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Sunday, October 25, 2015

DONATELLIANA -- Moretti -- Francesco Caglioti -- collezione Giancarlo Gallino, TORINO.

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The gilded figure purchased by the art dealer Andrew Butterfield and attributed to Donatello.














Andrew Butterfield, an art dealer and Renaissance scholar, had seen the two-and-a-half-foot tall wooden statue several years before, in a photograph, and thought it was “really fantastic.”


“It felt so much like the embodiment of the early Renaissance,” he said recently."

"He passed on making an offer then."

"But the gilded figure of a plump, graceful cherub, or putto, nagged at him, and when he finally did buy it, in 2012, it set him off down an art-historical detective trail that made him glad he followed his instincts."

Butterfield and several other experts he has enlisted now believe the statue is a lost work by Donatello, one of the defining artists of the Renaissance, and a rare example of the artist’s work in wood, making the discovery not only a major addition to Donatello’s surviving corpus but also to the history of Western sculpture.
The piece, which will go on view on Oct. 30 at Moretti Fine Art on East 80th Street, could be worth at least several million dollars if its attribution is accepted.

It has not been completely unknown to scholars, but it spent most of the last century in the modest collection of an Italian family — a Tuscan art dealer and then his son, an art professor in Rome — and has never been shown in public.

It has also languished for the last half-century because a near twin of the sculpture, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was deemed by a curator there, in the 1960s, not to be by Donatello.

That judgment, though it was by a medieval scholar, had staying power — meaning that both statues have in a sense been hiding in plain sight.

Because of Butterfield’s research, attribution for the Boston putto may now be re-examined.




The piece has been seen so far by few people in the art world. 

“Scholarship in Renaissance sculpture is somewhere between 50 to 100 years behind that of painting, and so discoveries of this kind are still possible,” said Butterfield, a highly regarded scholar and old master treasure hunter who has been credited in recent years with discoveries of pieces by Bernini, Ghiberti, Mantegna and Donatello.

If the new piece achieves a wide consensus in the art world, it would be a career coup. Butterfield stresses that the new piece is not currently for sale, but he hopes the piece will someday end up in a public collection.

In a recent interview in his Westchester home, where he had the putto on display, he said, “Things still just bubble up, and mostly they are misunderstood.”
The statue he will show, which he bought from the estate of a Torino art dealer, Giancarlo Gallino, for a price he declines to disclose, has been seen so far by few people in the art world.

So it is not entirely possible to gauge how it will be received.

But the scholars that Butterfield has lined up on his side are eminent and believe that several factors — including ones as humble as a piece of iron hardware at the putto’s back, once used to secure it to a wall — point definitively to Donatello and specifically to the 1430s.
“I would say that this is an extremely solid case,” said Eike Schmidt, a German expert in Florentine art who was recently named the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Schmidt added that he believed there was “very little leeway” for other attributions.



A Donatello bronze with similarities to the spiritelli identified by Butterfield.Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence


A comparable view of Butterfield's piece.






























































Francesco Caglioti, one of the world’s pre-eminent Donatello scholars, who also contributed an essay to the catalogue making a case that both Butterfield’s statue and the Boston sculpture are by Donatello, wrote that several factors — the placement and style of the wings, most of which are now lost; a peculiar carved headdress; and the stance of the putti, almost on tiptoe on the right foot — all point to such a conclusion.











“I believe that we can safely attribute to Donatello not only the invention and design” of both, he wrote, “but also the personal responsibility for their execution in his workshop and directly under his eyes, for a decorative project he devised and followed through to its completion.”







That project, possibly for a palace or church sacristy, would have placed several putti, linked by carved festoons, along a ledge




around a room, like a kind of high-end, three-dimensional wallpaper, a scheme Donatello is believed to have invented, inspired by Eros figures he knew from ancient Roman reliefs.

The invention, and the way Donatello recovered and transformed elements from classical antiquity, was immensely influential among other artists in the early Renaissance.




Detail from a marble frieze by Donatello.Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence


The gilded figure strikes a similar pose.




































If Butterfield’s piece and the Boston piece are accepted as being by the hand of Donatello, they would represent the first concrete evidence to be found of the kind of "putti" — also known as "spiritelli" — that writers and other artists attributed to Donatello for centuries.

Caglioti and Schmidt were paid “standard professional” honorariums for their research and contributions to the catalogue but have no financial interest in the statue, Butterfield says. 






















His statue, which is in better condition than the Boston version and which underwent restoration treatments for a year, would also represent the first major Donatello of its kind to come to market in many decades.

A terra cotta relief of the Virgin and Child, whose attribution to Donatello was disputed by some experts at the time, sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $5.6 million, roughly $6.2 million today.












Butterfield said that both the Boston statue and his had long been shown standing on two feet. 

Butterfield’s conservator, Leslie Ransick Gat, said that when she first saw the statue on two feet, marred with a head piece added after the Renaissance — along with ill-advised additions of gesso, varnish and what she called “radiator paint” to repair the gilding — she had her doubts. 

“It was kind of just garish, is one way to put it,” she said. 

“One thought was, ‘Oh my God what is Butterfield doing this time?’ ”




Butterfield with the sculpture he attributes to Donatello, at Moretti Fine Art. 

The statue will go on view there on Oct. 30. 

The statue is thought to have never been on public display before. 

After having the statue X-rayed and examining it for weeks, Gat said she thought the proper stance was on its right leg, in a position suggesting it was dancing or about to fly.

And when he saw it that way, Butterfield said, it was like a lightning bolt that transformed his thinking and led him on the path to Donatello.
With little intervention, other than seeing it as it was probably meant to have been seen, it became a profoundly different statue.
“Posing a wood statue on one foot like this had never been done before Donatello, and in a sense it’s a small thing,” he said, “but it’s really a very big thing.”


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