The shared the following Tuesday about two new exciting additions to its collections.
At the annual meeting of its Art Collectors’ Council, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens enriched its European art collection with the acquisition of "St. George and the Dragon" (ca. 1522–27), a well-preserved, expertly carved polychrome and gilt wood sculpture newly attributed to master sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, Giovan Angelo del Maino (ca. 1470–ca. 1536). Also acquired at the meeting on May 5 was a French Barbizon School painting, "Sunshine and Shadow" (ca. 1830–1840), by Constant Troyon (1810–1865).
*The Huntington’s Art Collectors’ Council is a group of 46 donors who support the growth of the collections through active involvement in the acquisition process. They meet every spring to select works for acquisition presented by the Huntington’s curatorial staff.
Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington and specialist in European sculpture, identified del Maino as the maker of the previously unattributed "St. George and the Dragon" in consultation with colleague Giancarlo Gentilini, a leading scholar of early Italian sculpture based at Perugia University in Italy, followed by her research.
Hess said, "Fine examples of Renaissance sculpture are among the most rare and sought-after objects on the art market today. Works that can be attributed to a known artist, that largely retain their original ornament, and that are as finely wrought as this sculpture are almost never seen. We are thrilled to be able to make this acquisition."
In addition to spectacular carvings that remain in situ in Italy, some of del Maino’s works have entered public institutions, including an extravagantly carved altar made around 1530 for the church of Sant’Agostino, Piacenza, that is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The only other work by the artist known to be in the United States is a panel depicting the "Massacre of the Innocents" in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
"St. George and the Dragon," which stands 27 ¾ inches high, will go on public view in a room in the Huntington Art Gallery that will be devoted to religious Renaissance art, set to open this summer after a complete reinstallation.
The Troyon painting complements an existing group of Barbizon works in the galleries that were purchased by Henry Huntington, the institution’s founder, when he first began to collect art. "'Sunshine and Shadow' is a brilliant example of Troyon’s ability to manipulate these two features,” said Hess. “It raises the quality of the entire Barbizon School installation in the Huntington Art Gallery, allowing us to exhibit its early phase, when the influence of John Constable, who is well represented here, was at its strongest. It also helps us further understand the French and English cultural exchange of the 19th century."
St. George and the Dragon
St. George and the Dragon depicts the legendary hero riding bareback, raising his right arm as he prepares to slay the monster beneath him with a lance. The dragon twists around toward his attacker and attempts to fight back by striking the horse with his right claw. The figure group sits on an elegantly carved base composed of panels of scrolling foliage displaying a pair of putti holding a shield beneath a bishop’s miter and staff—important elements that helped identify the patron and confirm the artist.
Gentilini recently suggested del Maino as the sculptor, recognizing the artist’s specific figural style and use of vibrant polychromy (various paint colors). Hess then overlaid his findings with her research. Before this new assessment, it was not confirmed whether the work was even Italian.
Del Maino is considered the greatest exponent of wood sculpture in Renaissance Lombardy, a region of Northern Italy that includes Milan. In "St. George and the Dragon," he creatively employed the small hill and dragon’s claw to support the horse, allowing for it to be depicted rearing, something normally not possible in wood, which lacks tensile strength. Del Maino’s inventiveness (his dragon has troll-like ears and a lion’s tale) and the vivid decoration of the base and soldier’s costume (with colorful scalloped trousers, crested feathered helmet, fluttering skirt and flipping epaulette-like strips) are hallmarks of the artist.
Sunshine and Shadow
In "Sunshine and Shadow" (oil on canvas, 37-7/8 x 51-1/8 in.),Troyon concentrates on intense variations of light and shade, expressing the increasing interest among artists in 19th-century France in portraying the effects of atmosphere in nature, an interest that set the stage for one of that country’s most enduring artistic legacies: Impressionism.
The sloping bank of a small brook, a group of trees, a bridge, an old house, and a distant wood are all painted in shadow. In between the house and the trees, the sun streams down to illuminate groups of figures, the edges of the bridge, and a horse and hay-laden cart. The lower hanging branches of the trees in the middle-ground—the leaves of which seem translucent as they catch the rays of the sun—enhance the effect of brilliant sunshine. In addition to these dazzling touches of light, a glow permeates the entire work to enrich the painting’s subtle and luminous coloration. By manipulating the zigzagging line of light, Troyon leads the eye from dappled illumination in the foreground to bright sunshine in the background at the right.
At a time when the dramatic Romanticism of Géricault and Ingres dominated the scene, young French painters like Troyon responded enthusiastically to the markedly different approach of John Constable, as displayed at the Paris Salon of 1824. To these painters, Constable presented an innovative alternative to the academic tradition of showing carefully finished, highly idealized images of sites famous for their beauty or historical associations. In "Sunshine and Shadow," Troyon’s textured, active brushwork functions much like Constable’s own flickering highlights, capturing the freshness of the scene and suggesting that the work results from the artist’s direct observation of nature.
Henry Huntington acquired Constable’s acclaimed "View on the Stour near Dedham" and several Barbizon school paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Charles-Emile Jacque, and others in the early 1920s as he and his wife, Arabella, worked to furnish their newly constructed mansion with fine furnishings and art. "Sunshine and Shadow" will join these and other works of 19th-century British art on the second floor, west wing, of the Huntington Art Gallery.