Madonna with Child
MADONNA WITH CHILD
As a young man Baron van Westreenen was a regular visitor to the Meerman family, from whom he heard a lot about Italy. His second cousin Johan Meerman had spent two lengthy spells in Italy and had brought back souvenirs and antiquities from his travels. In keeping with contemporary conventions, Meerman was particularly interested in classical antiquity.
Not until 1833, when he was already 51 years old, did Van Westreenen decide to go to Italy himself. He was enthusiastic, staying longer than he had intended, and the following year he went again. The baron had an audience with the Pope; he visited palaces, churches, monasteries, museums, libraries, private collections and excavations. He bought antiquities, souvenirs and at least one ‘Florentine altarpiece’. The baron was a forerunner among those in the Netherlands interested in such works of art: he was the first in the Netherlands to collect medieval panel painting.
One of the finest pieces acquired by Van Westreenen during the last fifteen years of his life is a small, unsigned panel which is now attributed to Francesco di Vanuccio (active around the latter half of the 14th century). Around 1380 Francesco, who was a goldsmith and painter in Siena, made a small diptych of two hinged panels. Later on the panels became unhinged. The right panel, representing Christ on the Cross, can now be seen in Philadelphia. The left panel, showing Christ as a child on Mary’s lap, passed into the possession of Van Westreenen. Standing to the left of Mary is St. Lawrence, to the right St. Andrew. Above the throne five angels are keeping guard.
Francesco di Vanuccio has been called (by Henk van Os) a ‘painting goldsmith’ – even in those days it was exceptional to incorporate such a quantity of gold, gold leaf and semiprecious stones in a panel. There was even more gold in the frame, but it has disappeared from the half of the small diptych in The Hague.