National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Annunciation Masolino da Panicale (artist)
Florentine, c. 1383 - 1435 or after
The Annunciation, c. 1423/1424
tempera (and possibly oil glazes) on panel
overall: 148.8 x 115.1 cm (58 9/16 x 45 5/16 in.) framed: 181 x 165.1 x 11.1 cm (71 1/4 x 65 x 4 3/8 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: The Early Renaissance in Florence
Object 1 of 8


Painted to serve as the altarpiece of the Guardini chapel on the left side of the rood screen in the church of San Niccolò Oltrarno, Florence, and probably in place by 1426;[1] transferred by c. 1567 (the date of the demolition of the rood screen) to the altar of the other chapel of the Guardini family in the same church; moved 1576 to the Sacristy (and replaced by the Annunciation altarpiece newly painted by Alessandro Fei);[2] in a room annexed to the sacristy, probably until the end of the eighteenth century.[3] possibly Francis Weymss-Charteris-Douglas, 9th earl of Wemyss [1796-1883], Gosford House, Longniddry, Scotland;[4] by inheritance to his son, Francis Richard Charteris, 10th earl of Wemyss [1818-1914], Gosford House, by 1886;[5] by inheritance to his son, Hugo Richard Charteris, 11th earl of Wemyss, [1857-1937], Gosford House; sold c. 1915 to (Robert Langton Douglas, London);[6] sold to Henry Goldman [1857-1937], New York, by 1916;[7] (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York);[8] purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[9] gift 1937 to NGA.

[1] As shown by Serena Padovani, "Apunti su alcuni dipinti quattrocenteschi di San Niccolò Oltrano," in Studi di storia dell'arte in onore di Mina Gregori, ed. Elisa Acanfora and Micaela Sambucco Hamoud, Milan, 1994: 39-46, the butcher Michele Guardini dictated his will on 15 July 1417, stipulating the construction of a chapel dedicated to the Annunciation in the church of San Niccolò. This would have been an addition to the new church, built in the early years of the century and roofed at Guardini's expense in 1411 (see Walter and Elisabeth Paatz, Die Kirchen von Florenz, 6 vols., Frankfurt am Main, 1952: 4:359-365, and Giovanna Damiani, "La chiesa quattrocentesca. Ipotesi di ricostruzione," in San Niccolò Oltrarno. La Chiesa, una famiglia di antiquary, ed. Giovanna Damiana, Anna Laghi, et al., 2 vols., Florence, 1982: 1:26). On 8 March 1426, when Guardini replaced his old will with a new one, his chapel must already have been not only built but also decorated, since it appears to be regularly officiated by a chaplain. Thus 1417 and 1426 are post and ante quem dates for the execution of Masolino's altarpiece.

[2] The history of Masolino's panel and its various transfers are given in precise detail in a manuscript dated 1579 by the parish priest of the time (Leonardo Tanci, "Memoriae della chiesa di San Niccolò Oltrarno in Firenze," 1579, Ms. Florence, Archivio parrocchiale di San Niccolò, fol. 116r; see also Damiani 1982: 1:58, who for the first time introduces this text into art historical literature). The claim by Perri Lee Roberts ("Lost and Found: The San Niccolò Annunciation Reconsidered," Southeastern College Art Conference Review 11 (1990): 372-378) that the manuscript names Masolino as author of the painting is the fruit of a misunderstanding.

[3] A marginal note added to the manuscript sheet cited above further specifies: "anzi questa tavola si messe nella squola et voglio dire opera, e in sagrestia in detto luogo si messe quella de Pieri" ("rather this panel [Masolino's Annunciation] was put in the school and I mean vestry board, and in the sacristy in its place was put the Pieri panel [the panel formerly placed above the altar on the other side of the rood screen, patronized by the Pieri family, now lost]"). In a miscellaneous manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence (Notize varie della Città di Firenze, Ms. Palatino 1177, after 1713), a marginal note to Vasari's description of the Annunciation in San Niccolò (fol. 13v) indicates: "Nella Sagrestia piccola una tavola piccola sopra la Porta internamente: dove vi è Santissima Nunziata e vi è bella soffitta con una colonna avanti tirato il tutto con supposta prospettiva" ("In the little sacristy a small panel above the door on the inside: where there is the Holy Virgin Annunciate and there is a beautiful ceiling with a column in front, all of it shown in perspective"). The note is important because it gives an unmistakable description of the panel, and thus definitive proof of its identity as NGA 1937.1.16. The "piccola Sagrestia" is presumably the same room annexed to the sacristy which Tanci referred to as the "squola" and "opera." The note is unfortunately not dated, but since in an earlier sheet (fol. 11r) mention is made of the deceased prince Ferdinando de' Medici, it must have been written after 1713.

The commentary to Vasari's Lives in the Antonelli edition (Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, ed. Giuseppe Antonelli, 19 vols., Venice, 1828-1833: 2:422) does not yet note the painting's absence from the church--its disappearance is announced only in the edition by Giovanni Masselli and Giovan Paolo Montani (Giorgio Vasari, Opere, ed. Masselli and Montani, 2 vols., Florence, 1832-1838: 252 n. 9)--but it must have been removed from the church by c. 1800, since Tommaso Puccini, writing his unpublished comments on Vasari's Lives, already notes the panel's absence (see "Dialoghi sulle vite dei pittori del Vasari," c. 1800, Archive of the Gallerie Fiorentine, Ms. no. 46, fol. 116). The suspicion, as yet unprovable, is that Masolino's Annunciation as well as Gentile's Quaratesi Madonna, two important documents of early Quattrocento Florentine painting that were unappreciated by collectors of the period, were both purchased by William Young Ottley, the aficionado of Italian primitives, during his stay in Italy between 1791 and 1798 (see Ellis Waterhouse, "Some Notes on W.Y. Ottley's Collection of Italian Primitives," Italian Studies Presented to E.R. Vincent, ed. C.P. Brand, K. Foster, and U. Limentani, Cambridge, 1962: 272-280).

[4] Presumably the work was hanging in the family residence of Gosford House or elsewhere for some time before 1886 (see note 5). When Gustav Friedrich Waagen (see Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London, 1857: 437-441) visited Gosford House he described mainly Dutch paintings and pictures from a later period; but the scholar was admitted only to the "principal apartments" of the house, and it could be that the Annunciation was hanging in a room to which he was not given access. Some years earlier Waagen (Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854: 2:82) had occasion to see, at Amisfield House, the collection of Lord Elcho, the future 10th earl of Wemyss, whom he describes as an "ardent admirer of the Italian school." However, Masolino's Annunciation was not quoted among the paintings seen in this house either, nor does it appear in a 1771 inventory of the house (transcribed and published in Transactions of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland [Archaeologia Scotica], vol. 1 (1792): 77-84). On the collecting by the earls see: Pictures from Gosford House lent by The Earl of Wemyss and March, exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1957; "The Earls of Wemyss and March," in Dutch Art and Scotland: A Reflection of Taste, exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1992: 171; Shelagh Wemyss, "Francis, Lord Elcho (10th Earl of Wemyss) as a Collector of Italian Old Masters," Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History 8 (2003): 73-76.

[5] The painting appeared in the exhibition of the Royal Academy in London in 1886 as belonging to the collection of the earl of Wemyss.

[6] See Denys Sutton, "Robert Langton Douglas. Part III," Apollo CIX, no. 208 (June 1979): 431, according to whom Douglas first offered the panel for sale to the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. See also letters from Douglas to Fowles dated 18 February 1937 and 1 May 1941, Duveen Brothers Records, Box 244 (reel 299).

[7] See Bernard Berenson, "The Annunciation by Masolino," Art in America 4 (1916): 305-311; William R. Valentiner, "Die Leihausstellung frühitalienischer Malerei in Detroit," Pantheon 12 (1933): no. 3. According to their prospectus (in NGA curatorial files), Duveen purchased the painting from Goldman's estate.

[8] See Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America, New York, 1941: no. 28.

[9] Mellon Trust purchase date is according to Mellon collection files in NGA curatorial records and David Finley's notebook (donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1977, now in the Gallery Archives).

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