It was 1950 before the Catholic Church accepted the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven as official dogma, but the notion had long been part of her legend and a subject for artists. One of the earliest large-scale depictions of this event in Italy was a rose window in the cathedral of Siena, designed by
Paolo’s Virgin is serene, enthroned on a cloud and looking similar to the young Mary that Paolo painted in
Although the bodily Assumption of the Virgin did not officially become the dogma of the Catholic Church until 1950,
Anton Ziegenaus, “Aufnahme: Leibliche Aufnahme Mariens in den Himmel,” in Marienlexikon, ed. Remigius Bäumer and Leo Scheffczyk, 6 vols. (St. Ottilien, 1988), 1:276 – 286.
See Else Staedel, Ikonographie der Himmelfahrt Mariens (Strasbourg, 1935); Ulriche Liebl, “Himmelfahrt Mariae: Kunstgeschichte,” in Marienlexikon, ed. Remigius Bäumer and Leo Scheffczyk, 6 vols. (St. Ottilien, 1991), 3:205 – 208. The Assumption (Koimesis) was celebrated in the Orthodox Church from a very early date, but until the thirteenth century only the assumptio animae and not the physical assumption of the body of Mary was represented in art. See Klaus Wessel, “Himmelfahrt Mariae,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 1971), 2:1256 – 1262.
For a useful summary of the iconographic development of the Assumption in Tuscany in the fourteenth century, see Richard Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting: The Fourteenth Century, sec. 3, vol. 7, The Biadaiolo Illuminator, Master of the Dominican Effigies (New York, 1957), 48 – 49 n. 2.
In Sienese representations of the early Trecento, the sarcophagus of Mary either does not appear at all or is shown empty. The sarcophagus full of flowers would only begin to appear towards the end of the fourteenth century in works by Francesco di Vannuccio, Bartolo di Fredi, and Taddeo di Bartolo. See Hendrik W. van Os, Marias Demut und Verherrlichung in der sienesischen Malerei: 1300 – 1450 (The Hague, 1969), pl. 14, fig. 127, pl. 19. It is in this last painting, belonging to the cathedral in Montepulciano and dated 1401, that we see not only the flowers in the sarcophagus but also the apostles gathered around the tomb with expressions of astonishment. Cf. Os, Marias Demut, 157 – 176.
The legend of the girdle given to Saint Thomas appears for the first time in the Liber de transitu Virginis Mariae, probably dating to the sixth century, but its earliest representations in art are not found before the thirteenth century; see Klaus Wessel, “Himmelfahrt Mariae,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 1971), 2:1259 – 1261; and Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, 6 vols. (Gütersloh, 1966 – 1990), 4, pt. 2: 87, 129 – 131.
The panel in the National Gallery of Art might originally have been a self-sufficient devotional image and not part of a larger complex. This is suggested by the two medallions with the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin Annunciate in its upper spandrels; in
Type of object with several panels, usually an altarpiece, although it may also fulfil other functions. The polyptych normally consists of a central panel with an even number of side-panels, which are sometimes hinged to fold. Although in principle every object with two panels or more may be called a polyptych, the word is normally used as a general term for anything larger than a triptych. As with diptychs and triptychs, the size and material can vary. —Victor M. Schmidt, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
A 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
Examples of triptychs or polyptychs in which the Annunciation appears at the two outer sides of the gable zone — the Archangel on one side, the Virgin on the other — are legion. In diptychs, the busts of the Angel and the Virgin Annunciate usually appear respectively in the left and right leaf. It is therefore unlikely that the National Gallery of Art panel originally belonged to such a multipart altarpiece. In some cases, however, the Annunciation is represented in the upper spandrels of the central panel of a portable triptych, such as that by
The attribution of the painting has never been in doubt: ever since Robert Langton Douglas (1904) introduced it to the art historical literature, its ascription to the Sienese master Paolo di Giovanni Fei has been unanimously accepted.
Robert Langton Douglas, “The Exhibition of Early Art in Siena,” The Nineteenth Century and After 57 (1904): 763. Apart from the publications cited in the Bibliography, it may be recalled that Alberto Riccoboni (1947), in support of the attribution of the painting to Paolo, also cited expertises conducted by himself and by Gino Calore, as well as a “parere concorde” (corroborating opinion) by Roberto Longhi. Alberto Riccoboni, ed., Prima Mostra Nazionale Antiquaria: Quattrocento pitture inedite (Venice, 1947), x, xxi, 5 repro.
Robert Langton Douglas (1904, 1908) called the Washington Assumption “beautiful”; he compared it with the panels by Paolo di Giovanni Fei now in the Lehman Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in the Lindenau-Museum in Altenburg; the latter he believed to be a youthful work. See Robert Langton Douglas, “The Exhibition of Early Art in Siena,” The Nineteenth Century and After 57 (1904): 763; Robert Langton Douglas, in Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century, vol. 3, The Sienese, Umbrian, and North Italian Schools, ed. Robert Langton Douglas (London, 1908), 131 n. 3. Raimond van Marle (1924) termed it “charming,” though erroneously describing it as a “triptych”; he too placed it in the earliest phase of the painter’s career; Raimond van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. 2, The Sienese School of the 14th Century (The Hague, 1924), 529. Michael Mallory (1964, 1973), by contrast, placed it at the end of Paolo’s career; indeed, he assigned it the very last place in his catalog of the master, observing that “the figure’s crescendo of emotions in this painting climaxes the trend toward expressionism that we have traced in the latter stages of the master’s development.” Michael Mallory, “Towards a Chronology for Paolo di Giovanni Fei,” The Art Bulletin 46 (1964): 530; Michael Mallory, Paolo di Giovanni Fei (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1965), 177 – 191, 241. Fern Rusk Shapley (1966) said that “the superior technique and the serious facial expressions” present in the painting recall
Paolo di Giovanni Fei’s stylistic development can be briefly summed up as follows. In works presumably dating to the 1370s, the artist proposed solemn and static compositions. The figures are virtually immobile and symmetrically distributed. Reserved, even impassive, in expression, they are enveloped in thick starched draperies with the consistency of leather, barely ruffled by a few broad folds. After this phase, exemplified by such paintings as the versions of the Madonna in the Atlanta Art Association and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Saint Lawrence formerly in the Matthiesen Gallery in London,
For the panel in Atlanta, see Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII – XV Century (London, 1966), 62. The date MCCCXXXIII inscribed at the foot of the painting seems to be at least partially original, but the figure now legible (1333) cannot be right and is presumably the result of a mistaken restoration of an illegible letter. It might be conjectured that the original date was MCCCLXXIII. For the New York Madonna, see Federico Zeri and Elizabeth E. Gardner, Italian Paintings: Sienese and Central Italian Schools: A Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1980), 58 – 59. The formerly Matthiesen Gallery Saint Lawrence is illustrated in Early Italian Paintings and Works of Art 1300 – 1480 in Aid of the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum (London, 1983), 34, no. 17.
For the polyptych in the Museo d’Arte Sacra in Asciano, now deprived of its central panel, see Cecilia Alessi, ed., Palazzo Corboli, Museo d’arte sacra, Musei senesi (Siena, 2002), 120 – 121; for the panels in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena, see Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 181, 184.
Apart from Birth of the Virgin (no. 117), two versions of the Crucifixion probably belong to this phase as well: the frescoed version in Santa Maria della Scala and the version on panel in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. See Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 179 – 180; Alessandro Bagnoli, Silvia Colucci, and Veronica Randon, eds., Il Crocifisso con i dolenti in umiltà di Paolo di Giovanni Fei: Un capolavoro riscoperto (Siena, 2005), 13 – 14. Of the polyptych of Santa Maria della Scala only the central panel of the Madonna and Child with Angels now remains; see Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, 3 vols. (London, 1968), 2: fig. 419. The early fourteenth-century crucifix in Santa Maria della Scala was entirely repainted by Paolo di Giovanni Fei, but his version of the painting was canceled by a drastic restoration after the Second World War, on which see Miklós Boskovits, “Il gotico senese rivisitato: Proposte e commenti su una mostra,” Arte cristiana 71 (1983): 265, fig. 19.
As in other paintings dating to the first years of the fifteenth century, the artist skillfully exploits the background of his compositions to enlarge the space of the action and tries in various ways to give a realistic character to the episodes. In the panel now in Washington, each of the figures reacts in his own personal way to the miracle of the flowers that bloom in profusion in the sarcophagus in place of the body of Mary
See Hendrik W. van Os, Marias Demut und Verherrlichung in der sienesischen Malerei: 1300 – 1450 (The Hague, 1969), 172 – 173, figs. 19, 113, and the catalog entry in Gail E. Solberg, Taddeo di Bartolo: His Life and Work (PhD diss., New York University, 1991), 477 – 547.
Bartholomew is identifiable by his light-blue mantle and conspicuously brocaded garment and by his facial type, characterized by curly hair and long dark beard: George Kaftal, Saints in Italian Art, vol. 1, Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting (Florence, 1952), 137; Gregor Martin Lechner, “Bartolomäus Ap. u. Mart,” in Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. Engelbert Kirschbaum and Günter Bandmann, 8 vols. (Rome, 1973), 5:320 – 334.
Michael Mallory wrote, “The Assumption of the Virgin . . . appears to be the latest of his works to have survived,” in Michael Mallory, Paolo di Giovanni Fei (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1965), 177 – 178. This opinion was shared by Enzo Carli, La pittura senese del Trecento (Milan, 1981), 244; Anna Maria Guiducci, in Il gotico a Siena: Miniature, pitture, oreficerie, oggetti d’arte (Florence, 1982), 296; Giovanni Leoncini, “Fei, Paolo di Giovanni,” in La Pittura in Italia: Il Duecento e il Trecento, ed. Enrico Castelnuovo, 2 vols. (Milan, 1986), 2:570; Simona Manacorda, “Fei, Paolo di Giovanni,” in Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale, 12 vols. (Rome, 1995), 6:133; Veronica Randon, “Paolo di Giovanni Fei ‘dipintore del Terzo di città,’” in Il Crocifisso con i dolenti in umiltà di Paolo di Giovanni Fei: Un capolavoro riscoperto, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli, Silvia Colucci, and Veronica Randon (Siena, 2005), 51.
(c. 1380–c. 1440) The expressions “Courant international” and “Gothicité international” were first employed by Courajod with reference to analogies between French and Italian sculpture of the period around 1400. He intended to demonstrate Franco-Netherlandish impulses for the Renaissance and to establish the existence of a universal late medieval Gothic style. Von Schlosser (1895) also described the formation of a European-wide “höfische Kunst” marked by widespread occurrences of the same subject-matter, notably in the more mobile medium of tapestry. What became known as the international gothic style (or international style) was seen as the product of courtly patronage and eclectic, supraregional, stylistic, and iconographic preferences. Many of its formal qualities were held to persist well into the 15th century in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Bohemia, and Italy. —Paul Binski, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)
March 21, 2016
Marchese Bonaventura Chigi Zondadari [1841-1908], Siena, by 1904; his heirs; (Alberto Riccoboni, Italy), by 1947 or 1948; (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence); sold 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- Prima mostra Nazionale Antiquaria. Quattrocento Pitturi inedite, Organizzazione Manifestazioni Artistiche, Venice, 1947, no. 23, fig. 12.
The support is a single piece of wood with vertical grain, to which the engaged frame is affixed.
On the typology of the important, original frame, see Timothy J. Newbery, George Bisacca, and Laurence B. Kanter, Italian Renaissance Frames (New York, 1990), 34 – 35.
A mixture of finely ground plaster and glue applied to wood panels to create a smooth painting surface. —Grove Art © Oxford University Press
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
The panel, which is now 2.5 cm thick, was
Attaching a woodent grid to the reverse of a panel to prevent the panel's warping.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Application of restoration paint to areas of lost original paint to visually integrate an area of loss with the color and pattern of the original, without covering any original paint.
For essential information about the 1948 – 1949 treatment, see Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:177. A Reali photograph, probably made for Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi shortly after he acquired the painting (copy in the photo archive of the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence), shows the painted surface somewhat darkened, with small paint losses in the group of the apostles as well as some scratches, one crossing the face of the third apostle from the left and others around the chest of the third apostle from the right. The gold of the engaged frame appears damaged by various checks, small losses, and tenting here and there. These damages no longer appear on the photo taken after the treatments by Pichetto and Modestini.
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