Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels and Saints Ansanus (?), John the Baptist, Nicholas of Bari, Sebastian, Catherine of Alexandria, and Bartholomew

Neri di Bicci, Italian (active Florence), 1419 - January 4, 1493

Geography:
Made in Florence, Italy, Europe

Date:
1457?

Medium:
Tempera, silver, and tooled gold on panel with vertical grain

Dimensions:
65 x 64 3/8 inches (165.1 x 163.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1899-1108

Credit Line:
The Bloomfield Moore Collection, 1899

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Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    The Virgin and Child sit on an elaborate throne with Renaissance architectural motifs as two angels worship them. They are surrounded by six saints, who can be identified by their attributes. Kneeling at the left is the bishop saint Nicholas of Bari, holding a pastoral staff and three golden balls, symbol of the dowry he secretly gave three indigent girls. Behind him is a young man, holding a martyr's palm and a heart, who is most likely Saint Ansanus, a fourth-century martyr who was beheaded near Siena. His cult enjoyed a wide popularity in all of Tuscany. Saint John the Baptist, in a hair shirt, points to Christ with one hand and grasps a scroll and cross in the other. Kneeling at the right is the bearded apostle Bartholomew, holding a book and the knife by which he was martyred. Behind him is Saint Sebastian, carrying a martyr's palm and an arrow. Saint Catherine of Alexandria's attributes are a crown, a book, a spiked wheel, and a martyr's palm.

    Except for a listing under Neri di Bicci's name in Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri's 1972 census of Italian paintings in North American public collections, this picture has never been studied. Stylistically it belongs to the 1450s, for the Virgin can be compared with the figure in the Annunciation that Neri painted for Caterina di Cristoforo Bagnesi and her husband, Ormanozo di Guido Dati, in September 1455.1 The figures and the Renaissance motifs of the throne are also close to those in Neri's now-lost Virgin and Child with Saints Margaret, Francis, James Major, and Bernardino, commissioned by Bernardo di Lupo Squarcialupi in July 1454,2 and his Virgin and Child with Two Angels and Saints Lawrence, Felicita (or Clare of Assisi), Sixtus, John the Baptist, Jerome, and Nicholas of Bari (see Viterbo, church of San Sisto), commissioned by the Florentine prelate Giovanni Spinelli (or Spinellini) in 1457 for a "Messer Pietro," for the church of San Sisto in Viterbo.3 Saint Nicholas's pastoral staffs in the altarpieces in Viterbo and in Philadelphia are likewise the same. In addition, Anabel Thomas (correspondence dated London, October 9, 1995) has noted stylistic links between the Museum's painting and Neri di Bicci's Canneto altarpiece,4 dated 1452; the altarpiece in the parish church of Miransù,5 seemingly begun in 1457 and finished in 1459; and the Virgin of Mercy commissioned in 1457 for the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Arezzo.6

    An altarpiece ordered from Neri di Bicci on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1457, as he described in his Ricordanze [Neri di Bicci. Le ricordanze (10 Marzo 1453-24 Aprile 1475). Edited by Bruno Santi. Pisa, 1976, p. 74, no. 146], may be the work in question:

    I record how on the said day I agreed to see for Messer Pagholo di . . . , prior of Putignano in Valdigreve, to the carpentry, painting, and furnishing, at my own expense, of an altarpiece 4 braccia [86 5/8" (220 cm)] wide and 4 2/3 braccia [101" (257 cm)] high, in the antique format, square, with a predella at the bottom, columns on the sides with molding, and above the molding a tympanum and scroll without a frieze and architrave. All the parts on the front, that is, the outer molding, should be worked in fine gold, the molding should be German blue azurite and decorated with stars; ultramarine should be used for Our Lady, whereas German blue for everything else. All should be well done and decorated at my expense, as stated above, and it needs to be finished for next June 1457. For the said altarpiece, that is, the carpentry, gold, azure, and workmanship, I shall have 34 florins or more, which will be decided by the abbot of San Pancrazio. If that sum is not enough, it will be 38 florins. And this was accorded with Lorenzo di Fulino di Cianpolo da Panzano, at the behest of the said Messer Pagholo and at his order. Furthermore, the said Lorenzo promised that the said Messer Pagholo will be aware of everything in a private communication, written down by the hand of the said Lorenzo, and countersigned by my own hand. In this panel I have to paint Our Lady with the Christ Child at her neck and three saints at each side, and in the predella three stories, of which I have a note in the hand of the said Lorenzo. They have to make the payment to me in the said manner, that is, for all of April, 14 florins, and after the panel is furnished, half of the rest, and the rest on the first day of November 1457, and in such a manner as had been said and agreed upon on the said day. On July 12, 1457, the said painting must be consigned to the said prior and the accounting worked out with him and Lorenzo da Panzano. We find that I had had up until this said day in a combination of money and grain in all 112 lire, 9 soldi, and 6 denari. To Account Book D at p. 25.7

    On the same day Neri di Bicci (1453-75, Santi ed. 1976, p. 75, no. 147) ordered the panel and the frame for the altarpiece from Giuliano da Maiano; the frame was based on Neri's design. On July 12, 1457, the completed painting was handed over to Messer Pagholo of Santa Maria in Putignano in the Valdigreve (Neri di Bicci 1453-75, Santi ed. 1976, p. 78, no. 154). On August 13 Neri di Bicci delivered to Putignano an altar frontal that was painted to resemble a colored brocade (Neri di Bicci 1453-75, Santi ed. 1976, p. 79, no. 156). It probably resembled the frontal that he had painted for the church of Santo Spirito in Florence, except that it had no figures.8

    Because the saints in Neri's Putignano altarpiece are not identified in his Ricordanze, it is impossible to be sure that it is the painting now in Philadelphia. Two specific objections to such an identification can be raised. One might be that the patron's name saint, Paul, is absent. However, another example by Neri di Bicci, the altarpiece (see Virgin and Child with Two Angels and Saints Lawrence, Felicita (or Clare of Assisi), Sixtus, John the Baptist, Jerome, and Nicholas of Bari at Viterbo, church of San Sisto) ordered by a Messer Pietro for the church of San Sisto in Viterbo, does not contain the patron's name saint either. The other objection might be that the Putignano painting was larger in both height and width than the Philadelphia panel, according to Neri's account. However, Neri's dimensions include the panel, predella, and frame, which may explain the difference in dimensions.

    No mention of this or any other painting by Neri di Bicci from the church of Santa Maria alla Canonica in Putignano near Greve in the Chianti is found in the records of the Soprintendenze of Florence. However, the church was not inventoried until March 1896,9 when its priest reported no works of artistic value. Earlier, the Neri di Bicci was not described in a diocesan visit of the church made in 1850.10 Carlo and Italo Baldini (1979) have suggested that by this point the altarpiece may have been transferred to the now-destroyed church of San Lorenzo in Frassino, which had once been under the jurisdiction of Santa Maria alla Canonica. There is no documentation for this hypothesis, but it is possible that the painting was removed from Santa Maria alla Canonica around 1763, the date inscribed on the Baroque-style high altar constructed in the church by the prior Piero Lorenzo Galgi.11 In 1741 this prior had described the high altarpiece as depicting "the Virgin and other saints and it is of wood with a very consumed wood frame."12 This was probably Neri di Bicci's painting, but, since Galgi does not specify which saints were included, the identification cannot be certain. An inventory of the church made by the prior Santi Maria Natale Ferrini on August 25, 1771, reports that the new altar is furnished with a "painting on panel depicting the Holy Virgin Mary with other saints to the side, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Catherine, St. John the Baptist, and St. Agatha," 13 which is clearly not the work by Neri di Bicci. The painting that Ferrini described is no longer in the church, but it was probably commissioned for the new high altar in 1763.14 Since, except for the Baptist and Catherine, the saints do not correspond to those in Neri di Bicci's altarpiece, the altar's dedication may have changed.

    The Firidolfi family held patronage rights in Santa Maria alla Canonica from at least 1446,15 when the patron was Benedetto Jotini de Firidolfi. In that year the church is said to have had only twenty parishioners. The painting then on the high altar was not in good shape, because it was described as a "painting of the Virgin Mary quite ugly and old."16 Neri di Bicci was probably commissioned to paint an altarpiece to replace this one.

    The last name of the prior Messer Pagholo is not recorded, but it is likely that he was a Firidolfi, since five of the documented priors of the church were from that family.17 The Christian name of the prior in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, who was responsible for many renovations to the church, was Bartolomeo, suggesting a certain tradition of veneration for the apostle Bartholomew in the Firidolfi family.18 This could explain the apostle's presence in the foreground of Neri di Bicci's altarpiece. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian Paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 319-323.

    Notes:

    1. Bruno Santi. "Dalle Ricordanze di Neri di Bicci." Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa: classe di lettere e filosofia (Pisa), 3rd ser., vol. 3, no. 1 (1973), pp. 169-88, plate ii.
    2. B. Santi 1973, plates xi-xii. This was formerly with the dealer Böhler in Munich. It was subsequently cut into pieces and sold separately.
    3. Giovanni Spinelli was an archdeacon of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. For more on him, see Anabel Thomas. "Neri di Bicci: The S. Sisto Crucifixion, the Mantellate Nuns of S. Monaca at Florence, and the Compagnia di Miransù." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 32, no. 5 (September-October 1993; printed November 1993), p. 15 n. 39.
    4. From San Giorgio in Canneto, now in San Miniato al Tedesco, Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra; Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra di San Miniato. Bollettino dell'Accademia degli Euteleti della città di San Miniato, 39th yr., n.s., no. 38 (1966), plate xviii. The inscription states that the painting was sent to Canneto from Florence by one Niccolò di Antonio.
    5. Thomas 1993a, figs. 1, 5 (black-and-white); Figline Valdarno, Vecchio Palazzo Comunale. Arte e restauri in Valdarno. Exhibition, May 18-July 7, 1991. Catalogue edited by Caterina Caneva. Florence, 1991, figs. 7-8 (color).
    6. Arezzo, Museo Statale d'Arte Medievale e Moderna, no. 27; Il Museo Statale d'Arte Medievale e Moderna in Arezzo. Texts by Anna Maria Maetzke et al. Florence, 1987, repro. pp. 64-65.
    7. "Richordo chome a detto dì tolsi a far fare di legniame e dipigniere e di tutto fornire a ogni mia ispesa da meser Pagholo di . . . priore di Putigniano in Valdigrieve [sic] una tavola d'altare di braccia quattro largha e alta braccia 4 e 2/3, formata al'anticha, quadra, chon predella da pie', cholonne da lato chogli sghuanci e sopra lo sghuancio l0 chornicione e foglia sanza fregio e architrave; messa tute le parte dinanzi, cioè la faccia dinanzi, d'oro fine; isghuancio d'azuro di Magnia e stellato; Nostra Donna d'azuro oltramarino; ogni altra chosa d'azuro di Magnia: tuta bene fatta e ornata a mia ispesa chome detto di sopra e dèbola dare fatta per tuto giugnio prosimo 1457 e di detta tavola, cioè di legniame, oro, azuro e maistero io debo avere da f. 34 in su, ciò che dirà l'abate di Santo Branchazio, non bastando però e' f. 38 e chosì fu fatto d'achordo cho Lorenzo di Fulino di Cianpolo da Panzano, con chomesione del detto meser Pagholo e chon suo mandato, prometendo el detto Lorenzo che el detto meser Pagholo oserverà quanto per una iscrita privata, di mano di detto Lorenzo, soscritta di mia in suo proprio nome; nella quale tavola ò a fare Nostra Donna chol Figliuolo f. 38 [sic] in chollo e tre Santi da ogni parte e nella predella tre istorie, delle quali n'ò uno richordo di mano di detto Lorenzo. El paghamento mi debono fare in questo modo, cioè per tuto aprile f. 14 e dipoi fornita la tavola la metà di resto; el resto poi a dì primo di novenbre 1457 e chosì chome detto e fatto d'achordo el detto dì. Rende' la detta tavola al detto priore a dì 12 di luglio 1457 e fe' chonto cho lui e Lorenzo da Panzano: trovamo avevo auto insino a detto di.ttra' danari e grano in tuto 1. centododici s. 9 d. 6. A libro D a c. 25." (Florence, Biblioteca degli Uffizi, Manoscritti 2, folio 32 recto).
    8. Cristina Acidini Luchinat with Elena Capretti, eds. La chiesa e il convento di Santo Spirito a Firenze. Florence, 1996, p. 252, fig. 5 (color detail).
    9. Florence, Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici ed il Paesaggio e per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico e Demoetnoantropologico, Archivio Storico del Territorio, Catalogo generale dei monumenti e degli oggetti d'arte del regno, 1896, folder A/1115.
    10. Carlo Baldini and Italo Baldini. Pievi, parrocchie, e castelli di Greve in Chianti. Vicenza, 1979, p. 177.
    11. A former prior, Bartolomeo Firidolfi (in office 1674-1710), made other renovations to the church, which are recorded in inscriptions still found in the now-deconsecrated sanctuary. In 1691 he built the sacristy and a sacristy cupboard, and in 1706 he had tabernacles set in the wall for the Eucharist and holy oil.
    12. "La Vergine e altri santi e di legno con sua cornice di legno molto usato" (Fiesole, Archivio Vescovile, Inventario, 1740-48 [1741], xix.17, carta 398 verso).
    13. "Quadro di pittura in tavola rappresentante Maria SS. con altri santi a latere con S. Pietro, S. Paolo, S. Caterina, S. Giovanni Battista, e con S. Agata" (Fiesole, Archivio Vescovile, Inventario [1771] xix.17, carta 416 recto).
    14. As it is not described in the Soprintendenza's files of 1896 (see n. 9 above), it probably passed into the collections of the Firidolfi family (see text below), who gave up their patronage rights over the church in 1850. The last members of the family to hold patronage in 1850 were Giovanni Benedetto and Giuliano Firidolfi and their sister Lucrezia Firidolfi Ricasoli.
    15. Baldini and Baldini 1979, p. 177.
    16. "Tabula virginis mariae satis turpe et vetera" (Fiesole, Archivio Vescovile, Visita di Benozzo Federighi, 1441-60, 1446, carta 227 recto and verso).
    17. Baldini and Baldini 1979, pp. 176-77.
    18. See n. 11 above.

    Bibliography:

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 148;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 220