One of the principal Florentine manuscript illuminators during the second quarter of the fourteenth century, the anonymous artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies, like many of his contemporaries, was also active as a painter. His identity has been the subject of considerable debate, especially in the separation of his hand from the so-called Biadaiolo Master, a Florentine artist considered to be one of his close associates, and to whom the Lehman panel was formerly attributed. However, it is now generally accepted that the two anonymous masters were one in the same and the works ascribed to the Biadaiolo Master, all of which date from 1325-35, are now identified as representing the earliest phase in the career of the Master of the Dominican Effigies.
The Master of the Dominican Effigies was an elder contemporary of Bernardo Daddi (active ca. 1290–1348), a Florentine artist who tempered Giotto’s grandeur with a refined grace, and who established a workshop specializing in the production of small-scale tabernacles. Along with several of his contemporaries, the anonymous master has been classified as part of the ‘miniaturist tendency,’ a group of Florentine artists associated with diminutive anecdotal narratives. Synthesizing the Master of the Dominican Effigies’s dual activities as painter and illuminator, the Lehman panel exemplifies his emphasis upon lively narrative and decorative detail, executed in reduced form.
The Master of the Dominican Effigies’s name derives from a panel depicting Christ and the Virgin with Seventeen Dominican Saints that may have been commissioned for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, where it now resides. The artist carried out commissions for numerous Florentine patrons – both lay and religious – including several illuminated copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as miniatures for the most important Florentine manuscript of the early fourteenth century: a book of hymns (known as the Laudario of Sant’Agnese) for the confraternity associated with the Carmelite church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
The well-preserved Lehman panel probably formed the center of a small folding tabernacle (whose flanking wings have been lost), intended to be used for private devotion. Divided into five scenes, the panel portrays, in its pinnacle, the Last Judgment, and just below, at left, the Virgin and Child with a Bishop-Saint and Saint Peter Martyr; and at right, the Crucifixion. The bottom register depicts, at right, the Nativity, and, at left, the Glorification of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a subject which makes its appearance here for the first time, and was likely determined by a Dominican patron. Although the early history of the Lehman panel remains unknown, the presence of Dominican references suggests it was commissioned by a patron belonging to that order, perhaps in Florence.
Several iconographic innovations in this painting, although they were likely dictated by the patron, also speak to the inventiveness of the artist. In the scene of the Last Judgment, below the figure of Christ, the Blessed are portrayed at the left dressed in white robes, accompanied by an angel and the Virgin, while at the right, the Damned are accompanied by Saint John the Evangelist and forced by an angel into hell. This scene incorporates several iconographic elements that were unprecedented in Florentine painting. For example, the portrayal of the Blessed behind a hedge of roses, symbolizing paradise. With its delicately rendered blossoms, the screen of roses, surmounted by birds, reveals the artist’s meticulous attention to detail and decorative effects. A further innovation in this scene is the appearance of the Virgin as intercessor, presenting the Blessed to Christ and the inscription on the angel’s scroll: VENITE BENEDITT[I]/PATER MEI EPOSIDETE [PARATUM VOBIS REGNUM] (Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you) (Matthew 25:34). Additional novelties are the figure of Saint John, who pleads on behalf of the damned descending into hell, and the accompanying angel holding a scroll inscribed: GITE [A ME] MALLADITTI INI/NGNAM ETTERNA (Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire) (Matthew 25-41).
In the register below, the enthroned Virgin and Child are flanked, on the left, by a bishop-saint and, on the right, by Saint Peter Martyr, dressed in a Dominican habit. The figure of the Virgin, whose prominence is indicated through her relatively imposing scale, is set against a boldly patterned cloth of honor. The majority of the facial types in the panel, including those of the two standing saints flanking the Virgin, with strongly modeled and closely set features, furrowed brows and full lips, are characteristic of those found in the artist’s manuscript illuminations. The exquisitely rendered features of the enthroned Virgin closely recall the artist’s panel paintings dedicated to this subject.
Below, in the pioneering scene portraying the Glorification of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Thomas (1225–1274), the Dominican theologian, is portrayed enthroned behind a desk, and encircled by pupils and disciples, including members of the Dominican, Franciscan, and Carmelite orders, as well as laypersons. A saint bears a scroll inscribed with the incipit to Saint Benedict’s Rule: ASCULTA OFILII P[RE]C/ETTA MAGISTRI (Listen, O children to the teachings of the Master). Aquinas is portrayed as a teacher of Scholasticism (the system of theological and philosophical teaching predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the authority of the church fathers and of Aristotle and his commentators) denouncing the philosophy of Averroës, who lies prostrate before him. Saint Thomas Aquinas’s canonization in 1323 may serve as a terminus post quem for the Lehman panel’s execution. This dating is consistent with stylistic evidence, as the tabernacle was probably painted in the mid- to late 1320s, as one of the earliest works by the Master of the Dominican Effigies.
Among the group of tabernacles attributed to him and the circle of Florentine artists with whom he was closely associated, such as Pacino di Bonaguida, the Master of the Cappella Medici Polyptych, and the Maestro Daddesco, the majority differ from the Lehman panel in compositional arrangement and level of narrative detail. Many of these tabernacles feature the Madonna and Child with saints in the central panel, the Crucifixion in the right wing, and a combination of standing saints, the Annunciation, or the Nativity in the left wing, with the number of figures in each scene reduced to the essential protagonists. However, in the Lehman tabernacle, not only have several scenes been combined into the central panel; each episode is also densely populated with figures, with a greater emphasis on narrative detail.
[Alison Manges Nogueira 2015; adopted from Nogueira 2012]
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