Zanino di Pietro

(Attivo a Bologna, 1389 - 1432)

Christ Between St. Mary Magdalene and St. John, c. 1430

tempera on panel, gold ground, 76,3 x 39,2 cm (30.04 x 15.43 inches)

  • Reference: 746
  • Provenance: Private collection

The painting will be published by prof. Mauro Minardi in a forthcoming publication


Condition report available on request

Christ is depicted full-length, immediately after his death, His bare feet marked by the wounds resting on a lush meadow; Mary and John the Evangelist hold His body, their faces distraught. John’s gesture is particularly emphatic, as he is forced to stick his hand in the wound on the Saviour’s side to support His bust.

The iconography of the Pietà, commonly know as Cristo passoor Man of Sorrows, appeared in Byzantine painting during the XII century: while in Western European art the image of the Christus Triunphans – that is Christ triumphing over death, still alive and composed on the cross, his eyes wide open to directly engage the viewer – prevailed, a new tradition developed in the Byzantine context, particularly in the illustrated codices of Constantinople and in the great fresco cycles of Balkan monasteries, that enhanced the human nature of Christ through the representation of his pain and death[i]. Between the XII and the XIII century, artworks depicting a half-bust sorrowful Christ, with closed eyes – in a pose Erwin Panofsky, the art historian, associated in one of his most famous essay with that of the Pantocrator, as a sentimental and painful transposition of the image[ii]–, arrived by sea, especially into the cities of the maritime republics, introducing a new physiognomic interpretation of the divinity at first in Tuscan painting (see the Crosses of Giunta Pisano and his followers)[iii], and later in Venetian painting[iv].

Unsurprisingly, in Venice – the Italian city that has historically been influenced the most by the cultural suggestions of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea – the iconography of the Man od Sorrows was quickly included in some of the most significant artworks: around the mid XIV century, Paolo Veneziano inserted it at the centre of the higher order of the Pala feriale, the precious cover and case of the Pala d’oro (displayed in Saint Mark only during official celebrations)[v]; a century later, Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna painted the image of the Man of Sorrows in the upper panels of some of the most famous altarpieces made by their entourage (such as the Altarpiece of the Euphrasian Basilica of Parenzo or the polyptych of the Benedictine abbey in Praglia, today in the collections of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan)[vi]. Furthermore, in 1362, pope Innocent VI institutionalised the celebration of the Five Holy Wounds; as a consequence, the representation of a full-length Christ with wounds on the feet, as well as the hands and side, became fundamental to the liturgy[vii]. Therefore, since the end of the XIV century, Christ was depicted standing, sometimes held by the Virgin alone (or by an angel, as in the very famous Reliquary of Montalto, today in the Musée du Louvre[viii]), more often by the Virgin and Joseph of Arimathea or John the Evangelist, on the sides of the Redeemer – and our panel is one of the most important examples of this new iconographic interpretation.

Mauro Minardi assigned the panel to Giovanni di Pietro Charlier, the painter of French origin also know by his Venetian pseudonym ‘Zanino’ (Giovannino) di Pietro: a representative master of the Late Gothic in Venice, he was influenced by Gentile da Fabriano’s Venetian paintings, but also, and mostly, by his father’s French culture[ix]. Zanino’s first works attest to this double impression: if, on the one side, the polyptych with the Crucifixion and Four Saintsof the Musée du Petit Palais in Avignon is inspired by a solid Giottesque tradition with influences of the Po valley, and, therefore, is strongly connected to Bolognese and Paduan precedents[x]– besides, Zanino is documented in Bologna from 1389 and 1406, before he moved to Venice –, on the other, the extraordinary Crucifixion with Six Saints, a signed panel today in the Museo Civico in Rieti, has long been considered as the highest expression of the international style in Italian painting at the beginning of the XV century[xi]. Actually, before approaching Gentile’s style, Zanino was oriented towards a naturalism whose most immediate precedents in Padua are Altichiero and Jacopo Avanzi; this style can also be connected with the miniatures of the masters from France and Bourgogne, the same models that had influenced Gentile’s training.

Undoubtedly, our painting can be ascribed to a later moment of Zanino’s career, when he was influenced not only by Gentile’s Venetian paintings, but also, and especially, by other important Venetian paintings made in those years: with regards to the emotional representation of Christ’s worn-out silhouette, we think of several panels with the same subject – the most famous being the Christ ‘the Man of Sorrows’ with Saint Francis, in the Metropolitan Museum of New York –, painted by Michele Giambono[xii], another representative master of the Late Gothic in Venice. Zanino and Giambono derived from Gentile the chromatic and shaded softness of the complexions, the richness of the garments – whose hems reveal in our panel an exceptional decorative intelligence –, and the gentleness of the gilding (or of the relief pastigliaused to represent the crown of thorns). Compared with Michele, a younger painter – or with the more static style of the Master of Roncaietta, the author of another pertinent Man of Sorrows, previously in Gilberto Zabert’s gallery in Turin[xiii], appropriately compared by Minardi to our painting –, Zanino reveals more dramatic lines, indicating a disposition to drawing that was kept in a greater consideration than that of the painters of his years. 

As shown by the comparison with the Annunciationfrescoed in the church of Santa Maria dei Frari[xiv]or with the Madonna previously in Robert Jenking Nevin’s collection and today in the collections of the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia in Rome[xv]– both painted around 1430, as our panel –, in this phase Zanino reveals the depth of his training in Padua and his obstinate attachment to a tradition that both evokes Giotto and anticipates Donatello’s graphic naturalism. Zanino’s linear expressionism, magnificently attested as well by the perfect state of preservation of this panel, is not confined by the formal aesthetic limits of the flamboyant Gothic; it rather is the personal manner of an author who is well-aware of the various traditions and, at the same time, convinced that these traditions could come together in a graphic conception that would remain throughout the century, as a more authentic style, in the various evolution of the Renaissance in the Po Valley.

[i]On the history of the iconography of the Man of Sorrows in Byzantine art, see Hans Belting’s specific essay on this theme: H. Belting, An Image and its function in the Liturgy: the man of Sorrows in Byzantium, in “Dumbarton Oaks papers”, 34/35, 1980/81, pp. 1-16. See also: G. Schiller, The Man of Sorrows. “Imago Pietatis”, in Ead., Iconography of Christian Art, New York 1968, II, pp. 197-228.

[ii]E. Panofsky, Imago Pietatis. Un contributo alla storia tipologica dell’Uomo dei dolori e della Maria Mediatrix (1927), ed. in “Annali della critica d’arte”, XI, 2015, pp. 9-74 (pp. 9-10).

[iii]L. F. La Favia, The man of sorrows. Its origin and development in Trecento Florentine painting. A new iconographic theme on the eve of the Renaissance, Rome 1980.

[iv]C. Puglisi, W. L. Barcham, Gli esordi del Cristo passonell’arte veneziana e la Pala Ferialedi Paolo Veneziano, in “Cose nuove e cose antiche”. Scritti per Monsignor Antonio Niero e Don Bruno Bertoli, Venice 2006, pp. 403-429.

[v]F. Pedrocco, Paolo Veneziano, Milan 2003, pp. 86-92, 170-173, n. 16.

[vi]W. L. Barcham, Deferential of Formulaic? Antonio Vivarini and the Sacred Image of the Man of Sorrows, in “Artibus et historiae”, 67, 2013, pp. 57-72.

[vii]D. Gray, The Five Wounds of Our Lord, in “Notes and Queries”, X, 1963, pp. 82-89, 126-134.

[viii]B. Montevecchi, in Gentile da Fabriano e l’altro Rinascimento, edited by L. Laureati and L. Mochi Onori, exhibition catalogue (Fabriano, Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, 21/4 – 23/7/2006), Milan 2006, pp. 102-103, n. II.3.

[ix]On the painter and the historical identification of his personality, see: F. Zeri, Aggiunte a Zanino di Pietro, in “Paragone”, 1962, 153, pp. 59-60; S. Padovani, Una nuova proposta per Zanino di Pietro, in “Paragone”, 1985, 418/423, pp. 73-81; S. Zanon, Documenti d’archivio su Zanino di Pietro, in “Arte veneta”, 48, 1996, pp. 108-117; L. Vanni, Zanino di Pietro a Sant’Angelo in Vado, [Fermignano] 2008, pp. 17-56.

[x]M. Laclotte, E. Moench,Peinture italienne musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, Paris 2005, pp. 204-205, n. 280.

[xi]C. Guarnieri, in Gentile da Fabrianocit., 2006, pp. 162-165, n. III.12.

[xii]W. L. Barcham, Six Panels by Michele Giambono, 'pictor Sancti Marci', in New Perspectives on the Man of Sorrows, edited by C. Puglisi and W. L. Barcham. Kalamazoo, 2013, pp. 191-218 (pp. 191-197).

[xiii]M. Minardi, in Fioritura tardogotica nelle Marche, edited by P. Dal Poggetto, exhibition catalogue (Urbino, Palazzo Ducale, 25/7 – 25/10/1998), Milan 1998, pp. 208-209, n. 72; A. De Marchi, T. Franco, Il gotico internazionale: da Nicolò di Pietro a Michele Giambono, in Pittura veneta nelle Marche, edited by V. Curzi, Cinisello Balsamo 2000, p. 85 note 132.

[xiv]De Marchi, Franco cit., 2000, p. 69.

[xv]M. Minardi, Studi sulla collezione Nevin: i dipinti veneti del XIV e XV secolo, in “Saggi e memorie di storia dell’arte”, 36, 2012, pp. 315-350 (pp. 322, 325-326).

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