Mother House. They were most likely taken away by the Napoleonic troops together with other paintings of the monastery, of which three are now at the Louvre. They appeared in the Rodolf Kann’s collection in Paris in 1907, passing later to Joseph Duveen, and to P.A.B. Widener.

CHRONOLOGY: 1500 –1503 (documented)

AUTHOR: Giovanni di Domenico "de vetri prete" (documented)

ASSIGNEMENT:

SUBJECT : The Angel of the Annunciation (left panel); The Virgin of the Annunciation (right panel). The Annunciation had been a dear subject to St. Bernard of Clairvaux and repeated in his preaches. Moreover, the image results to be suitable for the choir of a Cistercian church, as well as its collocation in a focal point of the building.

CRITICAL NOTES: The work, listed in the sale catalogues of Kann and Widener’s collections, was recorded by Marchini in 1965 among the Italian stained glass windows merged into American collections.

Assignment and location have been singled out by Luchs (1975) on evidence of a payment made to Giovanni de’ Vreti " per 2 finestre fatte in choro a figure" (for two stained glass windows with figures, made in the choir) (February 1503), the other one for the Riccialbani’s chapel in the same church. The present choir is a baroque remaking carried out when the building from the Cistercians went to the Carmelite nuns. The former, with rectangular plan, had been restored in 1480-1530, under the direction of Giuliano da Sangallo. Luchs singled out the typology in the Six saints small painting attributed to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, where the architectonic lay out enclosing the group of saints, clearly recalls St. Laurence’s presbytery. In the choir side walls two arched windows are painted representing the Angel and the Virgin of the Annunciation that clearly refer to the two panels in Washington. If the author of the panel is Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, who depicted the altar-piece in the ‘del Cestello’ church in 1511 (now at the Hermitage), then, he may have represented in his painting windows really executed at about 1447 in St. Laurence’s, windows that were the prototype of the ones at the S. Maria Maddalena del Cestello church.

An implicit confirmation of the fact that the two stained glass windows made by Giovanni de’ Vreti are those in Washington is given by another payment the artist received for a window in the Riccialbani’s chapel, still in existance, that has the same border of the diptych .

Luchs (1988), taking up a subject already expressed, points out that the lay out of the two monumental figures should be correlated with the typology of the Renaissance windows: arched windows, of modest proportions, clearly standing out against the bright side walls. A typology started in the old sacristy at S. Spirito and at Cappella Pazzi, and spread throughout the side chapels of the Florentine churches. Starting from the Brunelleschi-like prototypes, those stained glass windows are closet up by small colourless roundels with in the middle the family’s coat of arms. In the figure stained glass windows, as the Cestello diptych, the simple lancet window put in evidence the perspective plan of the figures and their solemn fullness emerging from the rich border with flower and fruit that recalls the Della Robbia’s frames.

A comparison can be traced with the Ghirlandaio’s borders for the apse windows at S. Maria Novella. Burnam, in her book on the Pisa stained glass windows that is going to be published, dedicates a chapter to the XV century borders; an illuminating chapter on the spreading of such list in the Florentine borders.

CONDITIONS: In good conditions, presents several lead soldering and some light repainting.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Catalogue de la collection Rodolphe Kann Objet d’art Catalogo di vendita Parigi, 1907, I, 15 n.22 ;
  2. W.R. VALENTINER Inventory of objects d’art at Linnewood Hall, Elkins Park Pennsylvania. Estate of the late P.A.B Widener , Philadelphia, 1935, 49;
  3. E. O. CHRISTENSEN Objects of Medieval Art in the Widener Collection , Washington ,1952, 18;
  4. G. MARCHINI Vetri italiani in America in "Arte in Europa: Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Edoardo Arslan", Pavia , 1965-66, I, pp. 431-36;
  5. A. LUCHS Origin of the Widener Annunciation Windows, in "Studies in the History of Art, 7, 1975, pp. 81-89;
  6. ID Cestello. A Cistercian Church of the Florentine Renaissance, New York – London, 1977, pp. 28-30;
  7. ID. Stained Glass Above Renaissance Altars: Figural Windows in Italian Church Architecture from Brunelleschi to Bramante in "Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte", 48, 1985, pp. 177 – 222;
  8. M. W.C. (???) Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: Mid Atlantic and Southeastern Seaboard States -–Corpus Vitrearum Checlist II Studies in History of Art, 23, pp. 6, 34;
  9. A. LUCHS The Windows from Sta Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, Florence The Annunciation in Florentine and Milanese Stained Glass in Convegno " I laboratori vetrari lombardi sotto il dominio dei Visconti e degli Sforza" , Milano, sett. 1988, comunicazione.
  10. A. LUCHS in R. DISTELBERGER e altri Western Decorative Arts, p. I, Medieval, Renaissance and Historicizing Styles including Metalwork, Enamels and Ceramics, Washington, Nat. Gallery of Art and Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 61-67

EDITOR: Caterina Pirina, January 2001