Luca Signorelli (Cortona 1450-1523)
The Massacre of the Innocents with the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi, panel from a predella
inscribed 'Luca Signorelli' (on the reverse)
tempera on panel, the reverse prepared with ochre paint
9 x 29½ in. (22.9 x 75 cm.)
L.B. Kanter, The Late Works of Luca Signorelli and his Followers 1498-1559, Ph.D. Thesis, New York University, 1989, pp. 274-5.
L.B. Kanter, 'Some Documents, a Drawing, and an Altarpiece by Luca Signorelli', Master Drawings, 1992, 30, no. 4, p. 419, fig. 4 L.B. Kanter in L.B. Kanter and T. Henry, The Complete Paintings, Luca Signorelli, London, 2002, pp. 90-2, no. 136; T. Henry, in the same, pp. 248-9, no. 136.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Monaco, 2 December 1988, lot 604, where acquired by the present owner.
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This panel, unrecorded until its sale in 1988, was linked by Lawrence Kanter with two other panels, the Marriage of the Virgin and Annunciation (formerly Luigi Grassi) and The Flight into Egypt and Christ among the Doctors (Kansas City, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, no. F61-65) (Kanter and Henry, nos. 135 and 137). That the three panels are consistently lit from the left, represent multiple scenes and are flanked by identical pilasters confirms Kanter's view. The companion panels are marginally narrower, at 69 and 68.9 cm. respectively, and clearly flanked this composition, as indeed the order of the scenes implies. The series must have come from the predella of an altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin; and Kanter has persuasively argued that the panels were originally part of the great altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin, now in the Museo Diocesano at Cortona, which was commissioned for the high altar of the new Cathedral of the city in March 1519. The combined width of the three panels is 213 cm. and thus roughly a centimetre greater than that of the Assumption. That the authorities of the Cathedral selected the elderly Signorelli who had for over forty years been recognised as the leading artist of his birthplace was almost inevitable. And Signorelli, much of whose later work is of uneven quality, reflecting his use of assistants, evidently paid particular attention to the altarpiece as its charged quality demonstrated.
The finer of Signorelli's late predella panels exemplify a continuing interest in composition and the representation of movement. This is apparent in this panel, in which Kanter fairly observes that The Massacre of the Innocents is 'a highly animated scene of tangled limbs and emotional anguish that recalls the Punishments of the Damned at Orvieto' (2002). The panel is indeed Signorelli's final reprise of that dynamic and influential masterpiece.