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Found two tables with a gold background, illegally exported

Two gold-bottomed plates, illegally exported, have been found and confiscated by the Operative Department of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and now come to enrich the collection of ancient paintings in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, already considered one of the most important in the world, particularly for the late fourteenth and late Gothic sectors.

Italy – Until 2003, the two works of art were part of a private Florentine collection and were then illegally exported to Switzerland, in Chiasso, and hidden in a private vault. The investigative activities of the TPC Operative Department of the Carabinieri Command were started in 2006, under the coordination of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Rome. The investigations allowed to identify the existence of a criminal association composed of Italian professionals and a London antique dealer, involved in the illegal export of cultural goods. The collaboration and assistance in criminal matters with the Swiss Judicial Authority allowed the seizure of the works and their subsequent repatriation to the national territory, which took place in March 2009. On February 2, 2017, the proceedings ended with the annexation of the two tables to the State Heritage and in 2018, finally, with the entrustment to the Gallery of the Academy of Florence. Their exceptional assignment to the Gallery seemed “natural” by virtue of the fact that its collection of gold collections is notoriously one of the most renowned internationally.

The first of the two works depicts Saints Jerome and Julian and is attributable to Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, one of the most traditionalist and prolific painters of the Florentine art scene between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, among the greatest exponents of the so-called Neo-Giotism. The panel, datable to around 1385, despite the modern frame of an autonomous painting, was originally the right compartment of a lost triptych of which the central part is unknown, but whose left compartment, depicting the rare St. Eligius next to St. John the Baptist, once belonged to the famous Lanckoronski collection in Vienna, passed in 1965 on the antiques market in the United States (Newhouse Galleries in New York) and is now of unknown location.

The second is a table for private devotion and represents the Madonna of Heavenly Humility, sitting on a cushion above the clouds with, in the foreground, on the ground, a holy martyr, a holy bishop, St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist. It can be attributed with absolute certainty to the Master of the Bracciolini Chapel, an unknown painter, a typical representative of late Gothic Tuscan painting, presumably active from 1385-90 to about 1420 in Pistoia and the surrounding area, so named by critics for the frescoes with Stories of the Virgin in the chapel of the same name in the church of San Francesco in Pistoia. The dating of the painting should be around 1400.

“The Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has once again done an attentive and persevering job – underlines Cecilie Hollberg, Director of the Gallery of the Academy of Florence – an effort that, with the assignment to the Gallery, ends with great satisfaction for all. Since these are important painters, we will be pleased to find a place for the two plates of size not exaggerated and therefore manageable. The pictorial quality as the colours, especially of the Gerini, of which we have other works in the museum, is exceptional. While, by the Master of the Bracciolini Chapel, it is the first work that reaches us, an absolute rarity. In the three years that I am director of this museum we have managed to acquire about a dozen new works that we will present in an exhibition in January.

The two works will be visible to the public from 14 January 2019 in the temporary exhibition “New acquisitions between 2016 and 2018”.

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