The Huntington, in addition to an important research library and superb botanical gardens, is rightly renowned for its world class collection of British and French art of the 18th century. These are the areas of art that interested most Henry and Arabella Huntington, the couple who built, inhabited, and then, shortly before their death in the 1920s, transferred the property and collections to a nonprofit trust that opened to the general public in 1928.
Often overlooked, however, is the small but extremely fine collection of Italian material. Arabella was interested in Italian 15th- and 16th-century paintings favoring, in particular, the subject of Madonna and Child. Displayed in two second floor galleries are fine examples of this subject by such artists as Cosimo Rosselli, Bastiano Mainardi, Pinturicchio, Matteo di Giovanni, Francesco Francia, The Master of the Castello Nativity, and Francesco Granacci. To these were added striking examples of other subjects, a pair of portraits by Domenico Ghirlandaio, and the Ascension of a Young Saint by Lorenzo di Credi. A single 18th-century Italian painting, the fascinating Saint Roch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, was acquired in 1909.
With the dispersal of J.P. Morgan’s art collections between 1915 and 1920, Henry acquired a number of Morgan’s bronzes normally housed in London, making Henry one of the first collectors of this sophisticated material in the United States. The masterpiece of this collection is surely the signed Nessus and Deianira group by Giambologna. Several dozen 17th- and 18th-century garden statues entered the collection between 1914 and 1922, the majority originating in the Veneto Region.
Since Henry and Arabella’s death, their small but choice collection of Italian art has been judiciously complemented and expanded with subsequent additions, including donations and purchases. The generosity of collectors has enriched the collections with 18th-century Venetian paintings by Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, and Francesco Guardi and fine objects of Italian maiolica and faience.
Chief Curator of European Art