Art collector Christian Levett donates a valuable Madonna and Child back to Palazzo Davanzati

Art collector Christian Levett donates a valuable Madonna and Child back to Palazzo Davanzati

Christian Levett decided to pledge the devotional piece after hearing a talk at The British Institute.

Tue 19 Dec 2023 10:31 PM

British art collector Christian Levett has donated a valuable Madonna and Child back to Palazzo Davanzati, where it was originally housed. 

Left to right: Christian Levett, Paola D’Agostino (director, Bargello Museums), Simon Gammell (director, British Institute), Chiara Travisonni (curator, Museo di Palazzo Davanzati)

Based on Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna (c. 1420), which found its way to Berlin in 1886 through Stefano Bardini and is housed at the Staatlische Museen in Berlin, the polychrome stucco is thought to be the only remaining copy in Florence. Having now returned home to the second floor of the old Florentine house museum, on the wall opposite where it originally hung, the standout quality of the Madonna and Child immediately attracts attention. With no record of restoration amid the provenance, at the press presentation the art collector pointed out the superlative preservation of the relief, including the braiding around the base of the veil and the child’s neck.

A period photograph shows the original placement of the relief

The relief was once owned by the Umbrian art dealer Elia Volpi, who bought the palazzo in the early 1900s. Volpi renovated and furnished the building before opening it to the public as an old Florentine house museum in 1910. The artwork has changed hands several times over the years, most famously at a Sotheby’s auction held in New York in 1916. After spending more than a century in private collections, Christian Levett paid 350,000 pounds for the devotional piece at a Katz auction in 2016. 

“The Anglo-American community has had a special relationship with Palazzo Davanzati since the second half of the 19th century. The Davanzati style also became popular with art dealers, collectors and interior designers at the beginning of the last century,” comments Paola D’Agostino, director of the Bargello Museums, which also manages Palazzo Davanzati. “That’s why I am especially grateful to Mr. Christian Levett, who decided to donate to the museum a work so closely linked to Elia Volpi, the history of this unique Florentine house museum and Donatello’s legacy between the 15th and 20th centuries.” 

Based on Donatello, Donato di Niccolò di Betto (Florence, 1386 c. – 1466) 1425-50 c. Madonna col Bambino (derived from Madonna Pazzi), polychrome stucco partially covered in golf leaf. Inscription on the frame “S(ancta) M(aria) INTERCEDE P(ro) NOBIS” inv. 1743 Davanzati. Donated by Christian Levett.

The idea of donating the relief back to its original home transpired after Paola D’Agostino gave a talk about Palazzo Davanzati’s new museum layout at The British Institute of Florence in the spring, which was attended by the British art collector.

“For me, it was an incredibly easy decision,” remarks Christian Levett. “When I discovered this piece in my collection, I looked at the provenance and noticed that the piece had originally been in the Palazzo Davanzati, and was sold in a Sotheby’s sale in 1916. Seeing as I walk past this palazzo almost every day now that I live in Florence, it seemed like a good idea to donate this back to the palazzo and see it in its original room.”   

Museo di Palazzo Davanzati is open from 8.15am to 1.50pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 1.15 to 6.50pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (second and fourth Sundays of the month. Closed Mondays. 

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