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Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011), “Lippo Memmi/Madonna and Child with Donor/1325/1330,” Italian Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century Paintings, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/13 (accessed May 29, 2016).

 

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Overview

This work was the left side of a diptych that probably depicted the Crucifixion on the opposite panel. At the lower left, looking up at a looming vision of the Virgin and Child, is a small, kneeling figure in rapt devotion. Lippo Memmi (Sienese, active 1317/1347) has given us a portrait of a particular individual, unshaven, his ruddy skin slightly sagging below his tonsured curls, suggesting advanced age. He commissioned this painting and used it in his private devotions.

Lippo linked the two panels visually in multiple ways, beginning with our monk-donor’s gaze to the right. Mary places her finger against Jesus’s chest in a traditional gesture that recalls icons of the Hodegetria (as seen in the National Gallery of Art's Byzantine Enthroned Madonna and Child): she is pointing the way to salvation through Jesus and to his future suffering on the cross. The child’s tug at Mary’s veil is likely another reference to the Passion and to the death shroud that will cover him. With the pull and pucker of the cloth under their fingers, Lippo gives this symbolic sign a naturalistic touch.

The green-tinged faces in early Italian pictures sometimes discomfit modern viewers. What we are seeing, in fact, is the green earth pigment of the underpainting coming through as the colors on top have been abraded over time. This is not what the artist intended or what his contemporaries would have seen. The painting’s worn surface also gives us a good chance to see the red clay layer (bole) applied beneath all the gilt areas to give the gold a rich, warm tone.

Entry

The painting’s iconography is based on the type of the Hodegetria Virgin.[1] It presents, however, a modernized version of this formula, in keeping with the “humanized” faith and sensibility of the time; instead of presenting her son to the observer as in the Byzantine model, Mary’s right hand touches his breast, thus indicating him as the predestined sacrificial lamb. As if to confirm this destiny, the child draws his mother’s hand towards him with his left hand. The gesture of his other hand, outstretched and grasping the Madonna’s veil, can be interpreted as a further reference to his Passion and death.[2]

The painting probably was originally the left wing of a diptych. The half-length Madonna and Child frequently was combined with a representation of the Crucifixion, with or without the kneeling donor. In our panel, the donor, an unidentified prelate, is seen kneeling to the left of the Madonna; his position on the far left of the composition itself suggests that the panel was intended as a pendant to a matching panel to the right. In any case, the image was intended for the donor’s private devotion.[3]

Ever since its first public appearance at the London exhibition of Sienese painting in 1904, this panel has been recognized as a work by Lippo Memmi. The attribution to the fourteenth-century Sienese master has seldom been placed in doubt since that time.[4] If the painting’s attribution can be considered perfectly convincing, its date is open to question; the art historical literature has expressed various views on the dating. The date usually proposed for our Madonna and Child is c. 1330, but some authorities have pushed this either backward to the 1320s or forward to 1335.[5] The lack of any securely dated works by the artist before 1333 (apart, of course, from the great fresco of the Maestà in San Gimignano dated 1317, which hardly lends itself to stylistic comparison with small panels like ours) justifies this lack of certainty. It should be said, however, that the identification of Lippo with the so-called Master of the Triumph of Saint Thomas—that is, the master of the painting of the same name in the church of Santa Caterina at Pisa—has been revived and has begun to gain ground. If, as various clues suggest, this proposal is likely to be correct,[6] a further chronological point of reference for Lippo’s career would thus be obtained, for the Santa Caterina panel must have been painted in close proximity to the canonization of Thomas Aquinas in 1323. Another fact that should be borne in mind, in reflecting on the chronological sequence of Lippo’s works is a gradual enrichment of technique, particularly the tendency to pass “from a pictorial treatment of luminous and two-dimensional effect to a softer, more atmospheric, more richly charged modeling, also involving a more three-dimensional effect.”[7] Some art historians have viewed this change primarily as a consequence of Lippo’s adjustment to the manner of Simone Martini (Sienese, active from 1315; died 1344), but it would be more correct to speak of his gradual espousal of the ideals of Gothic elegance, not simply his dependence on his brother-in-law’s stylistic development.[8] The various punch marks used to decorate this painting include several that can also be recognized in paintings attributed to Simone and executed in the period between 1320 and 1333, or even later. Some of these punches recur in the Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas and in other panels attributable to the Pisan phase of Lippo’s activity, hence executed in the period 1320/1325.[9]

Given these observations, a date for the National Gallery of Art’s Madonna of slightly later than the Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas can be supported with some confidence. This conclusion is also reinforced by stylistic considerations, for the clear-cut and energetic design of the Pisan painting is still exempt from such features as the accomplished curvilinear rhythms and delicate chiaroscuro modeling proposed in the painting being discussed here. A terminus ante quem, on the other hand, is provided by the Madonna [fig. 1] in Berlin (Gemäldegalerie) dated 1333: its more elongated, aristocratic proportions and more spacious and refined compositional layout indicate the artist’s gradual adoption of a fully gothicizing manner. From these considerations, therefore, a date for the Washington Madonna in the period 1325/1330 can be deduced—a date that also holds good, in all probability, for a painting particularly close in style, namely the polyptych formerly in the church of San Niccolò at Casciana Alta, near Pisa.[10] Despite some archaizing aspects (such as the round-arched upper termination of the panels of the main register), the altarpiece seems, in its figural style, to belong to the same phase as our panel. Mary [fig. 2] is more lissome in physique and assumes a more composed and elegant pose than in previous paintings by Lippo, while the curly-headed child [fig. 3], who opens his lips to pronounce words of blessing, would seem closely akin to the idea proposed in the Gallery panel [fig. 4]. The fact that the face of Saint Thomas is more subtly naturalistic in its modeling than that of the same saint in the undated Pisan panel (c. 1323) suggests a slightly later date.   

Lippo, we may infer, embarked on a new stylistic phase in the years around 1325. This led him not only to dedicate ever-growing attention to reserved elegance of pose but also to refine his technique. He now tried to accentuate the realistic effects of his images. His efforts in this direction are testified by the acutely characterized portrait of the donor [fig. 5] in the Washington Madonna: the flaccid, unshaven features show evident signs of old age and poor health. But no less subtle and acute an observation is shown in the treatment of the child’s close-fitting blouse that wrinkles and puckers under the firm touch of Mary’s finger.

Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)

March 21, 2016

Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Private collection, Paris; purchased c. 1896 through (Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London) by Robert Henry [1850–1929] and Evelyn Holford [1856–1943] Benson, London and Buckhurst Park, Surrey;[1] sold 1927 with the entire Benson collection to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[2] purchased 15 December 1936 by The Andrew W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[3] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1904
Exhibition of Pictures of the School of Siena, Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1904, no. 19.
1927
Loan Exhibition of the Benson Collection of Old Italian Masters, City of Manchester Art Gallery, 1927, no. 101.
Bibliography
1903
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 6 vols. Edited by Robert Langton Douglas (vols. 1-4) and Tancred Borenius (vols. 5-6). Vol. 3, The Sienese, Umbrian, and North Italian Schools. London, 1903-1914: 3(1908):79 n. 1.
1904
Frizzoni, Gustavo. "L’esposizione d’arte senese al Burlington Fine Arts Club." L’Arte 7 (1904): 261.
1904
Fry, Roger. "La mostra d’arte senese al Burlington Club di Londra." Rassegna d’Arte 4 (1904): 117.
1904
"Sienese Art at the Burlington Fine-Arts Club." The Athenaeum 3997 (June 1904): 728.
1905
Douglas, Robert Langton, ed. Exhibition of Pictures of the School of Siena and Examples of the Minor Arts of That City. Exh. cat. Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1904. London, 1905: 55, no. 19, pl. 16.
1907
Cust, Lionel. "La collection de M. R. H. Benson (Londres)." Les Arts 70 (1907): 24.
1907
Venturi, Adolfo. Storia dell’arte italiana. Vol. 5, La pittura del Trecento e le sue origini. Milan, 1907: 659, fig. 536.
1907
Weigelt, Curt H. “Lippo Memmi.” In Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Edited by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 23(1929):276.
1908
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. A New History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 3 vols. Edited by Edward Hutton. Vol. 2, Sienese School of the Fourteenth Century; Florentine School of the Fifteenth Century. London and New York, 1908-1909: 2(1909):65 n. 6.
1909
Berenson, Bernard. The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance. 2nd ed. New York, 1909: 202.
1914
Benson, Robert Henry. Catalogue of Italian Pictures at 16 South Street, Park Lane, London and Buckhurst in Sussex. London, 1914: no. 5.
1914
Borenius, Tancred. Catalogue of Italian Pictures at 16 South Street, Park Lane, London and Buckhurst in Sussex Collected by Robert and Evelyn Benson. London, 1914: no. 5.
1920
Marle, Raimond van. Simone Martini et les peintres de son école. Strasbourg, 1920: 107-108.
1923
Marle, Raimond van. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 19 vols. The Hague, 1923-1938: 2(1924):265, fig. 174.
1924
Vitzthum, Georg Graf, and Wolgang Fritz Volbach. Die Malerei und Plastik des Mittelalters in Italien. Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft 1. Wildpark-Potsdam, 1924: 278.
1926
Gielly, Louis. Les primitifs siennois. Paris, 1926: 111.
1927
Douglas, Robert Langton. "I dipinti senesi della Collezione Benson passati da Londra in America." Rassegna d’arte senese e del costume 1, no. 5 (1927): repro. 103.
1927
Washburn-Freund, Frank E. "Die Sammlung Benson." Der Cicerone 19 (1927): 500.
1930
Weigelt, Curt H. Die sienesische Malerei des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts. Pantheon Edition. Florence and Munich, 1930: 34.
1932
Edgell, George Harold. A History of Sienese Painting. New York, 1932: 103, fig. 105.
1932
Marle, Raimond van. Le scuole della pittura italiana. 2 vols. The Hague and Florence, 1932-1934: 2(1934):282, fig. 186.
1933
Meiss, Millard. "The Problem of Francesco Traini." The Art Bulletin 15 (1933): 116.
1933
Venturi, Lionello. Italian Paintings in America. Translated by Countess Vanden Heuvel and Charles Marriott. 3 vols. New York and Milan, 1933: 1:no. 74, repro.
1937
"The Mellon Gift. A First Official List." Art News 35 (20 March 1937): 15.
1941
National Gallery of Art. Book of Illustrations. Washington, 1941: 150 (repro.), 233.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 133, no. 11.
1941
Richter, George Martin. "The New National Gallery in Washington." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 78 (June 1941): 177.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 239, repro. 153.
1946
Douglas, Robert Langton. "Recent Additions to the Kress Collection." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 88 (1946): 85.
1949
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 6, repro.
1951
Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 26 n. 1.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 23, fig. 8.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 298, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 89.
1968
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools. 3 vols. London, 1968: 2:270, pl. 303.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 78, repro.
1971
Polzer, Joseph. "Observations on Known Paintings and a New Altarpiece by Francesco Traini." Pantheon 29 (1971): 386, 387, fig. 8.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 141, 312, 645.
1973
Śnieżyńska-Stolot, Ewa. "Geneza, styl i historia obrazu Matki Boskiej częstochowskiej." Folia historiae artium 9 (1973): 26, 29 fig. 24, 30 n. 74, fig. 27.
1974
De Benedictis, Cristina. "A proposito di un libro su Buffalmacco." Antichità viva 13, no. 2 (1974): 8, 9, fig. 11.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 232, repro.
1979
De Benedictis, Cristina. La pittura senese 1330-1370. Florence, 1979: 21, 93, fig. 18.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: 1:330-331; 2:pl. 240.
1981
Belting, Hans. Das Bild und sein Publikum im Mittelalter: Form und Funktion früher Bildtafeln der Passion. Berlin, 1981: 72, 73, fig. 71.
1982
Il gotico a Siena: miniature, pitture, oreficerie, oggetti d’arte. Exh. cat. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Florence, 1982: 186.
1983
Boskovits, Miklós. "Il gotico senese rivisitato: proposte e commenti su una mostra." Arte cristiana 71 (1983): 264.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 67, no. 6, color repro.
1985
Bagnoli, Alessandro, and Luciano Bellosi, eds. Simone Martini e “chompagni”. Exh. cat. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena. Florence, 1985: 92.
1985
Brandl, Rainer. Die Tafelbilder des Simone Martini: ein Beitrag zur Kunst Sienas im Trecento. Frankfurt am Main and New York, 1985: 85 n. 1.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 230, repro. 251 (incorrectly identified as repro. for 1950.11.1.b, Attrib. to Martino di Bartolomeo di Biago, Madonna and Child with Saint Peter and Saint Stephen).
1986
Boskovits, Miklós. "Sul trittico di Simone Martini e di Lippo Memmi." Arte cristiana 74 (1986): 76 n. 33, 78 fig. 12.
1986
Conti, Alessandro. "Simone Martini e ‘chompagni’: Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, March 27-October 31, 1985." Bollettino d’arte 71, nos. 35-36 (1986): 101.
1986
Ercoli, Giuliano. "Precursori, maestri e ‘chompagni’ nella pittura del Duecento e del Trecento." Antichità viva 25 (1986): 11.
1986
Tartuferi, Angelo. "Appunti su Simone Martini e ‘chompagni.’" Arte cristiana 74 (1986): 85, 91-92, n. 29.
1988
Boskovits, Miklós, ed. Frühe italienische Malerei: Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde. Translated by Erich Schleier. Berlin, 1988: 78, 81.
1989
Castri, Serenella. "Memmi, Lippo (Lippo di Memmo di Filippuccio)." In Dizionario della pittura e dei pittori. Edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Bruno Toscano. 6 vols. Turin, 1989-1994: 3(1992):581.
1989
Leone De Castris, Pierluigi. Simone Martini: catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1989: 145.
1991
De Benedictis, Cristina. "Lippo Memmi." In Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale. Edited by Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana. 12 vols. Rome, 1991-2002: 7(1996):735.
1996
Maginnis, Hayden B. J. "Lippo Memmi." In The Dictionary of Art. 34 vols. Edited by Jane Turner. New York, 1996: 19:455.
1996
Rowlands, Eliot W. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300-1800. Kansas City, MO, 1996: 36, 38.
1997
Edmonds, Penelope. "A Technical Examination, Investigation, and Treatment of a fifteenth-Century Seinese Polychrome Terra-Cotta Relief." Studies in the History of Art 57 (1997): 68-69, fig. 3.
1998
Frinta, Mojmír S. Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998: 93, 252, 311, 317, 321, 446, 488.
2002
Franci, Beatrice. "Memmi, Lippo." In La pittura in Europa. Il Dizionario dei pittori. Edited by Carlo Pirovano. 3 vols. Milan, 2002: 2:591.
2003
Leone De Castris, Pierluigi. Simone Martini. Milan, 2003: 181, 283.
2004
Secrest, Meryle. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004: 458.
2009
Bellosi, Luciano, ed. La collezione Salini: dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. 2 vols. Florence, 2009: 1:143.
2009
Spannocchi, Sabina. "Lippo e Tederigo Memmi." in La Collegiata di San Gimignano, vol. 2, l’architettura, i cicli pittorici murali e i loro restauri. Edited by Alessandro Bagnoli. Siena, 2009: 452.
Technical Summary

The panel is composed of a single piece of wood trimmed along the lower edge. At some point in the painting’s history, the original triangular gable was cut just above the Virgin’s halo. The gable was reconstructed with modern wood during an undocumented restoration, probably conducted in 1927–1928.[1] The wooden support was thinned to 5 mm and cradled, and the vertical edges covered by strips of modern wood, probably at the same time that the gable was added. The modern replacement of the missing top of the gable (c. 12–16 cm) has been gilded and its border decorated with punches that imitate the original ones along the vertical edges of the panel. The painting was executed on a white gesso ground, with gilding over a layer of red bole in the ground behind the figures. A green imprimatura can be seen under the flesh tones. The paint was applied in thin layers with little texture except for a discernible thickness in the Virgin’s blue cloak. A split about 6 cm long runs upwards from the center of the lower edge of the panel. There is a loss in the gilding at the upper left edge, and another loss is visible in the lower left corner. There is inpainting in the Virgin’s cloak and in the child’s robe, as well as in some scratches in the faces.

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