Exhibition Celebrates the Completion of a 3-Year Restoration Before Returning to San Francisco Museum of Art

The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint George
The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint George

The rare 16th century altarpiece, The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint George, by Cesare da Sesto, from the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Art, will go on public view at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) for three days to celebrate the completion of a three-year restoration of the work by the IFA’s Conservation Center. The painting (Oil on canvas transferred to pressed wood and measuring 254.6 x 205.7 cm or 100 ¼ x 81 in) is considered to be one of the finest examples of high Renaissance altarpieces and the most important painting by the artist in North America.

The altarpiece will be on view April 5, 6, and 7 from 1 to 5 p.m. daily in the Loeb Room at the Institute, located at 1 East 78th Street. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Following the exhibition, the painting will be returned to The San Francisco Museum of Art in time for its reopening, slated for late 2005. For more information, please visit: www.ifa.nyu.edu.

Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Paintings Conservator for the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation and Institute Lecturer, carried out the restoration. Assisting her in the project were Nica Gutman, associate conservator, and IFA graduates Monica Griesbach and Matthew Hayes.

“We are delighted to play host to this unique opportunity being offered to New Yorkers to glimpse a magnificent example of high Renaissance painting before its return to San Francisco,” said Michele Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Chairman of the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts. “Dianne and her team have completed a challenging restoration with wonderful results. We are excited to have the opportunity to exhibit an important painting and celebrate its successful treatment.”

A lecture will be held on Tuesday, April 5 at the IFA, with presentations by Colin Eisler, Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts, and Dianne Dwyer Modestini, to be followed by a reception. (The lecture and reception are by invitation only.)

The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint George was painted for a group of Genoese merchants for their Oratory attached to the church of St. Dominic in Messina, Sicily early in the second decade of the 16th century but before 1515. The Oratory was torn down in the late 18th century and the altarpiece sold to Sir John Acton, prime minister of the Kingdom of Naples under Ferdinand IV. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1949, the painting was donated to the San Francisco Museum of Art by the Kress Foundation.

Cesare da Sesto was a Milanese painter, born in 1477, perhaps in Sesto Calende, not far from the city, and his death is recorded in Milan on July 27, 1523. Cesare was a close follower of Leonardo da Vinci and traveled to Rome in 1508 to work in the Vatican for Pope Julius II. While in Rome, he was an assistant to Baldassare Peruzzi and developed a friendship with Raphael, who had a great influence on his work. Da Sesto was also influenced by the Venetians, particularly evident in this altarpiece from the Kress collection with its reminiscences of Giorgione’s Castelfranco Madonna.

Founded in 1960, the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts is dedicated to the study of the technology and conservation of works of art and historic artifacts. It prepares students for careers in conservation through a four-year program that combines practical experience in conservation with historical, archaeological, curatorial, and scientific studies of the materials and construction of works of art. Students complete a Master’s degree in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, one of the premier centers of graduate education in art history in the United States, and receive an Advanced Certificate in Conservation.

Established in 1992, through the generosity of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation is an advanced training program in the conservation of Old Master paintings at the Center. This unique program, which provides expert instruction in the treatment of paintings to graduate students, draws on the large number of Kress Collection paintings that are housed in institutions without resident conservation departments. As Kress Conservator, Dianne Dwyer Modestini carefully selects pictures that are suitable as student projects. In addition, Professor Modestini identifies a smaller number of paintings with more complex condition problems for treatment by her and Associate Conservator Nica Gutman.

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