Design for a Frescoed Altarpiece of The Resurrection

Maso da San Friano (Tommaso Manzuoli) Italian

Not on view

Before its arrival in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, the imposing modello for an altarpiece of the ‘Resurrection’ had been correctly attributed to Maso da San Friano as early as 1963, and although it was published in 1967, it has generally escaped scholarly notice. While the main motif of the resurrected Christ is reminiscent of some extant paintings by Maso of this subject, and in particular of his monumental altarpiece at the Santissima Annunziata in Florence, the composition in Maso's Metropolitan drawing is unexpectedly similar to fra' Bartolomeo's ‘Salvator Mundi’ altarpiece (Galleria Palatina, Florence), dated 1516, and originally painted for the chapel of Salvatore Billi at the Santissima Annunziata.

The two kneeling female donor figures on the sides appear to be nuns wearing habits of the Dominican order. The female donor on the right, who unlike that on the left has no halo, is possibly a deceased member of the patron's family. A main scene in the form of a lunette depicts the luminous, resurrected Christ, flanked by angels, as the recumbent Roman soldiers in the foreground awaken to the miracle. This lunette seems to have been intended as an altarpiece, and as a fresco. It is placed asymmetrically within the austere, crypt-like bay of a chapel, and rests above a base with projections, the central one of these appearing to be an altar. Beyond the frame of the altarpiece is a kneeling figure of a female monastic saint on the left. She is echoed on the right by a kneeling un-haloed matron. The latter may well be a figure relating to the patron of the fresco.

In great contrast to the Bronzinesque Classical monumentality of Vasari's nude resurrected Christ in the relatively contemporary altarpiece in the Pasquali Chapel (Santa Maria Novella, Florence), which is of 1567, the Metropolitan drawing by Maso da San Friano seeks to revive the earlier and more expressive, delicately proportioned figural vocabulary of fra' Bartolomeo and Pontormo. Maso's Metropolitan Drawing is a mature work, dating between the late 1550s and 1571 (the year of his death), to judge based on the stylistic similarities to Maso's only signed and dated drawing of "1565" (Musée du Louvre, inv. 1307, Paris), but also to the quickly drawn but monumentally conceived figures in his signed drawing at Chatsworth (Devonshire Collection, inv. 1084), preparatory for the ‘Pietà’ altarpiece of Santa Maria di Candeli (Gismondi Collection, Paris) of 1557; the design of the Metropolitan sheet was presumably intended for a funerary chapel, given the subject of the main picture, which is apparently conceived of as a fresco.

The function of Maso's sheet as a ‘modello’ for presentation to a patron is evident in the highly refined drawing technique, the clarity articulating every design element, and the complete portrayal of pictorial idea with corresponding architectural setting; the choice of blue paper ('carta azzurra') echoes the practices of Vasari and his circle.

(Carmen C. Bambach, 2007)

Design for a Frescoed Altarpiece of The Resurrection, Maso da San Friano (Tommaso Manzuoli) (Italian, Florence 1531–1571 Florence), Pen and dark brown ink, brush and gray- brown wash, highlighted with white gouache, over black chalk, and compass-constructed architecture, on blue paper

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