Jacopo del Casentino
(Pratovecchio 1295/1300 - 1349)
The Last Supper - Saint Francis Receives the Stigmata, c. 1320
tempera on panel, gold ground, 33,3 x 15,6 cm (13.11 x 6.14 inches)
- Reference: 807
- Provenance: private collection
Fondazione Federico Zeri
This small, intense and animated painting is clearly a remaining fragment of a portable tabernacle flanking panel for private devotion, as suggested by its dimensions and the diversity of iconography – the Stories of Christ and the Legend of Saint Francis - usually requested by a client asking for such artefacts, that were so popular in the first half of the XIV century.
The upper section of these panels ended with a triangular or semi-lunette portion, where other episodes or figures from the Annunciation were painted. Notwithstanding, the most obvious proof that the present work is a surviving fragment of a tabernacle flanking panel is shown by the remains of eyes for hooks on the back, along the left side, that is the right side when facing the painting. The latter thus belonged to the left panel, fixed to the central part along its right side. The hallmark decoration in the top right-hand corner also reveals an interesting detail, above the scene of the Last Supper, from which it appears that the missing cusp was triangular shaped and was about 14 cm-high.
The iconography of the Last Supper is the one typically found in antiquity, with Jesus sitting at the far end of the table, having just told the disciples that one of them would betray him. The detail of one of the disciples - «the one Jesus loved», that is John -, his face bowing on the chest of the Saviour, is in fact only reported in the Gospel by John (John 13, 23-26). This is the moment when the Evangelist gets closer to Jesus and asks him who will betray him, urged by Saint Peter.
Particularly in such an ancient era, the somewhat rare iconographic theme of the Last Supper was usually put alongside, or better said it was subordinate to a main representation of the Crucifixion, as is the case in Taddeo Gaddi’s magnificent fresco in the refectory of Santa Croce’s convent in Florence. In that location, the friars would see the Last Supper as the promise of Christ offering his body and blood «for the forgiveness of sins» and, above it, the Crucifixion– as a Lignum Vitae with reference to the text by Saint Bonaventure, that is the practical implementation of that promise (1). Nonetheless, this theological concept was often depicted on a much smaller scale, in the hundreds of small altars for domestic devotion that were executed in the artistic workshops at the time. For this reason, we may assume that a Crucifixion was indeed at the centre of a tabernacle and that the present fragment was part of it. The Stigmata of Saint Francis was a much more widespread representation and perhaps the utmost iconographic epitome in the Franciscan world, starting from the most ancient examples, as noted in the narrative cycles in the Franciscan altarpieces in Pescia, signed and dated 1235 by Bonaventura da Berlinghiero, and in the Bardi Chapel in Santa Croce in Florence, executed by Coppo di Marcovaldo.
The scene depicted in the present panel stems from Giotto: a steep landscape in the background, with sparse trees displaying dense foliage, the Verna sanctuary sideways and numerous other delicious naturalistic details such as the small bridge on the stream in the foreground and the altar in the cave of the Sasso Spicco della Verna on the left, behind Saint Francis. The posture of the saint is particularly lively, pictured twisting his torso backwards and looking upwards towards Christ – seraph, from whom the rays, decidedly carved on the gold ground, start – and which become golden themselves, on the rocks in the background and on the clothes of the Saint, as can be gathered from the surviving pieces – aiming to impress the sacred signs on his body.
Saint Francis’s Stigmata are represented several times in the oeuvre of the painter from the Casentino area, precisely in the flanking panels of portable triptychs, starting from the so-called Cagnola Triptych, the only surviving autographed work (inv. 1890, n/ 9258), transferred from the Uffizi to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence in 2019. The most similar representation to ours is the one in the upper section of the left panel of a lost tabernacle, which is located together with the right one in the Pinacoteca Malaspina in the Pavia Civic Museums (inv. no. 166), whose central part has been identified as the Madonna and Child Enthroned among Angels, Saints and two Kneeling Donors (inv. no. 842) at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt (2). The similarities between the two scenes extend to other details, as well, such as the Verna structure, the panel used as a bridge on the stream and the altar in the den behind Saint Francis, although the stylistic features found in the Pavia fragments, in particular the elegant elongated proportions of the figures, may suggest a sensibly later dating in the artist’s career – in the second half of the 1330s – with regards to our small panel. The latter reached us in overall good conditions, with minor abrasions on the pictorial surface, especially detectable on the Last Supper scene, chiefly the sumptuously laid table and the two figures in the foreground, sitting on two stools. This work appeared at a Christie’s auction in London on 8 July 1977 (lot no. 108), referenced as a «Close follower ofGiotto» (3). From sheet no. 8826 in the Zeri Photo library we learn that the small painting was reported in a London private collection in 1979, but especially that Zeri assessed it as by an early Trecento Rimini painter. We should most certainly take this view into account, along with all the others this most esteemed authority expressed over the years; the strong Giottoesque resonance form must have attracted him early on, indeed characterising the most ancient Rimini paintings, and yet he did not properly assess another fundamental stylistic tool, that is the Florentine cultural background.
In this respect, Miklós Boskovits had verbally spoken to the owner about the undisputable reference of the painting to the vast activity of Jacopo del Casentino in more recent times (4). In the rich corpus of the works executed by this artist along his entire career, in fact, we find works featuring drawing and a painterly coating with a sketchy connotation, expressing a taste inspired by folk traditions, as is this case, alongside others appearing more accurate, both in terms of drawing and a particularly refined definition of drapery and shapes, in the context of a sometimes lofty atmosphere. Overall, we may say that, among the earliest works carried out in the successful Florentine workshop of this faithful and at the same time original follower of Giotto’s works produced in Florence, we often find compositions featuring a cursive rendering, similar to the present one. We may also gather useful elements towards a correct critical and chronological categorisation of our painting from the rich decoration of the gold ground margins and the saints’ halos, mostly freehand executed, using a burin: this may hint at a relatively early dating. It is typical of paintings that have been referred to Jacopo del Casentino for some time: the strip of rhombuses from which the small arches found on the side margins of the gold ground originate, in the Stigmata depiction, is very much similar to the one seen in the above-mentioned Cagnola Tabernacle, now transferred to the Galleria dell’Accademia. Even the radial halos of the sacred figures, carried out with somewhat uneven line-engravings, are very common in the early works by the painter. These gold ground features are similar in a further fragment from a tabernacle lost in a Tuscan collection, still critically unpublished, but presented to me during a press conference at the Florence Cassa di Risparmio in 2016 (5).
The small 15,3 x 10 cm fragment portrays a young saint martyr showing a thin palm leaf on the right, while she holds a hem of her ample green cloak, worn over a red gown, her neckline not too wide. The reference to Jacopo del Casentino, also in view of this further pictorial fragment, was confirmed to me by Miklós Boskovits, who also pointed out the probable somewhat late dating (6). We believe that the significant stylistic similarity and that of the painterly rendering suggest not to rule out the possibility that the pictorial pieces discussed here originally belonged to the same portable tabernacle that was then dismembered. In that case the saint – looking at the viewer to the left – would have been in the right panel, while the two scenes analysed here were in the left one. At any rate, we are in the presence of fragments that one would hardly date as later than the early 1320s.
The most interesting confrontations precisely occur with the earliest works that can be attributed to Jacopo del Casentino. For one thing, the authentic family atmosphere connecting the figures in the Last Supper and Saint Francisto those featuring in the small Madonna and Child, published by me many years ago, whose current location is unknown to me (7). That was the time when the painter expressed his adherence to formal Giottoesque modules in the most intense possible way: a case in point is the really strong Giottoesque tone of the throne and the central group, also emerging from Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata in the present work.
(1) See. T. Verdon, Il significato religioso delle pitture nei refettori, in La tradizione fiorentina dei cenacoli, edited by C. Acidini Luchinat and R. Caterina Proto Pisani, Florence 1997, pp. 35-37.
(2) See R.Offner-M. Boskovits, Elder Contemporaries of Bernardo Daddi, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, Sec. III, Vol. II, new edition, Florence 1987, pp. 498-501.
(3) See the auction catalogue Highly Important Old Master Pictures, Christie, Manson & Woods, p. 100, lot 108, July 8, London 1977.
(4) See the catalogue Mobili, dipinti e sculture: ricerca e passione in una collezione fiorentina, Pandolfini auction, Florence, 16 October 2019, p. 136, lot 92. Notwithstanding the opinion of one of the most eminent experts on Trecento Florentine painting of all times, the small panel is presented as “Florentine School, XIV century” in the catalogue. The hypothesis that it was part of a diptych tablet, instead of being a fragment of a flanking panel of a tabernacle, is equally to be discarded, as is documented in the text. For Jacopo del Casentino and the corresponding bibliography, see at least M. Boskovits, The painters of the miniaturist tendency, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, III century, Vol.IX, Florence 1984, pp. 56-60; A. Tartuferi, Jacopo del Casentino, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 52, Rome 2004, pp. 51-55; D. Parenti-S.Ragazzini (edited by), Jacopo del Casentino e la pittura a Pratovecchio nel secolo di Giotto, Florence 2014.
(5) A. De Marchi, A.Tartuferi, Anconette e polittici: due percorsi fra i dipinti antichi, Conference room Biblioteche Cassa di Risparmio Foundation, Florence, 7 December 2016.
(6) Written communication, 19 April 2010.
(7) A. Tartuferi, Corpus of Florentine Painting. Nouveautés sur le Trecento, «Revue de l’Art», No. 71, 1986, pp. 45, 46 n.15; Ibid., in Offner-Boskovits, Elder Contemporaries of Bernardo Daddi, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, Op.cit., 1987, pp. 588-589. The work appeared on the market again in Venice. San Marco Sale, 18 March 2007, lot n.71.