Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Magloire (?), St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and St. Jerome

Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Magloire (?), St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and St. Jerome

Biagio di Antonio Tucci

date
c. 1490 - 1500
tecnique
tempera on wood
dimensions
122 x 196 cm
source of the artwork

Unknown, entered the Pinacoteca during the Napoleonic suppression

short description

The Virgin, seated in the centre on a marble throne, holds the Baby Jesus as he tenderly embraces her. The sainted bishop on the left may be St. Magloire, while St. John the Baptist, clad in his typical camel hair tunic, displays a scroll with the Latin inscription “ECCE AGNUS DEI”. On the other side of the throne, St. Jerome in cardinal’s robes stands on the far right with the lion that he is traditionally said to have tamed. The book he holds is the Vulgate, his patiently crafted translation of the Bible into Latin. By his side, St. John the Evangelist can be identified by his Gospel and by the pen he used to write it with. The habits of the two saints kneeling at the foot of the throne identify them as members of the Camaldulese order.

The altarpiece, which may have come from a Camaldulese convent in Faenza, is reminiscent of medieval painting with its gold ground. This nod to tradition is likely to have been deliberately commissioned by the patrons, but it also shows the extent to which Biagio d’Antonio was influenced by the preaching of Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola who urged the faithful in late 15th century Florence to revert to the austere Catholicism of the early days.

inventary n°
177

The Virgin, seated in the centre on a marble throne, holds the Baby Jesus as he tenderly embraces her. The sainted bishop on the left may be St. Magloire, while St. John the Baptist, clad in his typical camel hair tunic, displays a scroll with the Latin inscription “ECCE AGNUS DEI”. On the other side of the throne, St. Jerome in cardinal’s robes stands on the far right with the lion that he is traditionally said to have tamed. The book he holds is the Vulgate, his patiently crafted translation of the Bible into Latin. By his side, St. John the Evangelist can be identified by his Gospel and by the pen he used to write it with. The habits of the two saints kneeling at the foot of the throne identify them as members of the Camaldulese order. The Latin inscription “AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA” in gilded lettering on the base of the throne repeats the words uttered by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Behind the Virgin, two angels hold back gilded drapery that serves as the background to the scene.

We do not know the provenance of this altarpiece, which entered the Pinacoteca at the time of the Napoleonic suppression, but the presence of the two saints in the foreground points to a Camaldulese commission. The order had three monasteries in Faenza: San Giovanni Battista, San Maglorio and the Santissima Trinità. Given the presence of St. John the Baptist in the painting, Roberta Bartoli (1999) has tentatively suggested that it may have come from the first of the three.

The picture, which the most recent scholarship (Bartoli, 1999; Tambini, 2009) has dated to the late 15th century, has a solemn tone owing primarily to its figures’ static poses and to its use of a gold ground, a choice very much outdated by this date yet which was doubtless deliberately specified by the stern and pious patrons who commissioned it. At the same time, this detail accurately reflects the cultural climate prevalent when it was painted, because towards the end of the century a particular religious ferment took hold in central and northern Italy advocating a return to the austere Catholicism of the early day in reaction to the pomp and corruption of the papal court. Biagio d’Antonio, like other artists of his generation, was certainly not immune to this change of climate and is bound to have been struck by the fiery sermons of Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola in Florence. Thus the Faenza altarpiece with its gold ground deliberately sought to echo medieval icons and to stir deep religious sentiment in the observer. Other elements recalling the art of the past include the depiction of the figures’ faces in profile and barely any interest in imparting depth to the scene, while the angels holding the drapery behind the Virgin hark back to an extremely famous mid-15th century fresco, Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto in Monterchi.

19th century scholars, starting with the Pinacoteca di Faenza’s first Director Federico Argnani writing in 1881, attributed the altarpiece to Giovanni Battista Utili, a 15th century artist from Faenza (subsequently identified as Giovanni Battista Bertucci) whose name often crops up in the local archives. This mistaken attribution was repeated well into the early 19th century, with the exception of Geza De Francovich (1925–6) who gave the painting to Benedetto Ghirlandaio. In the wake of Carlo Grigioni’s exhaustive exploration of the archives in 1935, Roberto Longhi and Luisa Becherucci correctly reassigned the painting to the Florentine artist Biagio d’Antonio.

ARGNANI 1881
F. Argnani, La Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza descritta e illustrata, Faenza 1881, pp. 8-9

DE FRANCOVICH 1925-1926
G. De Francovich, “Benedetto Ghirlandaio”, Dedalo, VI, 1925-1936, pp. 720-721

GRIGIONI 1935
C. Grigioni, La pittura faentina dalle origini alla metà del Cinquecento, Faenza 1935, pp. 196, 211

LONGHI, BECHERUCCI 1938
Mostra di Melozzo e del Quattrocento romagnolo, exhibition catalogue ed. R. Longhi, L. Becherucci, Bologna 1938, p. 210, scheda 91

BARTOLI 1999
R. Bartoli, Biagio d’Antonio, Milano 1999, pp. 230-231, n. 123, with previous bibliography

TAMBINI 2009
A. Tambini, Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. Il Rinascimento. Pittura, miniatura, artigianato, Faenza 2009, pp. 47-48.

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

written by
Piero Offidani