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Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011), “Master of Saint Francis/Saint John the Evangelist/c. 1272,” Italian Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century Paintings, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/41626 (accessed June 29, 2016).

 

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Overview

This and another panel in the National Gallery of Art depicting Saint James Minor were part of a large—11 feet long—and impressive altarpiece made for the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia (see Reconstructions). Only the monks and other clergy would have seen these paintings because they decorated the back of the altarpiece. The front, the only side normally visible to the congregation, likely illustrated episodes from the life of Christ, with saints and prophets interspersed.

Saint John and his companions on the back of the altarpiece stand under arches that, when all the panels were joined, would have placed them in a continuous arcade. Circular cuttings in the spandrels between the arches probably held glass ornaments. The round form of the arches, the acanthus capitals of the columns, and the Roman style dress of the figures were modeled after an early Christian sarcophagus that had been unearthed in Perugia in 1262, perhaps ten years or so before the altarpiece was painted. This marble coffin was reused for the burial of the Blessed Egido (known in English as Blessed Giles) in the crypt of San Francesco. In all likelihood, the altarpiece stood directly above the spot where Egido, one of Francis’s first followers, was entombed.  

Additional surviving panels (now in other museums) include four other apostles and Saint Francis. Inclusion of the saint, canonized some 50 years earlier, would have had particular significance in this Franciscan church. Many members of the order regarded their founder, Saint Francis, as the 13th apostle.

Entry

This panel and its companion, Saint James Minor, originally formed part of an altarpiece painted on both sides. The side displayed to the faithful presumably showed four stories of Christ flanked by saints and prophets [fig. 1] (see also Reconstruction), while the rear side showed the apostles and Saint Francis, full length [fig. 2] (see also Reconstruction). Of the main side of the altarpiece, which had already been dismembered by 1793,[1] only the components of the right part have survived, namely Prophet Isaiah ([fig. 3], treasury of the basilica of San Francesco, Assisi)[2] and Deposition [fig. 4], Lamentation [fig. 5], and Saint Anthony of Padua [fig. 6], all three now in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia.[3] Nothing has survived of the left part of the dossal, which perhaps showed Jeremiah (or another prophet), the counterpart of Isaiah on the other side, flanked by two other scenes of the Passion and another full-length saint, corresponding to Saint Francis on the back. The centerpiece of the dossal, probably a Madonna and Child, has also been lost.[4] On the back of the dossal, from left to right, were Saint Francis ([fig. 7], now Galleria Nazionale dell’ Umbria, Perugia, no. 24); Saints Bartholomew and Simon ([fig. 8], The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; see note 1); the two panels being discussed here from the National Gallery of Art; Saint Andrew [fig. 9], in the past erroneously identified with other apostles (Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, no. 23);[5] and Saint Peter ([fig. 10], formerly Stoclet collection, Brussels; acquired by the Italian State in 2002 for the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia, no. 1393). As for the lost central panel on the rear side, images of the Madonna and Child or Christ Enthroned have been proposed.[6] To the right of the central image, the presence of six other apostles can be assumed; two of them presumably were combined in a single panel, as in the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art painting. It is likely, lastly, that the seventh figure, the one closest to the central panel, was the apostle Saint Paul.[7]

Both the arrangement of this series of figures, standing under arcades, and their architectural framing were inspired, as Dillian Gordon (1982) showed, by an early Christian sarcophagus formerly kept in the church of San Francesco al Prato (and now in the Oratory of San Bernardino in Perugia); it had been used as the tomb of the Blessed Egidio (Egido),[8] one of the first companions of Saint Francis, who died near Perugia in 1262 and was greatly venerated in that city.[9] Since the same church also housed the large painted crucifix dated 1272 likewise executed by the Master of Saint Francis and now in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia,[10] Gordon proposed a similar date for the altarpiece as a whole—a very plausible hypothesis, even if not everyone has accepted it.[11]

As Edward B. Garrison (1949) and other scholars recognized, the altarpiece formerly in San Francesco al Prato should be considered one of the earliest examples of the type of altarpiece classifiable as “low dossal.” Both its large size and the fact that it was painted on both sides suggest that it was intended for the high altar of the church.[12] Its measurements cannot have diverged very much from Jürgen Schultze’s (1961) calculations (0.58 × 3.5 m).[13] Its external profile was probably distinguished by a central gable, whether arched or triangular, placed over the lost central panel,[14] an archaic type that was replaced as early as the last decade of the thirteenth century by the more modern form of multigabled dossals.[15]

The question of the authorship of the work has never been seriously disputed (even though some art historians have preferred to attribute the dispersed Perugian dossal to the workshop of the Master of Saint Francis).[16] Greater uncertainties surround its date. To elucidate the question, some preliminary reflections on the main stages in the painter’s career are needed. 

Two plausibly datable works can be of help in this regard. Some have attributed to the Master of Saint Francis the Madonna and Child with an angel frescoed on the north wall of the nave in the lower church of the basilica of San Francesco in Assisi and considered it to have been executed in 1252 or just after.[17] The cycle of narrative frescoes on both walls of the same nave, on the other hand, unanimously has been attributed to the same artist and dated to around 1260.[18] Comparing them with the one securely dated work of the painter, the painted crucifix of 1272 in Perugia, suggests that the elegant, lively figures in the Washington panels—Saint John turning his head to the right, Saint James stepping forward to the left—are closer to the figures of the cycle with stories of Christ and of Saint Francis than to the fragmentary image of the Madonna. With its more summary design and the static poses of its figures, the latter recalls on the one hand the figurative tradition of artists active in the middle decades of the century, such as Simeone and Machilone from Spoleto,[19] and on the other the manner of the German workshop that executed the earliest stained-glass windows in the basilica of Assisi, those of the apse of the upper church.[20]

As new artists joined the enterprise of decorating the basilica at Assisi, however, styles rapidly changed. A transalpine artist of considerable stature must already have been at work there around 1260, introducing stylistic models more closely attuned to the Gothic taste in western Europe. Under the guidance of this master the large windows of the transept of the upper church were realized, and among the artists working at his side was the Master of Saint Francis. In the windows assignable to him, the Umbrian artist responded with great sensitivity to the poetic aspirations of his transalpine companion; he repeated some of his ideas and forms both in his own stained-glass windows and in the cycle of narrative frescoes in the lower church, combining them with the rapid gestures and the strong expressive charge characteristic of his own native Umbrian culture. Thus, the stained-glass quatrefoils on the north side of the upper church, characterized by the plastic relief given to the bodies and the harsh vigor expressed in their poses, should be considered the result of a less advanced phase in the artist’s career than the mural cycle.[21] The panel paintings executed for the Franciscan church of Perugia must belong to later years, presumably after an interval of some duration. Here the refined elegance prescribed by the Gothic style is expressed with particular evidence in the lean figures of the two panels with stories of Christ, and also in those with single figures. What is striking in them is the aristocratic refinement of their physiognomic types, their spontaneous and improvised poses, and the capricious undulation of the borders of their mantles [fig. 11]. Unfortunately, the few other works known to us do not offer sufficient clues to estimate how long a period of time must have elapsed between the works of the Master of Saint Francis in Assisi and those in Perugia.[22] On the other hand, the virtual identity of the style observable in the crucifix dated 1272 and in the surviving fragments of the altarpiece suggest that the two works must have been executed close to each other in time.

Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)

March 21, 2016

Inscription

on the arch: SANCTVS I[O]HANES...SSUM...

Provenance

Executed in all probability for the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, where at least part of the fragments belonging to the same altarpiece were still preserved in 1793;[1] probably privately owned in Perugia;[2] Anton de Waal [1837–1917], Rome;[3] probably (Paolo Paolini, Rome), by 1921;[4] Philip Lehman [1861–1947], New York, by 1928; sold June 1943 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[5] gift 1952 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1946
Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 811.
1999
The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi, Petit Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998-1999, no. 6/3, repro., as The Apostle Saint John the Evangelist (shown only in New York in 1999).
Bibliography
1907
Vollmer, Hans. "Meister des Hl. Franziskus von Assis." In Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Edited by Ulrich Thieme, Felix Becker and Hans Vollmer. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 37(1950):105.
1924
Vitzthum, Georg Graf, and Wolgang Fritz Volbach. Die Malerei und Plastik des Mittelalters in Italien. Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft 1. Wildpark-Potsdam, 1924: 251.
1928
Lehman, Robert. The Philip Lehman Collection, New York: Paintings. Paris, 1928: no. LXII, repro.
1929
Marle, Raimond van. "Italian Paintings of the Thirteenth Century in the Collection of Monsieur Adolph Stoclet in Brussels." Pantheon 4 (1929): 316.
1930
Mayer, August L. "Die Sammlung Philip Lehman." Pantheon 5 (1930): 115.
1932
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 345.
1932
Marle, Raimond van. Le scuole della pittura italiana. 2 vols. The Hague and Florence, 1932-1934: 1(1932):406-407.
1935
D’Ancona, Paolo. Les primitifs italiens du XIe au XIIIe siècle. Paris, 1935: 76.
1936
Berenson, Bernard. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated by Emilio Cecchi. Milan, 1936: 281.
1945
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 6 repro.
1946
Douglas, Robert Langton. "Recent Additions to the Kress Collection." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 88 (1946): 85.
1946
Frankfurter, Alfred M. Supplement to the Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1946: 14, repro.
1949
Garrison, Edward B. Italian Romanesque Panel Painting: An Illustrated Index. Florence, 1949: 27, 162-163, repro.
1951
Galetti, Ugo, and Ettore Camesasca. Enciclopedia della pittura italiana. 3 vols. Milan, 1951: 2:1486.
1956
Santi, Francesco. La Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia. Itinerari dei musei e monumenti d’Italia 90. Rome, 1956: 7.
1957
Exposition de la Collection Lehman de New York. Exh. cat. Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, 1957: 30.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 12, repro.
1961
Schultze, Jürgen. "Ein Duecento-Altar aus Assisi? Versuch einer Rekonstruktion." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 10 (1961): 59 (repro.), 60, 61, 63, 64.
1963
Schultze, Jürgen. "Zur Kunst des ‘Franziskusmeisters.’" Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 25 (1963): 141, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 87.
1966
Campini, Dino. Giunta Pisano Capitini e le croci dipinte romaniche. Milan, 1966: 151.
1966
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII-XV Century. London, 1966: 4-5, fig. 3.
1967
Schultze, Jürgen. "Die Fresken in der Unterkirche von San Francesco zu Assisi und andere Werke des ‘Franziskusmeisters.’" Raggi 7, no. 2 (1967): 51-52, repro. 53.
1968
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools. 3 vols. London, 1968: 1:255, 256.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 76, repro.
1969
Santi, Francesco, ed. Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, vol. 1, Dipinti, sculture e oggetti d’arte di età romanica e gotica. Rome, 1969: 27, 29, 31.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 128, 418, 646, 665.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 224, repro.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: 1:324-325; 2:pl. 234.
1980
Scarpellini, Pietro. "Le pitture." In Il tesoro della Basilica di San Francesco ad Assisi. Edited by Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupré Dal Poggetto. Assisi, 1980: 43-44.
1982
Christiansen, Keith. "Fourteenth-Century Italian Altarpieces." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 40 (1982): 14, repro. 17.
1982
Gordon, Dillian. "A Perugian Provenance for the Franciscan Double-Sided Altarpiece by the Maestro di S. Francesco." The Burlington Magazine 124 (1982): 71, 72, 74 (repro.), 75.
1982
Pietralunga, Fra Ludovico da, and Pietro Scarpellini (intro. and comm.). Descrizione della Basilica di S. Francesco e di altri Santuari di Assisi. Treviso, 1982: 175.
1983
Esser, Saskia. "Die Ausmalung der Unterkirche von San Francesco in Assisi durch den Franziskusmeister." Diss. phil. Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn, 1983: 136 n. 4.
1983
Poeschke, Joachim. "Der ‘Franziskusmeister’ und die Anfänge der Ausmalung von S. Francesco in Assisi." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 27 (1983): 157 (repro.), 162, 163.
1984
Os, Hendrik W. van. Sienese Altarpieces 1215-1460. Form, Content, Function. 2 vols. Groningen, 1984-1990: 1(1984):19, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 67, no. 3, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 257, repro.
1985
Poeschke, Joachim. Die Kirche San Francesco in Assisi und ihre Wandmalereien. Munich, 1985: 67.
1986
Castelnuovo, Enrico, ed. La Pittura in Italia. Il Duecento e il Trecento. Essays by Filippo Todini and Elvio Lunghi. 2 vols. Milan, 1986: 2:376, 624.
1987
Marques, Luiz. La peinture du Duecento en Italie centrale. Paris, 1987: 61, 285.
1987
Pope-Hennessy, John, and Laurence B. Kanter. The Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. New York, 1987: 78, 80, repro. 287.
1989
Todini, Filippo. La pittura umbra dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento. 2 vols. Milan, 1989: 1:185, 2:repro. 29.
1989
Toscano, Bruno. "Maestro di San Francesco." In Dizionario della pittura e dei pittori. Edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Bruno Toscano. 6 vols. Turin, 1989-1994: 3(1992):412.
1990
Neri Lusanna, Enrica, and Cristina De Benedictis. "Miniatura umbra del Duecento: diffusione e Influenze a Roma e nell’Italia meridionale." Studi di storia dell’arte 1 (1990): 11.
1991
Romano, Serena. "Maestro di S. Francesco." In Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale. Edited by Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana. 12 vols. Rome, 1991-2002: 8(1997):119.
1991
Solberg, Gail E. Taddeo di Bartolo: His Life and Work. PhD diss. New York University, 1991. Ann Arbor, MI, 1994: 634.
1992
Boskovits, Miklós. "Appunti per una storia della tavola d’altare: le origini." Arte cristiana 80 (1992): 430, repro. 433.
1992
Krüger, Klaus. Der frühe Bildkult des Franziskus in Italien: Gestalt- und Funktionswandel des Tafelbildes im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1992: 26, 165, fig. 316.
1992
Solberg, Gail E. "A Reconstruction of Taddeo di Bartolo’s Altarpiece for S. Francesco a Prato, Perugia." The Burlington Magazine 134 (1992): 653.
1994
Romano, Serena. "Maestro di San Francesco." in Dipinti, sculture e ceramiche della Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria: studi e restauri. Edited by Caterina Bon Valsassina and Vittoria Garibaldi. 1st ed. Florence, 1994: 58, repro. 61.
1996
Gordon, Dillian. "The So-Called Paciano Master and the Franciscans in Perugia." Apollo 143 (1996): 36.
1996
Romano, Serena. "Master of St Francis." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 20:761.
1997
Martin, Frank, and Gerhard Ruf. Die Glasmalereien von San Francesco in Assisi: Entstehung und Entwicklung einer Gattung in Italien. Regensburg, 1997: 53-55.
1998
Frinta, Mojmír S. Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998: 157, 166.
1998
Krüger, Klaus. "Selbstdarstellung im Konflikt: zur Repräsentation der Bettelorden im Medium der Kunst." In Die Repräsentation der Gruppen Texte, Bilder, Objekte. Edited by Otto Gerhard Oexle and Andrea von Hülsen-Esch. Göttingen, 1998: 178-179, repro.
1998
Morello, Giovanni, ed. Sauver Assise. Exh. cat. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Milan, 1998: 58.
1999
Cannon, Joanna. "The Stoclet ‘Man of Sorrows’: A Thirteenth-Century Italian Diptych Reunited." The Burlington Magazine 141 (1999): 110 n. 30.
1999
Cook, William Robert. Images of Saint Francis of Assisi in Painting, Stone and Glass from the Earliest Images to c. 1320 in Italy: A Catalogue. Florence and Perth, 1999: 163.
1999
Morello, Giovanni, and Laurence B. Kanter, eds. The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Milan, 1999: 70-79, repro. 72.
2001
Andaloro, Maria. "Tracce della prima decorazione pittorica." In Il cantiere pittorico della Basilica superiore di San Francesco in Assisi. Edited by Giuseppe Basile and Pasquale Magro. Assisi, 2001: 84 n. 45.
2001
Cooper, Donal. "Franciscan Choir Enclosures and the Function of Double-Sided Altarpieces in Pre-Tridentine Umbria." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 64 (2001): 9, 10 (repro.), 12.
2001
Cooper, Donal. "‘Qui Perusii in archa saxea tumulatus’: The Shrine of Beato Egidio in San Francesco al Prato, Perugia." Papers of the British School at Rome 69 (2001): 224 (repro.), 225, 227-230, 238, 242.
2001
Scalini, Mario, and Angelo Tartuferi, eds. Un tesoro rivelato: capolavori dalla collezione Carlo De Carlo. Exh. cat. Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, 2001: 40.
2002
Garibaldi, Vittoria. Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria: guida. Milan, 2002: 14.
2002
Giorgi, Silvia. "Maestro di San Francesco." In La pittura in Europa. Il Dizionario dei pittori. Edited by Carlo Pirovano. 3 vols. Milan, 2002: 2:549.
2002
Gordon, Dillian. "Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Perugian Double-Sided Altarpieces: Form and Function." In Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento. Edited by Victor M. Schmidt. Studies in the History of Art 61 (2002): 229-234, fig. 2.
2002
Krüger, Klaus. "Medium and Imagination: Aesthetic Aspects of Trecento Panel Painting." In Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento. Edited by Victor M. Schmidt. Studies in the History of Art 61 (2002): 65-67.
2006
Bisogni, Fabio, and Enrico Menestò, eds. Iacopone da Todi e l’arte in Umbria nel Duecento. Exh. cat. Museo Comunale, Todi. Milan, 2006: 168, 170, 172.
Technical Summary

Both this painting and its companion, Saint James Minor, were executed on a single plank of horizontal-grain wood prepared with gesso. The x-radiographs show that the distinctive wood grain pattern is continuous between the two panels, proving that they were once part of the same plank, with Saint James Minor on the left and Saint John the Evangelist on the right.[1] The backgrounds are gilded, and each halo is decorated with a curvilinear incised design and two sizes of rosette punches around its border. Areas to be gilded were prepared with red bole, and incised lines are visible between the painted and gilded areas. Infrared reflectography reveals a detailed brush underdrawing defining contours within the painted portions and the fold patterns in the figures’ drapery.[2] The paint was applied in the discrete brushstrokes typical of tempera technique, with green underpaint in the flesh areas. The x-radiographs reveal small, filled holes located approximately 0.75 cm in from the edges of each panel, which may be the means of attachment of now-lost framing.[3] There are nine holes visible in Saint John the Evangelist and ten holes in Saint James Minor

Stephen Pichetto “cradled, cleaned, restored, and varnished” both panels in 1944.[4] The paint is generally in good condition on both panels, although it is less well preserved on Saint James Minor than on Saint John the Evangelist. The photographs of the paintings published by Robert Lehman (1928) show small, localized areas of flaking along the contours, in the robe, and on the forehead of Saint James Minor, as well as in the architectural framing above him, and in the area close to the lower edge of that painting. Darkened inpaint is visible in small patches in Saint James Minor’s halo in these photographs. The photographs show losses along the edges of Saint John the Evangelist’s robes, in the arch, and along the top and bottom edges of that panel. The two roundels in the spandrels of the arch at the top right and left of each panel, which may have been decorated with colored glass, have been excavated down to the wood. The varnish applied to both paintings in 1944 is now somewhat discolored.

Altarpiece Reconstructions

Click on any panel in the altarpiece reconstructions below to see an enlarged version of the image. Color reproductions in the reconstruction indicate panels in the National Gallery of Art collection.

Reconstruction of an altarpiece formerly in San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, front side, right portion, by the Master of Saint Francis:

a. Prophet Isaiah (Entry fig. 3)
b. Deposition (Entry fig. 4)
c. Lamentation (Entry fig. 5)
d. Saint Anthony of Padua (Entry fig. 6)

Reconstruction of an altarpiece formerly in San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, rear side, left portion, by the Master of Saint Francis:

a. Saint Francis (Entry fig. 7)
b. Saints Bartholomew and Simon (Entry fig. 8)
c. Saint James Minor
d. Saint John the Evangelist
e. Saint Andrew (Entry fig. 9)
f. Saint Peter (Entry fig. 10)