Madonna and Child with St. Francis, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Augustine (?), St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Clare

Madonna and Child with St. Francis, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Augustine (?), St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Clare

Giovanni da Rimini

date
1300 - 1305
tecnique
tempera on wood
dimensions
50 x 35 cm
source of the artwork

purchased from Filippo Fabbri of Faenza in 1899

short description

This small panel, one of the earliest examples of work by a follower of Giotto in Rimini, depicts five saints in the lower register and the Virgin and Child in the upper register. The Virgin is based on a type known as the “Pelagonitissa” or Virgin with the Playing Child, itself a variation on the so-called Eleousa Virgin or ‘Virgin of Tenderness’. This iconography, rare in Italy though widespread in Byzantine art, may hark back to a lost prototype in the Romagna region in the late 13th century.

The painting reveals Giovanni da Rimini’s early interest in the art of Giotto, who was working in the church of San Francesco in Rimini at the turn of the 13th century. Notice, for example, the artist’s attempt to portray the depth of his setting in the way the angels hold up the cloth behind the Virgin, and to convey the volumes of his figures’ bodies beneath their drapery.

Carlo Volpe suggested that the panel may have been part of a diptych, the missing part of which may have portrayed the Agony in the Garden, as seen in a panel by the Master of Forli now in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (inv. no. 6314), while the presence of St. Francis and St. Clare may point to the panel having come from a convent of Franciscan friars or Poor Clares.

position
inventary n°
92

This is one of Giovanni da Rimini’s earliest works.

Its depiction of the Virgin is usually associated with models known to Byzantine painting such as the Pelagonitissa Virgin or Vzygranye Virgin indicating the Christ Child at play, itself a variation on the theme of the Eleousa Virgin or ‘Virgin of Tenderness’. The earliest known example of this type appears to be a 13th century Serbian miniature now in the National Library of Belgrade (cod. 297/3, f. 5v), from the region of Prizren in the Kosovo. The term “Pelagonitissa” may be derived from a lost protorype originating in the Macedonian region of Pelagonia, given that in Macedonia the term is also found in inscriptions accompanying the image of the Virgin, for example in a fresco dated 1316–18 in the church of St. George in Staro Nagorcino.

In the Pinacoteca di Faenza panel, the Mother-and-Son group differs from the standard iconography for this type in a number of minor details. In our panel, for instance, Jesus turns his back on his Mother rather than on the observer 1 . There exists another icon showing the same variant, attributed to the Master of Forlì and now in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (inv. no. 6314). The rarity and the peculiarity of this iconography in Italy prompted Zeri to posit the existence of a prototype of Byzantine origin in Italy (F. ZERI, Schede romagnole. 1. Il Maestro dei Baldraccani, in “Paragone”, XXXVII, 1986, 441, pp. 22-26, esp. 22; Volpe 2002), and indeed, documents in the archives confirm the existence of numerous Greek icons in homes in Rimini in the 15th century 2 . The lower register also points to familiarity with Byzantine art in the way the saints appear unrelated to one another, and above all, in the figure of the Archangel Michael holding a globe and a cross in his hand (Benati 2021). Yet despite these elements of eastern origin, Giovanni da Rimini also offers us a glimpse of his interest in the style of Giotto. The way the hands of the two angels holding up the cloth behind the Virgin and Child sink into the folds of the fabric hints at the weight of the cloth, and he creates a feel of greater volume by hiding the furthest arm behind the throne. This is Giovanni’s way of “revisiting Giotto’s solution in the light of his established pro-Byzantine leanings” (Benati 2021).

The first mention of the panel dates back to 1899, when it was purchased by the Pinacoteca di Faenza from Filippo Fabbri’s collection for 100 lire. Initially attributed to Bitino da Faenza, and then to the school of Cavallini (Tea, 1922) and the style of Cavallini (Van Marle, 1924), it was assigned by Longhi to Giovanni da Rimini in a note in Salmi, 1937.

There has been a great deal of debate regarding its original aspect. Carlo Volpe (1965) compared it to the picture by the Master of Forlì in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (inv. no. 6314), suggesting that it, too, might be one panel of a diptych with an Agony in the Garden in the other panel.

Anna Tambini (2007; 1982), on the other hand, suggested that it was part of a reredos along with two other panels, one with Stories from the Life of Christ now in the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Barberini in Rome (inv. no. 1441) and the other with Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints in the National Gallery in London (inv. no. 6656). Tambini based her conjecture both on the unusual association of Franciscan and Augustinian saints in all the parts of the hypothetical reredos, and on the panels’ matching dimensions.

Such a composition, with the central part split into two registers (the height of the reredos would also have been minimal, c. 52.5 cm.), has no parallels in 14th century painting in Rimini (nor, for that matter, in the Veneto, despite the enormous influence it wielded over art in Rimini). Secondly, there is a difference in style between the panels in Rome, London and Faenza that could also shift the dating of the first two to several years later, c. 1310. The two panels that Tambini added are based on several compositions developed by Giotto (for example, in his depiction of the Stigmata of St. Francis in both the scene in the frescoes in the Upper Basilica in Assisi and the panel in the Louvre) to which Giovanni da Rimini does not yet appear to have turned his hand in the Faenza panel (Benati 2021). And finally, one can detect a number of formal differences in, for example, the dividing frames and the ornamentation of the haloes. So in this case, Carlo Volpe’s hypothesis appears to be the more plausible of the two.

BENATI 2021
D. Benati, Giovanni da Rimini: un pittore al bivio, in L’oro di Giovanni. Il restauro della Croce di Mercatello e il Trecento Riminese, exhibition catalogue (Rimini, 18 September 2021 – 7 November 2021) ed. D. Benati, A. Giovanardi, Rimini 2021, pp. 23-24, 36

CASADEI 2013
S. Casadei, “Alcuni acquisti per la Pinacoteca comunale di Faenza (1884-1901)”, Romagna arte e storia, n. 97, 2013, pp. 75-90 (p. 76)

GIOVANARDI 2023
A. Giovanardi, “La Madonna “balcanica” di un pittore “giottesco”. L’icona della Pelagonitissa di Giovanni da Rimini”, Ariminum, XXX, n. 3 (May – June 2023), pp. 6-8

LOLLINI 2023
F. Lollini, Ai tempi di Umiltà, in Il Polittico della Beata Umiltà di Pietro Lorenzetti. L’arte di raccontare una santa, Livorno 2023, pp. 58-60

SALMI 1937
M. Salmi, “La mostra giottesca”, Emporium, XLIII, 1937, p. 193

TAMBINI 1982
A. Tambini, Pittura dall’Alto Medioevo al Tardogotico nel territorio di Faenza e Forlì, Faenza 1982, pp. 65-66

TAMBINI 1999
A. Tambini, “In margine alla pittura riminese del Trecento”, Studi Romagnoli, XLVII, 1999, p. 468

TAMBINI 2007
A. Tambini, Il Gotico, in Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza, Faenza 2007, pp. 67-70

TEA 1922
E. TEA, “Una tavoletta della Pinacoteca di Faenza”, L’Arte, XXV, 1922, p.34.

VAN MARLE 1924
R. Van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, 19 vols., The Hague 1923-1938, vol. IV, 1924, pp. 279-83

VOLPE 1995
A. Volpe, in Il Trecento riminese. Maestri e botteghe tra Romagna e Marche, exhibition catalogue (Rimini, 20 August 1995 – 7 January 1996) ed. D. Benati, Milan 1995, p. 170 entry no. 12

VOLPE 2002
A. Volpe, Giotto e Riminesi: il gotico e l’antico nella pittura di primo Trecento, Milan 2002, pp. 110-117

VOLPE 1965
C. Volpe, La pittura riminese del ‘300, Milan 1965, p. 15

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
Daria Borisova
  1. L. KOUNENI, A Bizantine Iconographic Type of Virgin and Child in Italy? The Pelagonitissa Virgin re-examined, in “Arte Cristiana”, XCV, 823, 2007, p. 1-8[]
  2. O. DELUCCA, I pittori riminesi del Trecento nelle carte d’archivio, Rimini 1992, p. 20[]