Florence, Bargello Museum acquires Donatello's Madonna of Via Pietrapiana

Big blow from the Ministry of Culture: purchased for 1.2 million euros the Madonna di via Pietrapiana, the last autograph work by Donatello left in private hands. It has been assigned to the Bargello Museum in Florence, where the work will join the David and other masterpieces by the great sculptor.

A very important acquisition for the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence: in fact, the museum’s collection is enriched with Donatello’s famous Madonna of Via Pietrapiana , thus adding to the institute’s important Donatello nucleus, which houses such celebrated works as the marble David, the bronze David , the St. George, theLove-Attis and others. The Madonna of Via Pietrapiana, a terracotta by the great Renaissance leader dating from around 1450-1455 (86 x 64 x 12.5 cm) and the only autograph work by Donatello until recently still in private ownership, was purchased by the Ministry of Culture, assigned to the collections of the Bargello National Museum (inv. 558 Sculptures), and permanently set up in the prestigious Salone di Donatello, the monumental environment that houses the sculptor’s cornerstones. The terracotta was purchased by the Ministry by exercising its right of first refusal in 2021, for an amount of€1,200,000. The relief owes its name to the fact that it was originally placed in a tabernacle on the facade of the building at 38 Via Pietrapiana, on the corner with Via de’ Pepi, in Florence. It is one of the Ministry’s most important purchases in recent decades.

The relief had already been declared of particularly important historical and artistic interest by a decree issued in 2011: in 2021, when the work was presented to have authorization for sale on national territory, the Bargello Museums in Florence, in the person of the director, Paola D’Agostino, reported to the Regional Secretariat for Tuscany and the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio of Florence as well as to the General Directorate for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, of their interest in the State’s purchase of the work by way of pre-emption, indicating as its destination the Salone di Donatello, the heart of the Bargello National Museum. After a long and complex administrative procedure, the purchase was finalized.

Donatello, Madonna of Via Pietrapiana (c. 1450-1455; terracotta, 86 x 64 x 12.5 cm; Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello)
Donatello, Madonna di via Pietrapiana (c. 1450-1455; terracotta, 86 x 64 x 12.5 cm; Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello)

The purchase by the Ministry of Culture for the Italian state saw the commitment of all the bodies involved both on a territorial basis (from the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio of Florence, first with Andrea Pessina and then with Antonella Ranaldi, to the Regional Secretariat of Tuscany, with Giorgia Muratori, to the Technical and Scientific Committee for Fine Arts of the Ministry of Culture, to the General Directorate for Museums and the General Directorate for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, which was particularly worked to ensure that the right of pre-emption was exercised and the complex purchase transaction was successful).

A central work of ancient public Florence, located for centuries just a few hundred meters from the Bargello National Museum, it had great fortune in its day, so much so that numerous copies were derived from the original, which are now preserved in London, Berlin, and other cities compared to which, however, Florentine terracotta stands out for the quality of its modeling, as was highlighted in the exhibition Donatello, the Renaissance (at the National Museum of the Bargello and Palazzo Strozzi from March 19 to July 31, 2022) curated by Francesco Caglioti, where the work was recently exhibited.

The Madonna of Via Pietrapiana wasrecognized as anautograph in 1986 by Charles Avery and deemed so by later critics. In the same 1986 it was exhibited at the exhibition Donatello and His Own. Florentine Sculpture of the Early Renaissance (curated by Alan Phipps Darr and Giorgio Bonsanti) at Forte Belvedere. The work was first exhibited at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in 2009, on the occasion of the exhibition I Grandi bronzi del Battistero. Giovan Francesco Rustici and Leonardo, curated by Tommaso Mozzati, Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi, and Philippe Sénéchal, with a record by Ilaria Ciseri, current curator of the Bargello’s collections. The Bargello Museum thus represents the ideal destination for the Madonna of Via Pietrapiana, a rare and delicate work, because only in such a museum is it possible to follow the evolution of this peculiarly Florentine typology of relief, thanks in part to the illustrious examples of the highest artistic level by Luca della Robbia, Michelozzo and Desiderio da Settignano, to name but a few, and which had its start precisely from the Madonnas shaped by Donatello.

The Madonna of Via Pietrapiana in the Donatello Hall of the Bargello Museum
The Madonna of Via Pietrapiana in the Donatello Hall of the Bargello Museum

"The Madonna and Child of Via Pietrapiana," said Paola D’Agostino, director of the Bargello Museums, “represents an acquisition of exceptional importance for the heritage of the Italian State, which was made possible by the collaboration between the different offices of the Ministry of Culture. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Beatrice Bentivoglio Ravasio, who in 2021 took care of the purchase with the collaboration of Elvira Altiero, now working at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, but at the time at the Direzione Genarle Belle Arti e Paesaggio. Thanks to the collaboration with the ministerial offices, with Giorgia Muratori, with Andrea Pessina first and with Antonella Ranaldi later we managed to conclude this important operation. The Salone di Donatello is a unique place in the world to understand the long and extraordinary activity of Donatello, the greatest artist of the Renaissance, as we hope to have reaffirmed with the major exhibition in 2022 in collaboration with the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation, the Berliner Staatliche Museen and the Victoria and Albert in London. Last year, Donatello’s Salone became once again, after the 1887 exhibition, a unique and privileged section in the temporary exhibition itinerary in Florence. From today, the Madonna and Child from Via Pietrapiana will be on display in this special place, alongside the master’s other masterpieces and in dialogue with works by Luca della Robbia, Nanni di Banco and other artists of the 15th century, in anticipation of a remounting of the Salone planned for the months of 2024 and curated by Ilaria Ciseri.”

Superintendent Antonella Ranaldi explained that “technically, the purchase was made possible through the instrument of pre-emption-a faculty that the state reserves for itself to purchase valuable cultural goods on the market, in ways already established by the first protection laws of the early 20th century. But it is not very common for preemption to be exercised. The opportunity of the purchase of Donatello’s terracotta bas-relief had been pointed out by my colleague Paola D’Agostino. Certainly the Bargello National Museum with its bronze David by Donatello is the most suitable venue. Among the tasks of a museum, there is the preservation of the works housed, public display, expanded accessibility, but also, not to be forgotten, the augmentation of its own collections. As was done in this case through a targeted and challenging purchase for the benefit of an important museum such as the Bargello. And Bargello means Donatello, it means Florence along with so much else. The acquisition of the work goes above all to the community. The offices of the Ministry, from the Superintendency to the Secretariat to the General Directorate in Rome have done their part and the result is before our eyes.” .

"An image of intense fascination, the Madonna of Via Pietrapiana shows all the expressive power of Donatello’s sculpture and his constant genius in inventing details," commented Ilaria Ciseri, curator of collections at the Bargello National Museum.

Florence, Bargello Museum acquires Donatello's Madonna of Via Pietrapiana
Florence, Bargello Museum acquires Donatello's Madonna of Via Pietrapiana

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