Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna
(Active in Florence, last quarter of XIV Century)
Madonna and Child, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Anastasia, c. 1375
tempera on panel, gold ground, 55,5 x 26 cm (21.85 x 10.24 inches)
- Reference: 742
- Provenance: Private collection
We wish to thank Professor Angelo Tartuferi who confirmed the attribution to the Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna.
The Virgin is portrayed sitting on a chair set on a marble pedestal, while she is offering the Child a carnation, a symbol of passion – the dried buds take the shape of nails. The Child is holding a goldfinch, another forewarning hinting at the end of his life on earth – goldfinches eat the seeds of thistle flowers, hence a blatant reference to the crown of thorns. On either side of this group stand a young, effeminate John the Evangelist, featuring a pen and the Gospel, and a saint martyr carrying a book, too, whose identity is hard to decipher. Given her guise as a noble Roman matron, it may well be Anastasia, a Roman patrician who had been baptised by Saint Peter and martyred under Nero. The somewhat relevant presence of this saint in Tuscan painting of the second half of the Trecento, who bears no emblem other than the martyrdom palm, may well back this hypothetical identification.
This panel, a remarkable evidence of Florentine art in the last two decades of the XIV century, was identified by Angelo Tartuferi as by the Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna, a painter who trained with Orcagna, but also showed the will to bring about innovations, having been inspired by other artists as well, during his long, successful career: from the Sienese-inspired Andrea di Bonaiuto to the late Gothic painter Cenni di Francesco, with whom our artist worked on the Maestàfresco in the San Miniato Town Hall[i]. The nature of the works by the Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna and the various critical interpretations that emerged in XX century studies illustrate a consideration which engages the entire Florentine art from the Orcagnas to the early Quattrocento. The analysis of a precious panel, a relevant addition to the catalogue of this figure, cannot disregard the screeningof the critical reviews that have reconstructed and brought the relevance of this artist to life.
Richard Offner isolated the stylistic group referring to the painter in the 1930s, initially calling it Master of the Two Madonnas[ii]. Subsequently, the same Offner changed the pseudonym to Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna, identifying the Madonna and Childas the most important work in the group, formerly in the collection of Baron Michele Lazzaroni in Paris and then sold at the Weitzner Gallery in New York[iii]. The group isolated by Offner remained unpublished until Boskovits mentioned it briefly (1975) and Hayden Maginnis gave it larger attention in 1981, reporting all the panels[iv]. The profile of this artist would lead us to think that he was active over three decades, acting as the connection between the painterly civilisation created by the painful, devastating legacy of the plague – well defined in a famous essay by Millard Meiss[v] – and the beginning of the experience of Florentine late Gothic.
Our master mainly takes inspiration from two sources: the archaic layout, with a linear structure almost speaking the byzantine language, derived from the masterpieces of Andrea and Nardo di Cione, and the moody depiction of the panels bearing Bernardo Daddi references, with a special fondness for Puccio di Simone.
Upon this basis, which confirms that the master adhered to figurative models of the first half of the Trecento – thus bringing his training to the decades immediately after the plague –, he inserted new reflections, stemming from the contact with other petit maîtresactive in Florence and its surroundings in the same period – chiefly the Daddi-inspired Master of the Crowning at the Christ Church Picture Gallery.
Regarding the Madonna and Child, our panel shows considerable similarities with the one described in the small triptych once in the Vittorio Cini Collection in Venice[vi], while the two saints remind of the profiles to the left of the sections with Three Saints and Announcing Angel, formerly in the Artaud de Montor Collection in Paris and now at the Crespi Collection in the Diocesan Museum[vii]. These similarities would imply that the work was executed at an adult phase in the career of the Lazzaroni Master, but not a late one. Proof of his contact with Cenni di Francesco will come at a later stage, when the output of our painter is enriched by the chromatic delicacies of the marvellous frescoes in the San Miniato town hall, emblematic of the International Gothic nature of his last works. This panel was executed beforehand, at a time when he was inspired by Andrea Bonaiuti, but especially when he adhered to the so-called “graphic painters” (the definition stems from Boskovits) such as the Master of San Lucchese or Giovanni Bonsi, whom Angelo Tartuferi referred to for the two sections of the Crespi Collection. Broadly speaking, we may say that the Lazzaroni Master still looks at the past in this phase, searching for shapes and contents stemming from the Tuscan tradition, primarily from Daddi.
Clearly, this trend does not affect our master alone, but many other figures in Tuscan painting: once the trauma of the plague had been overcome, the only expedient to emerge from the dry archaism inspired by Orcagna was to look back at Giotto and his talented apprentices from the early Trecento, thus coming full circle in one of the most tormented, but for this very reason one of the most evocative centuries in Italian art.
[i]M. M. Donato, Arte civica a Firenze, dal primo popolo al primo umanesimo. La tradizione, i modelli perduti, in Dal giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, edited by the same author and by D. Parenti, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 2013, pp. 26-27.
[ii]D. C. Shorr, The Christ Child in devotional images in Italy during the XIV century, New York 1954, no. 29 (Florence 5).
[iii]M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370-1400, Florence 1975, pp. 239-240, note 169.
[iv]H. B. J. Maginnis, A critical and historical corpus of Florentine painting. A legacy of attributions, New York 1981, pp. 37-38.
[v]It comes as no coincidence that the same Meiss mentions precisely the panel in the Lazzaroni Collection, among the Orcagna-inspired iconographies: M. Meiss, Pittura a Firenze e Siena dopo la morte nera. Arte, religione e società alla metà del Trecento, Princeton 1951, ed. Turin 1982, p. 233, note 25.
[vi]Boskovits cit., 1975, p. 240, note 169. Bologna University, Federico Zeri Foundation, Photo Library, envelope 055 (Pittura italiana sec. XIV. Firenze. Don Silvestro Gherarducci, Maestro di San Lucchese, Maestro delle Campora, Maestro della Crocifissione "nera", Maestro delle due Madonne Lazzaroni, Maestro della pala di San Nicolò, Francesco di Michele), dossier 7 (Maestro delle due Madonne Lazzaroni), file no. 2596.
[vii]A. Tartuferi, in Dipinti italiani del XIV e XV secolo. La collezione Crespi nel Museo Diocesano di Milano, edited by M. Boskovits, Geneva 2000, pp. 44-45.