Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
This panel, which was in the Rudolf Heinemann collection, entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection at the Villa Favorita in 1981. Recorded in a Florentine collection in 1887, it then passed through various private collections in Scotland and London.
Miklós Boskovits dated the panel to around 1415–20 and considered that, given its dimensions and subject matter, it would have been the central panel of an ensemble similar to the altarpiece from Monte Oliveto in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, or the one in the Pinacoteca in Empori, both altarpieces whose central subject is the Virgin and Child with pairs of saints on either side. Boskovits suggested that the present panel might have been accompanied on the left by a Saint Francis (Serristori collection) and a small panel in the Narodowe museum, Poznan (Poland) of The Adoration of the Magi, which might have been the central panel of the predella. The attribution of the present panel to Lorenzo Monaco was made by Roberto Longhi in a private communication of 1956, and this attribution has been retained since that date. In 1958 the painting was the subject of an article (with illustration) in The Connoisseur that brought it to the attention of other experts.
Lorenzo Monaco, whose real name was Piero di Giovanni before he entered the Camaldolese order in 1391, was one of the leading representatives of the late Gothic style in Florence. This panel, which Longhi described as “a typical work by the artist”, combines some of the features that brought Lorenzo fame as a painter. Among them are the use and combination of the colours and the soft lines that create the forms of the figures, features that are evident here in the salmon pink tones of the tunics of the two angels carrying the incense burners, the pink of Christ’s clothing and the yellow and purple of the Virgin’s garments: all bright, lively colours applied in a soft but contrasting range of shades. The Virgin, seated on a throne whose arms emphasise the pictorial depth of the scene, is slim and elegant, as are the angels on either side. Also typical of Lorenzo Monaco are the decorative elements on the clothes and other objects as well as the somewhat illogical lines that define the folds of the draperies. The curious pose of the angel on the right, half hidden behind the throne and peeping out, is inspired, according to Marvin Eisenberg by the figure of one of the monks in The Burial of Saint Francis in the Pallavicini Gallery in Rome.
The panel is in its original frame although this has been subject to modern alterations in the lower section, the lateral pilasters and the decoration of the upper section.