Renaissance Portraits From Italy
January 20 - March 21, 2003
David Filderman Gallery Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library, 9th floor
Man with Crown
The fifteenth-century panels in this exhibition are from the personal collection of Myron C. Taylor, former chairman of United States Steel and the first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. They had been hung as "beam ends" (where the upper reaches of the wall meets the ceiling) in his home at 16 East 70th Street in Manhattan. The Taylor home had been converted from three brownstones into a single-family residence of no less than forty rooms in 1922. Taylor paid $80,000 to have the panels installed in what he called the "Gothic Room." (He also had nearly 2,000 sixteenth-century Spanish tiles covering the ceiling of the "music room" which stretched the full 70 feet length of the house.) Taylor, a noted philanthropist and adviser to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, died at home in 1959 at the age of 85. The panels were bequeathed to Taylor's butler. When the home was demolished in the 1960s, the panels came into the possession of a private collector from Long Island. The panels represent profile portraits of real and imaginary figures. Chromatically they range from pale colors to vivid reds, greens, and blues with traces of gilding highlighting hair, robes, garlands and architectural details. The figures are sometimes adorned with exotic garments such as turbans, gilded crowns, laurel leaves or military helmets decorated with fiery dragons. (A helmet strikingly similar to one in the panels rests in the Medieval Art and Armor wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Portrait panels such as these were common in the Quattrocento. Adolfo Venturi's Storia dell'Arte Italiana (1968), depicts those that are today in the Museo Civica in Modena and mentions a series in the Louvre. Raimond van Marle illustrates similar panels from the Palazzo Cavazzo in his Iconographie de l'art profane au moyen-age et a la renaissance (1931); these are now in the Saluzzo Museum. Andrea Mantegna, in his famous painting of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale in Mantova, decorates the ceiling with eight such panels, all depicting Roman emperors beginning with Julius Caesar. Closer to home, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has a set hanging in a frieze arrangement in the Gothic Room. These panels had been purchased in Venice from Antonio Marcato in 1888 and Dino Barozzi in 1899. Dr. Luisa Becherucci, former director of the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, has written that the panels presented here were originally part of a decoration of a ceiling of a salon of the type that is exhibited in Milan in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum. Panels of the same type are found in the second half of the Quattrocento, which is the probable age of the panels in question, not only in Lombardy but also in the region east of the Appenine Alps and especially the Marche region whose artistic center is Urbino. These panels are the products of artisans with a vast iconographic repertory, which changed with great freedom. It is not consequently possible to reach a precise identification of the personages represented or of the coat of arms. The interest of these panels is precisely because of their rarity as examples of a decorative genre of which very few samples remain.
Stanislao G. Pugliese, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History and Italian Studies