Gentile da Fabriano (Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio) (Italian, Umbrian, active by 1408–died 1427)
Tempera on wood, traces of gold ground
33 3/4 x 20 in. (85.7 x 50.8 cm)
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915
Not on view
Although badly damaged, this picture is a rare work by one of the greatest painters of the early fifteenth century. Gentile was born in the town of Fabriano, in the Marches, but his work was in demand from Milan to Rome. He painted this work in Venice, where together with Pisanello he was engaged in the decoration of the Doges Palace. It may be the center of an altarpiece, since the child turns as though to bless an unseen figure. As Queen of Heaven, the Virgin is seated on a throne; the plants that have overgrown it allude to her humility (humus, the latin root of humble, means earth). Astonishing at this date—ca. 1410—is the delicate naturalism of the child, the attentive description of the plants, and the rythmic folds of the drapery, which confer an effect of incipient movement. No Venetian painter was untouched by these novelties.
The small angels in the foreground hold a scroll inscribed with an Easter antiphon to the Virgin.
The photograph to the right shows the extent of the losses.
This once-splendid painting has been reduced to little more than a larva—save in areas such as the flowering meadow and the two angels seated on the throne. A major conservation treatment was undertaken in 2005 in preparation for the exhibition on Gentile da Fabriano, at which time missing parts were reconstructed (for the previous condition of the picture, see Additional Images, figs. 1–3).
The picture marks a turning point in the artist's career: a mastery of figural construction and an effect of monumentality achieved through simplicity in the silhouette of the Madonna and Child and a richness in the rhythmic articulation of the drapery. So novel is this effect that a number of scholars have thought the picture a product of Gentile's Florentine period (Grassi 1953, Bellosi 1966, Micheletti 1976, Brandi 1978), but it is now firmly established that it was painted in Venice (Christiansen 1982, De Marchi 1992): the Child was more or less repeated in a fresco from Santa Margherita, Treviso, that has been ascribed to the young Pisanello (Museo Civico L. Bailo, Santa Caterina exhibition center, Treviso) and there are clear echoes of the composition in a painting by Giambono in the Luzzetti collection, Florence. Underscoring the importance of the panel is the fact that it was almost certainly the center of a polyptych similar to Giambono's altarpiece in Fano (that it was not simply a broader panel with figures of donors is indicated by remants of inscribed lines in the gesso ground marking the vertical edges of the composition). As in Giambono's altarpiece, the Christ Child directs his gaze and blessing downward, to the left, while the Virgin looks in the opposite direction. We have notices of only two works by Gentile in Venice: a panel ("una Ancona") commissioned by Francesco Amadi in 1408, and an altarpiece ("una palla") for a chapel founded in 1406 by Francesco Sandei in the church of Santa Sofia. According to Sansovino (Venetia città nobilissima et singolare descritta in XIIII libri, Venice, 1581, p. 54b) the latter altarpiece included depictions of "San Paolo primo heremita" and "Santo Antonio" (it was dismantled in 1610). The Metropolitan Madonna and Child may be considered a plausible candidate for the center panel; we know nothing of its history prior to 1900. The robes of the angels seated on the throne are executed in a fashion identical to that of a Saint Peter (Berenson Collection, Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti, Settignano) which has now been conclusively shown to have come from the pilasters of the Santa Sofia altarpiece (see M. Ceriana and E. Daffra in Gentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, pp. 140–42). The figure scale is consistent with that of the only other panel with a plausible connection with the altarpiece—a Saint Paul the Hermit (private collection, San Francisco).
The altarpiece to which the MMA panel belonged must predate Gentile's Valle Romita Polyptych (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), which was commissioned after 1405, while Gentile was in Venice, and installed in its convent outside Fabriano before 1412. The compositional idea of the Virgin sitting on a throne, on the upper surface of which plants grow—so that the Virgin is at once exalted and humble—and with singing angels in the meadow below was treated in an earlier altarpiece (Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia). It has been suggested that the stylistic advances in the MMA picture are due to Gentile’s awareness of the art of the Lombard painter Michelino da Besozzo, who also worked in Venice. This would suggest a date of about 1410.
[2011; adapted from Christiansen 2006]
Inscription: Inscribed (on scroll): [R]egina c[o]eli l[a]eta re alle luia [quia] quem meruist[i] por tar[e a]ll[e]luya [r]esur[rexit] / sicut (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia, because he whom thou was found worthy to bear, alleluia, has risen, as he said [Easter antiphon].)
[Georges Brauer, Florence, until 1900; sold for $1,600 to Davis]; Theodore M. Davis, Newport, R.I. (1900–d. 1915; as by Gentile da Fabriano or Stefano da Zevio; his estate, on loan to the MMA, 1915–30)
Fabriano. Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù. "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento," April 21–July 23, 2006, no. III.5.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515: Paintings and Drawings from the Museum's Collections," November 8, 2011–February 5, 2012, no catalogue.
Bernhard Berenson. The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York, 1909, p. 175, attributes it to Gentile da Fabriano.
Joseph Breck. "Dipinti italiani nella raccolta del Signor Teodoro Davis." Rassegna d'arte 11 (July 1911), p. 115, dates it before 1423 and compares it with the Madonna in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, and the Coronation of the Virgin in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 8, The Hague, 1927, p. 46.
Bryson Burroughs. "The Theodore M. Davis Bequest: The Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, section 2 (March 1931), p. 14.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 221, lists it as a ruined work.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 131, calls it an early work.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 190.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 104, ill., states that it seems to be an early work.
Luigi Grassi. "Considerazioni intorno al 'Polittico Quaratesi'." Paragone 2 (March 1951), p. 30, tentatively attributes it to the very beginning of the artist's Florentine period, before his Adoration of the Magi of 1423 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence).
Luigi Coletti. Pittura veneta del Quattrocento. Novara, 1953, p. IX, pl. 7, dates it to Gentile's Venetian period.
Luigi Grassi. Tutta la pittura di Gentile da Fabriano. Milan, 1953, pp. 22, 57, pl. 28, dates it about 1420.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneta del quattrocento: il gotico internazionale e gli inizi del rinascimento. Bologna, , p. 85, dates it about 1405.
Charles Sterling. "Un tableau inédit de Gentile da Fabriano." Paragone no. 101 (May 1958), pp. 30–31.
Antanas Melnikas. "Gentile da Fabriano: The Origins and Development of His Style." PhD diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1961, pp. 154–56, 243–44, no. 10, fig. 140, dates it about 1426, during Gentile's Florentine period, seeing the influence of Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia; discusses it as a later version of the Perugia Madonna.
Carl Huter. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. November 4, 1964, concurs with a date of about 1420.
Carl Huter. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. May 14, 1965, suggests that it dates from late in the artist's Brescia period, 1417–19, and notes similarities to a fresco of a Madonna and Child by a Lombard painter in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan.
Luciano Bellosi. "Il Maestro della Crocifissione Griggs: Giovanni Toscani." Paragone 17 (March 1966), p. 56.
Luciano Bellosi. Gentile da Fabriano. Milan, 1966, unpaginated, calls it a late work, from the artist's Florentine period.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 164.
Francesco Santi. Dipinti, sculture e oggetti d'arte di età romanica e gotica. Rome, 1969, p. 114.
Pietro Zampetti. La pittura marchigiana da Gentile a Raffaello. [Milan], [1970?], p. 34.
Carl Huter. "Gentile da Fabriano and the Madonna of Humility." Arte veneta 24 (1970), pp. 28, 32–33, dates it about 1410, relating it to a fragmentary fresco of the Madonna in the Museo Civico, Treviso; discusses the iconography, noting the combination of themes of the Maestà, the Madonna of Humility, and the "hortus conclusus".
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 79, 316, 607.
Carl Huter. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. December 10, 1974, notes that the glance of the Madonna to the right and the glance of the Child to the left as well as his blessing gesture suggest that the composition may originally have included figures on either side of this central group.
Emma Micheletti. L'opera completa di Gentile da Fabriano. Milan, 1976, p. 87, no. 21, ill. p. 88 and colorpl. XVI.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Florence, 1977, pp. 101, 241, 541, figs. 89, 89A.
Cesare Brandi. "A Gentile da Fabriano at Athens." Burlington Magazine 120 (June 1978), p. 385, dates it slightly later than the Perugia Madonna and before the Uffizi Adoration of the Magi of 1423.
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, pp. 16–17, pls. 34, 35 (detail), date it just after 1408, during Gentile's Venetian period; note the influence of the composition on the Venetian painter Giambono.
Keith Christiansen. Gentile da Fabriano. Ithaca, N.Y., 1982, pp. 14, 60, 86, cat. III, pls. 3, 4 (detail), states that the source for both this composition and Giambono's Fano altarpiece is a lost work by Michelino da Besozzo; dates it probably about 1410, when both Gentile and Michelino were in Venice.
Keith Christiansen inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 1, pp. 121–22, states that it seems to have influenced Giambono's Madonna and Child in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Pietro Zampetti. Pittura nelle Marche. Vol. 1, Dalle origini al primo Rinascimento. Florence, 1988, p. 281.
Andrea De Marchi. Gentile da Fabriano: Un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico. Milan, 1992, p. 43 n. 84, pp. 50, 57, 61, 89 n. 30, p. 91 n. 65, fig. 34, dates it towards the end of Gentile's Venetian period, just before 1414, and soon after the Perugia Madonna and at the same time or just before the Brera Coronation; notes three Venetian works in which the figure of the Child recurs.
Pietro Zampetti and Giampiero Donnini. Gentile e i pittori di Fabriano. Florence, 1992, pp. 95, 97, 105 n. 33, p. 107, colorpl. 2, date it after Gentile's arrival in Venice, when he would have become aware of the work of Michelino da Besozzo; compare it with the Treviso Madonna.
Hellmut Wohl inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 12, New York, 1996, p. 299, ascribes it to the same period as the Brera Coronation, dating both works to Gentile's Venetian period, but not before 1410, the year Michelino da Besozzo was also in Venice.
Tiziana Franco. Michele Giambono e il monumento a Cortesia da Serego in Santa Anastasia a Verona. Padua, 1998, pp. 91–92, 99, 127 n. 74, fig. 48.
Keith Christiansen et al. inGentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Ed. Laura Laureati and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, pp. 29, 80, 98, 126, 130, 136, 140, 142, 144–45, 159, 170, 302, no. III.5, ill. (color, overall and detail under ultraviolet light) [Italian ed., "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento"].
Milvia Bollati inGentile da Fabriano: studi e ricerche. Ed. Andrea De Marchi, Laura Laureati, and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Milan, 2006, p. 162, ill. (color).
Emanuela Daffra and Francesca Tasso. "Filippo Maria Visconti e il corso ininterrotto del gotico in Lombardia." Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Ed. Mauro Natale and Serena Romano. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2015, p. 174.