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|More on Brooklyn's Nardo Altarpiece|
[Editor's note: On Apr. 14, 2000, the Brooklyn Museum of Art announced the acquisition of the top panel, or pinnacle, of an altarpiece by the 14th-century Italian painter Nardo di Cione. The news was of special interest, since in 1995 the museum had acquired the altar itself, titled Madonna and Child Enthroned with Ss Zenobius, John the Baptist, Reparta and John the Evangelist.
The New York Times carried a story on the reunion of the two panels, written by Carol Vogel, in which she quoted Brooklyn Museum director Arnold L. Lehman saying that "we heard about it from contacts at the National Gallery in London." On Apr. 21, Artnet Magazine posted a report on the same events, written by Paul Jeromack and carrying the title, Old Master Tales: The Real Story of the Brooklyn "Nardo."
What follows is the response of the Brooklyn Museum to Jeromack's article.]
Statement from Dr. Arnold L. Lehman and Dr. Elizabeth Easton on the Brooklyn Museum of Art acquisition of "Christ Blessing"
The following is a detailed timeline relating to the Brooklyn Museum of Art purchase of the missing pinnacle of the Nardo di Cione altarpiece that will serve to correct the many egregious errors and downright distortions made by Paul Jeromack in his Artnet Magazine article of Apr. 21.
Jeromack's first assertion that "Arnold Lehman hated the picture ... he tried to dissuade her (Elizabeth Easton, the curator of European painting at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) from buying it," is completely false, as documents outlining the chronology of the purchase of the panel by Nardo di Cione attest.
On Mar. 6, Mr. Jeromack notified Ms. Easton that the missing panel to the museum's altarpiece by Nardo di Cione was being put up for sale by Duke & Sons in Dorset, England, three days later, on Mar. 9. Based on information Jeromack faxed to Ms. Easton at 5:14 p.m. on the afternoon of Mar. 6, that same day Ms. Easton wrote a memorandum to Dr. Lehman and to the deputy director for art Ellen Reeder, which outlined the facts about the history of the altarpiece and its significance to the collection. The importance of reuniting the missing Christ Blessing pinnacle with the altarpiece depicting the Madonna and child was immediately understood and Dr. Easton was supported in her efforts to acquire the pinnacle for the BMA collection.
Mr. Jeromack's claims that Dr. Lehman "thought it was a stupid picture," and that Ms. Easton "went over his head and directly approached the board" are completely unsupported and contradicted by the facts.
The day after learning of the auction, and in possession of additional research and input from authorities on Renaissance paintings both here and abroad, including the curator of early Italian painting at the National Gallery, London, who had attributed the picture for the auction house, and a condition report supplied by a painting's conservator in Dorset, who had examined the picture, Dr. Lehman presented these findings, along with his strong recommendation that the BMA move aggressively to purchase Christ Blessing to the executive committee of the board of trustees that happened to be holding a regularly scheduled meeting on Mar. 7 at 12:30 p.m.
The director was aware that the resources available in European painting purchase funds were more than likely not sufficient to guarantee a successful bid for the panel. His presentation to the executive committee was so persuasive that it voted to significantly increase the discretionary funds in order to have a better chance at the auction, which was taking place two days later, on Thursday, Mar. 9.
Such is the speed at which information travels on the Internet that by the day after the Antiques Trade Gazette was published, dealers and museum curators on both sides of the Atlantic were aware of this panel and its historical importance, although it had been listed only as "Italian School, 13/14th century."
Although the museum's considerably enhanced bid was unsuccessful in securing the panel for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Dr. Lehman was still determined to reunite the two di Cione works and assembled sufficient funds to purchase Christ Blessing from Simon Dickenson at that dealer's gracious offer of 10 percent above the purchase price.
A Mar. 10 fax to the chairman of the acquisitions committee stating Dr. Lehman's strong desire to pursue the work, and an internal memo of Mar. 13 regarding a weekend conversation with the acquisitions committee chair, in which he "gave his blessing for our pursuit of the Nardo panel purchase," document the director's resolution to secure the work for the museum.
The panel was brought directly to the museum from London for examination in the conservation lab, and proposed and approved for purchase at the scheduled acquisitions committee meeting on Apr. 13. Dr. Lehman's enthusiasm was such that he took the unusual step of inviting Ms. Easton to also present this extraordinary acquisition to the regularly scheduled meeting of the full board of trustees later that afternoon -- a presentation normally offered by the acquisitions committee chair in capsule form.
The purchase was reported the following day in Carol Vogel's column in the New York Times, in which Mr. Jeromack's role in this acquisition was not acknowledged. Elizabeth Easton contacted Paul Jeromack following the appearance of Ms. Vogel's article, to report to him that when a small Nardo di Cione exhibition, which will publicly reunite the altarpiece and pinnacle, is presented at the end of the year, his role would be acknowledged in the wall text.
It is extremely unfortunate that Jeromack has misinterpreted and mis-reported the efforts of both the director and curator to unite what is universally acknowledged as the most important mid-14th-century altarpiece in America.
Paul Jeromack replies:
It's good to have the Brooklyn Museum of Art's chronology as a supplement to my article. Somehow it doesn't tell why Miss Easton asked me during the process to explain to Mr. Lehman the importance of the Nardo Pinnacle.