The Angel of the Annunciation
- Place of origin:
ca. 1440-1460 (made)
Bregno, Antonio, born 1425 - died 1457 (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
Carved Istrian stone
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50b, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case WE
The use of Istrian stone for this Annunciation figure and its style indicates that it was created in the Veneto region (encompassing the Adriatic coast) and may have adorned the exterior portal of a church.
Annunciation groups first became popular in Italy during the 13th century. The Virgin and the Angel Gabriel were shown either in frescoes or sculptures often across the real space of a portal. Such sculptures could be made of wood or stone, and were found both inside churches (usually near the triumphal arch of the high altar) and on the exterior on either side of church portals. The exterior display seems to have been particularly popular in Venice due to the preference for highly decorated portals in that city. The style of the works combined with the use of Istrian stone, which was often used for exterior sculpture, could suggest a Venetian provenance for the V&A pair, though this should be understood in the larger context of the Adriatic coast.
The Angel Gabriel holds a stem of lilies in his left hand while his right addresses the Virgin in a blessing gesture. He leans back slightly and is missing the wings which once would have been attached to his back, though holes can be seen where they would have been inserted. As he was meant to be installed against a wall, the back is not fully carved.
Place of Origin
ca. 1440-1460 (made)
Bregno, Antonio, born 1425 - died 1457 (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
Carved Istrian stone
Height: 142.5 cm, Width: 45 cm, Depth: 30.5 cm, Weight: 250 kg
Object history note
The Virgin and angel Gabriel (5391-1858) are an Annunciation group and were purchased by Robinson from an unnamed London dealer prior to 1858. The sculptures are made of Istrian stone, which was commonly used in outdoor sculpture in Venice, but does not preclude an origin in the wider Adriatic region.
Historical significance: Various artists have been proposed for the figures, including Giorgio da Sebenico (also known as Giorgio Orsini, active after 1441, d. 1475), Antonio di Bregno (active 1425- d.1457), Bartolomeo Bon (or Buon) (ca. 1400-10 – ca.1464-67) and an anonymous member of Bon's workshop. The group has been most recently attributed to the circle of Giorgio da Sebenico, as was first suggested in 1908 by Venturi (See Callahan).
Mariacher believed the group to be the work of Antonio Bregno. Bregno (active 1425-1457) is thought to have been born near Como and to have worked in Venice at the Ca’ d’Oro, on the Foscari Arch at the Ducal Palace, and to have designed the tomb of Doge Francesco Foscari with his brother Paolo (c.1454). Mariacher compared the figures of the Virtues on the tomb – especially Prudence – and recognized the same hand due to the style of hair and faces of the figures. The faces of the Virtues seem more similar to that of Gabriel than to the Virgin. However, the manner in which the Virgin’s dress is tied around her waist does appear to be the same as that found on Prudence. There are enough similarities to suggest that the figures are from the same school or workshop. Mariacher further suggested that Antonio Bregno should not be identified with Antonio Rizzo who worked in Como, and who was attributed with the works by Fiocco in 1927.
Pope-Hennessy provided a useful summary of earlier attributions, and attributed the group to Antonio Bregno based on Mariacher’s article. (Pope-Hennessy, 346-347).
Wolters proposed that the sculptor remain anonymous, though noted the similarities between the master’s style and that of Giorgio Orsini. (Wolters, 1976, cat. 247). Giorgio Orsini is also known as Giorgio da Sebenico, and was active in Venice and Dalmatia from about 1441-1473. It has been suggested that he worked with Bartolomeo Buon. Wolters later attributed the pair to “an anonymous associate of Bartolomeo Buon.” (Wolters, 2000).
Schulz believed that the V&A pair was begun by Bartolomeo Bon and finished by a member of his workshop (1978a, 1978b). However, her comparisons of the V&A angel and Virgin to Bon’s Fortitude for the Porta della Carta and his figure of Arithmetic from the Arco Foscari (both at the Ducal Palace in Venice) require more investigation. Though Schulz claimed that all three figures are in identical poses, with the heads tilted in the same manner is not borne out by comparison. Though there are some similarities in the poses of the legs of the three figures, the carving of the drapery is very different.
Schulz further suggested that the V&A pair was intended for the portal of the church of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Venice but never installed because they were left unfinished at the death of Bon. However, the V&A sculptures are very small in comparison to the figures of Virgin and Gabriel that currently displayed on the portal of the church. Schulz explained this disparity by proposing that the small size of the V&A sculptures indicated that they were intended to stand on the lower “semi-octagonal” platforms that are on cornice directly above the main door, but were never installed. She further suggested that the present day statues were finished before the portal was installed in 1483, though this does not help to explain why the V&A statues were left unfinished.
The V&A pair seems closest in spirit to the work of Giorgio da Sebenico, as first suggested by Venturi. The intense expression of the Virgin’s gaze, as well as the shape of the head of the Angel Gabriel and certain drapery techniques share similarities with the work of Giorgio on the Sebenico Cathedral of St James, as well as certain figures on the façade of the church of San Francesco in Ancona. An attribution for the V&A Annunciation pair to a pair of sculptors from the same workshop, close to or within the circle of Giorgio da Sebenico, and active in Venice, would expand the options for the artists’ origins and influences to a wider range of locations along the Adriatic from Venice and Ancona to Dalmatia. It would explain the similarities with the heads sculpted by Giorgio in Šibenik Cathedral and in figures on the façade of St Francis in Ancona, and also provide an explanation for the congruencies with the figures on the Foscari tomb in Venice.
However, the lack of documentation surrounding Giorgio Orsini, Bartolomeo Buon, Antonio Bregno and Antonio Rizzo and members of their workshops makes a secure attribution impossible. The similarities found in all of the works could indicate that an artist changed workshops, or simply reflect the prevailing style in Venetian art of the 1440s-50s.
Historical context note
Annunciation groups first became popular in Italy during the 13th century. The Virgin and the Angel Gabriel were shown either in frescoes or sculptures often across the real space of a portal. Such sculptures could be made of wood or stone, and were found both inside churches (usually near the triumphal arch of the high altar) and on the exterior on either side of church portals. The exterior display seems to have been particularly popular in Venice due to the preference for highly decorated portals in that city. The style of the works combined with the use of Istrian stone, which was often used for exterior sculpture, could suggest a Venetian provenance for the V&A pair, though this should be understood in the context of the wider Adriatic coast.
Statue of the Annunciatory Angel, by Antonio Bregno, third half of 15th century
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Venturi, A., "La scultura dalmata nel XV secolo,"L'arte,xi, 1908, p.39,fig.14, p.42
Dudan, A., La Dalmazia nell'arte italiana, ii, Milan: 1922. pp.248, 318 n.102.
Fiocco, G., "I Lamberti a Venezia: III, Imitatori e seguaci," Dedalo,viii, 1927-28, p.454
Planiscig, L., "Die Bildhauer Venedigs in der ersten Hälfte des Quattrocento," Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, iv, 1930, pp.19-20
Maclagan, E. and Longhurst, M., Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, London: Victoria and Albert, 1932, p. 123
Mariacher, G., "New light on Antonio Bregno," Burlington Magazine, xcii, 1950, pp.123-128, fig.12
Pope-Hennessy, J. assisted by Lightbrown, R., Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Vol 1, London, 1964, 347, cat.no.372
Wolters, W., La scultura veneziana gotica (1300-1400), Venice: 1976, cat. no.247.
Schulz, A., The Sculpture of Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon and their Workshop, Philadelphia: 1978, pp.57-61
Schulz, A., Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino and Venetian Sculpture of the Early Renaissance, New York: 1978, pp. 31, 33, 51. 63, n.3.
Wolters, W. "Antonio Bregno" Grove Dictionary of Art, 2000.
Callahan, Meghan. "An Annunciation Pair at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London," in Andrea Bregno. Il senso della forma, C. Strinati and C. Crescentini, eds., Rome, 2009 (forthcoming)
Schulz Markham, Anne. Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino and Venetian Sculpture of the early Renaissance. New York, 1978, pp. 31,33, 51, 63, n. 3.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1858. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 27
Labels and date
THE ANGEL OF THE ANNUNCIATION
Together with the figure on the other side of the doorway, this represents the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the son of God.
Museum no. 5391-1858