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Peter Humfrey, “Veronese, Italian 16th Century/The Annunciation/c. 1583/1584,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/45891 (accessed November 26, 2020).

 

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Overview

The Virgin Mary, kneeling in prayer, is interrupted by the Angel Gabriel, who points upward to a vision of God surrounded by clouds and angels. Between the figures of God and the Virgin is another blaze of light containing the dove of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of a group of relatively small-scale Annunciations by Veronese and his workshop. Much of the composition references an Annunciation that Veronese painted for the Escorial in Madrid. For that important commission for King Philip II of Spain, Veronese strategically drew inspiration from a version painted by Titian (Venetian, 1488/1490 - 1576) a half century earlier as a diplomatic gift to Philip’s mother, the empress Isabella. By drawing a parallel between Veronese’s own version of the Annunciation and that by his recently deceased colleague, he would have been paying a gracious compliment to both Titian and Philip. Then, after meeting the terms of a major foreign commission, it would have been natural for Veronese and his workshop to maximize on his invention by producing smaller versions for the local market.

In the Gallery’s picture, Veronese has added several details traditionally associated with the iconography of the Annunciation, including the view of the Virgin’s bedchamber, on the right, and the crystal carafe, symbolic of her purity, in front of her.

Entry

This is one of a group of relatively small-scale Annunciations by Veronese and his workshop, which by common consent date to the last decade of the painter’s career. An obvious point of reference is provided by the large altarpiece in the Escorial, which Veronese signed and dated in 1583 [fig. 1]; and although it is not such a close replica of the altarpiece as another, smaller version, formerly in the Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen,[1] the Gallery’s picture shares many features of composition with that in the Escorial. As in the altarpiece, the Angel Gabriel points upward to a vision of God the Father surrounded by clouds and angels; between the figures of God the Father and the Virgin, kneeling at her prie-dieu, is another blaze of light, containing the Dove of the Holy Spirit; and in both pictures the architectural setting includes a tall fluted column behind Gabriel and a marble balustrade, which closes off the paved foreground and leads to a view of the Virgin’s hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden. Most of these compositional elements are clearly derived from Titian’s Annunciation of circa 1536, now lost, but recorded in the well-circulated engraving of 1537 by Gian Jacopo Caraglio [fig. 2] (and, probably more accurately, in a workshop copy in Galashiels, Scotland).[2] In the Gallery’s picture, Veronese has added a number of details traditionally associated with the iconography of the Annunciation, including the view of the Virgin’s thalamus, or bedchamber, on the right, and the crystal carafe in front of her, symbolic of her purity. The cat, here seen crouching in front of the balustrade, occasionally also appears in scenes of the Annunciation, but it is not clear whether in the present case any symbolic allusion is intended.[3]

There exists some critical disagreement about the chronological relationship between the Escorial Annunciation and the present picture, and also on the extent of workshop collaboration in the latter. Critics who have insisted on the high, autograph quality of the painting include Rodolfo Pallucchini and Teresio Pignatti;[4] others, however, including Daniel Catton Rich, Edoardo Arslan, Remigio Marini (proposing the intervention of an assistant such as Benedetto Caliari or Francesco Montemezzano), Richard Cocke, and Fern Rusk Shapley (downgrading her own previous assessment), have judged it to be essentially a shop product.[5] Indeed, while the intervention of the master is evident in the energetic brushwork and rich scumbling, especially the execution of the God the Father group and the background is more perfunctory and may be regarded as the work of an assistant. Pallucchini proposed a dating to circa 1580/1583, apparently because he justifiably regarded the altarpiece as a work of collaboration and considered it logical that what he regarded as the finer painting should precede the less fine. He was followed in this opinion by Pignatti in 1976.[6]

In his monograph of 1995, however, Pignatti described the Escorial altarpiece as the first in the series of Veronese’s late Annunciations, an apparent change of opinion that seems fully justified. The Escorial picture was commissioned as part of the multipaneled retablo for the high altar of the royal basilica;[7] and although it was never in fact incorporated, it was clearly painted according to strict instructions regarding subject and dimensions and according to precise information about its intended placing at the bottom left of the ensemble. Commissioned to paint a large Annunciation for King Philip II of Spain, Veronese would have found it natural to draw inspiration from Titian’s version of half a century earlier. Although he would have known this picture only in the form of Caraglio’s engraving, Veronese would have been perfectly aware that Titian had sent the original to Spain as a diplomatic gift to Philip’s mother, the empress Isabella.[8] By drawing a parallel between his own version of the Annunciation and that by his recently deceased colleague, he would have been paying a gracious compliment to both Titian and Philip, while also perhaps angling to inherit his predecessor’s mantle as preferred painter of the Spanish monarch. Then, having met the terms of a major foreign commission, it would have been equally natural for Veronese to have maximized on his invention by producing a number of smaller versions, of greater or lesser quality, for the local market. No longer bound by the intended context of the Escorial altarpiece, Veronese adopted a squarer picture field for the Gallery’s picture and showed the light coming from the left rather than from the liturgical south. The pose of the Angel—moving forward, as in Titian’s prototype, rather than balletically hovering in the left corner—may also reflect the change of context and function.

In keeping with the officially sanctioned belief that the city of Venice came into existence on the Feast of the Annunciation in the year 421, the image of the Virgin Annunciate traditionally formed a central element of Venetian political iconography, most notably in the Annunciation group represented in the mid-14th century by Guariento on either side of his monumental fresco depicting the Coronation of the Virgin in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace. In a study of Veronese’s series of Annunciations of the 1580s, Daniel Arasse found it no coincidence that the subject should have found particular success in the context of private devotion in the decade following the destruction of Guariento’s fresco by fire (1577) and coinciding with a particularly terrible outbreak of the plague (1575–1577).[9] The author argued that the Venetian authorities, while replacing the Coronation with Tintoretto’s Paradise in the council chamber, actively encouraged the more intimate subject of the Annunciation in the context of private devotion. He also argued that in the post-Tridentine period, the Virgin Mary was more actively promoted as a protector against the plague than the traditional plague saints Sebastian and Roch, and that the dignified, noble style of Veronese was regarded as more appropriate to Marian iconography than that of other leading Venetian painters, such as Tintoretto or Bassano. Although interesting, these arguments remain somewhat speculative, and Arasse did not mention the commission from Philip, which surely provided the most significant stimulus for Veronese’s preoccupation with the subject of the Annunciation in the 1580s.

From the time of its earliest known record, at the Carignan sale in Paris in 1742, until its sale at Christie’s in 1785, the Annunciation was paired with a Noli Me Tangere by Veronese of the identical format and dimensions.[10] Since the latter picture has now disappeared, it is difficult to judge whether the two were always intended as pendants. Although their respective subjects are not closely linked, their compositions, involving two figures in close psychological interaction but without physical contact, could have been complementary.

Peter Humfrey

March 21, 2019

Provenance

Victor Amédée, 3rd prince de Carignan [1690-1741], Paris; (his estate sale, Hôtel de Soissons, Paris, 30 July 1742 and days following, unnumbered lots, bought in); (his estate sale, Hôtel de Soissons, Paris, 18 June 1743 and days following, no. 101); purchased by Thibaut for Louis François I de Bourbon, prince de Conti [1717-1776], Paris; (his estate sale, Palais du Temple, Paris, 8 April 1777 and days following, no. 104); purchased by (Jacques Langlier, Paris) for Antoine Poullain [d. 1780], Paris; (Poullain estate sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, 15-21 March 1780, 3rd day, no. 4); (Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, Paris); Joseph Hyacinthe François de Paul de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil [1740-1817], Paris; (his sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, 24-25 November 1784, 2nd day, no. 6); (J.P.B. Le Brun, Paris and London); (Le Brun sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 18-19 March 1785, 2nd day, no. 79); Welbore Ellis Agar [1735-1805], London; by inheritance to his illegitimate sons, Welbore Felix Agar [d. 1836] and Sir Emmanuel Felix Agar [1781-1866]; purchased 1806 with the entire Agar collection by Robert Grosvenor, 1st marquess of Westminster [1767-1845], Eaton Hall, Cheshire, England;[1] by inheritance to his son, Richard Grosvenor, 2nd marquess of Westminster [1795-1869], Eaton Hall; by inheritance to his son, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st duke of Westminster [1825-1899], Eaton Hall; by inheritance to his grandson, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd duke of Westminster [1879-1953], Eaton Hall; (Westminster sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 4 July 1924, no. 58); (Buttery, London).[2] (Julius Böhler, Munich and Lucerne); sold 17 February 1925 to Julius H. Haass [1856-1931], Detroit; by inheritance to his wife, Lillian Henkel Haass [1879-1960], Detroit, until at least 1949.[3] (Newhouse Galleries, New York). (Frederick Mont, Inc., New York), from at least 1956; sold 14 February 1957 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1959 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1876
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1876, no. 130.
1903
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1903, no. 52.
1927
Fifth Loan Exhibition of Old and Modern Masters, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1927, no. 24.
1929
[Loan Exhibition], The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1929.
1939
Mostra di Paolo Veronese, Ca' Giustinian, Venice, 1939, no. 86, repro.
1941
Masterpieces of Art from European and American Collections. Twenty-second Loan Exhibition of Old Masters, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1941, no. 63.
1949
Masterpieces of Painting from Detroit Private Collections, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1949, no. 35, pl. 4.
Technical Summary

X-radiographs reveal that strips respectively measuring 7.3 centimeters and 6.4 centimeters wide have been sewn to the original fabric support at the top and bottom. All of the fabrics are plain weave, but these added strips are coarser than the relatively fine main support fabric and were certainly later additions; they were already present by 1781, however, when the composition was engraved.[1] The painting has been lined, and the tacking margins on the left and right edges have been opened up and incorporated into the picture plane.

Microscopic examination has confirmed that the canvas was primed with a dark, reddish-brown ground, and this is visible to the naked eye beneath the thinnest paint layers. The paint was applied fluidly with vigorous brushstrokes.

The rather thick varnish has discolored, obscuring the vibrancy of the original palette. The extensive retouching that covers mild abrasion to the paint and numerous small repairs has similarly discolored.

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Jia-sun Tsang

March 21, 2019

Bibliography
1781
Basan, François, ed. Collection de cent-vingt estampes, gravées d’après les tableaux & dessins qui composoient le cabinet de M. Poullain. Paris, 1781: 14, pl. 78.
1931
Rich, Daniel Catton. “An Unpublished Veronese in Chicago.” Pantheon 7, no. 1 (1931): 20.
1932
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 420.
1934
Fiocco, Giuseppe. Paolo Veronese. Rome, 1934: 127.
1939
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Mostra di Paolo Veronese. Exh. cat. Ca’ Giustinian, Venice, 1939: 198-199 no. 86.
1948
Arslan, Edoardo. “Nota su Veronese e Zelotti.” Belle Arti 1, nos. 5-6 (1948): 236.
1957
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:130.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 209, repro.
1959
Richardson, E. P., ed. "Accessions of American and Canadian Museums, April-June 1959." The Art Quarterly 22, no. 3 (Autumn 1959): 277.
1961
Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 126, repro. pl. 118.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 308, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 136.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 123, repro.
1968
Marini, Remigio. Tutta la pittura di Paolo Veronese. Milan, 1968: 125-126, no. 255.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 40, 305, 647.
1973
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 39-40, fig. 73.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 364, repro.
1976
Pignatti, Terisio. Veronese. 2 vols. Venice, 1976: 1:162, no. 312.
1977
Cocke, Richard. “Review of Veronese, L’Opera Completa, by Terisio Pignatti.” The Burlington Magazine 119 (1977): 787.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:524-525, 2:pl. 365, as Veronese and Studio.
1981
Badt, Kurt. Paolo Veronese. Cologne, 1981: 40, 184.
1984
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Veronese. Milan, 1984: 154, 187.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 215, no. 260, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 422, repro.
1991
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1991: 290, no. 220.
1994
Mulcahy, Rosemarie. The Decoration of the Royal Basilica of El Escorial. Cambridge, 1994: 149.
1995
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese. 2 vols. Milan, 1995: 2:448 no. 343.
2005
Huber, Hans Dieter. Paolo Veronese: Kunst als soziales System. Munich, 2005: 459.
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