Published: January 4, 2011
Fifteenth Century Florence artist Filippino Lippi (1457‱504) counted wealthy banker Filippo Strozzi among his principal patrons. In 1487, Strozzi contracted the artist to decorate his funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella with a cycle of frescoes.
Around the same time, Strozzi also commissioned a Madonna and Child for his villa at Santuccio, west of the city. This work was acquired from the Duveen firm in 1928 by Jules Bache and was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum in 1949. In preparation for an exhibition on the artist that will be held in Rome later this year, the picture was taken to conservation for examination last fall.
A test cleaning revealed that beneath a thick, discolored varnish there was a well preserved, richly colored painting. It emerged that the varnish had been artificially toned to create an almost monochromatic appearance †an amber-colored uniformity that conformed to the idea of how an Old Master should appear. So striking is the transformation that the picture seems a new acquisition.
To celebrate this restoration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is mounting “A Renaissance Masterpiece Revealed: Filippino Lippi’s ‘Madonna and Child,'” a focused exhibition, beginning January 15, that will include the picture and a number of objects in the museum’s permanent collection that can be associated with the Strozzi by their coat of arms, which has three crescent moons. The exhibit will be on view through April 25.
The objects include a textile, a wooden chair, a cassone and a column capital from the Palazzo Strozzi, a grand Fifteenth Century palace in Florence. Filippo Strozzi belonged to one of the great patrician families of the city and played an important role there as an art patron. Although his father was exiled by the Medici in 1434, in 1466 Filippo was able to return to the city of his forebears, having made his fortune in the Strozzi bank in Naples. He set about rehabilitating the family’s prestige, in part by commissioning outstanding works of art such as Lippi’s “Madonna and Child.”
The exhibition is organized by Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy chairman of European paintings. The painting was cleaned and restored by associate conservator Karen Thomas, overseen by Michael Gallagher, the Sherman Fairchild conservator in charge of paintings conservation.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is at 1000 Fifth Avenue. For information, 212-570-3951 or www.metmuseum.org .
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