Gentile da Fabriano
Marchigian, c. 1370 - 1427
Gentile di Nicolo Masi , Gentile di Niccolo di Giovanni di Massio

Biography

Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio was born in Fabriano probably around 1370. In 1390 his father took monastic vows in the monastery of Santa Caterina in Castelvecchio, a fact that suggests that Gentile was fully independent, including financially, by that time. The first document concerning the painter is from 1408 and attests to his presence in Venice; he must have been by then a well-known master, since he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece ordered by Francesco Amadi for the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, for a very respectable sum. Probably between 1409 and 1411 he was awarded an especially prestigious commission: to contribute to the fresco decoration of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale. Sources speak admiringly of his Battle of the Venetians against Barbarossa, destroyed along with everything else in the hall in the fire of 1577.

The works that can be assigned to this first phase of the artist's career--like the little Madonna and Two Saints (Museo Civico, Pavia), the Madonna and Two Saints with Donor for the church of San Niccolò or Santa Caterina in Fabriano (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), the Madonna Enthroned with Angel Musicians for San Domenico in Perugia (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Perugia), and the polyptych for the church of Valle Romita near Fabriano (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)--suggest that he was trained outside of Fabriano. Some think his training was in Lombardy, others in Venice, but it certainly ran parallel with the refined, up-to-date late Gothic figurative tradition of Giovannino de' Grassi, Michelino da Besozzo, Stefano da Verona, and the Lombard miniaturists of the tacuina sanitatis.

Between 1414 and 1419 Gentile worked for Pandolfo Malatesta, signore of Brescia, where recently there have come to light some fragments of his frescoes in the chapel of the Palace of Broletto. In 1419 the painter asked Pandolfo for a safe-conduct for himself and his entourage to reach Rome. He stopped first in Fabriano, where he is documented in 1420, and in the fall of that year he rented a house in Florence, enrolled in the painters' guild in 1422, and resided in the district of Santa Trinità until 1425. In Fabriano (or perhaps in Florence, but on commissions originating in Fabriano) he painted a standard with the Coronation of the Virgin on the front (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), and Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata on the back (Fondazione Magnani in Traversetolo, near Parma). In 1423, for the sacristy of Santa Trinità in Florence, he painted his masterpiece, the Adoration of the Magi (now Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). Commissioned by Palla Strozzi, this brilliant narrative spectacle is rich with sentiment, psychological observation, and an unusually detailed description of nature. For the church of San Niccolò Oltrarno in Florence he painted five panels, probably part of a larger complex (today preserved, in ruinous state, in the storerooms of the Gallerie Fiorentine), and the polyptych for the high altar, formerly signed and dated 1425, currently divided among various collections (National Gallery, London, on deposit from the Royal Collections; Uffizi, Florence; Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome; National Gallery of Art, Washington).

In 1425 Gentile frescoed a Madonna and Child in the cathedral of Orvieto and then worked in Siena, where his contemporaries greatly admired his Madonna and Child with Saints for the Palazzo dei Notai, now lost. In 1427 he reached Rome, where he worked for Pope Martin V and other patrons, and painted the Madonna and Child now in the Museo Diocesano in Velletri. He died that year while working on a fresco cycle in San Giovanni in Laterano. According to the humanist Bartholomeus Facius, "when the famous painter Rogerius Gallicus [Rogier van der Weyden]... had visited... this same church of John the Baptist and had looked at [Gentile's fresco], he was taken with admiration... and heaping praise on him preferred him to the other Italian painters."[1] [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] See Michael Baxandall, "Bartholomaeus Facius on Painting," JWCI 27 (1964): 100-101.

Bibliography

1896
Vasari, Giorgio. La vite del più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti. Gentile da Fabriano e il Pisanello. Ed. Adolfo Venturi. Florence, 1806 (originally 1568).
1909
Colasanti, Arduino. Gentile da Fabriano. Bergamo, 1909.
1953
Grassi, Luigi. Tutta la pittura di Gentile da Fabriano. Milan, 1953.
1960
Bussagli. "Gentile da Fabriano." In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti. 79+ vols. Rome, 1960+: 53(1998):170-176.
1960
Degenhart, Bernhard, and Annegritt Schmitt. "Gentile da Fabriano in Rom und die Anfänge des Antikenstudiums." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 3rd ser., 11 (1960): 59-151.
1976
Ikuta, Madoka. "Bibliografia (1930-1976) di Gentile da Fabriano." Bulletin Annuel du Musée National d'Art Occidental, Tokyo 10 (1976): 74-87.
1976
Micheletti, Emma. L'opera completa di Gentile da Fabriano. Milan, 1976.
1982
Christiansen, Keith. Gentile da Fabriano. London, 1982.
1998
De Marchi, Andrea. "Gentile da Fabriano." Art Dossier 136 (1998).
2003
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 287.

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