A 13th century oil-on-panel painting of the Madonna with child was seized from an auction by the Federal government. The piece is believed to have been stolen from a Swiss safe deposit box in 1986. The 27.5-by-18-inch piece by celebrated Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna was set to be a part of the "Important Old Masters Painting and Sculpture" auction in New York this past January until its illegal provenance was discovered.
An important piece of art history
Buoninsegna is thought to be one of the last painters that was a master of the Byzantine style. He was working during the time of Cimabue, whose own art blended the highly stylized figurative representations of the Medieval period with the realism of the Renaissance. "Madonna and Child" (the painting in question) is a notable bridge between these two historical movements. The way the Madonna has been painted displays a bit of the shading and natural gestures that would take hold during the renaissance while still retaining the flattened look of Byzantine religious paintings.
A question of inheritance
The painting was taken from the Swedish vault as the result of an inheritance battle. John Cunningham and Camille Marie Rose Aprosio were the two original owners of the work. Upon Aprosio's death, her share of the piece was passed on to her heirs Paulette and Roger Aligardi. These two named a third man, Henri Aligardi as the one who would represent their interest in the handling of the work. As such, Cunningham and Henri Aligardi transferred the painting to a safe deposit box at the Union des Banques Suisse. Meanwhile, Cunningham had given away a part of his interest in the painting to Michael Hennessy and John Ryan. It was these two men, Hennessy and Ryan, who filed a police report with Interpol in 1991 claiming Cunningham illegally moved the painting from one security deposit box to another.
Inheritance disputes such as this one can be very difficult to sort out. In the meantime, the painting will not be available for purchase at auction or otherwise. The New York auction house that was planning on selling the piece pulled it from the January auction when it discovered through their own background checks that the piece's provenance was in question. The latest seizure from the Federal government is an attempt to sort out the piece's rightful owner.
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