Girolamo di Giovanni da Camerino
(Camerino, documented between 1450 and 1503)
Pieta' and Angels, c. 1455
tempera on panel, 34,8 x 26,2 cm (13.70 x 10.31 inches)
- Reference: 724
- Provenance: Rome, Volpi di Misurata Collection; Vente Palais Volpi di Misurata (Importants tableaux anciens des XVe, XVIe et XVIIIe […]), Rome, Palais Volpi di Misurata, 10-14 October 1972, n. 121.
M. Cionini Visani, Un libro sul Boccati, in “Arte Veneta”, XXVII, 1973, p. 324, fig. 439.
A peculiar interpretation of the Imago pietatis is depicted in this small panel for private devotion. Jesus is depicted from head to hip, and leans forward while four distraught angels, two behind His shoulders and two on the foreground, tend to Him. The background angel on the right supports the head of Jesus with his hand, as He collapses towards us, a motion that is connected with the gesture of the first angel on the left, who holds His head up with his left hand. This sudden movement contrasts with the angel’s absorbed concentration on the suffering of Jesus – in order to soften His fall. The two other angelic creatures clench their hands in a frantic and theatrical display of their emotional anguish. All five figures have foreshortened halos, painted with a paintbrush. Towards the back, a lattice with climbing roses with glimpses of the blue sky closes the scene . The original dimensions of the composition have not been reduced. The horizontal black strip along the bottom represents the hedge of the sarcophagus from which Jesus emerges, while, as discovered during the panel’s recent restoration, the remaining parts painted on the three sides are not original and were likely once covered by the original frame.
The painting was presented at the 1972 auction of the Volpi di Misurata collection in Rome as “Ecole di Ferrare vers 1500” (the angels were mistakenly identified as mourners and saints)[i]. Slightly later, more detailed pieces of information were added in an essay by Maria Cionini Visani; in a review of Pietro Zampetti’s monograph on Giovanni Boccati, she published this panel – brought to her attention by Giovanni Romano – saying “that certain facts might indicate that had manifested alongside Boccati, according to a more brutal and approximate reading of his poetry. As far as the unknown painter of the Volpi “Deposition” is concerned, its exaggerated naturalism, the knowledge of the Paduan-Squarcionesque style, the popular accent and the excessive expressivity of the typologies, all indicate a correspondence with the “Master of Patullo””[ii]. The scholar’s analysis clearly highlights the marked expressive accent of our painting, hypothetically attributing it to the Master of Patullo, the author of the fresco cycle with the stories of the Passion of Jesus painted in the church of the Santissimo Crocifisso of Patullo in Paganico, near Camerino, detached at the end of the 1960s and today in the Pinacoteca and Museo Civici in Camerino. The documentary and philological research undertaken for the 2002 exhibition Il Quattrocento a Camerino extended the knowledge and perception of painting in the early Renaissance in the artistic centre of Le Marche. It gave form to the figure of Giovanni Angelo di Antonio and reshaped the profile of Girolamo di Giovanni, who, with Piermatteo Boccati, emerged as great representatives of this region of Italy from circa 1440 and 1480. In referring to the specific studies of critical insights on these issues, it is difficult to confirm Cionini Visani’s suggestion regarding the stylistic connection with the fresco cycle in Patullo[iii]. Today, this work has been correctly attributed to Girolamo di Giovanni and dated to between 1456 and 1462, due to the inscription that informs us on the identity of the patron, don Ansovino di Angeluccio Baranciani, an important man of the church of Camerino in those years[iv].
First of all, the frescoes in Patullo and our panel reveal a primary relationship with the Paduan culture of the mid-XV century. Enlivened by Donatello’s contribution, the expressions in painting are visible beginning with the decoration of the Ovetari chapel in the church of the Eremitani, with the innovations of Andrea Mantegna, at the beginning of his career, Nicolò Pizolo and other as important artists, such as Ansuino da Forlì. The composition of this painting highlights a connection with Donatello’s depictions of the Imago pietatis, noticeable in the variety of expedients in expressing the angels’ sorrow and pathos. The comparison with the Dead Christ with Angels in The Victoria and Albert Museum in London[v] and with a model of the Florentine sculptor, location of which is unknown – a subject that would become quite popular in the Veneto and Le Marche, thanks to several terracotta, stucco and papier-mâché replicas, amongst which those previously in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Pinacoteca Comunale in Florence and the Galleria Nazionale in Parma[vi]. The idea of an angel who supports the collapsing head of Jesus with his hand, but also with the bent arm revealing an almost flat hand, derives from these precedents[vii]. With regard to the second angel on the left, his head, dramatically tilted to look above, is drawn from the reliefs of Faenza and Parma; Giorgio Schiavone would repeat it in Padua, in the upper panel of the polyptych now in the National Gallery in London, and in the Madonna with Child and Two Angels in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore[viii]. The author of our painting interprets Donatello’s models to create an original composition in which the figures are brought decisively closer, rhythmically articulated by the virtuously studied positions and theatrical gestures of the angelic creatures. The painter’s stay in Padua also explains the apterous angels (without wings), as those of the aforementioned Pietà of Schiavone and a similar composition (Esztergom, Keresztény Muzeum) connected with Filippo Lippi’s stay in Padua[ix]. The apterous angels are a typical iconographic element of the Carmelite master and are also displayed in the work of another master from Camerino – the ‘Pergolato altarpiece” of Giovanni di Piermatteo Boccati (1447; Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria) –, which perfectly embodies the painter’s training in Lippi’s workshop in Florence[x]. The main features of our painting are also present in Girolamo di Giovanni’s aforementioned Patullo fresco cycle. The slightly open mouth of our Jesus is the same of the one in the Mourning, while the shape of his closed eyelids is the same as the one depicted in the Crucifixion. Lastly, the tragically overwhelmed faces of the Marys in the Mourning, whose mouths are open and grinding, can be compared with the mouth of the first angel on the right side of the panel. The wrinkles around his mouth are a frequent idiosyncrasy in Girolamo’s panels, including the Crucifixion of the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino and an Evangelist the Pinacoteca e Musei Civici di Camerino purchased in 2008[xi]. The hairstyle of the two angels on the right consists of slightly frizzy and highlighted strands, another idiosyncrasy of Girolamo and his collaborator Giovanni Angelo di Antonio. The gorgeous lost profile of the first angel on the left can be compared with some parts of the decoration in Patullo, while the thick pleats of his garment are the same of Jesus’s loincloth in the aforementioned Mourning. Furthermore, in this panel, we can also compare the hands of the pious woman supporting the head of Jesus and those of Saint John holding His hands with those of the two angels on the left of our painting. Lastly, I believe that two specific comparisons with the Tedico Banner (signed and dated 1463) are conclusive[xii]: the second angel on the right of our panel reveals the same long, slender nose with convex eyes, while the angel on the opposite side might be a brother of Saint Venantius, and its foreshortened solution can also be compared with the sorrowful Virgin of the Crucifixion in Urbino, although ours is more emphatic. In the Tedico canvas, Girolamo reveals more iconic solutions, which can be explained by the function and iconography of the work. Instead, we clearly understand in our panel – by observing the anatomical analysis of the athletic body of Jesus – that the artist was open to the figurative innovations developed in Padua after his documented 1450 stay – we do not know how long he remained in the city (the painter was certainly in Camerino in 1457) or if he returned on other occasions. The dating of the cycle of Patullo to 1456-1462 (probably closer to 1456 than 1462), so rich in references to Paduan painting, is coherent with the one of our Imago pietatis; also the presence of the foreshortened halos can be connected with this timeline, as they disappear in Girolamo’s later works. We can notice that the grinning angel towards the foreground on the right is similar to the sorrowful expression of Saint Sebastian in the 1457 fresco painted by Girolamo in the church of Sant’Agata in Pieve Torina[xiii]. Nevertheless, there are no traces of Gothicism in our panel, which would have contrastingly be mixed with Renaissance influences in the frescoes of Patullo, further suggesting the master’s Late Gothic training before the mid-century[xiv]. With regards to the lattice with climbing roses partially concealing the sky, it is also present in Boccati’s ‘Madonna of the Orchestra’ (Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria), painted in the same years[xv].
The exchanges with the figurative repertory of Giovanni Angelo di Antonio, with whom Girolamo collaborated[xvi] on several occasions and with whom our painter has been unsurprisingly mistaken for a long time, maintains a likely date for our Imago pietatis to the 1450s (possibly within the first lustrum). The smooth, supple nose of the angle on the left side can almost be mistaken for the one of Saint Fortunatus in the Borgarucci altarpiece (Rome, Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia), which Giovanni Angelo completed around the mid-century[xvii], and specific connections are clearly visible in the chorus of angels of the same panel and in the chorus surrounding the dead Christ at top of the altarpiece of Sperimento (Camerino, Pinacoteca e Museo Civici), painted a few years later[xviii]. I believe that the grieving faces, the various poses, foreshortenings and expressions, are all indicative of this relationship, just as the strong similarities with the foreshortening solutions of the Crucifixion of the church of San Lorenzo in Castel San Venanzio, commissioned in 1452 to Giovanni Angelo[xix].
Therefore, our work reveals something new and important regarding the first part of Girolamo di Giovanni’s journey, documented for the first time in 1450[xx], on his adhesion to the artistic environment in Padua and to the prolific outpouring of ideas, in sculpture and painting, during those years, but also on the exchange of solutions and morphologies with Giovani Angelo di Antonio, the greatest representative of the Renaissance painting in Camerino.
[i] Vente Palais Volpi di Misurata (Importants tableaux anciens des XVe, XVIe et XVIIIe […], Palais Volpi di Misurata, 10-14 October 1972), Rome 1972, n. 121.
[ii] M. Cionini Visani, Un libro sul Boccati, in “Arte Veneta”, XXVII, 1973, p. 324.
[iii] A. De Marchi, Viatico per la pittura camerte, in Il Quattrocento a Camerino. Luce e prospettiva nel cuore della Marca, exhibition catalogue (Camerino, Convento di San Domenico, 19/7 – 17/11/2002) edited by A. De Marchi and M. Giannatiempo López, Milan 2002, pp. 54-61; A. Di Lorenzo, Maestro dell’Annunciazione di Spermento (Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio?), in Pittori a Camerino nel Quattrocento, edited by A. De Marchi, Milan 2002, pp. 294-301; F. Marcelli, Girolamo di Giovanni, ivi, pp. 366-371; M. Mazzalupi, Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio 1452: un punto fermo per la pittura rinascimentale a Camerino, in “Nuovi Studi”, VIII, 2003, 10, pp. 25-32; Girolamo di Giovanni. Il Quattrocento a Camerino. Dipinti, carpenterie lignee, oreficerie e ceramiche fra gotico e rinascimento, exhibition catalogue (Camerino, Convento di San Domenico, 10/5 – 29/9/2013) edited by A. Marchi and B. Mastrocola, Camerino 2013.
[iv] M. Mazzalupi, in Girolamo di Giovanni cit., 2013, pp. 68-75.
[v] J. Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of the Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1964, pp. 73-75; A. Rosenauer, Donatello, Milan 1993, p. 146 n. 27.
[vi] A. De Marchi, Centralità di Padova: alcuni esempi di interferenza tra scultura e pittura nell’area adriatica alla metà del Quattrocento, in Quattrocento adriatico. Fifteenth-Century Art of the Adriatic Rim, papers from a colloquium held at the Villa Spelman (Florence, 1994), edited by C. Dempsey, Bologna 1996, pp. 71-76. See also M. Ceriana, Ancora su Giovanni Bellini e la scultura: il tema dell’Imago Pietatis, in Giovanni Bellini. La nascita della pittura devozionale umanistica. Gli studi, exhibition catalogue (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, 9/4 – 13/7/2014) edited by E. Daffra, Milan-Geneva 2014, pp. 83-90; On the versions in Faenza and Princeton, see M. Ceriana, ibidem, pp. 164-165; N. Rowley, in Voglia d’Italia. Il collezionismo internazionale nella Roma del Vittoriano, exhibition catalogue (Rome, Palazzo Venezia e Gallerie Sacconi al Vittoriano, 7/12/2017 – 4/3/2018) edited by E. Pellegrini, Naples 2017, pp. 316-317.
[vii] Lorenzo d’Alessandro presents both ideas on the Apennine mountain region of the Marche, in the upper panel of the polyptych of the church of San Francesco in Serrapetrona, however after 1490.
[viii] On these two works, dated to around 1456 and the 1470s, respectively, see L.P. Gnaccolini, in Giovanni Bellini cit., 2014, p. 164; F. Zeri, Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery, I, Baltimore 1976, pp. 205-207, and S.G. Casu, Giorgio Schiavone e Carlo Crivelli nella bottega dello Squarcione, in “Proporzioni. Annali della Fondazione Roberto Longhi”, I, 2000, pp. 37-54.
[ix] A. De Marchi, Un raggio di luce su Filippo Lippi a Padova, in “Nuovi Studi”, I, 1996, 1, pp. 5-23.
[x] M. Minardi, in Pittori a Camerino cit., 2002, pp. 209-211, 234-245; V. Garibaldi, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Catalogo generale, 1. Dipinti e sculture dal XIII al XV secolo, Perugia 2015, pp. 398-403.
[xi] On these paintings, dated to later years, see M. Mazzalupi, in Girolamo di Giovanni cit., 2013, pp. 82-85; and A. De Marchi, ibidem, pp. 86-89, respectively.
[xii] M. Mazzalupi, ibidem, pp. 76-79; B. Mastrocola, in Maria Mater Misericordiae. L’iconografia mariana nell’arte dal Duecento al Settecento, exhibition catalogue (Senigallia, Palazzo del Duca, 27/10/2016 – 29/1/2017) edited by G. Morelli and S. Papetti, Cinisello Balsamo 2016, pp. 82-83.
[xiii] A. De Marchi, in Pittori a Camerino cit., 2002, pp. 377-378.
[xiv] On the suggestion of the attribution to Girolamo, ante 1450, of the Madonna of Loreto of the church of San Lorenzo in Lago di Fiastra, cfr. Id., Camerino minore, in I Da Varano e le arti, acts of the international congress (Camerino, 4-6 October 2001) edited by A. De Marchi and P.L. Falaschi, I, Ripatransone 2003, pp. 373-374.
[xv] Garibaldi cit., 2015, pp. 403-405.
[xvi] The two artists collaborated in 1461 on the painting of an altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria in Tolentino, whose present location is unknown, and are named together in the 1463 text of a receipt in Camerino (E. Di Stefano, R. Cicconi, Regesto dei pittori a Camerino nel Quattrocento, in Pittori a Camerino cit., 2002, pp. 458 doc. 120, 460 doc. 130). If we consider the evident formal similarities, the two artist have probably collaborated on other paintings.
[xvii] A. De Marchi, in Girolamo di Giovanni cit., 2013, pp. 98-101, argued the dating of the work to around 1445, and this dating might shift by a few years.
[xviii] A. Di Lorenzo, in Pittori a Camerino cit., 2002, pp. 309-319; M. Mazzalupi, Tra pittura e scultura. Ricerche nell’archivio notarile di Camerino, in Storie da un archivio: frequentazioni, vicende e ricerche negli archivi camerinesi, acts of the conference, Camerino 2006, pp. 12-18; B. Mastrocola, in Facciamo presto! Marche 2016-2017. Tesori salvati, tesori da salvare, exhibition catalogue (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, 28/3 – 30/7/2017) edited by G. Barucca, Florence 2017, pp. 40-43.
[xix] Mazzalupi cit., 2003. As for Girolamo di and our panel, Giovanni Angelo creates, especially in the paintings of the 1450s, almost embossed sculptorial effects, reminiscent of Donatello, as visible in the Christ of the panel of Castel San Venanzio or in the Pietà of the Sperimento panel.
[xx] On a biographic-documentary excursus on the painter, see Id., Risarcimento di Girolamo di Giovanni, in Girolamo di Giovanni cit., 2013, pp. 39-59.
An important personality in the painting of the early Renaissance in Camerino, with Giovanni Angelo di Antonio and Giovanni di Piermatteo Boccati, Girolamo di Giovanni is documented for the first time in 1450, when he became member of the painter ‘fraglia’ in Padua. This stay permanently influenced the painter’s language, as attested by the following pictorial activity, continuing, to our knowledge, until the 1490s.
The painter returned to his hometown, the capital of the noble family of the Da Varano, in 1457 and is continuously documented in Camerino and its environs. In the early 1460s, he probably established a partnership with Giovanni Angelo di Antonio and the two collaborated in an altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria in Tolentino, though present location of the work is unknown. The style of the painters was influenced by this collaboration, as attested by the progressive reduction of the Late Gothic painting manner, widespread in Marche and Umbria, after his first works, and the adoption of a luminous and perspective vision, also influenced by Pierfrancesco. We know of two signed works by Girolamo, to whom the corpus of paintings later recognised as of Giovanni Angelo di Antonio has been attributed until recently: the 1463 banner of the Madonna of Mercy with Two Saints (Camerino, Pinacoteca e Museo Civici), and the polyptych of the church of San Martino in Monte San Martino, completed ten years later. In 1503, the painter dictated his will and likely died a few years later.