The Picture: Despite its modest dimensions, the half-length format of this panel is original. The bearded friar wears the white habit of the Camaldolese and holds a green book. In 1977, Enrica Neri Lusanna suggested that he is Saint Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese order. Usually shown holding a book and a small church, Romuald also sometimes appears with only a book (George Kaftal, Iconography of the Saints in Central and South Italian Schools of Painting, Florence, 1965, col. 973–76). The importance of the Camaldolese order in the city and countryside of Gubbio further supports this identification.
The white habit confers a degree of abstraction that enhances the power of the image and also focuses attention on the face of the saint, characterized by the figure’s conspicuous, parted beard. The refined, graphic style of the eyebrows and the beard somewhat mitigate the abstracting tendancy. The halo is decorated with leaves incised into the gold, a technique characteristic of the early fourteenth century (by mid-century painters preferred using motif-punches).
The Function of the Panel: That the picture is a lateral panel from an altarpiece is indicated by the remains of a dowel hole in the width of the panel, on the left side, dowels being the means by which the individual panels of an altarpiece were attached to each other. The painting was thus probably located at the extreme right of a polyptych that would have had at its center panel a Madonna and Child and as lateral panels two or four saints (thus, either a triptych or pentaptych). The style of the Saint Romuald can be compared to fragments of a large polyptych now in the museum of Gubbio: a Madonna and Child that was cut down to form a tondo (see Additional Images, fig. 1) and a predella panel with the Annunciation. The craquelure, incised decoration, and the style of these panels relate to the workshop practice of the Lorenzetti when they worked at Assisi. It has been thought that these three fragments could not have belonged to the same polyptych because of the possibility that the Madonna and Child had a triangular gable. However, the means of establishing the original shape of that panel are very thin, and there is little certainty about its original appearance. Moreover, parallels for differences between the center panel and the lateral ones exist among Sienese polyptychs that could have inspired the Saint Romuald. Given these circumstances, no definitive solution is possible, but at the very least, the three panels are contemporary and from the same workshop.
The Artist and his Possible Identity: Few documents are known about painting in Gubbio in the fourteenth century, but it is because of its pronounced stylistic relationship to works by the Lorenzetti—especially Pietro Lorenzetti’s frescoes in the basilica of San Francesco in Assisi—that the Saint Romuald has been attributed to the Gubbian school. Since the 1920s, the painter Guido Palmeruccio (or Palmerucci) has been recognized as the prinicpal painter in Gubbio between about 1315 and 1360. Several documents describe prestigious commissions. Among these is the notice that in 1342, the Gonfaloniere and the Consoli (the town leaders) asked him to paint an Annunciation in the Sala superior (main hall) of the Palazzo dei Consoli (the main civic building of Gubbio); this fresco has not survived, but another fresco in the same building has been assumed to be by him. On this basis, in 1977 Neri Lusanna attempted to reconstruct Palmeruccio’s career. However, the identity of the author of that work with Palmeruccio and of his position in the history of painting in Gubbio was questioned when, in 1979, an altarpiece, the Pala d’Agnano—at that time assigned to Palmeruccio on grounds of style—was cleaned (Francesco Santi, "Due restauri ed un ignoto maestro del Trecento, Mello da Gubbio," Bollettino d’arte 64, no. 4 , pp. 63–68). The conservators revealed that under a large repaint was the signature "OPUS MELLI de EUGUBIO." The name Mello is frequently recorded in the fourteenth-century archives of Gubbio, but one stands out. He was the father of the sculptor Mattiolo, of the painter Martino, and the grandfather of the very active and well-known painter Ottaviano Nelli (Alessandro Marchi, "Il ciclo francescano di Mello da Gubbio a Cagli," Atti e Studi 2 , pp. 87–100). On this basis, a number of scholars have transferred the works heretofore assigned to Palmeruccio to Mello da Gubbio. Others, however, would now divide the corpus of paintings formerly reunited under the name of Palmeruccio into two distinct groups. Those works revealing a strictly Umbrian character and datable to the middle and second half of the fourteenth century would be by Mello, while the earlier works would be by another, earlier painter, now usually designated Pseudo-Palmeruccio, in recognition of the uncertainty of attaching Palmeruccio’s name to any single work. The lack of proof and previous theory of a connection between Palmeruccio and a large panel of the Madonna and Child—the so-called Madonna dei Consoli—has reminded scholars of the importance of exerting caution in reconstructing a history of fourteenth-century painting in Umbria.
Saint Romuald, the fragmentary Madonna and Child tondo, and the Annunciation in the Gubbio museum are at the heart of the Pseudo-Palmeruccio group, together with a Madonna in Cambridge, a polyptych in Gubbio, and two crosses (in the duomo and church of San Francesco in Pergola). These paintings reveal a sober elegance that is quite distinct from the ornate style of the Pala d’Agnano, which relates to such mid-century Sienese artists as Niccolò di Ser Sozzo. By contrast, the Pseudo-Palmeruccio group seems to be closer to Lorenzettian models. The extremely narrow hood and the delicate representation of Saint Romuald’s beard seem related in style to the brother Leo who appears in Pietro Lorenzetti’s fresco of the Stigmatization of Saint Francis as well as of the prophets that surround the Passion scenes in the church of San Francesco, Assisi, works that date to the middle of the second decade of the fourteenth century. From this close relationship of style as well as the arched shape of the panel and the incised decoration, an early date of about 1320 can be suggested.
[Corentin Dury 2017]
private collection, Italy (in 1977); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (until his d. 1980); Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1980–82)
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Enrica Neri Lusanna. "Percorso di Guiduccio Palmerucci." Paragone 28 (March 1977), pp. 18, 34 n. 25, pl. 9, as in a private collection, Italy; as a fragment of a polyptych, known to the author from a photograph at the Fondazione Longhi, where it had been attributed to Palmeruccio by Longhi; concurs with this attribution and tentatively identifies the figure as Saint Romuald; notes its similarity to the figure of Saint Anthony Abbot in a polyptych of the Madonna and Child with saints (private collection, Parma; formerly Lanckoronski collection).
Keith Christiansen inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 20–21, no. 1, ill. (color), accepts Neri Lusanna's [see Ref. 1977] identification of the figure as Saint Romuald and states that the painting is "very probably by Palmerucci[o]"; notes the strong influence of the early work of Pietro Lorenzetti; concurs with a date in the 1320s; finds a close similarity between this picture and a Madonna and Child in the Gubbio museum.
Enrica Neri Lusanna. "Precisazioni e aggiunte alla pittura eugubina del Trecento." Paragone 36 (January–March–May 1985), p. 40, tentatively accepts Mello da Gubbio as the author of the paintings long associated with Palmeruccio, but separates these paintings into two groups, possibly by two individuals within a single workshop; associates this painting with the second group, which also includes the Madonna and Child in the Gubbio museum.
Filippo Todini. La pittura umbra dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento. Milan, 1989, vol. 1, p. 253; vol. 2, fig. 338 (framed, in reverse), includes it in a list of works he attributes to an artist he calls Pseudo Palmerucci; states that it is a fragment of the same polyptych as the Madonna and Child in the museum in Gubbio and also an Annunciation in the same museum.
Walter Angelelli and Andrea G. De Marchi. Pittura dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento nelle fotografie di Girolamo Bombelli. Milan, 1991, p. 244, no. 509, ill., as by Pseudo Palmerucci, tentatively identified as Mello da Gubbio.
Mirko Santanicchia inIl Maestro di Campodonico: rapporti artistici fra Umbria e Marche nel Trecento. Ed. Fabio Marcelli. Fabriano, 1998, pp. 78, 84 n. 35, mistakenly as in a private collection; attributes it to Pseudo-Palmeruccio and agrees with Todini (1989) that it is part of the same polyptych as the Madonna and Child and Annunciation in Gubbio.