The Getty Museum has announced an agreement to buy Parmigianino’s Virgin with Child, St. John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene, contingent on a British export license. The luminous, 29-1/2-inch-high oil-on-paper work was on loan to the Getty earlier this spring (it’s not on view now). Seller and price were not disclosed.
When the painting was on loan to the National Gallery, London, someone posted a photo of it on Flickr. This drew a comment from “A Graduate of Pomona.”
“This painting has been of special interest to me ever since I first saw the original at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds in the late 1980s. As I was praising it to the keeper of the collection, he informed me that some gentleman had been out from London a week earlier and that they had doubted the attribution to Parmigianino. This greatly surprised me. When I returned home and discussed the painting with the first curator of the Getty Museum, I was again amazed when he said that the painting was by the less than brilliant pupil of Parmigianino, Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli. We agreed, however, that if it were by Bedoli, the painting would have to be his greatest work, by far. Then Cecil Gould gave thumbs down in his 1994 monograph on Parmigianino, stating that it was probably by Bedoli.
“Things began to change, however, when an Italian critic gave it to Parmigianino, followed by David Ekserdjian’s strong endorsement of that attribution in his 2006 monograph on the artist. I was very gratified to see that the National Gallery had accepted the painting on loan from the Morrison Picture Settlement in 2011.…”
I can’t vouch for an anonymous commenter (“It’s only the Internet…”) but it sounds believable. The Walter Morrison Picture Settlement has been at Sudeley Castle, site of Elizabeth Hurley’s wedding, since 1949. Morrison trustees have been gradually downsizing their collection. The trove included Constable’s The Lock, auctioned to Baron Thyssen in 1990, and Poussin’s Landscape with Calm, bought by the Getty in 1997.
Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli was the less-talented cousin of Parmigianino. The two artists’ works have long been confused. LACMA had a Bedoli Infant Christ with Infant Saint John the Baptist, a painting with a long provenance that British king Charles I had apparently owned and accepted as a Parmigianino. LACMA showed it as a Bedoli (below) and sold it at Sotheby’s in 2010.
The ex-LACMA painting is near-contemporary (1530s) with the one the Getty hopes to buy. Like it, it shows a side-eye air kiss by the holy infants. Bedoli imitates his cousin’s mismatched glances, goofy distortions of scale, and verdant foliage. The expressions are less compelling, though, and Bedoli’s stubby fingers are the opposite of Parmigianino’s spidery ones.
The Getty tends to prevail in export licenses if and only if a British museum doesn’t truly need the work in question. Its adversary is often the National Gallery.
Con, from the Getty’s perspective: London must be convinced this rediscovered painting-on-paper is the real deal.
Pro: The National Gallery is as well-stocked with Parmigianinos as any world-class museum can hope to be. The artist died young, at 37, leaving barely 50 accepted paintings. The National Gallery has three of them, a famous Portrait of a Collector (1523); a renowned, 11-foot-high altarpiece, The Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome (1526-7); and a Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (1527-31), a late-ish devotional painting that’s about the size of the one the Getty wants to buy. Another Parmigianino, Portrait of Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci, is on loan to the National Gallery from the Duke of Abercorn.
UPDATE (Sep. 1). The National Gallery has announced its intention to buy a Pontormo Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap (below) that was sold to an overseas buyer for a £30 million. This could bode well for the Getty, as the National Gallery is presumably unlikely to go after two expensive mannerist paintings at once.
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