Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Scenes from the Life of Christ

Giovanni Baronzio (Italian, active in Romagna and the Marches, second quarter 14th century)
Tempera on canvas, transferred from wood, gold ground
26 1/4 x 15 in. (66.7 x 38.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1909
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 602

Painted by an artist much influenced by Giotto, who around 1300 worked in the city of Rimini, along the Adriatic coast, this picture once had a companion panel. Hinged together, they formed a diptych, with scenes from the Life of Christ upon which to meditate. The narrative begins with Christ taken down from the cross and reaches a climax in the Last Judgment. At the top, Jesus crowns his mother Mary in heaven; the four saints must have been important to the person who commissioned the painting. Although damaged, the picture is notable for its delicacy, clarity of composition, and strong figural construction.
This painting—transferred from panel to canvas and in a compromised state of condition—is the right wing of a diptych, the companion panel of which is still untraced. Intended for private devotion, it is of a type found in several other Riminese pictures of the first half of the fourteenth century, among the most relevant of which, with similarly arranged episodes from the life of Christ and other subjects, are the diptych by Giovanni da Rimini (ca. 1300–1305; divided between the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, Rome, and a private collection) and another one, of comparable dimensions, attributed to Pietro da Rimini or the Master of the Choir of Sant’Agostino (ca. 1320; Alte Pinakothek, Munich). To these two examples can be added some small panels by Pietro da Rimini and Giovanni Baronzio that are scattered in various museums and private collections and are fragments from once similar devotional works of art. These enjoyed wide popularity in the area of Rimini both among lay and religious patrons. The prestige they had is indicated by the elegant, incised decorations on the gold leaf background, still visible on the MMA painting despite of its impoverished condition.

Although the left shutter of the diptych is missing, it most likely included further episodes from the life of Christ ranging from his childhood to his Crucifixion. There would thus have been a clear division in the two panels between episodes before and after Christ’s death. In fact, the narrative scenes in the MMA picture begin in the second register from the top with the Deposition from the Cross, the Pietà, the Descent into Limbo, the Ascension, Pentecost, and, finally, the Last Judgment. The latter subject is commonly encountered in Riminese diptychs and is found in the two examples mentioned above by Giovanni and Pietro da Rimini as well as in a dismembered diptych ascribed to Baronzio (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; private collection, Rome). According to the reconstruction of that diptych proposed by Boskovits (1987), the right shutter showed the same episodes that are found in the MMA picture, with the difference that the reconstructed work included the Resurrection of Christ, which is oddly absent in the MMA painting. Like other diptychs of the Riminese School, the MMA painting also includes further narrative episodes as well as a row of standing saints. The theophany of the Last Judgment closes the narrative in the bottom right, while another theophany, the Coronation of the Virgin, opens it in the upper left. The inclusion of this subject suggests that the episodes on the missing companion panel gave prominence to the role of Mary together with Christ.

The four saints shown in a separate compartment have not hitherto been identified. Indeed, since the first and the fourth elegantly dressed female saints have only the attribute of the martyr’s palm, their identity remains unclear (we may only speculate about the identification of one of them as Saint Columba, the patron saint of Rimini). By contrast, the second female saint holds the stem of a lily in her right hand and a book in her left and is unquestionably Saint Claire. She is usually represented wearing a grayish-brown Franciscan habit under a cloak of the same color and a dark veil, but we find the same pink tonality in the habit of Saint Clare—identified by the inscription beneath the figure—in Baronzio’s polyptych in the church of San Francesco, Mercatello sul Metauro (ca. 1345–50), not far from Urbino. The young male saint holds in his right hand a small attribute that is no longer visible, but the white color of the habit indicates that he is the member of the Camaldolese or Cistercian order. He is most likely Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the patron of the Cistercians, who is often represented as a young, beardless monk in Trecento painting in northeast Italy and in Tuscany. The presence of this saint might suggest the original destination of the dismembered diptych in the Marches, where the Cistercian order was more widespread, rather than in Romagna. Two important altarpieces by Baronzio were intended for the northern Marches: the dossal signed and dated 1345 formerly in the church of San Francesco in Macerata Feltria (now in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) and the above-mentioned polyptych in Mercatello. Both paintings, together with other works by Baronzio, are connected with Franciscan patronage and the presence of Saint Clare in the MMA painting would seem also to indicate a Franciscan destination. The presence of three female saints alongside the Coronation o fthe Virgin may be interpreted as a clue to the diptych's commission, perhaps by a lay or religious female patron.

The attribution of this picture to Giovanni Baronzio—tentatively suggested by Sirén (1916) and endorsed by Toesca (1951) and Volpe (1965)—has been reaffirmed more recently by Boskovits (1987, 1993), Pasini (1990), and Benati (1995). Despite of the impoverished condition of the painted surface and some retouching, this attribution can be accepted without hesitation on the basis of the strong connections with the signed dossal of 1345 that current scholarship accepts as by the same hand. Boskovits proposed ascribing to a single artist—Baronzio—a number of works previously distributed among anonymous personalities: the Master of the Perry Nativity, Pseudo-Baronzio, the Master of Saint Colomba, and the Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist. His thesis has been accepted by a number of students of Riminese painting, including the present writer. According to this view, what we have is not works produced by a number of independent, isolated artists active between the 1320s and 1340s, but the corpus of the more broadly defined and fully articulated career of a leading personality—someone who followed in the footsteps of Pietro da Rimini and, at the same time, expressed himself with a more rational and sober language. As we can observe in the episodes of the life of Christ in the MMA picture, Baronzio focuses on calculated compositions that carefully balance the relationship among the figures as well as those between figure and space. This approach is consistent with the painter’s interest in the rigorous compositional procedures of Giotto.

During Giotto’s activity in Rimini in the years around 1300, the Florentine artist painted a crucifix that survives as well as a lost fresco cycle in the church of San Francesco (the Tempio Malatestiano) and these works played a fundamental role in the development of Riminese painting of the first half of the Trecento, influencing the compositions of local artists. What is distinctive in the MMA picture is the particularly studied attention given to Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (ca. 1304–5), which are quoted closely in the Pietà and the Pentecost (in the latter scene the architecture, with its effect of three-dimensionality, has been transposed quite literally). This is a unique instance of such an interest by a Riminese painter in “copying” some Paduan compositions of Giotto. The activity of these artists, however, extended to Padua, where Giuliano and Pietro worked in the 1320s. Moreover, paintings by Giovanni da Rimini and Giovanni Baronzio have survived in Venice, suggesting that they, too, visited Padua. Regarding the interest by Riminese painters in the work of Giotto, it is worth noting that in the picture here discussed as well as in other examples of narrative painting of the Riminese school there is no precise quotation from the Florentine artist’s series of panels illustrating the life of Christ that are now dispersed among several museums, including the Metropolitan (see 11.126.1). This is of particular interest since some scholars have proposed that the series of panels was painted for a church in Rimini. The lack of a substantial reflection of these scenes, in contrast with the attention given by local Riminese painters to Giotto’s other works, makes this hypothesis appear very unlikely.

One might wonder about the presence of archaic stylistic peculiarities such as the gold striations (chrysography), so typical of Byzantine practice, that decorate the cloaks of the Virgin and Christ in some of the episodes. This is part of the legacy of the thirteenth-century tradition that continued in fourteenth-century Riminese painting. This distinctive trait is found not only in Baronzio’s works, but also in that of other mature personalities of the Riminese school, such as Pietro da Rimini. Nevertheless, in the MMA painting the artist makes use of it in a “modern” way, in order to emphasise the heavy, gothic rhythm of the folds of the draperies.

The MMA painting is usually dated to the 1340s, which is to say at the same time as the above-mentioned altarpieces formerly in Macerata Feltria (1345) and Mercatello. Those works mark the apogee of Baronzio’s career. His itinerary probably began in the 1320s with the works formerly ascribed to the Master of the Perry Nativity and continued in the following decade with those formerly attributed to the Pseudo-Baronzio and the Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist (for which, see the work in the Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.103; and also D. Benati in Ferrara 2008, pp. 19–35). The episodes of the life of Santa Colomba (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) that have been taken as the eponymous works of yet another anonymous master (now identified by several scholars with Baronzio) may date ca. 1340–45. The better preserved figures in the MMA picture—Saint Clare and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, for example—reveal a soft and refined quality distinguished by delicate colors. They lack the sharp definition of the outlines and draperies that is typical of Baronzio’s works of the 1340s. To sum up, the elegant figures and the narrative seem to follow stylistically the paintings formerly ascribed to the Pseudo-Baronzio (Crucifixion and Saints in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, Adoration of the Magi, Crucifixion, and Saints in the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna) and anticipate the 1345 dossal. The picture was therefore probably painted around 1340.

[Mauro Minardi 2015]
William Young Ottley, London (until d. 1836); his brother, Warner Ottley, London (1836–47; his estate sale, Foster's, London, June 30, 1847, no. 57, as by B. Bonfigli, for 15 gns. to Bromley); Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley, Wootton Hall, Ashbourne, Derbyshire (1847–d. 1863; his estate sale, Christie's, London, June 12–13, 1863, no. 96, as by Giottino, to Farquhar); Sir Walter Rockcliffe Farquhar, 3rd Baronet, London (from 1863); [Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell, London, by 1908–9; sold to MMA]
New York. American Federation of the Arts. "Saints (circulating exhibition)," January 1951–September 1952, no catalogue?

Rimini. Museo della Città. "Il Trecento Riminese: Maestri e botteghe tra Romagna e Marche," August 20, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 54.

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. December 14, 1908, tentatively ascribes it to a Romagnole artist and calls it Giottesque; relates it to panels in Munich.

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. February 16, 1909 [published in "Letters of Roger Fry," ed. Denys Sutton, 1972, vol. 1, p. 313].

Osvald Sirén. "Giuliano, Pietro and Giovanni da Rimini (conclusion)." Burlington Magazine 29 (November 1916), p. 320, tentatively attributes it to Baronzio, along with six panels in the Accademia, Venice, while noting that they are not well preserved; also ascribes to Baronzio an Adoration of the Magi (Sir Hubert Parry, Highnam Court), two panels in Munich ("The Virgin, the Washing of Feet, and the Last Judgment" and "The Crucifixion, the Way to Golgotha, and the Sigmatization of Saint Francis"; nos. 979, 980), a Crucifixion (Pinacoteca Vaticana), and a dismembered altarpiece, the center panel of which is a seated Saint John the Baptist (Christ Church Library, Oxford) .

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 4, Local Schools of North Italy of the 14th Century. The Hague, 1924, pp. 341–42, 351, fig. 180, ascribes it to a Riminese artist influenced by Cavallini and Baronzio, noting Giottesque influence in the composition of the Pentecost, and mentioning that the scene of the Last Judgment resembles one of the same subject in a panel in the Palazzo Venezia, Rome.

Evelyn Sandberg-Vavalà. La croce dipinta italiana. Verona, 1929, pp. 186, 402–3, no. 47, pp. 450–51, no. 52, pp. 462–63, no. 77, pp. 472–73, no. 63, pp. 496–97, no. 53, calls it Riminese, 14th century, and analyzes the iconography.

Roger Fry. "Notes on the Italian Exhibition at Burlington House—I." Burlington Magazine 56 (February 1930), p. 77, tentatively attributes to Baronzio this work, the Munich panels, and the Vatican Crucifixion, assigning the Parry/Highnam panel to a close follower or pupil.

L[uigi]. Se[rra]. in Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti. Vol. 6, [Rome], 1930, p. 228, lists it among works attributed to Baronzio but by followers or imitators.

Cesare Brandi. Mostra della pittura riminese del trecento. Exh. cat., Palazzo dell'Arrengo. [Rimini], 1935, pp. XXIX, 64, under no. 22, fig. 138, attributes it to an unknown Riminese painter of the 14th century, grouping it with the panels at Venice, Highnam Court, and the Vatican, and five scenes in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin (no. 1110; now Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).

Cesare Brandi. "Conclusioni su alcuni discussi problemi della pittura riminese del Trecento." Critica d'arte 1 (1935–36), p. 236, agrees with Salmi [see Ref. 1935] in attributing this picture and the others in the group to the Master of the Parry Nativity.

Mario Salmi. "La scuola di Rimini, III." Rivista del R. Istituto d'Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte 5, nos. 1–2 (1935), pp. 108, 124 n. 12, calls it very close in style to pictures attributed to the Master of the Parry Nativity.

Mario Salmi. Letter. March 15, 1936.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 84–85, ill. (detail), attributes it to an unknown Riminese painter and dates it to the middle of the fourteenth century.

Alba Medea. "L'iconografia della scuola di Rimini." Rivista d'arte 22 (1940), p. 37, calls it Riminese, fourteenth century.

Pietro Toesca. Il Trecento. Turin, 1951, p. 729 n. 256, attributes it to Baronzio.

Alberto Martini. "Ricostruzione parziale di un dossale riminese." Paragone 9 (March 1958), p. 45 n. 11, tentatively attributes it to the same hand as the scenes from the life of Saint Colomba formerly in the Sessa collection (now Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), calling the artist the Master of Saint Colomba.

E[llis]. K. Waterhouse. "Some Notes on William Young Ottley's Collection of Italian Primitives." Italian Studies Presented to E. R. Vincent. Cambridge, 1962, pp. 277, 279, gives name of buyer (Bromley) and price (15 gns.) at Ottley sale of 1847 and name of buyer (Farquhar) at Davenport-Bromley sale of 1863.

Maurizio Bonicatti. Trecentisti riminesi: sulla formazione della pittura riminese del '300. Rome, 1963, p. 81.

C[arla]. Guglielmi Faldi in Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 6, Rome, 1964, p. 484, hesitates in attributing it to Baronzio.

Carlo Volpe. La pittura riminese del Trecento. Milan, 1965, pp. 39, 42–43, 81–83, 86, no. 77, fig. 205, ascribes it to Baronzio; identifies it as the wing of a diptych.

The Gambier-Parry Collection. Provisional catalogue. London, 1967, pp. 36–37, under no. 117, lists it among works ascribed to the Master of the Gambier-Parry Nativity.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 357, lists it among anonymous Riminese Trecento paintings; calls it a dossal.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 236, 294–95, 298–99, 306, 309, 361, 364, 463, 606.

S[erena]. Padovani in Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani. Vol. 1, Turin, 1972, p. 362, lists it among works that have been ascribed to Baronzio.

General Catalogue of the Courtauld Institute Galleries. reprint (1st ed., 1960). London, 1974, unpaginated, under no. 1.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 78–79, pl. 2, attribute it to an artist in the circle of Baronzio and date it to the mid-1340s; note that the compositions of several of the scenes are based on Giotto's frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua, although the Last Judgment probably depends from a thirteenth-century work; suggest that it may have been the right wing of a diptych.

Andrea Bacchi in La pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. revised and expanded ed. Milan, 1986, vol. 2, p. 555, attributes it to Baronzio.

Miklós Boskovits. Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde: frühe italienische Malerei. Ed. Erich Schleier. Berlin, 1987, p. 16, under no. 8, as by Baronzio.

Pier Giorgio Pasini. La pittura riminese del Trecento. Rimini, [1990], pp. 138–39, ill., attributes it to Giovanni Baronzio, but notes that the attribution has vacillated in the past, perhaps due to the condition problems of the panel; notes the references to Giotto's frescoes in the Arena Chapel.

Miklòs Boskovits. "Per la storia della pittura tra la Romagna e le Marche ai primi del '300 – II." Arte Cristiana 81 (May–June 1993), p. 179 n. 69, remarks that the poor state of conservation makes dating difficult.

Francesco Rossi. Catalogo della Pinacoteca Vaticana. Vol. 3, Il Trecento: Umbria - Marche, Italia del nord. Vatican City, 1994, p. 122, under no. 35, as by Baronzio.

Daniele Benati in Il Trecento riminese: maestri e botteghe tra Romagna e Marche. Ed. Daniele Benati. Exh. cat., Museo della Città, Rimini. Milan, 1995, pp. 54, 272, no. 54, ill. p. 273 (color), attributes it to Baronzio and dates it about 1340–45.

Enrica Neri Lusanna in Gold Backs, 1250–1480. Exh. cat., Matthiesen Fine Art. London, 1996, p. 42, under no. 2, as by Baronzio; calls it a shutter panel.

Carl Brandon Strehlke. Italian Paintings 1250–1450 in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2004, p. 452 n. 3, lists it among examples of small early fourteenth-century Riminese altarpieces depicting scenes from the life of Christ in a vertical format.

Daniele Ferrara in Giovanni Baronzio e la pittura a Rimini nel Trecento. Ed. Daniele Ferrara. Exh. cat., Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2008, p. 113, under no. 11, as by Baronzio.

Old Masters: Part I. Christie's, New York. April 14, 2016, unpaginated, under no. 128.

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