Madonna in trono col Bambino e santi (c.1400-1410)

Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427)

Madonna in trono col Bambino e santi (Madonna and Child Enthroned, Saint Nicholas of Bari, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and a donor)
Tempera and gold on poplar, 133.4 x 115 cm

SIGNATURE / INSCRIPTION: Inscribed on a fragment of the original frame that has been lost since 1945: + gentilis de fabriano opus (rather: pinsit?) +

Gentile da Fabriano is generally regarded as one of the leading Italian masters of the courtly style of the International Gothic, which originated in Burgundy and northern France, and which he brought to the fore in the most important art centres in Italy. In 1422 he was entered into the Florentine painters’ guild, the same year as Masaccio. He worked in Florence until 1425/26 (then in nearby Siena and Orvieto) and caused a sensation with his large altarpieces, the altarpiece painted in 1423 on behalf of Palla Strozzi for his family chapel in S. Trinità and the high altarpiece of the church of S. Niccolò Oltrarno (1425). He became for a time the most famous painter in the city, although his fame was soon outshone by that of Masaccio. He influenced painters such as Fra Angelico; in addition to Jacopo Bellini, Domenico Veneziano was also his pupil. At the beginning of 1427 he went to Rome to execute a cycle of frescoes in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on behalf of Martin V, which he was unable to complete due to his death in the autumn of the same year. The course of his youth and the development of his early years are still obscure. Opinions differ as to where the origins of his art lie, what various influences have influenced it. Gentile came from a well-to-do family in Fabriano in the Marche region. The earliest certain date dates back to 1408, when he received payment for a lost altarpiece in Venice. There he was commissioned to fresco the scenes in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace as part of the renovation of the decoration (1409, 1411, probably until 1414). From 1414 to 1419 he was in Brescia, where he painted frescoes in the chapel of Broletto on behalf of Pandolfo Malatesta. In the second half of 1420 he was already in Florence. His date of birth was placed between 1360 and 1385. The year 1370 is generally assumed. K. Christiansen (1982), on the other hand, suggested that he was born around 1385. While the proponents of the earlier date assume that he was already independent as a painter when his father, widowed, retired to the monastery of S. Caterina in 1390 and became procurator there, Christiansen believed that his grandfather took over the education of the only five-year-old. These questions are not without relevance to the Berlin painting, as it is apparently the earliest surviving work. According to the testimony of Amico Ricci (1834), it comes from the church of S. Niccolò in Gentile‘s hometown of Fabriano. When the church was rebuilt or rebuilt in 1630, the picture would have been removed. In 1660, according to Ricci, it was in the possession of the Leopardi family in Osimo, later in the possession of Count Ottoni Tiranetti in Meschia near Fabriano, in 1766 in the Cagnucci collection and at the beginning of the 19th century in the possession of a collector in Matelica (Marche), who sold it in 1828. In 1829 it was in the possession of a Mr. Massani in Rome, where it was advertised by the Prussian ambassador Bunsen, who gave it to the Prussian Crown Prince. In 1837 he loaned it to the Berlin gallery before he gave it to it in 1840. According to A. De Marchi (1992), the image could have come from the monastery church of S. Caterina in Castelvecchio in Fabriano, whose monastery had been founded shortly before by the Silvestrines and joined the Olivetans in 1397. Gentile’s family, as already mentioned, was closely connected to this monastery. According to De Marchi, Gentile was probably a protégé of Chiavello Chiavelli, who in 1378 became Lord of Fabriano and shortly after 1405 commissioned the polyptych of Valleromita (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera) from Gentile. He was an ally of Gian Galeazzo Visconti against Florence and stayed in Milan on the occasion of Gian Galeazzo’s elevation to duke in 1395. Gentile‘s early stay in Lombardy could also be related to his presence in Milan. The Berlin painting is considered to be Gentile‘s earliest work by Boskovits (1987) and De Marchi (1992) around 1395. Christiansen (1982) dated it around 1406/08. Of particular importance is the question of the function of the work, which is generally regarded as an altarpiece. Christiansen (1982), on the other hand, believed that the painting originally belonged to a funerary monument.

Mary sits on a throne bench covered with a red cushion. She holds with both hands the Christ Child standing on her knees, who looks down at the benefactor (depicted on a smaller scale) who is kneeling, praying, in profile to the right (depicted on a smaller scale). Behind the throne rise two trees, each of whose crowns are populated by seven angels playing music. On either side of the throne, facing the Madonna, stands a figure of a saint. On the left, St. Nicholas of Bari is seen in a precious vermilion pluvial set with stars, in his right hand the crosier and the three golden balls, his attribute, holding his left hand as if blessing over the donor, whom he recommends to the Madonna. On the right stands Saint Catherine of Alexandria, princess and Christian martyr, holding the martyr’s palm in her right hand and a book in her left, dressed in a costly robe, painted in a plum-coloured shade over silver, decorated with a pattern of blossom branches and lined with white fur inside. On top of that, she wears a pale purple-blue, fur-lined coat draped over her shoulder and gathered with her left hand. The hems of the robe and the gathered mantle form a soft, wavy lineament, similar to the gold-embroidered hem of the Madonna’s mantle – hallmark of the Soft Style of International Gothic. The throne and figures stand on a dark green, blooming meadow above which the gold background rises. The compositional structure is that of a Sacra Conversazione, of which there are parallel examples in altarpieces in Veneto and Marche. The development of Gentile‘s early style has been attributed to works of Umbrian and Sienese painting of the late Trecento, as well as reflections of Venetian painting and influences from Lombard miniature painting of the late Trecento. According to Christiansen, Gentile may have become acquainted with Lombard miniatures in the Marche, where other painters were also influenced by them. Boskovits (1987) saw in the Umbrian-Mark masters of the late Trecento the prerequisites for Gentile‘s early work. However, this was contradicted by De Marchi, who, like other scholars before him, once again saw the prerequisites for Gentile‘s early work in Lombardy, especially in Pavia, which had been acquired by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1359 and experienced a period of prosperity under Gian Galeazzo Visconti (in 1396 the construction of the Charterhouse began and the Castello Visconteo, which was built until 1365, began). Gentile would have been inspired by miniature painters such as Giovannino de’ Grassi and the “maestro del Guiron”, the anonymous painter who painted frescoes with female figures (damiselle) in the Castello around 1395. Visconteo was influenced by the young Michelino da Besozzo and Jean d’Arbois. Christiansen believed in the first decisive impulses from Zanino di Pietro, who stayed in Bologna in 1389 and 1394 to 1405 and in Venice in 1407, but also delivered works to the Marche. However, researchers were rather skeptical about this derivation. In the Berlin painting, however, Christiansen also saw the influence of Lombard miniature painting at work. (Gemäldegalerie)