Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. John the Evangelist, the Blessed Jacopo Filippo Bertoni and Four Angels

Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. John the Evangelist, the Blessed Jacopo Filippo Bertoni and Four Angels

Master of the Bertoni Altarpiece

Master of the Bertoni Altarpiece
c. 1484
tempera on wood
138 x 201 cm
source of the artwork

Faenza, Santa Maria dei Servi; entered the city’s collection with the Napoleonic dissolution of religious establishments; 1879, displayed in the Pinacoteca

short description

The Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus in her arms and seated on a rich throne in the centre of the composition, is surrounded by four angel musicians, while kneeling on either side of her we have St. John the Evangelist on the left and the Blessed Jacopo Filippo Bertoni on the right. Bertoni, wearing the black habit of the Servite Order, can be identified by his emaciated features and by the ray halo used to indicate his “blessed” status. A native of Faenza, he died in 1483 at the age of only twenty-nine after living a life of fasting and penance.

The altarpiece comes from the now deconsecrated church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Faenza. Jacopo Filippo Bertoni was buried in the odour of sanctity in the church, in a chapel specially granted for the occasion by Galeotto Manfredi, the lord of Faenza.

We do not know the name of the artist responsible for the altarpiece, whose sophisticated style is inspired by 15th century painting in Padua and Ferrara. It has recently been suggested that it may be the work of a painter of Faenza called Leonardo di Zanino Scaletti, or alternatively of Giovanni da Oriolo.

inventary n°

The Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus in her arms, is seated in the centre of the composition on a rich pink stone throne supported by bronze columns and set on a polygonal pedestal. The top of the throne is adorned with gilded sculptures depicting dolphins, shells and candelabra, while the arm rests are decorated with carvings in bas-relief showing two busts of prophets and two scenes from Genesis: Adam and Eve picking the forbidden fruit, and Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Both episodes allude to Original Sin, while Christ’s future sacrifice and his Resurrection are hinted at by the swallow in his hand (the swallow, returning in spring and thus announcing the reawakening of nature after the long winter months, was traditionally associated with Christ’s triumph over death). Around the throne we see four angel musicians, while kneeling on either side of it we have St. John the Evangelist on the left and the Blessed Jacopo Filippo Bertoni on the right. Wearing the black habit of the Servite Order, Bertoni can be identified by his pale, emaciated features. Born in Faenza and dying there on 25 May 1483 at the age of only twenty-nine, the Blessed Bertoni lived an extremely harsh life of fasting and penance 1 . Behind the figures, in the centre, there stands a large classicising marble arch, while in the background we can glimpse an arid landscape populated with figures and dotted with ancient ruins, sharp mountain peaks and bizarre constructions built on arches.

The altarpiece comes from the now deconsecrated church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Faenza, where Jacopo Filippo Bertoni was buried in the odour of sanctity (although he did not receive the title of “blessed” until 1761: Tambini 2009, p. 53). Popular veneration for him was so strong in the city that after a solemn funeral had been held for him, Galeotto Manfredi, the lord of Faenza, granted the Bertoni his own chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, for their relative’s tomb – a shrewd political move designed to win over not only the populace but also the local clergy. The presence in the altarpiece of both Bertoni and St. John the Evangelist has prompted scholars to suggest that it may once have stood on the altar of that very chapel (Tambini 2009, pp. 53-54).

The altarpiece is remarkable for its sophisticated and extremely complex style, the product of a variety of different artistic influences unquestionably resulting from Faenza’s unique geographical position. It has been pointed out in recent studies (Tambini 2009 p. 54, Cavalca 2011 p. 146) that the sharp light illuminating the scene is inspired by the light in the painting of Piero della Francesca, while the angel musicians with their almost pagan feel hark back to such works in Padua as the sculptures of Donatello and the painting of Squarcione and Marco Zoppo. Alessandro Conti (1989, p. 15) detected the influence of Melozzo da Forlì in the face of St. John the Evangelist, while Anna Tambini (2009, p. 54) noted in the figure of the Virgin an echo of the work of a Florentine painter named Biagio d’Antonio who completed his large altarpiece for the church of Sant’Andrea in Vineis in Faenza (now in the Pinacoteca, inv. no. 124) in 1483. Pietro Toesca (1907, p. 18) and most subsequent scholars have highlighted the echoes of the style of Ferrarese painter Francesco del Cossa, in particular in the figure of the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes (Tambini 2009, p. 55) and in the background, which is clearly a citation of the scenes behind St. Peter and St. John the Baptist in the two side panels 2 of the Griffoni Polyptych, which Del Cossa painted in conjunction with Ercole de’ Roberti in 1472–3 and which could once be seen in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna.

Given that the Bertoni Altarpiece is unsigned and that we know of no documents concerning its commission, scholars have puzzled for over more than a century in their efforts to discover who painted it 3 . Thanks to Gian Marcello Valgimigli (1871, pp. 10-11), scholars know for certain that on 1 June 1483, a week after Bertoni’s death, a painter from Faenza named Leonardo di Zanino Scaletti was paid one lira “for the painting of the Blessed Jacomo Philipo, that is, the one that stands on the altar and for a frame in the courtyard”, according to an entry in the Register of Income and Expenditure of the Servite convent in Faenza. Valgimigli refused to link the Bertoni Altarpiece with the painting on the altar mentioned in the payment entry, on the grounds that it would have been impossible to paint such a large altarpiece in the seven days following Bertoni’s death. However, this association, which had already been proposed by the local chronicler Bernardino Azzurrini (1542 – 1620), as recorded by the Bollandist Fathers in the chapter dedicated to the Blessed Bertoni in their Acta Sanctorum (1688, pp. 175-176), was accepted without question by Federico Argnani (1881, pp. 7-8) in the Pinacoteca di Faenza’s first catalogue. Toesca (1907), on the other hand, shared Valgimigli’s doubts and considered the painting to be by the hand of an anonymous 15th century master from Faenza, linking it to an Ecce Homo from the collections of the Banca del Monte di Faenza in the same museum (Casadei 1991, p. 44, n. 84). While his proposal has been accepted by virtually all scholars since then, the same cannot be said of the other associations that he made at the same time, for example when he linked it to a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Saints now in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh (inv. no. 1634). While the Edinburgh painting’s composition is clearly based on the central part of the Bertoni Altarpiece (see the throne and the two putti shown from behind, which are absolutely identical), most scholars consider it to be a later derivation 4 and, more importantly, by a different artist, albeit one who was working in Faenza in the late 15th century 5 .

Buscaroli (1931, pp. 255-264) suggested that the payment of one lira to Scaletti in 1483 refers to a now lost small devotional picture painted in haste shortly after Bertoni’s death. Yet at the same time, he argues that the Bertoni Altarpiece was indeed painted by Scaletti, only c. 1484. It, and other works, appeared in the lists compiled by Benard Berenson (1932, p. 516) under Scaletti’s name as a name of convenience. Roberto Longhi (1934, ed. 1956, p. 100), however, dismissed the group compiled by Berenson and assigned the Bertoni Altarpiece to a pupil of the master of inlay Cristoforo da Lendinara. More recently, Colombi Ferretti (2013) revived the attribution to Scaletti, arguing that it should be identified as the “frame” mentioned in the payment of 1483 (ibid. pp. 40-42). Her argument was accepted by Valerio Mosso (2023, p. 163) although he rejected her association of the painting with the Pietà with a Patron in the guise of St. Francis and with the Apotheosis of St. Ursula, both now in the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris (inv. nos. MJAP-P-2039 and MJAP-P 2247) and generally attributed to Francesco del Cossa (the former) and to a follower of his (the latter). Among the various attributions suggested for the Bertoni Altarpiece, it is worth highlighting those put forward by Ennio Golfieri (1991, pp. 18-19) who argued that it might be a youthful work by Lorenzo Costa, and by Alessandro Conti (1989, p. 15) who associated the altarpiece with the world of illumination in Romagna, detecting an affinity, in particular, with the work of the Master of the Graduale D in the Biblioteca Malatestiana di Cesena. And lastly, Tambini (1991, pp. 15-18; 2009, pp. 53-62) cautiously put forward the name of Giovanni da Oriolo, a suggestion taken up by Roberta Bartoli (1999, p. 77, n. 25) and by Cecilia Cavalca (2011, p. 146).

Dino Campana also mentions the Bertoni Altarpiece in his Taccuinetto faentino, published posthumously by Domenico De Robertis in 1960.

Acta Sanctorum 1688
Acta Sanctorum Maii, Tomus VI, Antwerp 1688, pp. 175-176

F. Argnani, La Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza, Faenza 1881, pp. 7-8

R. Bartoli, Biagio d’Antonio, Milan 1999, pp. 50, 77, n. 25

B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Reinassance. A list of the principal artists and their works with an index of places, Oxford 1932, p. 516

R. Buscaroli, La pittura romagnola del Quattrocento, Faenza 1931, pp. 255-258

D. Campana, Taccuinetto faentino, ed. D. De Robertis, Florence 1960, pp. 28-30

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 5, n. 6

C. Cavalca, in Melozzo da Forlì. L’umana bellezza tra Piero della Francesca e Raffaello, exhibition catalogue ed. D. Benati, M. Natale, A. Paolucci (Forlì, Musei San Domenico 29 January – 12 June 2011), Cinisello Balsamo 2011, pp. 144-146, entry no. 19

A. Colombi Ferretti (ed.), Dossier sulla Pala Bertoni, Faenza 2013

CONTI 1989
A. Conti, Saggio introduttivo, in Corali miniati del Quattrocento nella Biblioteca Malatestiana, ed. P. Lucchi, Milan 1989, p. 15

E. Golfieri, “Problemi pittorici faentini”, in “Il nostro ambiente e la cultura”, supplement to Faenza e mi paés, 17, 1991, pp. 18-19

LONGHI 1934 [1956]
R. Longhi, Officina ferrarese (1934), in Edizione delle opere complete di Roberto Longhi, V, Florence 1956, p. 100

MOSSO 2023
V. Mosso, in Rinascimento a Ferrara. Ercole de’ Roberti e Lorenzo Costa, exhibition catalogue ed. M. Danieli, V. Sgarbi (Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti 18 February – 19 June 2023), Cinisello Balsamo 2023, p. 163, entry no. 30

A. Tambini, “Pittura del secondo Quattrocento in Romagna”, in “Il nostro ambiente e la cultura”, supplement to Faenza e mi paés, 19, 1991, pp. 15-18

A. Tambini, Il Rinascimento. Pittura, miniatura, artigianato, in Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza, vol. III, Faenza 2009, pp. 53-62

P. Toesca, “Di un pittore emiliano nel Rinascimento”, L’Arte, 1907, pp. 18-24

G. M. Valgimigli, Dei pittori e degli artisti faentini de’ secoli XV e XVI, Faenza 1871, pp. 10-11

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Piero Offidani
  1. for a detailed analysis of the sources for Bertoni’s life, see Colombi Ferretti 2013, pp. 35-43[]
  2. now in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, inv. nos. 1182-1183[]
  3. for a detailed discussion of this fascinating story, see most recently Anna Colombi Ferretti, 2013, pp. 5-26[]
  4. although Mosso 2023, p. 163, does not agree[]
  5. Tambini 2009, pp. 59-61; Cavalca 2011, pp. 142-143[]