Federico Zeri first assembled a group of paintings by this anonymous artist in his 1980 article, naming him after a triptych in the church of San Nicolò, Padua.2 Zeri reproduced eight full-length saints, including a Magdalene and a Saint Justine, both formerly in the J.B. Levy collection, New York. The tooling in the background of the two female saints is identical to that of the present panel and they too have the same festoon of fruits above their heads.3 The female saints differ, however, in the inclusion of a parapet in the background.
Zeri also published a Madonna and Child with musical angels, now in a private Lombard collection, which he considered to be the masterpiece of the artist’s corpus. The Madonna is inscribed in Latin on the ledge with the name of the patron, Abbess Catarina Mariotti, and the date, 1503. On the basis of this inscription, Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo identified the Madonna as that from the Benedictine female monastery of San Prosdocimo (or Saint Prosdocimus) where Mariotti was abbess. In his article from 2000, Dal Pozzolo cites an 1806 inventory by Pietro Edwards, who described the Madonna, complete with musical saints, inscription and date, as being flanked by two full length saints: Saint Daniel, the patron saint of Padua, and Saint Prosdocimus, first bishop of Padua and the monastery’s eponymous saint.4 While the hypothesis would require further research, it is tempting to identify the present panel as this Saint Prosdocimus described by Edwards. The dimensions of the Madonna differ only slightly and could be accounted for by that it has been reduced and cradled.5
According to Edwards, the triptych at San Prosdocimo was selected for acquisition by the State in 1809 when the monastery was dismantled following the Napoleonic suppression. It was sent to the Depositorio della Commenda dell’Ordine di Malta, Venice, where it was recorded in the 1822 inventory.6 It was then destined for Brera but disappeared mysteriously.
For the moment the Master of the San Nicolò Triptych remains anonymous, though Dal Pozzolo has tentatively proposed an identification as Battista Tessari, the cousin of the Abbess Catarina Mariotti at the monastery of San Prosdocimo. Battista was father of Girolamo Tessari, known as Girolamo del Santo.
We are grateful to Professor Andrea De Marchi for proposing the attribution on the basis of photographs and for recognizing the subject as Saint Prosdocimus.
1. Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 23 February 1979, lot 99 (as North Italian School); for a recent image see E.M. Dal Pozzolo, under Literature, p. 75, fig. 1.
2. F. Zeri, "Un esercizio in area veneta di provincia", in Antologia di Belle Arti, 15/16, 1980, pp. 134-140.
3. G. Mariani Canova, under Literature.
4. F. Zeri, under Literature, reproduced p. 135, figs. 1-2.
5. The Madonna measures 116.3 by 44 cm.
6. G. Mariani Canova, under Literature, pp. 237-237.
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