GIOVANNI ANGELO D'ANTONIO DA CAMERINO | THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
Matthiesen Gallery, London
GIOVANNI ANGELO D'ANTONIO DA CAMERINO
active in Siena in 1451
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
tempera and gold on panel
unframed: 21 x 57.2 cm.; 8 1/4 x 23 in.
framed: 22.8 x 59 cm.; 9 x 23 1/4 in
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The single panel is uncradled and bowed. The paint surface is relatively clean, and the varnish even. Some pigments, most notably the greens of the foliage and part of Christ's blue cloak, have darkened. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals retouching to a couple of horizontal surface splits in the panel extending from the centre of each vertical margin into the edge of the group of figures. Small, scattered retouchings are otherwise visible in the foreground and in the mountain upper right, and there are similarly small spots in the robes and faces of some of the figures. More concentrated areas of retouching are found along the lower margin.
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Private collection, Paris;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby’s, 29 October 1969, lot 152 (as Vecchietta).
M. Minardi, ‘Sotto il segno de Piero: il caso di Girolamo di Giovanni e un episodio di pittura di corte a Camerino’, Prospettiva, 89–90, January–April 1998, pp. 16–18, 21, 33 n. 7, reproduced p. 21, fig. 8 (as Girolamo di Giovanni);
M. Minardi, in Il Quattrocento a Camerino: luce e prospettiva nel cuore della Marca, A. De Marchi and M. Giannatiempo Lòpez (eds), exh. cat., Milan 2002, pp. 202–04, reproduced pl. 41 (as Master of the Spermento Annunciation [Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio da Camerino?]);
M. Minardi, in Pittori a Camerino nel Quattrocento, A. De Marchi (ed.), Milano 2002, pp. 339–40 (as Master of the Spermento Annunciation [Giovanni Angelo d'Antonio?]).
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Gold Backs: 1250–1480, 1996, no. 18 (as Tuscan artist, c. 1440);
Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Sumptuosa tabula picta: pittori a Lucca tra gotico e Rinascimento, 28 March – 5 July 1998, ex cat. (as Maestro dei Santi Querico e Giulitta);
Camerino, Convento San Domenico, Il Quattrocento a Camerino: luce e prospettiva nel cuore della Marca, 19 July – 17 November 2002 (as Master of the Spermento Annunciation, also known as Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio da Camerino).
"The ambitous asymmetrical design, more than anything, is what draws me to this wonderful predella panel. The very notion of showing the foremost saints turned three-quarters away, their backs facing us, must have appeared shockingly modern at the time, even though it nods to Donatello’s slightly earlier relief in the Brancacci chapel. You cannot help but look upwards, following their gaze, which of course, in its original setting, was a wholly appropriate direction of travel forced upon the viewer of this magical little predella."
The atmospheric quality and refinement evident in the design of this panel, which originally formed part of the predella of an altarpiece, make it a particularly important example of mid-fifteenth-century Tuscan painting.1 The clarity of the composition, with its robustly-modelled, highly volumetric figures and bright tonality, indicates a highly original talent engaged in redefining the lessons learned from his contemporaries. The artist reveals a clear knowledge of Masaccio’s prototypes coupled with an awareness of the most recent stylistic advances in painting by both Domenico Veneziano and Fra Angelico.
Miklós Boskovits, who saw the panel many years ago, attributed it to Girolamo di Giovanni da Camerino.2 This accords with an annotation by the late Carlo Volpe, who also considered it to be by this artist.3 Andrea De Marchi proposed a Lucchese origin, suggesting an attribution to the Maestro dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta, and Everett Fahy too was prepared to consider this possibility. However, the sophistication and innovative style of this panel surpasses the more pedestrian renderings of that master. Filippo Todini was inclined to attribute the panel to the young Domenico Veneziano. However, Hellmut Wohl, while recognizing his influence, categorically excluded Domenico’s hand, favouring instead a Florentine rather than a Lucchese origin and dating the work to between 1435 and 1440. He also noted the highly unusual treatment of the subject, when compared to the conventional iconography of the Ascension.4
The panel represents Christ rising in the Heavens between two groups of angels; beneath them, arranged around the marble prism of His tomb, numerous saints, including the Apostles and the Virgin Mary, kneel in a semi-circular arrangement that is ambitiously three-dimensional for this date. In the figures’ typology and their exaggerated gesturing of hands and arms, this imaginative composition shows an awareness of Donatello’s relief of The Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), executed in about 1428–30.5
The rather remarkable forms of the figures, as well as a tendency to adapt and combine the influence of the leading Florentine artists of the day, has led some observers to consider this panel to have originated in Umbria. Indeed, Keith Christiansen was intrigued by the possible connections with the young Piero della Francesca,6 an interesting possibility given that although virtually nothing is known about Piero’s early career, his documented output between 1432 and 1439 was substantial;7 from as early as 1432 he is recorded working in and around Borgo San Sepolcro, near Arezzo, and in 1439 he collaborated with Domenico Veneziano on the frescoes for the Choir of Sant’Egidio (now destroyed) in Florence.
In 1998, following first-hand inspection, Mauro Minardi published this predella panel as an important early work by Girolamo di Giovanni da Camerino, thus reconfirming the attribution first proposed by Volpe and later supported by Boskovits, Luciano Bellosi and Michel Laclotte. There are some similarities between the figural types in the present panel and those in the early lunette of the Pietà above Girolamo di Giovanni’s Annunciation at the Pinacoteca Communale in Camerino. However, in 2002 Minardi proposed a new attribution to Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio. This is supported by further research and archival evidence that has since come to light identifying a Crucifixion traditionally ascribed to Girolamo as having been commissioned in fact from Giovanni Angelo (San Lorenzo, Castel San Venanzio).8 These findings have helped distinguished their production as two separate hands, making sense of the higher quality of the works attributed to the Master of the Spermento Annunciation, also known as Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio.9
1 The left-hand margin still retains part of a gilded classical pilaster decorated with finely executed punching that originally served to divide the predella’s different compartments. At some point in the past a two-inch strip was added to the right-hand side to counterbalance the asymmetric nature of the composition; this crudely painted addition was recently removed.
2 Private communication with the present owner.
3 Photo now held in the Volpe archive at Bologna University.
4 Private communication with the present owner, 3 January 1995 and 1 June 1995: ‘I do not see in the picture either the mind or the hand of Masaccio or Domenico Veneziano, the painter whom it most resembles… the picture nevertheless contains striking appropriations of their styles, as Todini points out… That being the case, it seems to me that the most apt designation of the panel would be that it is by a Florentine imitator of Masaccio and Domenico Veneziano…’.
5 Museum number: 7629-1861; http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/donatellos-ascension-relief/
6 Oral communication with the present owner; see Gold Backs: 1250–1480, exh. cat., Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1996, p. 130 n. 5 and pp. 127–28.
7 J.R. Banker, ‘Piero as Assistant to Antonio d’Anghiari in the 1430s’, The Burlington Magazine, January 1993, pp. 16–21; J.R. Banker, ‘Un documento inedito del 1432 sull’attività di Piero della Francesca per la chiesa di San Francesco in Borgo S Sepolcro’, Rivista d'arte, 1990, 6, pp. 245–47); F. Dabell, ‘Antonio d’Anghiari e gli inizi di Piero della Francesca’, Paragone, 417, 1984, pp. 73–94.
8 Private communication with the present owner.
9 M. Mazzalupi, ‘Giovanni Angelo d'Antonio 1452: Un punto fermo per la pittura rinascimentale a Camerino’, Nuovi Studi: Rivista d'arte antica e moderna, VIII, 10, 2003, pp. 25–32.