Dormition of the Virgin

Lower center panel of an altarpiece probably from the church of Santa Maria Forisportam, Lucca (later in the monastery of San Michele Arcangelo e San Pietro, known as the Monastero dell'Angelo, in Brancoli, outside Lucca); other panels from the altarpiece are in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1920.1); the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca (287, 288); the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (61-60); and the Richard Feigen collection in New York

Starnina (Gherardo di Jacopo di Neri), Italian (born Gaville, active Florence, Valencia, Toledo and Empoli) documented 1387-1409; died 1413

Geography:
Made in Italy, Europe

Date:
1408

Medium:
Tempera and tooled gold on panel with vertical grain

Dimensions:
40 7/16 x 35 5/8 inches (102.7 x 90.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting before 1900, Johnson Collection

Object Location:

* Gallery 211, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 13

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    Two angels, aided by a young apostle, lower the Virgin's body into the tomb, while on the right Christ, accompanied by a host of angels, gathers her soul in his arms. Of the apostles looking on, only the bearded man with his hands clasped in prayer seems to note Christ's presence. He may be Dionysius Areopagite, the disciple of Saint Paul who, according to the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varazze (c. 1267-77, Translated and adapted from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger ed. London, 1941, p. 451), was said to have been present at the Virgin's burial and to have given an account of it in his Book of the Names of God. If the figure is in fact Dionysius, this would account for the presence of thirteen, as opposed to the usual twelve, apostles in the panel. Saint Peter is the man on the left wearing a white stole with crosses, a liturgical garment reserved for popes. The older apostle using an aspergillum to sprinkle the Virgin's body with holy water may be Andrew, who is traditionally bearded and balding. On a rocky promontory in the upper left, the lower part of the red mantle of the kneeling apostle Thomas is visible. The rest of his figure can be seen in the upper section of the center panel in the Fogg Art Museum, which shows the Virgin giving Thomas her belt (see Cambridge, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Gift of Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Fund, no. 1920.1). 1 The two panels have been installed together and are exhibited as a unit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fogg Art Museum on a rotating basis.

    The Philadelphia and Cambridge panels constitute the center section of an altarpiece, whose lateral panels now in Lucca represent Saints Michael Archangel, James Major, and John the Baptist (see Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, inv. 287) and Saints John the Evangelist, Peter, and Paul (see Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, inv. 288).2 The three panels of the predella are the Adoration of the Shepherds in a private collection, Turin; the Adoration of the Magi (see Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, no. F61-60) in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, in a private collection.3

    Bernhard Berenson (1913) attributed the panel in the Johnson Collection to the Master of the Bambino Vispo, who has since been identified as Starnina. This attribution has been accepted by all authors except for Jeanne van Waadenoijen (1983) and Cornelia Syre (1979), who both thought it and the other panels of the altarpiece were by a follower of Starnina.

    Zeri (1964) and González-Palacios (1971) noted that Starnina's altarpiece derives from the composition of Angelo Puccinelli's altarpiece (see Center panel: Lucca, church of Santa Maria Forisportam. Lateral panels: last recorded Radensleben, Germany, von der Quast Collection. Present location unknown) of 1386 for the church of Santa Maria Forisportam, Lucca. While there are differences between the two (for example, the Puccinelli does not include the episode of Saint Thomas receiving the Virgin's belt), the positions of the palm tree in the center and of Christ on the right instead of center are unique features of both of these paintings. These features are not found even in Giotto's Dormition of the Virgin of about 1310, which is a source for other details of the paintings.4 The iconography and composition of an earlier Dormition of the Virgin by Starnina, now in the Art Institute of Chicago,5 depart sufficiently from the Giotto to prove that it was not a preordained model. Another specific source for the Johnson-Fogg Starnina was Orcagna's relief in the tabernacle of Orsanmichele in Florence; executed between about 1352 and 1366, it was the first important work of art to combine the burial with the scene of the apostle Thomas receiving the Virgin's belt.6

    The iconographical similarities of the Starnina and Puccinelli altarpieces may be tied to the spread of the Augustinian reform community of the Canon Regulars,7 founded in 1401-2 by Bartolomeo Colonna and Leone Gherardini da Carate in suburban Lucca. On October 2, 1406, the local bishop, Nicolò di Lazzaro Guinigi, dispossessed the Benedictine nuns of the Monastero dell'Angelo and replaced them with a group of reform canons,8 and two years later Santa Maria Forisportam became part of the same reform.9 From this point the two communities were closely connected, and in 1512 the canons of the Monastero dell'Angelo moved their headquarters to Santa Maria Forisportam. Starnina's altarpiece could well have been commissioned after the reform of Santa Maria Forisportam in 1408. It would not have been unusual to ask the artist to use Puccinelli's altarpiece there as a model.

    A date around 1408 also accords with the style of Starnina's altarpiece, which most closely resembles his murals of 1409 in Empoli.10 The apostle Andrew in Empoli and the apostle sprinkling holy water in the altarpiece are nearly identical. As noted by Andrea De Marchi (in Filieri 1998, p. 269), another indication for the date is the resemblance of the two lower angels in Lorenzo Ghiberti's stained-glass window of the Assumption in Florence cathedral, installed by June 1405.11 The canons of the Monastero dell'Angelo may have ordered their altarpiece shortly after they took over the monastery in October 1406, or after the reform encompassed Santa Maria Forisportam in 1408. If the painting came from San Michele in Foro Lucca, it would have been begun as early as 1404. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 391-398.

    Notes:

    1. On this subject, see Neri di Bicci, Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cat. 27. The association between the Johnson and Fogg panels was first recognized by Francis Mason Perkins ["Some Recent Acquisitions of the Fogg Museum." Art in America (New York), vol. 10, no. 1 (December 1921), p. 44 n. 2].
    2. Alvar González-Palacios ["Posizione di Angelo Puccinelli." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 10, no. 3 (May-June 1971), p. 5] first made the association.
    3. Andrea De Marchi (in Giovanni Romano. Da Biduino ad Algardi: pittura e scultura a confronto. Entries by Alessandro Ballarin et al. Turin, 1990. Turin, Antichi Maestri Pittori di Giancarlo Gallino, Ezio Benappi & C., May 12-June 23, 1990, pp. 17-23) first noted that the Kansas City and private collection panels came from the predella of this altarpiece. At the suggestion of Federico Zeri, Eliot W. Rowlands (The Collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Italian Paintings, 1300-1800. Kansas City, Mo., 1996, pp. 78-82) added the Presentation of Christ in the Temple to this group.
    4. Berlin, Staatliche Museen, no. 1884; Miklós Boskovits. Gemäldegalerie Berlin: Katalog der Gemälde: Frühe italienische Malerei. Translated and edited by Erich Schleier. Berlin, 1988, plates 102-8, color plate i (detail). Then in the Ognissanti, Florence.
    5. No. 1933.1017; Christopher Lloyd. Italian Paintings before 1600 in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection. Contributions by Margherita Andreotti, Larry J. Feinberg, and Martha Wolff. Martha Wolff, general editor. Chicago, 1993, color repro. p. 227.
    6. Diane Finiello Zervas, ed. Orsanmichele a Firenze / Orsanmichele Florence. Texts by Paola Grifoni et al. 2 vols. Mirabilia italiae, 5. Modena, 1996, atlas vol., color plate 798.
    7. After 1446 the Canon Regulars were known as the Lateran Canons. See Carlo Egger in Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione. 10 vols. Rome, 1974-2003. vol. 2, 1973, cols. 101-7.
    8. Giovanni Barsotti. Lucca sacra: guida storico-artisticoreligiosa di Lucca. Lucca, 1923, pp. 180, 226-27.
    9. Barsotti 1923, p. 180; Giorgio Giorgi. Le chiese di Lucca: S. Maria Forisportam. Lucca, 1974, pp. 21-24.
    10. Empoli, Museo della Collegiata di Sant'Andrea; Luciano Berti and Antonio Paolucci, eds. L'età di Masaccio: il primo quattrocentro a Firenze. Milan, 1990. Exhibition, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, June 7-September 16, 1990, color repro. p. 89.
    11. Richard Krautheimer in collaboration with Trude Krautheimer-Hess. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology, 31. 3rd ed. Princeton, 1982, fig. 7.

    Bibliography:

    Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen âge et de la renaissance (1280-1580). 4 vols. Paris, 1905-23, vol. 1, 1905, repro. p. 480 (Umbrian School);
    Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, p. 10, repro. p. 235 (Master of the Bambino Vispo);
    Osvald Sirén. "A Late Gothic Poet of Line." The Burlington Magazine (London), vol. 25, no. 133 (April 1914), p. 16, plate vi;
    Francis Mason Perkins. "Some Recent Acquisitions of the Fogg Museum." Art in America (New York), vol. 10, no. 1 (December 1921), p. 43, plate p. 47;
    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol. 9. The Hague, 1927, pp. 193, 196;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932, p. 340;
    Arduino Colasanti. "Quadri fiorentini inediti." Bollettino d'arte (Rome), 3rd ser., vol. 27, no. 8 (February 1934), p. 340;
    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated from the English by Emilio Cecchi. Collezione "Valori plastici." Milan, 1936, p. 277;
    Georg Pudelko. "The Maestro del Bambino Vispo." Art in America (Westport, Conn.), vol. 26, no. 2 (April 1938), pp. 51, 53;
    John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941;
    Hans Vollmer in Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Vols. 5-13 edited by Ulrich Thieme. Vols. 14-15 edited by Ulrich Thieme and Fredrich C. Willis. Vols. 16-37 edited by Hans Vollmer. Leipzig, 1907-50, vol. 37, 1950, p. 32;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963, p. 140, plate 470;
    Federico Zeri. "Angelo Puccinelli a Siena." Bollettino d'arte (Rome), 4th ser., vol. 49, no. 3 (July-September 1964), p. 235;
    Andrée de Bosque. Artistes italiens en Espagne du XIVme siècle aux rois catholiques. Paris, 1965, pp. 57-58;
    Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. Il gotico internazionale in Italia. La pittura italiana. Rome, 1966, p. 48, color plate 86;
    Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. Il gotico internazionale in Italia. I maestri del colore, 255. Storia della pittura, vol. 5. Milan, 1966, color plate 28;
    [Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 51, plate 13 (Master of the Bambino Vispo);
    Alvar González-Palacios. "Posizione di Angelo Puccinelli." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 10, no. 3 (May-June 1971), p. 5, figs. 4-7;
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 125 (Master of the Bambino Vispo);
    Fiorella Sricchia Santoro. "Sul soggiorno spagnolo di Gherardo Starnina e sull'identità del 'Maestro del Bambino Vispo.'" Prospettiva (Siena-Florence), no. 6 (July 1976), pp. 14, 22, 27-28, fig. 26;
    Cornelia Syre. Studien zum "Maestro del Bambino Vispo" und Starnina. Habelts Dissertationsdrucke, Reihe Kunstgeschichte, 4. Bonn, 1979, p. 121;
    Jeanne van Waadenoijen. Starnina e il gotico internazionalea Firenze. Translated from the Dutch by Catia Michenzi. Istituto Universitario Olandese di Storia d'Arte, Firenze, 9. Florence, 1983, pp. 60, 126 n. 1;
    Mathieu Hériard Dubreuil. Valencia y el gótico internacional. Translated from the French by Angela-Petra Salas Martinelli with Carlos Soler D'Hyver. Estudios universitarios, 21-22. 2 vols. Valencia, 1987, pp. 9-10, 18, 29, 41, 50, 108, 112, fig. 12;
    Marvin Eisenberg. Lorenzo Monaco. Princeton, 1989, pp. 21, 60 n. 73;
    Andrea De Marchi in Giovanni Romano. Da Biduino ad Algardi: pittura e scultura a confronto. Entries by Alessandro Ballarin et al. Turin, 1990. Turin, Antichi Maestri Pittori di Giancarlo Gallino, Ezio Benappi & C., May 12-June 23, 1990, pp. 20, 23;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 232;
    Andrea De Marchi in Maria Teresa Filieri, ed. Sumptuosa tabula picta: pittori a Lucca tra gotico e rinascimento Livorno, 1998. Exhibition, Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, March 28-July 5, 1998, pp. 266-71, color repro. p. 267;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Annual Report 1999. Philadelphia, 1999, p. 36, repro. p. 37;
    Rudolf Hiller von Gaertringen. Italienische Gemälde im Städel, 1300-1550: Toskana und Umbrien. Edited by Herbert Beck and Jochen Sander. Kataloge der Gemälde im Städelschen Kunstinstitut Frankfurt am Main, 6. Mainz, 2004, pp. 200-201 and n. 70.

    Companion panels for Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cat. 13
    A. Upper center panel of an altarpiece: Virgin Mary Giving Her Belt to Saint Thomas the Apostle. Cambridge, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Gift of Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Fund, no. 1920.1.
    B. Lateral panel of an altarpiece: Saints Michael Archangel, James Major, and John the Baptist. Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, inv. 287.
    C. Lateral panel of an altarpiece: Saints John the Evangelist, Peter, and Paul. Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, inv. 288.
    D. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Adoration of the Shepherds. Turin, private collection.
    E. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Adoration of the Magi. Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, no. F61-60.
    F. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Private collection.


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