Andrea Bonaiuti, workshop of
(Documented in Florence, 1356 - 1379)
Crucifixion with Mourners and Two Angels, c. 1360-1365
tempera on panel, gold ground, 35,2 x 14,2 cm (13.86 x 5.59 inches)
- Reference: 785
- Provenance: Marchese Tacoli Canacci, until 1792; Private collection
V. M. Buonocuore, Il Marchese Tacoli-Canacci “onesto gentiluomo smaniante per la Pittura”, Reggio Emilia, 2005, pag. 221, no. 413 (as Gherardo Starnina)
The present painting (fig.1) is clearly a panel fragment of a lost altarpiece for private devotion, whose upper part would end with either a pointed triangular or semi-lunette portion, where there is every chance that one of the two figures of the Annunciation was painted. The lower end was cut off by about 3 cm (c.1 inch), although the original symmetry of the scene is ideally reinstated by the adequate neutral integration carried out in the past.
On the reverse (fig. 2), substantial remains of a fake marble decoration are noticeable – available for the viewer when the panels of the tabernacle were closed. This pale green and dark red decoration features a circular illusionistic moulding in the middle, which contains another one in the shape of a square per angulum (by the corner), almost entirely hidden by the label placed on top of it: as we shall demonstrate, this is highly significant. This type of decoration has been thoroughly documented as being for the panels of private devotion tabernacles, common in several parts of Italy throughout the Trecento and the early Quattrocento. A similar Florentine case, in terms of chronology as well, is the tabernacle by Jacopo di Cione (fig.3) at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (inv. no. 15000). Excluding the cuts it incurred into, the painterly surface of this small painting is in overall good conditions, showing only a few abrasions here and there in the gilding, around the face of Christ and the loincloth, as well as the delicate gilt decorations on the edges of the mourners’ clothes.
The lively expressions of the two angels to the sides of the Crucifix are noteworthy; they are not executed in a truly common manner, but following a variation of the renowned gold granituratechnique, described by Cennino Cennini. After having carried out a thick grid of hollows with a punch, the painter filled these “alveoli” with small drops agglutinated with gold and red lacquer – perhaps Kermes - , so well preserved that it still produces a cangiantismoeffect today. The detail of the angel to the left (fig. 4), busy collecting the blood of Christ with a bowl, of which there remains only a feeble mark engraved on the gold, aptly demonstrates the aforementioned technique.
An extremely significant detail – put forward by Matteo Salamon, the current owner of the painting – refers to the work most probably coming from the famous collection of the Marquis Alfonso Tacoli Canacci (Mirandola 1726 – 1801 Florence). On the label on the reverse, in fact, essentially the same writing (fig. 5) recorded in two handwritten catalogues of the famous collection can be read - «Gherardo Star[nina]/Fiorentino. Discepolo d’Ant[onio]/]Vene]ziano…1359 + 1400/della prima m[ani]era» - although the measurements expressed in Florentine ells are slightly higher than those encountered today, while the work cannot be found in the catalogue printed in French in Parma in 1796.
The stylistic and cultural features found in this representation hint at the work belonging to the Florentine cultural context of the third quarter of the Trecento, in particular the tendency that was still to a larger extent faithful to the fundamental matrix stemming from Giotto, which would look at Taddeo Gaddi in the first instance in those years, who would work until his death in 1366. References to Gaddi are somewhat obvious in the present painting: consider the way Christ is drawn, the solid plasticity of the Mourning Virgin - see the comparison (figs. 6 a-b) with the Mourning Virginby Gaddi in the Minneapolis Museum of Art (inv. no. 52.62) – as far as the expressive composure and the morphology are concerned, especially in the figure of the Mourning Saint John. Around 1350 Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto’s “official” successor, consecrated in Vasari’s Livesand recognised as such already by his contemporaries, embodied a point of reference for many Florentine painters, who were born or had trained during the second quarter of the Trecento and had survived the terrifying 1348 Plague. Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna (Florence, c.1320 -1268) himself paid attention to the severe sculptural synthesis suggested by Gaddi and, like him, became a source of inspiration for younger artists, creating a proper “Orcagna school”; he achieved this while carrying out his fundamental task of «recovery of ‘classic’ Giotto-ism», which «started a new phase in Florentine painting, firstly reconciling formal traditions of the early Trecento with the latest developments of courtly Gothic, but also delving into the research of sculptural effects». Research on Trecento Florentine painting, from the pioneering studies by Sirén to more recent ones by Boskovits, inserted a considerable number of Florentine artists within this critical tag, partly or entirely influenced by the brothers Andrea, Nardo and Jacopo di Cione, starting around the middle of the century until its very end.
The author of the present painting belongs to this group of Florentine artists, many of whom have been identified in various studies – perhaps not by birth, but at least as stylistic personalities – while other ones are still anonymous. Our artist shows a free, confident stroke, whereby the physiognomies are much more detailed, entirely coinciding with what he will achieve with the painterly coating, while the contours of the figures have been defined without the slightest uncertainty by an uninterrupted line, as fully shown in the IR reflectography (fig. 7) Several stylistic-morphologic comparisons, that I deem highly stringent, set this artist in the sphere close to Andrea di Bonaiuto (Florence, documented from 1365 until 1379), and he may well have trained in his workshop.
The underlying stylistic-cultural similarities combining our fragment (fig. 1) with the same one (fig. 8) – incidentally sharing similar dimensions - portraying the Crucifixion among Mourners and Magdaleneat the Cleveland Museum of Fine Arts (inv. 1916.776), are blatant and concern the marginal decorations of the gold and the halos as well. The American fragment was verbally compared with Bonaiuto for the first time by Roberto Longhi in 1949; more recent critical studies consider it as stemming from the workshop of the Florentine painter. The stylistic similarities between the two paintings are such that, in my opinion, one may assume that the two works were executed by the same collaborator of Andrea di Bonaiuto, a few years apart. The present panel should be dated from the early 1360s, since it is still tied to the most ancient phase of Bonaiuto in parts, featuring a stronger adherence to the stylistic features of the Orcagna culture, while the painting in the Cleveland Museum shows a looser painterly coating, found in the later artistic output of the painter.
I believe that the critical classification suggested here is confirmed by a further confrontation with another panel fragment from a lost portable tabernacle, portraying Saint John the Baptist andSaint James the Greater(fig. 9), formerly in the famous Stoclet Collection in Brussels, recognised as a work by Bonaiuto for the first time by Boskovits, who dated it 1360-65. The similarity between Saint James the Greaterand the Mourning Saint Johnin the present painting should be noted (figs. 10a-b), with identical solutions for the left hand holding the mantle and the drapery definition.
As if that were not enough, yet another fragment of a tabernacle panel (fig.11) is even closer to the present painting – perhaps even executed by the same artist – especially in the figure of the crucified Christ; according to my notes, it was with the Matthiesen Galley in London in 2006, with the correct reference to Andrea di Bonaiuto.
Concerning Cennino Cennini’s technique of “granare” gold, see ad vocem, Dizionario del restauro.Tecniche, diagnostica, conservazione, edited by C. Giannini, Florence 2010, p.81. Concerning lacquer in general and Kermes in particular, see Ibid., pp. 95-96.
See V.M. Buonocore, Il marchese Alfonso Tacoli-Canacci “onesto gentiluomo smaniante per la pittura”, Reggio Emilia 2005, p. 221, no. 413. On the Tacoli Canacci collection and the corresponding bibliography, see L. Sbaraglio, Alfonso Tacoli Canacci (Mirandola, 1726 – Firenze, 1801), in La fortuna dei Primitivi. Tesori d’arte dalle collezioni italiane fra Sette e Ottocento, exhibition catalogue (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, 24 June – 8 December 2014) edited by A.Tartuferi and G.Tormen, Florence 2014, pp. 211-215.
M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370-1400, Florence 1975, p. 24.
For Andrea di Bonaiuto, especially known as a fresco artist (Cappellone degli Spagnoli, convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence and Stories of San Ranieri in the Pisa Monumental Cemetery) and the corresponding bibliography, see Boskovits, Op.cit1975, pp. 31-33 and 276-278; R. Offner-K.Steinweg, Andrea Bonaiuti, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, IV c., Volume VI, New York 1979; S. Romano, Andrea di Bonaiuto, in Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, III, Munich-Leipzig 1992, pp. 516-519; J. Tripps, Tendencies of Gothic in Florence: Andrea Bonaiuti, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, IV c., Vol. VII (part I), Florence 1996; D. Gordon, Andrea di Bonaiuto’s painting in the National Gallery and S. Maria Novella: the memory of a church, «The Burlington Magazine», CLI, 2009, pp. 512-518.
See Tripps, Op. cit.1996, p. 46 and pp. 206-207. The fragment measures 31x13,4 cm.
See Boskovits, Op.cit. 1975, p. 277 and fig. 43; Tripps, Op.cit. 1997, pp. 105-106, plate IV.
Fabrizio Moretti pointed out the tablet to me back then, and it measures 27,5 x 11 cm.