PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
remains of an inscription, and probably a date, along the lower edge of the panels
This dismembered polyptych was painted in Florence circa 1370 by the prolific Giovanni del Biondo with the help of assistants. As the artist's long career spanned almost exactly half of the Trecento, his work provides a neat bridge from the first generations of artists to react to Giotto's innovations of the early 1300s to the development of the International Gothic style at the turn of the fifteenth century. The progression in Giovanni's style can be followed quite closely since, unusually for the period, several of his extant works are dated; the earliest being the High Altar in Santa Croce in Florence (1363), and the last a Madonna at Figline in the Val d'Arno Superiore (1392).
Giovanni's early work from the early 1360s was still very close to Nardo Cione, whom he had assisted in the decoration of the Strozzi chapel in Santa Maria Novella in circa 1357. As relatively early works it is not surprising to find the artist still relying on a fairly rigid formula in the portrayal of the present saints with a linearity of form and frontal pose still steeped in the Orcagnesque idiom: all four are firm in their stance, with similar facial structures, and sharp glances emanating from their uniformly-shaped eyes. However, in the ornamentation we find an artist more advanced in his vision: the saints' clothing is rich in decoration, particularly in the brocaded gowns of Peter and Gregory and the carefully adorned cloth around Bartholomew, while even the simple clothes of Saint John hint at Giovanni's later interest in colour.
Though the panels are no longer secured by a unifying frame, there is no reason to suggest that the polyptych was composed of any more than the extant five sections and in its original framed state the polyptych would have looked similar to the Tosinghi altarpiece in Santa Croce in Florence from 1372.1 In the central panels of both works the focus is on the tender interplay between the Madonna and the Christ Child who plays with a bird, while the figures of Bartholomew are clearly related.
The punchmarks provide a useful key for the dating of the panels. Skaug (see Literature, 1983) has shown that the tools used for the decoration of the haloes in the present works originate in Siena and in the 1350s had belonged to Bartolommeo Bulgarini (formerly known as the Master of Ovile) as well as to Naddo Ceccarelli, and can be seen in such works as the latter's Madonna and Child formerly with the Giovanni Sarti Gallery in 1998 and the Polyptych from 1347 in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, inv. no. 115.2 The tools were subsequently introduced to Florence by Giovanni da Milano in 1363 after his return from Siena.3 The wide range of Florentine artists in whose works various tools were shared, including Cenni di Francesco, the Orcagna brothers and Andrea Bonaiuti, has led Skaug to term the joint enterprise of these artists as the "Post-1363 Collaboration". The collaboration seems to have ended around 1375, after which Giovanni del Biondo is known to have returned to his old punch tools, providing a terminus ante quem for the execution of these panels.
We are extremely grateful to Dr. Gaudenz Freuler for proposing the attribution and for his invaluable assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.
1. See R. Offner and K. Steinweg, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting, New York 1967, Section IV, vol. IV, part 1, pp. 115-18, plates XXVI-XXVI3.
2. See P. Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, dipinti dal XII al XV secolo, Genoa 1980, p. 141, cat. no. 115, reproduced in colour fig. 146.
3. See, for example, his punchwork in the Magdalen's halo in the Pietà from 1365 in the Accademia, Florence, in D. Parenti ed., Giovanni da Milano, Capolavori del Gotico fra Lombardia e Toscana, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia, 10 June - 2 November 2008, pp. 232-35, cat. no. 24, reproduced in colour.
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