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Copy after The Presentation in the Temple, Fra Angelico in the Museo di San Marco (Florence)

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (copied)

  • Date:

    1889
    (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Angelico, Fra (artist)
    Costantini, Emilio (copyist)
    Arundel Society

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Museum number:

    E.4-1995

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case PD, shelf 342

This watercolour is a copy made by Emilio Costantini (Florence 1842-1926) after the frescoes in the Convento di San Marco in Florence by Fra Angelico (1395/1400 – 1455). It was painted for the Arundel Society, founded in 1848 to promote knowledge of art through the publication of reproductions of works of art. The Arundel Society popularised Renaissance art, particularly that of the Italian Old Masters, echoing a growing interest for ‘primitives’ (art of Western Europ prior to the Renaissance) in the second half of the nineteenth century. This copy was published as chromolithograph in 1889 (Museum No. E.326-1895).

Founded in 1436 and designed by the architect Michelozzo (Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, 1396-1472), the Convento di San Marco was decorated by Fra Angelico in the 1440s. The frescoes cover extensive parts of the cloister, not only the public spaces but also the dormitory for the monks, of which Fra Angelico was one. The frescos show Fra Angelico’s characteristic use of colour and light, which was typical of his oeuvre.

Physical description

Arch-topped drawing of five people and a child. In the middle, Mary and Joseph present Christ to Rabbis with a kneeling monk, St. Peter Martyr. A woman with a dark robe, St. Anne, stands on the right.

Place of Origin

Florence (copied)

Date

1889
(made)

Artist/maker

Angelico, Fra (artist)
Costantini, Emilio (copyist)
Arundel Society

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Dimensions

Height: 401 mm arched top, Width: 338 mm Arched top, :

Object history note

Acquired in 1995 from the National Gallery of London.
Watercolour copy made for the Arundel Society and published as a chromolithograph (Museum No. E.326-1895) in 1889 by Wilhelm Greve.

Historical context note

Original work
This watercolour belongs to a series of copies after the frescoes in the Convento di San Marco in Florence painted by Fra Angelico (1395/1400 – 1455) in the 1440s. Founded in 1436 and designed by the architect Michelozzo (Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, 1396-1472), the Convento di San Marco was decorated by Fra Angelico in the 1440s, before his trip to Rome. The programme of the decoration included the altarpiece for the church and the entire cloister. The frescoes cover extensive parts of the dormitory for the monks, of which Fra Angelico was one.

Fra Angelico was one of the most popular of the ‘Primitive’ artists (art of Western Europ prior to the Renaissance). Interest in him was revived in the late 18th century, when Alois Hirt (1759-1836) a German art historian, discovered the frescoes in the Niccoline Chapel in Rome. Interest increased in the nineteenth century and the Arundel Society’s first publication in 1849 was a biography of Fra Angelico, taken from Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, published in its entirety in 1850 with 20 lithograph, including copies after Fra Angelico's work in Rome. Some of them are now in the V&A collection (see for example 23109 or 21100, from the second set of lithographs appeared from 1862 to 1869).

Arundel Society
The Arundel Society was founded in 1848 to promote knowledge of art through the publication of reproductions of works by Old Master painters. The Society was named after Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), an important aristocratic patron and collector of the early Stuart period. The Society was intended to reach the largest possible audience through these reproductions. Subjects were chosen because of their instructive meaning, rather than their popularity.In addition to copies of famous paintings, the Society published an English translation of Giorgio Vasari’s (1511-1574; Florentine painter, draughtsman, architect, writer and collector) Lives of the most excellent painters, made in 1850 by Giovanni Aubrey Bezzi (1785-1789), one of the founding members of the Society.

The Arundel Society popularised Renaissance art, particularly that of the Italian Old Masters, echoing a growing interest for ‘primitives’ in the second half of the nineteenth century. The founding members of the Arundel Society were all acknowledge experts on Italian art. For instance, Sir Charles Eastlake (1793–1865; painter and art administrator), whose house was the meeting point of the Society, was Director of the National Gallery in London from 1855 until 1865 and during his tenure, he began one of the finest collections of Italian art in Britain.

Other preeminent members were John Ruskin (1819-1900, English writer, painter and collector), who supervised projects including the watercolours series of the Upper and Lower Church in Assisi, and Sir Austen H. Layard (1817-1894; English archaeologist, politician, diplomat, collector and writer). Layard lived and travelled in Italy for many years and his knowledge of the country’s art was extensive. It was thanks to Layard’s funding that the Society were able to publish copies of the watercolours made at their direction using chromolithography. Although photography was increasingly popular, as photographs could only be made in black and white, chromolithography was chosen as it was felt to be closer to the principals of the Arundel Society: they were coloured and had the aura of traditional prints. In this way, copies were more like the originals.

The Society reached the height of its popularity in the 1860s. However, by the end of the century, it faced mounting criticism with regards to the accuracy of its watercolour copies. The Society ceased its activities in 1897. In these years the availability of second hand prints had increased and the Society found it difficult to find market for its chromolithographs. Moreover, photographic reproductions had become more common than prints thanks, to technical advances.

The last display of the Arundel Society’s watercolours took place at the National Gallery and when the Society was dissolved, some watercolours were given to that Institution, while other were acquired by the then South Kensington Museum (now V&A). The outstanding watercolours were transferred from the National Gallery to the V&A in the 1990s.

Copyist
This watercolour was painted by Emilio Costantini (1842-1926), a Florentine art dealer. He was one of the most important figures in the art trade in the late 19th century, and sold many important works to private collectors and museums. He was known as “professor” as he taught at the Istituto d’Arte of Florence, where he specialised in copies of old paintings. Costantini was engaged by the Arundel Society in the late 1880s and his style was characterised by a greater degree of accuracy than other copyist who worked for the Society.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, copy after The Presentation in the Temple, Fra Angelico in the Museo di San Marco (Florence), Emilio Costantini, Arundel Society watercolour, 1889

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Tanya Ledger, A Study of the Arundel Society 1848-1897. Unpublished thesis submitted for degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford, 1978, p. 267
Paolo Morachiello, Fra Angelico: the San Marco frescoes, New York; London: Thames and Hudson, 1996
John Pope-Hennessy, Fra Angelico, Firenze: Scala; New York, N.Y.: Riverside, 1989

Materials

Watercolour on paper; Material

Techniques

Watercolour drawing; Technique

Categories

Biblical Imagery; Copies and Facsimilies

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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