PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
By descent to his son Herzog Bernhard III von Sachsen-Meiningen (1851–1928), Schloß Meiningen and by descent until sold by the family in the 1950s;
Possibly with Wildenstein, Paris (according to an annotation dated 24 July 1953 on a photograph at the Biblioteca Berenson, Fototeca);
Heinz Kisters (1912–1977), Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, by 1965, by whom sold to
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967);
Thence by descent to Adenauer's heirs, by whom sold back to Heinz Kisters;
His sale ('Collection formed by the late Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the property of Heinz Kisters’), London, Christies, 26 June 1970, lot 14 (as Mariotto di Nardo), where unsold;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
P. Lehfeldt, Bau- und Kunst-denkmäler Thüringens, Herzogthum Sachsen-Meiningen, vol. I, Jena 1909, p. 165, reproduced (as Florentine painter close to Taddeo Gaddi);
M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370–1400, Florence 1975, p. 395 (as Mariotto di Nardo, c. 1395–1400).
In high demand among both public and private patrons in his native Florence, the work of Mariotto di Nardo, son of stone-cutter Nardo di Cione (fl. c. 1380), is recorded in numerous surviving documents and paintings. As well as working at Santa Maria del Fiore, Mariotto received commissions from some of the city’s most prestigious churches, foremost among them Santa Maria Maggiore and Orsanmichele. Mariotto’s earliest securely attributed works include an altarpiece datable to 1394–95 of the Virgin and Child with Saints for the church of San Donnino at Villamagna, near Florence, still in situ.1 During the last decade of the fourteenth century, when this was painted, Mariotto was working mainly on smaller panels. A notable example is his beautiful Coronation of the Virgin at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, painted only a few years before Christ and the Virgin in glory, in which we find a similar arrangement of saints and angels kneeling around Christ and the Virgin, recurring facial types, and an abundance of seraphim and cherubim. Boskovits assigns the latter a date of 1385–90.2 Another example from this period is Mariotto’s highly original Assumption of the Virgin of 1398, at the Oratorio di Fonte Lucente, Fiesole, a painting close in date to the present work, in which the mandorla – the almond-shaped frame also deployed here to enclose Christ and the Virgin – is ingeniously crafted to appear like a protective shield.3
In the present painting Christ is addressing Mary his mother, while all six saints kneeling in reverence focus their gaze on them. The three male and three female saints are from left to right: Saint Christina,4 Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anthony Abbot, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Peter and Saint Mary Magdalene. The latter is particularly lovely: dressed in sumptuous red and holding her gilded ointment jar, its lid just visible behind Saint Peter’s halo. Her companions’ garments, which are given contrasting linings, combine striking colours: that of the Baptist’s cloak, for instance, is a vibrant green; blue is matched with pink and yellow; different reds are laid down side by side; and there are subtle harmonies of blue and grey across all the assembled company. The painter’s inventiveness is also evident in the mandorla, formed of winged seraphim, their youthful faces rendered in tones of vivid red with gold highlights partially preserved. Red is also the colour of the first word that stands out on the pages of the book held open by Christ; it is inscribed in Latin with the words spoken by Him at the Last Supper (Gospel of John XIV, 6): ‘Ego sum via, veritas et vita. Patr[em]’ (I am the way, the truth and the life. [No one comes to the] Father [except through me]).
The same figure of Christ, posed the same way holding open a book, features in a drawing of an initial, with Christ in glory above and the Annunciation below, executed in pen and ink with faint brown wash on parchment at the British Museum.5 Almost certainly intended to be illuminated, it is a fragment taken from Corale 18, a Gradual now in the Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence. The volume is dated 1410 on one of its folios. Philip Pouncey suggested an attribution to Mariotto di Nardo based on comparisons with his paintings, although more recently an alternative attribution to Lorenzo Monaco has gained acceptance. Nonetheless, it is striking how similar the design of the paired figures in the present panel are to the drawn figures of Christ holding the open book and of the Virgin Mary as she receives the news that she will give birth to the Son of God. One other painting by Mariotto has the same motif of Christ in Glory holding the open book with the same inscription: a work now at the Muzeum Narodowe, Cracow, which in the opinion of Boskovits slightly predates the present panel.6
1 Boskovits 1975, p. 402, plate 152/a.
2 No. M.28; tempera and gold on panel, 80.7 x 52.1 cm.; J. W. Goodison and G.H. Robertson, Catalogue of Paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Volume II: Italian School, Cambridge 1967, pp. 99–100, plate 17; Boskovits 1975, p. 390.
3 Boskovits 1975, p. 391, fig. 487.
4 Traditionally identified as such but her principal attribute – the millstone – is missing; she may instead be holding an arrow, instrument of her torture. Alternatively the saint depicted could be Ursula holding a staff; or perhaps, according to Jena 1909, she is Margaret.
5 1860,0616.42, 400 x 327 mm.; P. Pouncey, ‘An initial letter by Mariotto di Nardo’, under ‘Shorter Notices’, The Burlington Magazine, 88, March 1946, pp. 71–72, reproduced.
6 Boskovits 1975, p. 390; reproduced in M. Boskovits, 'Sull’attività giovanile di Mariotto di Nardo', Antichità viva, 1968, VII, 5, p. 13, fig. 18.
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