The Master of San Miniato is a name created in the early 20th century by Bernard Berenson for the anonymous Florentine artist who painted an altarpiece in the church of San Domenico in San Miniato al Tedesco, a small town between Florence and Pisa. Based on the style of that altarpiece, Berenson reconstructed the artist's oeuvre in his seminal article, Quadri senza casa: Il Quattrocento Fiorentino III, Dedalo, XII, 1932, pp. 819-831. In recent years, the Master of San Miniato has received additional serious scholarly attention, as reflected most significantly in the book Il 'Maestro di San Miniato': lo stato degli studi, i problemi, le risposte della filologia, ed. G. Dalli Regoli, Pisa, 1988.
The Master of San Miniato was active in Florence between about 1460 and 1490. His art closely depends on the late paintings of Filippo Lippi and Pesellino, but also reveals the influences of Benozzo Gozzoli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and the young Botticelli. Comprised almost entirely of images of the Madonna and Child, his work relates to that of the group of artists also inspired by Lippi and Pesellino in the second half of the 15th century.
The present picture is characteristic of the master's most mature period, evincing all the charm of his finest works. The floral pattern that enlivens the background is often seen in his paintings, such as the Madonna and Child sold at Christie's, London, 25 April 2001, lot 104 (F. Zeri, op. cit., fig. 133). The rose hedge can symbolize paradise or the purity of the Virgin, and adds to the sweetness of the picture's tone, emphasizing the sense of tender devotion and grace so admired in late quattrocento Florence. The facial types of the Madonna and Child and the general composition are similar to those in a Madonna and Child with Angels, formerly in New York in the W. R. Hearst Collection, and a Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Julian, location unknown (see B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School, 1963, II, figs. 1050 and 1051).
Franklin Mott Gunther (1885-1941), who owned this picture in the 20th century, was an American diplomat who served in London, Latin America, Portugal, The Hague and Rome, and was later Minister to Egypt, Ecuador and Romania. He was President of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology in New York and an avid collector of art from myriad periods and cultures.
London, Colnaghi's, Paintings by Old Masters, 7 June-7 July 1978, no. 5, illustrated.
G. Hirschel, 'Old Master Paintings in London', The Connoisseur, 198, June 1978, pp. 166-167.
Franklin Mott Gunther and Louisa Gunther Farcasanu, Washington, D.C.; (+), Sotheby's, New York, 12 June 1975, lot 83, as 'Florentine School, 15th Century'.
With Colnaghi's, London, 1978, where acquired by the family of the present owners.