Lippo di Dalmasio

(Recorded in Bologna and Pistoia from 1373 to 1410)

The Virgin and St. John the Evangelist Grieving, c. 1390

Tempera on panel, gold ground, 32 x 23,5 cm (12.60 x 9.25 inches)

  • Reference: 815
  • Provenance: New York, E. & A. Silberman Galleries (1938)
  • Note:

    No Italian Export License


F. Massaccesi, Jacopo di Paolo nella pittura Bolognese tra XIV e XV secolo, PhD, Bologna University, 2007/2008, p. 98, figs. 4-5
F. Boggi, R. Gibbs, The life and career of Lippo di Dalmasio, a bolognese painter of the late fourteenth century, Lewinston (NY) 2010, pp. 82, 153, n. 34
F. Massaccesi, Lippo di Dalmasio: una Croce nelle Collezioni Comunali d’Arte di Bologna e altre aggiunte, in “Arte a Bologna”, 7/8, 2010/2011, pp. 106-117 (pp. 110-111, figs. 7-8, p. 115, note 17)
F. Boggi, R. Gibbs, Lippo di Dalmasio “assai valente pittore”, Bologna 2013, pp. 168-169

Zeri Photographic Library
nos. 8570-8571

The Virgin and St. John are shown in half-bust pose, the expressions on their faces revealing their grief over Jesus's death. Special emphasis is laid on the detail of their hands. The Virgin appears to be touching her ribcage with her left hand, almost as though she were seeking to share in her son's suffering, while pointing to him with her right. St. John, for his part, holds his joined hands to his chest in a gesture of profound despair.
The two panels are quite clearly the two extremities of a Crucifix, the most common morphological pattern for depictions of this kind in the later Middle Ages[1]. The figures' emphatic gestures reveal an expressiveness that is still Late Gothic in mood, the contrasting metaphysical abstraction of the gold ground effectively highlighting the portrayal of what are intensely human emotions. The use of punch marks for the haloes is appropriately sophisticated, in accordance with the formal figurative tradition of the late 14th century. In this connection, it is precisely the complex design of the gold relief decoration that has allowed scholars to attribute the panels under discussion here to Lippo di Dalmasio, on the strength of a comparison with other known works by him.
In a study, dated 2011, of a Crucifix formerly in the church of San Girolamo della Certosa in Bologna and now in the Collezioni Comunali d'Arte in Palazzo d'Accursio, Fabio Massaccesi noted that the punched decoration of the Grievers' haloes is absolutely identical to that on our panels[2]. Thus different works considered until then to be by an anonymous artist proved to be by the same hand[3], and Massaccesi went on to produce valid arguments for attributing them to the Bolognese painter Lippo di Dalmasio. Our two panels, in particular, were in New York in 1938, in a gallery recently established by Elkan and Abris Silberman on East 57th Street. When putting them up for sale, these two great Viennese antique dealers had attributed them to 15th century Bolognese artist Michele di Matteo. Federico Zeri did not agree, however, arguing in favour of both an earlier date – before the end of the 14th century – and a more generic attribution to an anonymous Bolognese master[4]. Comparing the Crucifix in the Collezioni Comunali with another formerly in the Bacarelli collection in Florence which Daniele Benati had attributed to Lippo di Dalmasio[5], Massaccesi deduced that the two paintings were by the same hand, thus expanding the stylistic range assigned to a master known chiefly until that moment for devotional pictures of the Virgin and Child. The attribution of the San Girolamo Crucifix to Lippo helped to define the artist's personality more completely than had been possible hitherto. The panels with the Grievers, associated in formal terms with those of the San Girolamo Crucifix – the figure of St. John, in particular, can be virtually superimposed on that of his counterpart in the Collezioni Comunali – can be seen as crucial testimonials to a career which was unquestionably versatile and which reached a peak in the years immediately following to the painter's return to Bologna from Pistoia in 1389[6].
We do not know exactly when Lippo di Dalmasio was born. The first document mentioning him is a will drafted by his father, himself a skilled painter, in November 1373, the wording of the will appearing to suggest that Lippo still had not reached maturity at that date. His mother Lucia was the sister of another great Bolognese painter called Simone di Filippo, known as Simone dei Crocifissi, and young Lippo is likely to have trained in his uncle's workshop. By 1377, at any rate, he was working in Pistoia on a stable basis and receiving substantial commissions, yet he never broke off his ties with his native city[7]. He returned to Bologna in 1389, now an artist of some repute, yet despite that, he chose to embark on what was to prove a successful political career in the city's municipal institutions. In 1393 he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the temporary high altar in the Basilica of San Petronio, a mark of the consideration in which his name was held in the city[8]. Both the Crucifix in the Collezioni Comunali and the now lost Crucifix to which our two Grievers must have belonged are likely to have been painted c. 1390. In the first monographic work on Lippo, Flavio Boggi and Robert Gibbs attempted to identify the lost Crucifix as the work for which the artist was paid by the Fabbrica di San Petronio on 9 May 1409[9]. Their hypothesis is certainly interesting, but as Massaccesi points out, the style adopted by Lippo in our panels is still relatively youthful[10] and extensively influenced by the work of Simone de’ Crocifissi – see his comparison with the Grievers on a Crucifix which Simone painted for the Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna c. 1375[11] – while by 1409 Lippo had virtually reached the end of his trajectory (he died the following year) and in his later works he successfully devoted his efforts to a kind of compendium of the figurative experiences that he had produced throughout his career. Thus his final work is marked by a retrospective approach only partly corroborated by the "international" stimuli with which he had come into contact while working in the Basilica of San Petronio, and in our panels there is absolutely no trace of that approach.
Thus it is more convincing to dissociate our panels from the (in any case fairly restricted) group of works by Lippo that we are now in a position to link to a specific patron or commission. We cannot posit any definite provenance for our panels, as indeed we are unable to do for the Crucifix in the Collezioni Comunali (which only came to San Girolamo della Certosa after the suppression of religious orders in the early 19th century, before being moved to the Museo Civico Medievale in the later part of that century). Future archival research alone may resolve the mysteries that still surround Lippo's work in the early 1390s. But for all that, those years can be said to mark the peak of his career in terms of the level of quality that he achieved both in working gold and in defining his figures' introspection – two aspects which are dazzingly clear in our panels, thanks also to the perfect condition in which they have come down to us.

[1] For the iconography of the painted cross in Italy see Evelyn Sandberg Vavalà's now classic study and the essays contained in a more recent volume of proceedings of a conference on the theme: E. Sandberg Vavalà, La croce dipinta italiana e l'iconografia della Passione, Verona 1929; La croce. Iconografia e interpretazione (secoli I – inizio XVI), ed. B. Ulianich, proceedings of the international conference held in Naples, 6-11/12/1999, Naples 2007.
[2] F. Massaccesi, Lippo di Dalmasio: una Croce nelle Collezioni Comunali d’Arte di Bologna e altre aggiunte, in “Arte a Bologna”, 7/8, 2010/2011, pp. 106-117 (esp. pp. 109-111)
[3] Guido Zucchini attributed the Collezioni Comunali Cross to Simone dei Crocifissi, while Cesare Brandi preferred a generic attibution to a "Bolognese-Riminese" school: C. Brandi, Mostra della pittura riminese del Trecento, exhibition catalogue (Rimini, Palazzo dell’Arengo, 20/6 – 30/9/1935), Rimini 1935, pp. 142-143, n. 56; G. Zucchini, Catalogo delle Collezioni Comunali d’Arte di Bologna, Bologna 1938, p. 77.
[4] Information on the panels' provenance comes from notes pencilled in the margins of photographs of the paintings in the Zeri Photographic Library: Bologna, Alma Mater Studiorum, Fondazione Federico Zeri, Photographic Library: envelope 0112 (Pittura italiana sec. XIV. Bologna. Dalmasio, Lippo di Dalmasio, Jacopo di Paolo, anonimi), file 6 (Anonimi bolognesi sec. XIV 2), nos. 8570-8571.
[5] D. Benati, Jacopo Avanzi nel rinnovamento della pittura padana del secondo ‘300, Bologna 1992, p. 129, note 107. Roberto Longhi considered the former Bacarelli painting to be by the hand of Jacopo di Paolo (written communication): Sotheby & Co., Catalogue of important old master paintings, various properties, London, 3/12/1969, n. 57.
[6] On Lippo di Dalmasio: D. Benati, entry Lippo di Dalmasio degli Scannabecchi, in Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale, VII, Rome 1996, pp. 729-731; R. Gibbs, Lippo di Dalmasio, in The dictionary of art, ed. J. Turner, London 1996, XIX, pp. 453-454; R. Pini, Per una biografia del pittore bolognese Lippo di Dalmasio (1353 ca. - 1410), in “Atti e memorie della Deputazione di storia patria per le province di Romagna”, XLIX, 1998, pp. 451-530; R. D’Amico, in Pinacoteca nazionale di Bologna. Catalogo generale, I, Dal Duecento a Francesco Francia, Venezia 2004, pp. 158-165, nos. 48-51; K. Takahashi, Lippo di Dalmasio nella chiesa bolognese di S. Maria dei Servi, in “Strenna storica bolognese”, LVII, 2007, pp. 387-405; F. Boggi, R. Gibbs, Lippo di Dalmasio “assai valente pittore”, Bologna 2013.
[7] On Lippo di Dalmasio in Pistioia, see: P. Bacci, Documenti e commenti per la storia dell’arte. Notizie sui pittori bolognesi Dalmasio di Jacopo Scannabecchi e Lippo di Dalmasio, a Pistoia (1359-1389), in “Le Arti”, IV, 1941-1942, pp. 106-113; M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370-1400, Florence 1975, pp. 151-152, 252 note 271.
[8] R. D’Amico, in Il tramonto del medioevo a Bologna. Il cantiere di San Petronio, ed. R. D'Amico and R. Grandi, Bologna 1987, pp. 91-93, n. 4
[9] F. Boggi, R. Gibbs, The life and career of Lippo di Dalmasio, a bolognese painter of the late fourteenth century, Lewinston (NY) 2010, p. 82, note 11.
[10] Massaccesi op. cit., 2010/2011, p. 116 note 17.
[11] G. Del Monaco, Simone di Filippo detto “dei Crocifissi”. Pittura e devozione nel secondo Trecento bolognese, Padua 2018, pp. 109-111, n. 12, pl. XLVIII.


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