PROPERTY FROM A NEW ENGLAND COLLECTION
R. Longhi, Lavori in Valpadano dal trecento al primo quattrocento, 1934 – 1964, Florence 1973, pp. 34 – 35, reproduced fig. t46 (as Dalmasio);
R. Longhi, Guida alla mostra della pittura bolognese del trecento, exhibition catalogue, Bologna 1950, p. 16;
M. Medica, La Miniatura a Bologna al tempo di Bertrando del Poggetto, in F. Lollini, Corali miniati a Faenza, Bagnacavallo e Cotignola. Tesori dalla diocesi, Faenza 2000, p. 91, no. 21;
D. Benati, Tra Giotto e il mondo gottico: la pittura a Bologna negli anni di Bertrando del Poggetto in M. Medico, Giotto e le arti a Bologna al tempo di Bertrando del Poggetto, exhibition catalogue, Bologna 2005, pp. 65, 68-69, reproduced p.65, fig. 10
Although his biographical profile has remained somewhat elusive (even his true name is unknown to us), the Pseudo-Dalmasio's artistic personality is rather well defined. Not only was he one of the most important artists in Bologna in the wake of Giotto's visit there in the mid 1330's, he appears to have worked with the great master on at least one occasion (the predella of Giotto's Santa Maria degli Angeli altarpiece has been assigned to him). Indeed, his fame must have been considerable enough to win him major commissions in Tuscany, where he painted frescos in the churches of Santa Maria Novella in Giotto's own hometown of Florence and of San Francesco in Pistoia.1 Roberto Longhi was the first to connect the name of Dalmasio degli Scannabecchi to a group of works that he noticed were by a Bolognese painter of strong Tuscan tendencies. The historical Dalmasio was indeed a painter of an aristocratic background, and was in fact the father of the painter Lippo del Dalmasio, and Longhi tentatively associated him with the group of works. However, although Dalmasio was documented in Tuscany, his dates place him as too young to have been an artist capable of producing the works of the 1330s and later that had been grouped under his name. Thus subsequent art historians have tended to prefer to identify him as "Dalmasio" or as the Pseudo-Dalmasio, retaining the working name long associated with the painter for convenience sake.
When Longhi first published this charming Madonna and Child with Angels, then in the Askew collection, he gave the panel to Dalmasio, noting the absorption of Tuscan style reformed by the artist into "un nuovo realismo espressivo".2 The provenance noted by Longhi for this picture tracing it to the Dal Pero collection, has led Medica to hypothesize the potential of it having been in the church of Santa Croce in the family's native city, Imola.3 A comparison with the present panel and the Pseudo Dalmasio's Madonna and Child in the Philadelphia Art Museum, provides striking parallels; the position of the head, tilted downward and to right; the long, slender nose, faintly aquiline at its tip, the slightly narrowed eyes, shaded in a soft sfumato to create the illusion of a rounded, prominent lower lid; the sweet, narrow mouth with shading below the lower lip; there can be no mistake that both were executed by the same hand, one altogether independent from Dalmasio.4 Through a Giottesque use of chiaroscuro, here the artist skillfully molds the figures' features to create tangible expressions recalling the countenances of those in the Bardi frescoes, conveying at once the inquietude and excitement of the angels and serenity of the Madonna. As Benati notes, in contrast to the artist's more liberal constructions in collaboration with Giotto, in this work he returns to a more gothic perspective, contracting the space and placing the figures within an architectural artifice.5
R. Kirk Askew (1903-1974) was a leading gallerist and figure in the New York art world in the 20th Century. He joined the venerable London firm of Durlacher Brothers in 1927 when they opened a branch in New York in order to benefit from the booming American market in art and antiques. Under Askew's management, the business flourished and began to outshine the English branch, and in 1937 he was able to buy the New York gallery outright, which he ran until the late 1960's. Although originally focused on more traditional works, Durlacher soon began to feature more cutting-edge artists under his guidance; Barbara Hepworth, Hyman Bloom, Kurt Seligmann, Peter Blum and Walter Quirt amongst many others had important shows, and Ben Nicholson held his first exhibition in the United States there in 1949. Askew also continued to hold shows devoted to Old Masters, and his exhibitions of Italian Baroque painting were important in the rehabilitation of the genre in American eyes. In addition to running such an influential gallery, Askew also hosted with his wife Constance one of the most influential and important artistic "salons" in midcentury New York at their home at 166 East 61st Street. Poets, composers, painters and writers were all welcome and frequent guests included Dame Edith Sitwell, Philip Johnson, Paul Tchelitchew, Pierre Matisse, Aaron Copland, Archibald Macleish, George Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein, and Agnes de Mille, amongst many others. The composer Virgil Thompson, a family friend from his Kansas City childhood, wrote one of his musical portraits of Askew.
1. The frescoes in Santa Maria Novella were painted on the bequest of Riccardo de' Bardi, whose will had left money for the purchase a chapel there in circa 1334, and ordered its decoration. M. Boskovits assigned additional frescoes in Pistoia and even Pisa to the artist (see La pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1975, p. 206, note 134).
2. M. Medica, op. cit. (see under Literature), p. 91.
3. R. Longhi, op. cit. (see under Literature), p. 35, translates: "a new expressive realism."
4. D. Benati, op. cit. (see under Literature), p. 63, reproduced fig. 14.
5. Ibid., p.69.
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