Perhaps the prime artistic beneficiary of this visit was Giovanni da Rimini. Documentary evidence refers to a certain “Giovanni” as “painter” as early as 1292, and just a few years later by 1300 as “maestro,” and thus he was likely an established artist before Giotto’s visit. However, the example provided by the visiting artist gave Giovanni ample motivation to innovate and compete with the Giottesque forms with which he was being confronted, and he absorbed and adapted the influence with particular success. This can be seen even in the earliest extant works of the artist, such as the magnificent wing of a diptych depicting Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Northumberland and recently sold at Sotheby’s, London (fig. 1). That painting shows the clear influence of Giotto’s Assisi frescoes; however, the narrative touches and elegant details in the panel betray Giovanni’s own artistic personality. But, in addition to the now lost frescoes that he painted for the church of San Francesco in Rimini (better known today by its Renaissance sobriquet of the “Tempio Maletestiano”), it was undoubtedly the great cross painted in Rimini by Giotto which served as an enduring model for local artists. Giotto’s cross (fig. 2, also in the Tempio Maletestiano, Rimini) provided a clear path to Giovanni da Rimini and other artists to produce their own examples, such as the present cross. Like Giotto’s, this cross has been altered at some time in the past. Originally, it would have had depictions of the mourning Saint John and Virgin on either end of the transverse bar of the crucifix, as well as that of a Christ the Redeemer at the top. The flanking panels on either side of the corpus of Christ have also been removed, and, unlike that in the Giotto, the image has been shaped to follow the curves of His hips and right leg. This conversion was undertaken at some point in the distant past, and may have been altered in order to render it a more standard crucifix, suggesting its continued use as a devotional object, presumably after removal from its original location. Whenever this might have been done, the Cross was largely in its present form when it was first recorded in an image produced in Milan by the artistic studio fotografico of Girolamo Bombelli (ICCD, C 19408), made in the mid 1920s almost certainly when the painting was in the collection of Achillito Chiesa (see Provenance), and certainly before it became the property of the great Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker.
A small number of extant painted crosses by Giovanni have survived which has allowed scholars to propose a chronology for these works and which further display both his indebtedness to Giotto and his independence from him. Perhaps the most well known of these (and fundamental as a document in the artist’s chronology) is that in the church of San Francesco, Mercatello sul Metauro, which is signed JOHES PICTOR FECIT HOC OPUS and dated 1309 (fig. 3). That example retains the finial images and the lateral apron on either side of the cross. Another example by Giovanni is in the Museo della Città, Rimini, named the “Diotallevi” Crucifix, after a previous owner (fig. 4).1 A third is in the church of San Lorenzo, Talamello, and a fourth in the church of San Francesco, Sassoferrato. All of these retain their mourner figures and Blessing Christ pinnacles, unlike the present or Giotto’s example. Other crucifixes have in the past been attributed to Giovanni, but have subsequently been attributed to other Riminese artists, such as Giuliano da Rimini and Giovanni Baronzio.
The sequence of these various crosses by Giovanni has been the subject of much debate by scholars, and this cross has been part of the general discussion of Riminese painting since its inclusion in the seminal show on the subject “La pittura riminese del Trecento” organized by Carlo Brandi in 1935 (see Exhibited and Literature, and the note below). Carlo Volpe suggested an order for them in 1964 (see Literature), starting with that in Talamello, followed by this Crucifix (then owned by Jacques Goudstikker) together with the Diotallevi cross (which Volpe considered contemporaneous with the frescoes by Giovanni in Sant’Agostino, Rimini) and finally the signed and dated Mercatello example. Interestingly, in a postscript at the end of his book, Volpe notes that the date on the Mercatello cross, which had traditionally been read as 1345, was in fact either 1309 or 1314—thus explaining quite a bit of the confusion about the painting and the whole group of painted crosses. He reprised his theories on the group in 1979, when he would reconfirm his order for them, noting in the Diotallevi cross a “sviluppo… in senso più gotico e certamente meno arcaico di quella di Mercatello”2 and confirmed his firm opinion that the indistinct date on the later should indeed be read as 1309 (which has been generally accepted since).
The subject was taken up again by Miklòs Boskovits in 1993 (see Literature) who proposed his own ordering for the group. He suggested that it was important to look at the shape of the various paintings, and noted that the Talamello cross belonged to an older type, with a more strictly rectangular profile. It too would have found its model in Giotto, but rather in his painted cross for Santa Maria Novella, Florence, recently restored, which has now been dated to 1288/9. His proposal has been accepted by Alessandro Volpe (see 2002 Literature), but another dating for the group has most recently been proposed by Andrea De Marchi, who has asserted that the choice of the “rectangular” format of the Talamello cross likely reflects the conservative tastes of its patron. De Marchi thus believes that the Diotallevi cross is in fact earlier than the Talamello one, based on the more archaic and formal vocabulary that it presents. Daniele Benati has noted that in fact the Diotallevi panel does indeed manifest certain archaisms, such as the triple knot of Christ’s loincloth, which alludes to the cingulum, or knotted girdle, seen around his waist in crosses of the 13th Century.3 This is in perfect aesthetic alignment with an artist like Giovanni, who was already active in the last decade of the duegento and who would have been transitioning from the traditional Italo-Byzantine vocabulary of the 13th century towards the more up-to-date style that Giotto had brought to Rimini.
Daniele Benati has also studied the series, and made some astute observations on their interrelationship. One element largely ignored by other scholars is the form that the titulus crucis, the label affixed to the top of the cross by Roman soldiers to mock the suffering Christ, takes.4 Giotto uses the Latin formula of Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum for his cross in the Tempio Maletestiano, which is what Giovanni himself used in his Mercatello panel and which the still mysterious “Master of the Choir of Sant’Agostino” inscribed on the painted cross datable to circa 1315 still in the Riminese church from which he derives his working name.5 But, he notes, other crosses are inscribed in the Greek fashion, with the Christogram of “IC+XC,” thus suggesting to him that those crucifixes, which include the Diotallevi, the cross under discussion here and, possibly, the Talamello panel, all antedate the Mercatello one, reflecting the lingering influence of Byzantine culture and power which still resonated in the Adriatic centers of Northern Italy.
Given this, Benati has suggested the correct collocation for this crucifix should be after the Diotallevi example, and before the Mercatello one, as it shows a stylistic progression from one to the other. In addition to the Eastern formula used on the titulus, the “sottile definizione del volto di Cristo, contrassegnato ancora, sulla sommità del naso leggermente adunco, da un accenno di “forcella” duecentesca”6 is common both to the Diotallevi cross and this one. Looking forward, however, Benati notes that this crucifix anticipates a naturalism in the torso of the Christ, visible in the ribcage and lower abdomen, “descritti con una pennellata finissima e luminescente”7 and the perizonium which is artfully arranged around His hips, handled with an elegance that reflects that of Giotto’s crucifix, and can also be seen in the Mercatello panel. It has been hypothesized that the Diotallevi Cross may have been painted for the side chapel dedicated to the Virgin in the church of Sant’Agostino in Rimini, where documentary evidence records that in 1303 a certain Umizolo di Neri left money for its decoration with an image of the Madonna and Child and, more importantly, a crucifix. Benati, then, suggests a dating for this Crucifix to just a few years later, between 1305 and the secure date of 1309 provided by the inscription on the Mercatello cross.
The modern critical history of Giovanni da Rimini and this cross has been somewhat complex, due in no small part to his confusion in the early 20th Century with the homonymously named Giovanni Baronzio, another important—but slightly later— painter of the Riminese school. This muddle was only gradually sorted out over the course of the last century, but this cross from very early on has played an important part of the ongoing art historical discussion of the development of Riminese painting. The reverse of the panel is covered with numerous museum and exhibition labels (fig. 5). Goudstikker himself had presented the crucifix in 1929 as a work of Giuliano da Rimini, another Riminese artist whose only signed work of 1307 is in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. But most important of all was the ground breaking show organized in 1935 in the Palazzo dell’Arengo, Rimini of the “Pittura riminese del Trecento.” This show was organized by Cesare Brandi, and was the first major modern exhibition to deal with the subject. At that time, the painting was in the possession of Jacques Goudstikker, who lent it where it was catalogued as a possible work of Giovanni Baronzio. Brandi recognized its connection with the Mercatello and Talamello crosses discussed at length above. Goudstikker himself had presented the crucifix as a work of Giuliano da Rimini, another artist whose only signed work of 1307 is in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. As the date on the Mercatello cross was considered at that time to be much later than it is understood today (again, see above) the painting was thought to be on of a group of crosses by Giovanni Baronzio, and dated to 1345/50. This resulted in a wider misunderstanding of the picture and the corpus of works that would eventually be given to Giovanni da Rimini, as being more retardataire in character than, of course, in fact they were. Indeed, Brandi himself noted that the present crucifix was blatantly archaic in its approach. It was only after a series of lectures in 1934/5 that Roberto Longhi proposed the division of the works into two separate artists, Giovanni da Rimini and Giovanni Baronzio, a hypothesis that Brandi understood and accepted. And it was only after that that the artistic personality of Giovanni da Rimini, “il più antico e il più nobile tra gli artisti della scuola fiorita nella città romagnola in seguito al passaggio di Giotto,” according to Benati, could be fully understood.
1 The painting was in the collection of Marchese Adauto Diotallevi , Rimini, who donated it in 1936.
2 “a development… that is in a sense more gothic and certainly less archaic than that of Mercatello”
3 Benati’s thoughts on this painting are published in translation at length in 2011 (see literature) although reference in this note is made to his original text in Italian.
4 According to Benati (see literature) both Brandi and Maurizio Bonicatti made note of the Greek form in the inscription, but did not explore this aspect of the series in depth.
5 Benati notes that that anonymous master may in fact be the oddly named “Zangolus,” the brother of Giovanni and Giuliano.
6 “The subtle definition of the face of Christ, still characterized by the hint of a 13th century ‘fork’ at the top of the slightly aquiline nose”
7 “described with an extremely fine and luminescent touch of the brush”
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