These four Old Testament prophets are among the masterpieces of this leading late Gothic Florentine painter. Each figure holds an identifying attribute. Moses holds two tablets of the Ten Commandments featuring pseudo-Hebrew script; Abraham prepares to sacrifice his only son Isaac, prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ; David, holding a psaltery, is considered a direct ancestor of Christ; and Noah's Ark, the object of his salvation, is symbolically shaped like the Church. The original format of this group remains unknown. Were they arranged single file or superimposed in pairs; did they form an altarpiece or serve some other function? We can’t say.
#5202. Four Prophets: David, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Part 1
5202. Four Prophets: David, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Part 1
5230. Four Prophets: David, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Part 2
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Fig. 1. Altarpiece reconstruction
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Artist:Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni) (Italian, Florence (?) ca. 1370–1425 Florence (?))
Medium:Tempera on wood, gold ground
Dimensions:Overall 26 x 16 7/8 in. (66 x 42.9 cm); painted surface 22 7/8 x 16 5/8 in. (58.1 x 42.2 cm)
Credit Line:Gwynne Andrews Fund, and Gift of G. Louise Robinson, by exchange, 1965
The Artist: Equally gifted as an illuminator of choir books, a master of fresco, and the creator of vividly colored altarpieces and devotional panels, Lorenzo Monaco was the foremost painter in Florence in the early fifteenth century—prior to the arrival in Florence of the Marchigian painter Gentile da Fabriano in 1420 and the appearance of Masolino and Masaccio in the mid-1420s. In 1391 he joined the Camaldolese order (a branch of the Benedictines); the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli was a famous center for the production of lavishly illuminated manuscripts and choir books and it was there that he received his training and acquired his marvelous taste for subtle yet brilliant colors—pinks, saffron yellows, and celestial blues dominating his palette. He worked for a time with Agnolo Gaddi (see 41.100.33), yet the key influence on his mature style was unquestionably the sculptural reliefs of Lorenzo Ghiberti for his first set of bronze doors for the Florence baptistery, begun in 1401 but only installed in 1425. Another catalyst for his break with the static world of late-fourteenth-century Florentine painting and his embrace of a more emotionally engaging, elegant style was the return to Florence from Spain of Gherardo Starnina sometime between 1401 and 1404. During his activity in Valencia, Starnina had become a master of late Gothic (or International Gothic) style and it is in in 1404 that Lorenzo Monaco definitively abandoned the neo-Giottesque art of Agnolo Gaddi for the far more cosmopolitan and sophisticated style practiced by Ghiberti and Starnina. The Met's four panels with Old Testament prophets are key documents in his mastery of this new style and among his most singular masterpieces.
The Picture and the Complex to Which it Belonged: In his right hand Abraham holds a burning torch and a knife with which he intended to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, shown kneeling beside his father. Having proved his faithfulness, God sent an angel to prevent the sacrifice. The blade of the knife is silver leaf. This exceptionally well preserved picture belongs to an unusual series that included three other paintings in The Met: Noah, Moses, and David (65.14.2, 65.14.3, 65.14.4). Another picture, of Saint Peter (formerly Lotzbeck collection, now in a New York collection), has sometimes been thought to belong to the same ensemble. What this ensemble might have been remains a matter of speculation. That they could have formed the pinnacles of a large altarpiece, as conjectured by Kanter (1994), can be excluded: three of the prophets (65.14.1–3) are on panels that have not been trimmed or cradled (the panel with David has been both cut and cradled); the panels are rectangular in format and thinner than would be expected for pinnacles for an altarpiece and show no sign of the battens or pegs that would have been necessary to attach them as pinnacles. This leaves the possibility that the panels formed part of an unusual altarpiece with an emphasis on the Old Testament. It has been suggested that they were stacked in pairs on either side of a central image (Meiss 1958) or were set, again in two stacked pairs, into the doors of a cupboard enclosing a piece of sculpture or painting (Eisenberg 1989), but it is also possible that the series was arranged in a single register to form a low altarpiece with the Saint Peter at the center (Tartuferi 2006; see fig. 1 above). In this case, the series would have been enclosed beneath a series of Gothic arches and a straight entablature. The Saint Peter has a candle burn, which would accord with a low altarpiece, but whether it belongs to the series has been contested. Meiss (1958) made much of the foreshortened angle of the benches and the fact that the pavement is green in two of the pictures and pink in the other two (the pavement of the Saint Peter is pinkish), but it remains unclear how important this is to a reconstruction of the ensemble they came from.
The four prophets are universally recognized as among the finest works by Lorenzo Monaco. They are datable around 1405–10 and, as demonstrated by Meiss (1958), reflect Lorenzo Monaco’s attentive study of the sculpture of Donatello, Nanni di Banco, and Ghiberti (see also Christiansen 1997).
Keith Christiansen 2014
private collection, Florence (until 1841; Biondi sale, Benou, Paris, March 12–13, 1841, no. 8, as "Sacrifice d'Abraham," as attributed to Beato Angelico); Henri Chalandon, La Grange Blanche, Parcieux, near Trévoux (by 1909); Chalandon family, La Grange Blanche (until 1956; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1956–65; sold to The Met]
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 15).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence 1300–1450," November 17, 1994–February 26, 1995, no. 32a (with 65.14.2–4).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
Bernhard Berenson. The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1909, p. 154, as in the Henri Chalandon collection, Parcieux; incorrectly describes MMA 65.14.1–3 as "Three Panels with Saint and Prophet in each".
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, p. 168 n. 3.
W. Suida inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 23, Leipzig, 1929, p. 392.
Millard Meiss. "Four Panels by Lorenzo Monaco." Burlington Magazine 100 (June 1958), pp. 191–96, figs. 6, 9 (overall and detail), connects the paintings of Abraham, Noah, Moses, and David (MMA 65.14.1–4) as originally belonging to the same series, suggesting a date of about 1406–10; discusses the style, iconography, and possible arrangement of the panels on an altarpiece, suggesting that they might have been paired in two rows with Abraham and Moses placed above Noah and David; ascribes the Lotzbeck Saint Peter to a follower of Lorenzo Monaco, tentatively rejecting it as part of the same series; notes analogies in the sculpture of Ghiberti, Donatello, and Nanni di Banco.
Millard Meiss. "Letter: Four Panels by Lorenzo Monaco." Burlington Magazine 100 (October 1958), p. 359, mentions Ugo Procacci's suggestion that the panels were originally intended for the spalliera of the courtroom of the Mercanzia in Florence.
"Nei musei americani." Sele arte 7, no. 41 (May–June 1959), p. 17, ill. (detail).
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 120.
Millard Meiss. Letter to Thomas Hoving. January 20, 1964, notes that the Vallombrosan order venerated the Old Testament prophets, represented several times in the their church of Santa Trinita, Florence.
Theodore Rousseau in "Ninety-fifth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1964–1965." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (October 1965), p. 56, ill. p. 40.
Guy-Philippe de Montebello. "Four Prophets by Lorenzo Monaco." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (December 1966), pp. 155–69, figs. 1, 5, 13, 19 (overall and details), dates the series about 1406, analyzing the style and technique; repeats Meiss's [see Refs. 1958] suggestions regarding the original arrangement.
Bernard Berenson. Homeless Paintings of the Renaissance. Ed. Hanna Kiel. Bloomington, 1970, p. 250.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 62–67, ill., date the series to Lorenzo Monaco's middle period, about 1410 or a little earlier, and believe it comes from a larger ensemble that included the Lotzbeck Saint Peter in a central position
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 111, 254, 609.
Bernard Berenson. Looking at Pictures with Bernard Berenson. Ed. Hanna Kiel. New York, 1974, p. 106, dates the series 1405–10.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 80, ill.
Alte Pinakothek München: Katalog V, Italienische Malerei. Munich, 1975, pp. 66–67, says the series included the Lotzbeck Saint Peter.
Miklòs Boskovits. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400. Florence, 1975, pp. 349–50, dates the series 1405–10.
Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 27, observes areas of discoloration caused by repainting.
Rolf Kultzen inAlte Pinakothek München. Munich, 1983, p. 300 [English ed., 1986, p. 303], dates the series to about 1410 and says it included the Lotzbeck Saint Peter.
Enza Biagi inLa pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. revised and expanded ed. Milan, 1986, vol. 2, p. 592, dates the series to about 1404.
Marvin Eisenberg. Lorenzo Monaco. Princeton, 1989, pp. 22–23, 79, 109, 112, 148–49, 151–53, 168, colorpl. 5, fig. 41, dates the series about 1408–10 and rejects the inclusion of the Lotzbeck Saint Peter; accepts Meiss's suggestion [see Ref. June 1958] regarding the original arrangement, and proposes that the series could have been inserted into the doors of a custodial, enclosing a work of sculpture or painting.
Andrew Ladis. "With the filters off." Times Literary Supplement (April 3, 1992), ill. p. 20 (detail), reviews Ref. Eisenberg 1989.
Laurence B. Kanter inPainting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence: 1300–1450. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, pp. 234, 253–61, no. 32a, ill. (color), rejects Eisenberg's [see Ref. 1989] proposal for the original placement of the series, and reconstructs it as part of an elaborate altarpiece, arranged in two pairs above the lateral panels of the Coronation of the Virgin in the National Gallery, London, here dated to 1407; dates the Lotzbeck Saint Peter before 1404 and considers it part of a different complex.
Erling S. Skaug. Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico: Attribution, Chronology, and Workshop Relationships in Tuscan Panel Painting. Oslo, 1994, vol. 1, pp. 284, 286; vol. 2, punch chart 8.13, identifies a punch mark that the series shares with works by the Master of Saint Ives.
Dillian Gordon. "Renaissance Painting and Illumination at the Metropolitan." Apollo 140 (February 1995), p. 51, argues against Kanter's [see Ref. 1994] association of the series with the London Coronation of the Virgin.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 13, ill.
James Czarnecki inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 19, New York, 1996, p. 680.
Keith Christiansen. "Mattia di Nanni's Intarsia Bench for the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena." Burlington Magazine 139 (June 1997), p. 383, rejects Kanter's suggestion [see Ref. 1994] that the four panels may have formed the pinnacles of the altarpiece of the London "Coronation of the Virgin".
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, p. 519, classifies a punch mark appearing in this painting.
Charlotte Hale. "The Technique and Materials of the 'Intercession of Christ and the Virgin' Attributed to Lorenzo Monaco." The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. Ed. Caroline Villers. London, 2000, p. 37.
Paul Jeromack. "Getty Buys Northumberland Raphael—Met Nets Lorenzetti." Art Newspaper. 2002 [www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=10234].
Angelo Tartuferi inLorenzo Monaco: A Bridge from Giotto's Heritage to the Renaissance. Ed. Angelo Tartuferi and Daniela Parenti. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2006, pp. 29, 168, under no. 23, supports the hypothesis that the four prophets originally formed part of a small polyptych with the Lotzbeck Saint Peter in the center, although adding that the "stylistic moment" of the four New York panels does not seem to coincide exactly with the Saint Peter.
Anna Bisceglia inLorenzo Monaco: A Bridge from Giotto's Heritage to the Renaissance. Ed. Angelo Tartuferi and Daniela Parenti. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2006, p. 160, under no. 21.
Laurence Kanter inLorenzo Monaco: A Bridge from Giotto's Heritage to the Renaissance. Ed. Angelo Tartuferi and Daniela Parenti. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2006, pp. 186, 189–90, no. 29c, ill. (color), revises his earlier opinion [see Ref. 1994] and includes the Lotzbeck Saint Peter in the same complex as the four MMA panels.
Angelo Tartuferi inDagli eredi di Giotto al primo Cinquecento. Ed. Gabriele Caioni and Flavio Gianassi. Florence, 2007, pp. 64, 66–68 nn. 1, 2, 4, pp. 70–73 nn. 1, 2, 4, fig. 4, reconfirms his belief, following the exhibition in Florence and seeing three of the panels together, that the Saint Peter belonged to the series, which formed an altarpiece dating from around 1405–10.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 139, no. 120, ill. pp. 101, 139 (color).
The panel is five-eighths-inch thick (unthinned), with a vertical grain. Its original lipped edge remains on the bottom and top, with remnants on the right. There are bare extensions of wood on all sides, and the point of the arch has been repaired and regilt. In addition to nail holes for attaching later molding, there are two nails 3 1/8 inch from the left edge and 2 1/8 inch from the right edge. These are both behind spandrel-fillings, added later, that are also present in the Noah and Moses, but not in the cut-down David. The edges are gessoed and painted black.
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