Girolamo dai Libri (ca. 1474–1555) belonged to a four-generation family of miniaturists (Stefano, Francesco, Girolamo, and Francesco di Girolamo). The first member known by the name "dai Libri" (of the books) was Girolamo’s grandfather Stefano (active by 1433–died by 1482) as documented by his tax assessment from 1433. In the following years he was also documented as both "scriptor" (writer) and "aminiator" (miniaturist) (Castiglioni 1985). Unfortunately we do not know any works by him, but Joachim Eberhardt ("Nuovi Studi su Domenico Morone, Girolamo dai Libri e Liberale," in Miniatura veronese del Rinascimento
, ed. Gino Castiglioni and Sergio Marinelli, exh. cat., Verona, 1986, pp. 137–38) tentatively attributed to Stefano a body of illuminations catalogued under the sobriquet Maestro degli Offici di Montecassino. The only documented illumination by a member of this family of miniaturists is a late work by Girolamo’s father, Francesco dai Libri, dating from 1503 (he died between 1503 and 1514), which depicts God the Father Blessing a Worshipper
. This discovery allowed scholars to identify other illuminations by Francesco, an artist strongly influenced by Andrea Mantegna (Miniatura veronese del Rinascimento
, ed. Gino Castiglioni and Sergio Marinelli, Verona, 1986; Castiglioni et al. 2008). So far as we know, his son Girolamo was the only member of the family who also painted large-scale works. Girolamo signed monumental altarpieces for churches in Verona (Eberhardt 1974, pp. 150–51) and these are also the point of reference for his activity as miniaturist.The Picture:
The Madonna and Child are seated on a throne beneath a large laurel tree, flanked by, on one side, Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Leonard—the patron of the church—and, on the other, Augustine and Apollonia. Three music-making angels are grouped below the Madonna and Child and in the distance is an elaborate landscape with, on the left, a rocky mountain crowned by a fortress. A peacock is perched in a dead tree, these two features being a common symbol of immortality and of Christ’s victory over death. We are indebted to Vasari and his local source, Fra Marco de’ Medici, for the first detailed description of The Met’s altarpiece when it was still on the high altar of the Olivetan church of San Leonardo in Monte, in the hills around the city of Verona.
"For S. Leonardo nel Monte, also, near Verona, he painted at the commission of the Cartieri family the altarpiece of the high altar, which is a large work with many figures, and much esteemed by everyone, above all for its very beautiful landscape. Now a thing that has happened very often in our own day has caused this work to be held to be a marvel. There is a tree painted by Girolamo in the picture, and against it seems to rest the great chair on which the Madonna is seated. This tree, which has the appearance of a laurel, projects considerably with its branches over the chair, and between the branches, which are not very thick, may be seen a sky so clear and beautiful, that the tree seems to be truly a living one, graceful and most natural. Very often, therefore, birds that have entered the church by various openings have been seen to fly to this tree in order to perch upon it, and particularly swallows, which had their nests among the beams of the roof, and likewise their little ones. Many persons well worthy of credence declare that they have seen this, among them Don Giuseppe mangiuoli of Verona, a person of saintly life, who has twice been General of his Order and would not for anything in the world assert a thing that was not absolutely true, and also don Girolamo Volpini, likewise a Veronese, and many others." (translation by Gaston du C. de Vere, 1912, ed. 1996, p. 46)
Despite Vasari’s account, we do not know precisely who the patron of this work was, because while Vasari, Dal Pozzo (1718), and Dalla Rosa (1803–4) name the Carteri (or Cartieri) family as proprietors of the chapel, Lanceni (1720) and Biancolini (1750) allude to the Cartolari family: both were from Verona. The cloister of St. Leonardo was particularly famous in the Renaissance because it was decorated by an anonymous cycle of frescoes and inscriptions invented by Matteo Bosso in 1493–94 (G. Soranzo, "Il monastero veronese di San Leonardo e Matteo Bosso," Vita veronese
12 , pp. 264–67). They are unfortunately lost now, but they could be identified with those described by Giovan Battista da Persico (Descrizione di Verona e della sua provincia
, Verona, 1821, vol. 2, p. 150): "Qui da una loggia, dal moderno padrone signor Biadego ornata di buone epigrafi in onor del luogo, presentasi al guardo la bella Verona . . ." (Beautiful Verona can be seen from a loggia of the present owner, signor Biadego, furnished with good inscriptions recalling the memory of the site). Although the monastery was suppressed in 1769, we know much about the history of the altarpiece following its removal from the church (Canossa 1911). Local sources identify the first owner as Giovanni Battista Beadego, who bought the church and convent with their furniture (Dalla Rosa 1803–4). Subsequently, the altarpiece was acquired by a member of the Gianfilippi family (Dalla Rosa 1803–4, p. 224), and through the Bolognese antique dealer Giovanni Battista Armano it was sold in April 1801 to Alexander Douglas, Marquess of Douglas, later 10th Duke of Hamilton, who installed it on the staircase of Hamilton Palace in Lanark, near Glasgow (Waagen 1854, Gardner 1972, Tormen 2009); the painting probably never belonged to a Genoese family, as Bernasconi (1864) believed.
The Met’s painting is unquestionably the most spectacular of Girolamo dai Libri’s altarpieces, all of which were painted for Veronese churches. As with The Met’s work, these altarpieces all are set in open landscapes and testify to Girolamo’s education as miniaturist, to which he remained faithful his whole life. In a document from 1530, in which he was asked to judge the work of a certain Girolamo Arloti (or de’ Arlati), his assessment was introduced by the following words: "Un bon et valente depentor bisogna chel sapia ben imitar la natura, et fenzer quello che fa la natura, et essere universale in depenzer paesi, figure de ogni sorta, animali et paesi, et casamenti, et generaliter tute le cose che produse la natura" (A good and valiant painter must know how to imitate nature well, and imitate what nature does, and to be universal in painting landscapes, figures of all sorts, animals, landscapes and buildings and in general all the things that nature produces; Castiglioni et al. 2008, p. 129).
A similar flourishing laurel tree appears in the Madonna dell’ombrello
(1530), in which an angel supports an umbrella (formerly in Santa Maria della Vittoria Nuova, now in the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona). The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne
(1518), formerly in the church of Santa Maria della Scala (now in the National Gallery, London), and the Madonna and Child with Saints Lorenzo Giustiniani and Zeno
(1526) in San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, contain a lemon tree in the background and three playing and singing angels at bottom. Analogies for the organization of the setting can be found in the Madonna and Child with Saints Anne, Joseph, and Joachim
in S. Paolo in Campo Marzio, Verona, and the Madonna della quercia
(Madonna of the Oak), formerly in S. Andrea (now in the Museo di Castelvecchio). Girolamo probably employed the same cartoon for the angels in the Madonna and Child with Saints Bartholomew and Zeno
, formerly in Santa Maria in Organo (now in the Bodemuseum, Berlin).
As is the case with the early Renaissance painters of Verona, Girolamo was strongly impressed by Andrea Mantegna’s San Zeno Altarpiece
, painted between 1457 and 1459. After more than half a century, Girolamo still looked to that work as a model, copying the group of the Madonna and Child in the Pala Centrego
in Sant’Anastasia. Andrea Mantegna’s work, together with that of the most important Venetian painters from the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, played an important role in the education of two generations of Veronese artists. Domenico Morone, Francesco dai Libri, and, later, Girolamo’s colleagues Francesco Bonsignori, Francesco Morone, and Michele da Verona (see 27.41
) created their particular "Veronese" interpretation of the early Renaissance in the North of Italy from the legacy of Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio, and Cima da Conegliano.
[Mattia Vinco 2017]