Dombrowski collection, Castello at Vincigliata, near Fiesole, by 1952–53;
Private collection, Lucerne, by 1960;
In the collection of the father of the present owner by 1969;
Thence by inheritance.
R. Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting, section III, vol. V, New York 1947, p. 228, n. 1 (as Cionesque);
B. Klesse, Seidenstoffe in der italienischen Malerei des 14. Jahrhunderts. Mit 519 Zeichnungen der Autorin, Bern 1967, p. 326, no. 257 (as Orcagnesque Master influenced by Agnolo Gadd, last quarter of the 14th century);
F. Zeri, ‘Early Italian Pictures in the Kress Collection’, The Burlington Magazine, CIX, 1967, p. 474 (as Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia);
M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del rinascimento: 1370–1400, Florence 1975, p. 64, p. 369, fig. 217 (as Master of the Misericordia);
R. Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. A Legacy of Attributions, The Fourteenth Century, H. Maginnis (ed.), New York 1981, p. 10 (as Master of the Virgin of Mercy [Misericordia Master]);
J. Pope-Hennessy, The Robert Lehman Collection, I. Italian Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1987, p. 64 (as Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia);
B. Deimling, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Tradition and Innovation in Florentine Trecento Painting: Giovanni Bonsi and Tommaso del Mazza, M. Boskovits (ed.), section IV, vol. VIII, Florence 2000, p. 194, n. 1 (as Master of the Misericordia; incorrectly described as representing Saint Catherine without her crown [she is depicted without the wheel of her martyrdom]);
S. Chiodo, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Painters in Florence after the ‘Black Death’. The Master of the Misericordia and Matteo di Pacino, M. Boskovits and M. Gregori (eds), section IV, vol. IX, Florence 2011, pp. 18, 28, 31, 47–49, 79, 85, 182–85, reproduced in black and white plates XVII1 and XVII2.
Federico Zeri was the first scholar to identify this Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine as a work by the Misericordia Master, a Florentine painter active in the second half of the fourteenth century. His early works show the influence of Taddeo Gaddi and Bernardo Daddi, the dominant artists of the previous generation but as he developed his style was to prefigure artistic tendencies prevalent towards the end of the Trecento. The artist’s name was coined by Richard Offner in 1958 after a devotional painting of the Madonna of Mercy (Madonna della Misericordia), formerly at the monastery of Santa Maria di Candeli and now in the collection of the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence.2 He is also sometimes known as the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia.
Offner underlined aspects of the artist’s style akin to Jacopo di Cione, while other scholars have considered his work to be more Daddesque in character. Boskovits expanded Offner’s core group of pictures, placing the Misericordia Master among the leading Florentine painters of his day. Boskovits has suggested that he may be identifiable as Giovanni Gaddi (doc. 1369–85), son of Taddeo Gaddi and elder brother of Agnolo. More recently Sonia Chiodo has provided an invaluable analysis of his work and thanks to her archival research has argued in support of this hypothesis.
Chiodo's analysis of the panel's figurative style has led her to suggest with due caution that the altarpiece, which originally belonged to a polyptych dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, may originally have come from the spedale of Santa Caterina dei Talani, a hospital founded in 1349. Its building was begun in 1361 after some delay and completed by about 1370, when the first patients were admitted.
The facial type of the Virgin in the Mystic Marriage is closely comparable to that in the Misericordia Master’s half-length Madonna and Child at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, which Boskovits dates to 1365–70, vividly describing them as twin sisters.3 Chiodo points out the affinity between the Mystic Marriage and the Madonna della Misericordia, particularly in the contours of Saint Catherine and the angel in the Academia panel, placing them close in date. In terms of scale and design, the Mystic Marriage shares the same poised monumentality as the Madonna and Child enthroned at the Pinacoteca Giuseppe Stuard, in Parma, part of a dismembered polyptych.4 Boskovits considers the latter to be slightly earlier than the present panel but in the absence of documentary evidence any attempt at dating the master’s work, particularly his early activity, remains tentative. In both the Parma altarpiece and the Mystic Marriage, he has embellished the throne with a richly designed cloth of honour, decorated here with an elegant pattern of hounds and vegetation found only in this painting.
John Pope-Hennessy proposed a connection between this painting and three panels devoted to the life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria that may once have formed its predella. They consist of a central panel that appeared at auction in 1991 depicting The Disputation of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, formerly in the Bromley Davenport collection;5 and two smaller side panels, one depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria’s Vision of the Christ Child in the Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;6 and the other The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria at the Worcester Art Museum.7 Together their combined length would accord with the present work.
1. Pope-Hennessy 1987, p. 64. See also Chiodo, who speculates on the possible original existence of two further predella panels, one from the saint's youth and another relating to her death or the transportation of her body to Mount Sinai. Chiodo also discusses the original structure of the altarpiece as a triptych or pentatych; see Chiodo, pp. 47 and 48, n. 124.
2. Inv. 8562; reproduced in Chiodo 2011, p. 168, plate XII.
3. Inv. no. 62.0256; 55 x 38 cm. Boscovits 1975, p. 371, fig. 219; see also p. 64: ‘la giovanissima Madonna […] parrebbe sorella gemella […]’.
4. Inv. no. 4; 121 x 53 cm. Boscovits 1975, p. 371, tav. 69b (as 1360–65); Chiodo 2011, p. 122, plate II2 (as 1350–55).
5. 19 x 64.5 cm.; sold Christie’s, London, 24 May 1991, lot 35 for £176,000.
6. 1975.1.62; tempera on panel, overall: 21 x 34.2 cm. Pope-Hennessy 1987, p. 64, cat. no. 30, reproduced on p. 65.
7. 1940.30; tempera on panel, 21.7 x 33.9 cm. M. Davies in European Paintings in the Collection of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester 1974, pp. 357–58, reproduced on p. 619; Pope-Hennessy 1987, reproduced on p. 283, fig. 20.
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