National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Adoration of the Magi Sandro Botticelli (painter)
Florentine, 1446 - 1510
The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1478/1482
tempera and oil on poplar panel
painted surface: 68 x 102 cm (26 3/4 x 40 3/16 in.) overall size: 70 x 104.2 cm (27 9/16 x 41 in.) framed: 98.4 x 132.1 x 8.3 cm (38 3/4 x 52 x 3 1/4 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: Patrons and Artists in Late 15th-Century Florence
Object 2 of 8


Said to have been acquired from a private collection in Rome by the engraver Peralli.[1] Dominique Vivant Denon [1747-1825], Paris;[2] sold 1808 to Czar Alexander I of Russia, [1777-1825], Saint Petersburg; Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg;[3] purchased January 1931 through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London and New York; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York and London) by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.;[4] deeded 5 June 1931 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[5] gift 1937 to NGA.

[1] Information given by E. Brüningk and Andrei Somov, Ermitage Impérial. Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. Les Écoles d'Italie et d'Espagne, 3rd ed., Saint Petersburg, 1891: 73: "d'après le témoignage du baron Vivant Denon." No reference to an engraver named Peralli could be found in any of the generally used art dictionaries. It is know, however, that Botticelli's small panel St. Augustine in His Study (no. 1473 in the Uffizi in Florence), was acquired in 1779 through Piero Pieralli (see John Fleming, "The Hugfords in Florence," The Connoisseur 136 [1955]: 206). On Denon see the following note.

[2] Actually Brüningk and Somov 1891: 73 say only that the painting was acquired "par l'entremise" ("through the intermediation") of Denon. It is quite possible, however, that Denon--who, apart from being the creator of the Musée Napoleon, also had a very large private collection of paintings, art objects, and antiquities of his own (see Jean Chatelain, Dominique Vivant Denon et le Louvre de Napoleon, Paris, 1973: 260)--was already in possession of The Adoration of the Magi when in 1808 he was entrusted with augmenting the Russian Imperial collections (see Vladimir Levinson-Lessing, Istoria kartinskoi galerei Ermitaga, 1764-1917, Leningrad, 1985: 138).

[3] The list of abbreviations for Brüiningk and Somov (1891: xxxv) and Andrei Ivanovich Somov (Ermitage Impérial. Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. Les Écoles d'Italie et d'Espagne, 2nd ed., Saint Petersburg, 1899 [3rd ed., 1909]: xxxiv) states that the sign "A," included in the entry relative to the NGA painting, means it was acquired by Czar Paul I (1754-1801). Yet this identification is obviously an error, since besides the fact that Paul I was notoriously un-interested in art collecting, the very date of the acquisition of The Adoration of the Magi for the Hermitage, seven years after the death of Paul I, proves that the painting entered the Imperial collection by request of his successor.

[4] See note 5. According to John Walker, Self-Portrait with Donors, Washington, D.C., 1974: 116, Matthiessen announced to his associates on 9 February 1931 that he had succeeded in buying The Adoration of the Magi. Art periodicals had begun to divulge the information by October 1931 ("Hermitage Art Reported Sold to A.W. Mellon," Art News 30 [17 October 1931]: 3, 13, which quotes an article that appeared earlier that month in The New York Herald Tribune; see also "Editorial: Breaking up the Hermitage," The Burlington Magazine 63, no. 365 [August 1933]: 53, but the acquisition was officially announced only in 1935 ("Mellon Holdings are Announced by Knoedler & Co.," Art News 33, no. 21 [23 February 1935]: 3-5; "Rundschau. Amerika," Pantheon [April 1935]: 150).

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

In 2012 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, acquired the M. Knoedler & Co. records (accession number 2012.M.54), and in 2013 processed portions of the archive were first made publicly available. An entry from a January 1931 Knoedler sales book confirms the sale to Mellon (on-line illustration of the sales book page, in Karen Mayer-Roux, "Treasures from the Vault: Knoedler, Mellon, and an Unlikely Sale," The Getty Iris [], 30 July 2013).

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