BICCI DI LORENZO | A SCENE FROM THE LIFE OF SAINT NICHOLAS, BISHOP OF MYRA (270-343 A.D.): THE MIRACLE OF A CHILD RESTORED TO HIS PARENTS
Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 USD
BICCI DI LORENZO
Florence 1373 - 1452
A SCENE FROM THE LIFE OF SAINT NICHOLAS, BISHOP OF MYRA (270-343 A.D.): THE MIRACLE OF A CHILD RESTORED TO HIS PARENTS
inscribed on the reverse: Il Vampiro/ Vampiro che strozza un fanciullo mentre i suoi parenti stanno seduti a mensa/ (Intorno ai Vampiri e agli scrittori che ne hanno parlato puo leggersi il Tiraboschi nella storia letteraria d’Italia)
tempera on panel
12 by 10 in.; 30.5 by 25.5 cm.
Monastery of San Niccolò in Cafaggio, Florence, 1433-1787;
Prince Trivulzio, Milan;
With Wildenstein, New York;
Private collection, United Kingdom;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 9 July 2003, lot 75;
Arezzo, Basilica inferiore di San Francesco, Il primato dei Toscani nelle Vite del Vasari, September 2010 - January 2011;
Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Money and beauty: Botticelli and the Renaissance in Florence, March - June 2015.
G. Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine, vol. 7, Florence 1758, p. 35 (as Lorenzo di Bicci);
F. Zeri, “Una precisazione su Bicci di Lorenzo,” in Paragone, no. 105, September 1958, pp. 70-71, reproduced fig. 48;
M. Michalska, Studye do Dziejow Wawelu, vol. II, 1959, pp. 39ff;
W. Cohn, “Maestri sconosciuti del Quattrocentro fiorentino: II Stefano d’Antonio,” in Bollettino d’arte, XLIV, no. 1, January – March 1959, pp. 61, 68, note 4;
F. Zeri and E.E. Gardner, Italian Paintings. A Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Florentine School, New York 1971, p. 70;
C. Lloyd, A Catalogue of Earlier Italian Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1977, p. 33, note 7;
C. Frosinini, "Il passaggio di gestione in une bottega pittorica fiorentina del primo '400: prima parte: Lorenzo di Bicci e Bicci di Lorenzo; seconda parte: Bicci di Lorenzo e Neri di Bicci," in Antichità Viva, 1986-1987, XXV, 1, pp. 5-15, vol. 2, pp. 5-14;
J. Pope-Hennessy and L.B. Kanter, The Robert Lehmann Collection: Italian Paintings, vol. I, Princeton 1987, p. 173;
F. Petrucci, in F. Zeri, ed., La Pittura in Italia: Il Quattrocento, 2nd edition, Milan 1987, vol. 2, p. 585;
F. Zeri, in Giorno per giorno nella pittura: scritti sull'arte toscana dal trecento al primo cinquecento, Turin 1991, pp. 142-143, reproduced fig. 213;
S. Morris, "Renaissance Men," Galleries Magazine, XIV, no. 6, November 1996, p. 15;
S. Chiodo, "Osservazioni su due polittici di Bicci di Lorenzo," in Arte Cristiana, 2000, no. 799, pp. 269-280, reproduced fig. 4;
L. Lorenzi, Devils in Art: Florence from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Florence 2006, p. 1, reproduced in color;
A. Degasperi, Arte nell'arte: Ceramiche medievali attraverso gli occhi dei grandi maestri toscani del Trecento e del Quattrocento, Florence 2016, p. 38, reproduced on cover and p. 40, fig. 13.
This refined panel, which shows a scene from the life of Saint Nicholas of Myra, was painted between 1433-1434 by Bicci di Lorenzo, one of the most important painters of the early fifteenth century in Florence. It once served as a predella panel for a large altarpiece in the church of San Niccolò di Cafaggio in Florence that Bicci completed using Gentile de Fabriano’s altarpiece of 1425, now in the Uffizi Gallery, as a model. By circa 1758, Bicci’s altarpiece was still in situ, having been recorded by Giuseppe Richa in his ten volume corpus on Florentine churches,1 but when the church was destroyed in 1787, the altarpiece was dismantled and the panels were dispersed.
Bicci's altarpiece has since been almost entirely reconstructed in the past few decades, and many of the works are found today in prominent museums and collections throughout the world (see reconstruction, fig. 1).2 A Madonna and Child Enthroned with Four Angels (Galleria Nazionale, Parma) served as the central panel of the altarpiece, and was flanked on the right by a Saint John the Baptist and Saint Matthew (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Robert Lehman Collection), and on the left by Saint Benedict and Saint Nicholas (Museo del Monumento Nazionale della Badia Greca, Grottaferrata). The predella of the altarpiece included seven panels illustrating scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas, six of which have been identified. In addition to the present panel, the others include Saint Nicholas Providing Dowries (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) Saint Nicholas Resuscitating Three Youths (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Saint Nicholas Rescuing Sailors in a Storm (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), A Miracle at the Tomb of Saint Nicholas (Wawel State Collection, Krakow), and The Birth of Saint Nicholas (formerly in the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, and sold, London, Sotheby's, 8 July 2009, lot 1). In 2000, Sonia Chiodo also proposed that eight saints on oblong shaped panels once decorated the pilasters that framed the altarpiece.3
The life and miracles of Saint Nicholas are first described in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, a text of the 13th century that served as a popular source of inspiration for Medieval and Renaissance artists. The present work depicts The Miracle of the Child Returned to his Parents, a story in which a wealthy Florentine merchant, who prays to Saint Nicholas and annually celebrates the Saint's Feast Day, recognizes the accomplishments of his son at school with a sumptuous banquet. During the meal, the devil, disguised as a pilgrim, knocks at the door begging for alms, and the father orders his son to bring the pilgrim a loaf of bread. In finding no one at the door, the son ventures with the loaf of bread outside, where he is strangled by the devil. Learning of this strangling, the father carried the son back inside and cried to Saint Nicholas asking if this is how he should be repaid after so long paying honor to the saint. Upon saying this, the saint performed a miracle, and the son opened his eyes and rose from the bed. Although the present work only depicts the first half of this story, the entire episode is illustrated in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s panel from the church of San Procolo and now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.4
The inscription on the reverse of the panel provides fascinating insight into how the scene was interpreted after its separation from the altarpiece. It reads:
Il Vampiro/ Vampiro che strozza un fanciullo mentre i suoi parenti stanno seduti a mensa/ (Intorno ai Vampiri e agli scrittori che ne hanno parlato puo leggersi il Tiraboschi nella storia letteraria d’Italia)
[The Vampire/ Vampire who is strangling a young boy while his family are seated a table/
(Regarding vampires and the writers who have discussed them, please read Tiraboschi in Storia Letteraria d'Italia)]
A later, most likely nineteenth-century, owner of the panel believed the figure of the devil to be a vampire, a timely fear, and perhaps justified by the devil's batlike wings and human face. The owner recommended others to read the late-18th century literary chronicle by Girolamo Tiraboschi (1731 - 1794) for other examples of vampires in Italian history. Now the inscription adds historical interest, especially as it must have been written before Bram Stoker's Dracula and the later pervasiveness of vampires in popular culture.
1. See G. Richa, under Literature.
2. See F. Zeri, 1958 and S. Chiodo, 2000 under Literature.
3. See S. Chiodo, 2000, under Literature.
4. See M. Gregori, Paintings in the Uffizi and Pitti Galleries, Boston 1994, p. 49, cat. no. 46, reproduced.