According to legend, in 1291 the Virgin Mary's house was miraculously transported by angels from the Holy Land after the Muslim defeat of the Crusaders. The house settled first in Dalmatia and then, in 1294, came to rest at Loreto, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and became a place of pilgrimage. Here it is borne across the Adriatic, under the watch of its former occupants. The leading painter in the region of the Abruzzi, Saturnino painted this charming work in the mid-1490s.
The legend of the transport of the Virgin’s house from Nazareth to Italy dates from the end of the Crusades. It was referred to by the humanist-historian Flavio Biondo (1392–1463) in his description of Italy, the Italia illustrate. According to this legend, the house in which Mary was born, received the Annunciation from Gabriel, and raised Jesus was converted into a church by the apostles and was already a place of pilgrimage in the fourth century, when it was visited by Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen. When, however, the Holy Land was invaded by the Muslims in 1291, the house was reputedly carried by angels to a hill in Croatia (1291). Three years later, in 1294, it was again carried away, this time across the Adriatic, where it was deposited first in a forest near the town of Recanati, in the Marches of Ancona, and then, a year later, to its present site in Loreto, which is today a major pilgrimage destination. A bull in favor of the shrine was issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 and by Julius II in 1507; these same two pontiffs were responsible for important decoration in the basilica in which the house is sited.
Together with a woodcut, the Metropolitan’s painting is among the earliest representations of the miracle of the transport of the house across the Adriatic. The house, in the form of a simple church, is suspended over the Adriatic by two angels. It is under the protection of the Virgin, who is shown in a cloud above the house with her infant son. Two further angels crown her. A ship and boats are shown on the water between the Dalmatian and Adriatic coastline of Italy. This formulation was to become canonical down to the time of Tiepolo, who frescoed the ceiling of the church of the Scalzi in Venice with the transport of the house of Loreto.
There is no notice of the painting prior to 1911, but it is said to have come from the Ricci collection in L’Aquila and Rieti—in the Abruzzi. The attribution to Saturnino Gatti (1463–1518), who was active in L’Aquila, where he was trained by the sculptor Silvestro dell’Aquila, is based on a comparison of its style with a number of his surviving works—most particularly a painting of the Madonna of the Rosary formerly in the church of San Domenico and now in the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo (Zeri and Gardner 1980). However, as first pointed out by Marco Chini (Silvestro Aquilano e l’arte in Aquila nella II metà del sec. XV, Aquila, 1954, pp. 230–31), that picture was begun by another painter, Giovanni Antonio Percossa. It was completed in 1511 by Saturnino, who was specifically required to paint the Virgin’s mantle ultramarine blue decorated with gold roses. Little remains that can, with certainty, be ascribed to Percossa, who is first documented in 1480 and is the author of a deteriorated fresco of the Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Paul formerly in the church of Santa Maria ad Civitatem and now in the entrance of the Corte d’Assise in Aquila. However, given the documented sodality between Saturnino and Percossa and the latter’s documented authorship of the Madonna of the Rosary, Andrea De Marchi and Alessandro Angelini (2001) ascribe the MMA picture to Percossa. They note affinities with the work of the young Perugino and date it to the 1470s—almost forty years earlier than it has been traditionally dated on the basis of the comparison with the Madonna of the Rosary. If this is so, the picture assumes a very different importance for the history of painting in the Abruzzi, and Percossa emerges as the leading personality. Angelini describes his style as "more minute and with forms more delicate than the energetic ‘functional’ plasticity of Saturnino."
[Keith Christiansen 2012]
conte Ricci, Aquila and Rieti; [Luigi Grassi, Florence, until 1911]; [Georges Brauer, Florence, 1911; sold to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1911–d. 1913); his son, J. P. Morgan, New York (1913–24); Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (1924–73; sold to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance," May 7–September 9, 1923, no. 25 (as by Saturnino de' Gatti, lent by J. Pierpont Morgan).
[Bryson Burroughs] inLoan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1923, pp. 8–9, no. 25, states that the attribution to Saturnino Gatti comes from Berenson.
Dudley Poore. "Italian Renaissance Exhibition." Arts 3 (June 1923), p. 410, accepts the attribution to Gatti.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Landscape in Italy in the Fifteenth Century." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (August 1923), p. 198, notes that the landscape is vaguely reminiscent of Piero della Francesca.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 27, lists it as in the Morgan Library and tentatively attributes it to Antoniazzo Romano.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 326, attributes it to Gatti; compares it with Gatti's frescoes at San Panfilo, Tornimparte.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 23, lists it under Antoniazzo Romano but also tentatively suggests an alternative attribution to Saturnino Gatti.
Ferdinando Bologna. "Saturnino Gatti: Un'opera." Paragone 1 (May 1950), p. 63, attributes it to Gatti.
Roberto Longhi. "La mostra di Arezzo." Paragone 2 (March 1951), p. 60, suggests a connection with the work of Bartolomeo della Gatta.
Federico Zeri. "Il Maestro della Annunciazione Gardner." Bollettino d'arte 38 (July–September 1953), p. 249, calls it an early work by Gatti; states that it was formerly in the Ricci collection, Rieti.
Luisa Mortari. Opere d'arte in Sabina dall'XI al XVII secolo. Exh. cat., location unknown. Rome, , p. 44, under no. 29, as by Gatti.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sienese and Central Italian Schools. New York, 1980, p. 87, pl. 84, relate it stylistically to Gatti's "Madonna of the Rosary" (Museo nazionale, Aquila), begun in 1509; mention a similar composition in a panel dated 1524 which they attribute to Francesco da Montereale (formerly Campana collection; cat., 1864, no. 232).
Roberto Cannatà. "L'esordio giovanile in Sabina di Cola dell'Amatrice." Aspetti dell'arte del '400 a Rieti. Ed. Alba Costamagna and Luisa Scalabroni. Exh. cat., Palazzo Vescovile, Rieti. Rome, 1981, p. 70, fig. 57, attributes it to Paolo Aquilano, whom he identifies as Paolo di Jacopo da Montereale, and dates it to the end of the 1400s or the beginning of the 1500s.
Rossana Torlontano inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 2, p. 633, attributes it to Gatti, mistakenly stating that it was first ascribed to him by Bologna; erroneously cites it as still in the Morgan Library.
Alessandro Angelini. "Saturnino Gatti e la congiuntura verrocchiesca a L'Aquila." I da Varano e le arti. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Pier Luigi Falaschi. Camerino, 2003, p. 850 n. 31, attributes it to Saturnino Gatti’s sometime associate, Giovanni Antonio Percossa, noting its affinities to the youthful work of Perugino and suggesting that it cannot date much after 1473, when Perugino painted some of the scenes of the Stories of Saint Bernardino in the Pinacoteca Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia.
Jennifer Tonkovich. "Discovering the Renaissance: Pierpont Morgan's Shift to Collecting Italian Old Masters." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, p. 45.