This triptychA picture consisting of three parts. The term denotes both the object itself and its compositional form. As an object, the triptych may vary in size and material, but usually consists of a central panel flanked by wings (or shutters), which may be hinged; as a compositional form it is a tripartite structure, often with an emphasized central element. Although its imagery was, until the 19th century at least, predominantly religious, the object as such was not tied to a specific function.
—Victor M. Schmidt, Grove Art © Oxford University Press is in some respects unusual, even unique, in fourteenth-century painting in central Italy. First, it is unusual for an altarpieceAn image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar, abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum. The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history.
—Alexander Nagel, Grove Art © Oxford University Press of this kind to be characterized by such a disparity both in the distribution and in the proportions of the figures: numerous and small in the center, large in the laterals—even larger in scale than the Madonna enthroned in the main panel. Second, another very rare feature is that one of the saints, Anthony Abbot, appears twice, once in the central panel and again in the left lateral. Third, and uniquely, a practically identical version (only slightly larger in size) exists in the Duomo of Macerata, though with a provenance from the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in that town. It is dated 1369, and the fact that, at an interval of fifteen years, both triptychs were commissioned and their iconographicTerms that refer broadly to the study of subjects and themes in works of art. Iconology, which is based on the results of iconography, is the more wide-ranging and comprehensive. One of the principal concerns of iconography is the discovery of symbolic and allegorical meanings in a work of art.
—Willem F. Lash, Grove Art © Oxford University Press program established by a member of the Antonine order named Giovanni (Johannes) makes it likely that both were executed for the same patron.
The composition at the center, with tiered angels and saints flanking the enthroned Madonna, was probably based on a model developed in a portable triptych from the shop of Bernardo Daddi (active by 1320, died probably 1348) or perhaps by the hand of Puccio di Simone himself. Mary holds in her arms the naked child, who is draped from the hips downward in a precious gold-embroidered cloth [fig. 1] [fig. 1] Detail of Madonna and Child (central panel), Puccio di Simone and Allegretto Nuzi, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angels, 1354, tempera on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. With an apparently playful gesture, she points her index finger at him. The Christ child is wearing a necklace with a small branch of coral as a pendant. With his left hand he grasps a small bird, while with the other hand he holds onto the hem of his mother’s mantle. The Madonna and child are flanked on either side by nine angels, probably alluding to the nine choirs of angels. The raised throne is approached by two steps, flanked in the foreground by four saints. To the left we see Saint Catherine of Alexandria (unusually wearing the imperial crown and with a palm branch in her right hand, while her other hand is supported on the toothed wheel, instrument of her martyrdom) and Saint Benedict. On the other side, closest to the throne, is Saint Anthony Abbot, patron saint of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint Anthony, better known as the Antonines, dressed in the dark brown tunic and beige mantle of his order. The saint supports himself on the T-shaped handle of his staff, while at his feet a small black pig, his usual attribute, can be glimpsed. The female saint standing next to him can be recognized as Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, another exemplary figure of Christian charity, who gathers up her dress in front to support a posy of brightly colored flowers. Above the Madonna, Christ Crucified appears in the quatrefoil medallion of the gable. In the left lateral, Saint Anthony Abbot appears once again. He is accompanied by his usual attributes. Directing his gaze at the Virgin and Child, he raises his left hand in a gesture of homage and service, while with his other hand he holds the T-shaped staff. The half-figure Angel of the Annunciation appears in the trefoil medallion in the gable above his head. In the right lateral the martyr Saint Venantius is represented as a young knight dressed in a precious gold-embroidered brocaded tunic. He supports a standard in his right hand. The half-figure of the Virgin Annunciate appears in the trefoil medallion above his head.
It is not known at whose suggestion this triptych, on its appearance in a London sale catalog of July 25, 1916, was cited as “A Triptych . . . attributed to Allegretto Nuzi da Fabriano.” Presumably, Bernard Berenson(June 26, 1865–October 6, 1959)
Art historian and connoisseur. Son of a Lithuanian timber merchant who emigrated to the United States with his family in 1875, he was educated at the Latin School, Boston, and at Harvard University, where he studied Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and German. In an unsuccessful application for a traveling fellowship to Europe, he wrote, ‘Art prevails in this programme because it is there that I feel myself weakest. One can study literature here . . . but art not at all.’ On his subsequent visit to Europe in 1885, financed by friends, his rapid visual self-education led to the decision to settle in Italy and to devote his life to the study of Italian art.
—William Mostyn-Owen, Grove Art © Oxford University Press had occasion to see it before the sale and to connect it with the catalog of works he had begun to assemble under the name of this Marchigian master some years earlier. It cannot be excluded, however, that the painting entered the Russell collection already with this attribution in the course of the nineteenth century, given its provenance from a church (and then from a collection) in Allegretto’s hometown. In fact, even if the original provenance of the altarpiece from the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Fabriano is undocumented, it can be regarded as virtually certain. It is suggested first and foremost by the double presence of the patron saint of the Antonine order, and also by the circumstance that another work by Allegretto, dating to the year before the triptych discussed here, is also known to have a provenance from the church of Sant’Antonio fuori Porta Pisana. In any case, the attribution of the triptych to Allegretto was supported with complete conviction by Berenson (1922, 1930), followed by Osvald Sirén (1924), Luigi Serra (1925, 1927–1928, 1929), Bruno Molajoli (1928), Roger Fry (1931), Lionello Venturi (1931, 1933), Umberto Gnoli (1935), Luigi Coletti (1946), Ugo Galetti and Ettore Camesasca (1951), and Pietro Toesca (1951). Robert Lehman (1928), on the other hand, accepted the attribution with some reservations.
The doubts can be traced back to Raimond van Marle, who in 1924 detected in the triptych the presence of elements of Daddesque culture that he found incompatible with the attribution to Allegretto. Richard Offner (1927), Helen Comstock (1928), and Mario Salmi (1930) endorsed van Marle’s doubts. Some years later, Offner recognized that the work is the result of two hands: that of Allegretto, who painted only the left lateral, and that of an anonymous Florentine follower of Daddi whom Offner dubbed the “Master of the Fabriano Altarpiece” and who, he argued, was responsible for the rest of the altarpiece. These conclusions, reported for the first time in the catalog of the National Gallery of Art (NGA 1941) and then explained in detail by Offner himself (1947), were gradually accepted in all the more recent literature on the painting. After more than a decade, Roberto Longhi (1959) succeeded in identifying the anonymous Florentine painter with Puccio di Simone. Offner did not accept the proposal, and the name of the Master of the Fabriano Altarpiece continued to survive for several years in the art historical literature. Since the mid-1970s, however, the triptych in the National Gallery of Art has been generally, and correctly, recognized as the joint work of Puccio (central and right panels) and Allegretto (left panel).
The execution of an altarpiece by two different artists can hardly have been a rarity in the practice of fourteenth-century painters: one of the most famous examples of such a collaboration is that of Simone Martini (Sienese, active from 1315; died 1344) and Lippo Memmi (Sienese, active 1317/1347) in the triptych dated 1333 now in the Uffizi, Florence, signed by both artists. What is more rare is the execution of a painting by two unrelated painters of different origin and formation, such as Puccio from Florence and Allegretto from Fabriano. They could have gotten to know each other during Allegretto’s documented residence in Florence in 1346, but the style of the earlier works by this painter suggests that while in Florence he probably frequented the shops of Maso di Banco and the young Orcagna (Andrea di Cione)(Orcagna; Orgagna; Arcagnuolo)
(born 1315–20; died Florence, 1368)
Painter, sculptor, and architect, thought to have also been active as a poet. He was trained as a painter and referred to himself as “pictor” on the tabernacle in Orsanmichele. Details of his training are not known, but his first surviving works reveal various influences, especially of Maso di Banco and Taddeo Gaddi.
—G. Kreytenberg, Grove Art © Oxford University Press and not that of Bernardo Daddi, who was the mentor of Puccio in those years. It is probable that the Marchigian artist remained in contact with the Florentine scene also around 1350, when perhaps he returned to work there after the devastating outbreak of the Black Death in 1348. Nor can it be excluded that it might have been at the request of the Antonine canons of Fabriano, and not by personal choice, that he sought the collaboration of a Florentine painter for the works that the order had commissioned from him in his hometown.
Though its style and other data suggest that Puccio should be given credit for the overall planning of the triptych, the parts executed by the two masters can be clearly distinguished. The ornamentation of the two lateral panels—a decorative frieze delimiting the gold ground; a series of miniature lunettes around the arches, within each of which an elegant foliated motif is inserted; and the decoration of the carpet that covers the floor—is identical and repeats types of decoration found in other, presumably earlier works by Puccio di Simone. The central panel proposes a composition of tiered angels and saints flanking the Madonna that is unusual in paintings on a monumental scale but recurs in Puccio’s smaller panels clearly destined for private devotion. The severe and solemn figure of Saint Anthony Abbot in the left lateral [fig. 2] [fig. 2] Detail of Saint Anthony (left panel), Puccio di Simone and Allegretto Nuzi, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angels, 1354, tempera on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, seen in half-profile while he raises his left hand with a nonchalant gesture of locutio, forms part of the figurative repertoire of Puccio di Simone. Yet the hermit saint seems more noble in feature and more youthful in appearance than similar figures painted by Puccio, while his unwrinkled face and the fixed gaze of his almond eyes immediately betray the identity of the master who painted him: Allegretto. Allegretto, in fact, would repeat the image of the saint in a very similar way in later works, such as the lateral of a triptych in the Pinacoteca Civica in Fabriano.
A very different humanity is evident in the image of Saint Venantius [fig. 3] [fig. 3] Detail of Saint Venantius (right panel), Puccio di Simone and Allegretto Nuzi, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angels, 1354, tempera on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, a somewhat effeminate youth with a soft complexion, snub nose, and sharp little eyes, whose long blond locks fall over the shoulders of his sumptuous court dress. With a slight smile playing on his thin lips, he complacently surveys the saints gathered around the Virgin’s throne; they too have personalities, each with individual features: etiolated and reserved female saints, their gestures expressing timidity; self-assured monks with thick, silky beards and minutely described and shadowed faces; and angels who move and dart glances with the alert grace of college girls, completely filling the available space on both sides of the throne. The naturalistic tendency that distinguishes Puccio’s style in this phase has sometimes been related to the presence in Florence of another great non-Florentine painter, Giovanni da Milano, but more likely it depends rather on other artistic developments that began to appear in Florence even earlier than the midcentury. I refer in particular to the activity, undoubtedly important (even if still difficult to quantify), of Stefano di Ricco and of the Master of San Lucchese, pioneers of that minute vision to which Puccio would accede after the death of Bernardo Daddi and that would characterize his output during the last decade of his life. The panel now in the Pinacoteca of Fabriano and the triptych discussed here testify that in the years c. 1353–1354 Puccio had resolutely embarked on the path of pictorial realism. He is to be considered not a follower of Giovanni da Milano or of Giottino but their fellow traveler, or even perhaps their predecessor.
Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)
March 21, 2016