New donation to the National Gallery

March 30 2015

Image of New donation to the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

All hail Angus Neill, a London-based Old Master dealer whom I know well, who has generously donated the above painting to the National Gallery in London. The picture is of Christ Carrying the Cross, and is attributed to the studio of Giovanni Bellini. It was painted c.1500. 

The NG press release says:

Made as a private devotional work, as an aid for prayer and contemplation, this unflinching depiction of Christ’s misery is an emotionally powerful image. There are no narrative elements to the work, with a plain, dark background deliberately directing the viewer’s attention to Christ’s suffering. It serves as an intimate portrayal of the Saviour, not as a divine ideal, but as an individual experiencing palpable human pain.

Although the painter of Christ Carrying the Cross has not been securely identified, it is the work of an undeniably talented painter equipped with both technical ability and emotional intelligence.  The composition derives from the great Venetian master Giovanni Bellini, yet the artist responsible for this picture - whilst under Bellini’s influence - has stamped his individuality on a subject much painted by the master and his pupils.

This theme was enormously popular in Northern Italian painting in the last quarter of the 15th century.  Initially appearing in Milan in the 1480’s, the depiction of Christ’s face, shown with his cross on his way to Calvary, was adopted by several well-known workshops, including that of Leonardo and Andrea Mantegna, who each produced their own different versions of the subject.

Caroline Campbell, National Gallery Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500, said “There are around sixty-five known variants of this composition by Giovanni Bellini and members of his workshop. One of the best known versions belongs to the Gardner Museum in Boston. That picture was purchased by Isabella Gardner, the founder of that museum, in 1896 and was apparently her favourite. She often placed a vase of violets in front of the painting, a tradition that is maintained by the museum to this day.”

Christ Carrying the Cross joins the National Gallery’s collection as the first Venetian example of one of the most important genres of private devotional painting in Renaissance Italy. The painting will not only enhance our exceptional collection of Venetian Renaissance painting, but further strengthen our knowledge of Bellini’s workshop and the great many painters that either passed through or were influenced by his distinct style.

National Gallery Director, Dr Nicholas Penny, said: “The painting is a great puzzle which someone among our six million viewers will surely be able to solve.  It is also a very moving and beautiful image by which thousands will be touched and not easily forget. We are extremely grateful to Angus Neill for his generosity.”

Angus tells me he fell in love with the picture - which he calls 'simply the most shockingly moving image' - when it first surfaced in a sale at Christie's South Kensington, called 'Follower of Bellini, and with an estimate of £1,000. After a bidding battle, the painting sold to Angus for 'about £80,000'. 

I look forward to seeing it at the National soon.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.