Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Life of Christ

Attributed to Franceschino Zavattari (Italian, Milan, active 1414–53) and Workshop
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Central panel, overall, with engaged frame, 24 1/8 x 16 3/4 in. (61.3 x 42.5 cm), painted surface 20 5/8 x 14 3/4 in. (52.4 x 37.5 cm); left wing, overall, with engaged frame, 23 3/8 x 8 1/4 in. (59.4 x 21 cm), painted surface 21 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (54.6 x 16.5 cm); right wing, overall, with engaged frame, 23 3/8 x 8 1/4 in. (59.4 x 21 cm), painted surface 21 1/2 x 6 1/4 in. (54.6 x 15.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1909
Accession Number:
Not on view
This small triptych is remarkable both for its preservation and for the fact that it is still intact. The spaces below the center panel were originally filled with small relics. It is curious that the right wing shows events from the life of Christ leading up to the Flight into Egypt while the left shows events following it. There is, however, no technical reason for believing that the two wings have been reversed. In style the picture is related to the work of the Late Gothic Veronese painter Giovanni Badile. The frames have been regilded.
This portable triptych has survived intact, with its folding wings and, at the bottom, a series of indentations intended for relics. It was most likely painted for the devotions of a member of a religious order. The center panel depicts, from top left, Saint John the Baptist, the Trinity, Saint Michael the Archangel, the Flagellation, the Crucifixion, Christ carrying the cross, the Pietà, and the Man of Sorrows. The left wing depicts, from top to bottom, the Flight into Egypt, Christ among the Doctors, the Last Supper, and the Agony in the Garden. The right wing depicts, from top to bottom, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple. The fact that events from the infancy of Christ are on the right wing while later ones are on the left is curious. No less so is the combination of individual saints and scenes from the Passion on the center panel.

The triptych has been variously attributed. One proposal is to the artist who in 1428 painted an altarpiece for Lucia Fracanzani, a nun in the convent of San Martino, Avesa (Verona). That work also has a curious iconographic assemblage and, like the MMA triptych, was commissioned by someone in holy orders. The Fracanzani Altarpiece, as it is known, has been ascribed to Giovanni Badile (ca. 1379–1451), a prominent painter in Verona in the first half of the fifteenth century, by whom there are several signed and/or documented works, but also—and more probably—to an artist in his workshop or circle, usually referred to as the Master of the Fracanzani Altarpiece (Maestro dell’Ancona Fracanzani; for a review of the situation, see Gianni Peretti in Museo di Castelvecchio: Catalogo generale dei dipinti e delle miniature delle collezioni civiche veronesi, Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, vol. 1, 2010, pp. 98–105). Another proposal (De Marchi 2012) is that it is the work of Franceschino Zavattari, an artist known principally for an extensive cycle of frescoes in the chapel of Teodolina in the cathdral of Monza—one of the masterpieces of late Gothic painting. Franceschino is documented in Monza beginning in 1420–21; the cycle of Teodolina is dated 1444, but work continued at least into 1445. In that cycle Franceschino worked with his brother-in-law Stefano da Pandino and, eventually, his three sons Ambrogio, Gregorio, and Giovanni. The Metropolitan’s triptych, it has been proposed, would document Franceschino’s earlier phase of development, but would have been done with workshop collaboration.

What is universally recognized is the importance of Michelino da Besozzo. Although based in Pavia and Milan, Michelino was also active in the Veneto—in Venice, where documents place him in 1410 and 1414, Vicenza, and probably Verona—whence the idea of the Metropolitan's triptych possibly being by a Veronese painter. Michelino’s influence is evident in the soft, pliable forms, rhythmically curving postures and drapery, and in the small-chinned, rounded faces of the figures. The gold background is often elaborately tooled, as in contemporary goldsmith work. In the triptych this style is particularly evident where, in the depiction of the Trinity, each figure repeats the elegant pose of the other and the hems of the robes make a repeating, sweeping curve; or in the aristocratic mien of the Virgin in the Annunciation. Works done in this exquisitely elegant style were prized throughout Europe and are referred to in documents as "l’ouvraige de lombardie." If, indeed, the attribution to Franceschino Zavattari is correct, then the triptych assumes considerable importance in documenting an enormously prestigious chapter in the history of Lombard painting that is poorly documented by surviving works.

[Keith Christiansen 2013]
Inscription: Inscribed: (center, on cross, and lower right) ·I·N·R·I·; (on Saint John the Baptist's scroll) Ecce agn[us]. -d[e]i Ecce qu[i tollit peccatum mundi]. (Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. [John 1:29]); (reverse of each wing) yhs.
[F. Ciccolini, Rome, by 1908–9; sold to MMA]
Wooster, Ohio. Josephine Long Wishart Museum of Art. "Exhibition of Paintings of French, Italian, Dutch, Flemish and German Masters, lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 20–December 15, 1944, unnumbered cat. (p. 6).

Stamford, Conn. Stamford Museum and Nature Center. "Renaissance Paintings," May 2–17, 1964, no catalogue.

New York. Museum of Biblical Art. "Passion in Venice: Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese," February 11–June 12, 2011, no. 10 (as "Reliquary Triptych").

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. December 14, 1908, calls it North Italian and dates it to the early fifteenth century; states that he bought it from G. [sic] Ciccolini in Rome.

Roger Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. December 1, 1908 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, letter no. 248, pp. 305–6], calls it Lombard, near Besozzo da Milano, and dates it about 1420; adds that he is having the frame touched up.

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. December 12, 1908 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, letter no. 249, p. 307].

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. February 16, 1909 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, letter no. 258, p. 313].

Roger E. Fry. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. March 16, 1909, dates it about 1450; writes that the frame was damaged and has been "done up in Florence" and that he has "cleaned and lacquered the triptych which is in marvellous condition".

R[oger]. E. F[ry]. "An Italian Triptych of the Fifteenth Century." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (May 1909), p. 88, dates it about 1450 and calls it northern Italian, probably Lombard or Piedmontese; notes that it was used as a reliquary; mentions the unusual depiction of the Trinity.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, pp. 367, 369, fig. 232, calls it School of Sassetta.

John Pope-Hennessy. Letter to Mrs. Patterson. March 25, 1937, rejects the attribution to the school of Sassetta [see Ref. Marle 1927], calling it Veronese; sees a similarity to "the so-called Badile Aquila polyptych at Verona" (no. 373), but finds the work even closer to a Madonna, also in the Museo Civico, Verona (no. 2068), by a pupil of Stefano da Verona.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 124, ill. (detail), attributes it to a Veronese painter and dates it to the first quarter of the fifteenth century; notes the influence of French and German works of the school of the middle Rhine.

r[oberto]. l[onghi]. "Sul catalogo della mostra di Verona." Paragone 9 (November 1958), p. 75, notes its closeness in style to the Fracanzani Altarpiece in the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona.

Lionello Puppi. "Il Maestro dell'ancona Fracanzani e una tavoletta del Correr." Bollettino dei Musei Civici Veneziani no. 1 (1960), pp. 3–4, 8 n. 13, figs. 2, 4 (overall and detail), attributes it to the Master of the Fracanzani Altarpiece, noting the influence of Michelino da Besozzo.

Carl Huter. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. November 4, 1964, believes Veronese is possibly too narrow an area of attribution and suggests that "the eastern Veneto (Padua, Treviso, Venice) should be considered"; dates it not later than the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

Carl Huter. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. May 14, 1965, thinks it was painted in Venice or its immediate vicinity in the last decade of the fourteenth century.

Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 305 n. 1 to letter no. 247 (November 18, 1908), confuses it with another painting then on the market which was not acquired by the Museum.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 248–49, 268, 272, 274–76, 281–82, 285, 290, 296, 302, 358, 360, 411, 433, 606, as by an unknown Veronese painter of the fourteenth century.

Miklós Boskovits. Letter to Keith Christiansen. January 21, 1984, attributes it to Cristoforo Moretti (Milanese, active 1450–75).

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. 79–80, pl. 9, attribute it to a Veronese painter and date it to the first half of the fifteenth century; note the influence of contemporary Lombard art, which is often seen in Veronese pictures of that time; add that "there is no evidence to suggest that the wings have been reversed".

Miklós Boskovits in Arte in Lombardia tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1988, p. 164, relates it to a Crucifixion in the Národni Galerie, Prague (inv. 011951), which he assigns to an unknown Lombard painter in the mid-1400s.

Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham in Passion in Venice, Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese: The Man of Sorrows in Venetian Art. Ed. Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham. Exh. cat., Museum of Biblical Art. New York, 2011, pp. 52–53, 90 n. 1, no. 10, ill. (color).

Andrea De Marchi. Michelino da Besozzo, gli inizi di Franceschino Zavattari fra Milano e Monza e un dittico molto insolito. Turin, 2012, pp. 9–10, 13 n. 14, pp. 20, 24 n. 14, pls. XII–IV (overall and details), ascribes it to Zavattari and workshop.

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