Master of the Ludlow Annunciation

(Kotor c. 1420 – Dubrovnik 1478)

Madonna and Child Enthroned, c. 1450

Tempera on panel, gold ground, 49 x 32 cm (19.29 x 12.60 inches)

  • Reference: 817
  • Provenance: Rome, Antonio Jandolo collection
  • Note:

    No Italian Export License

Literature:

“Apollo”, XCII, 1970, p. 106
F. Zeri, Un appunto per il Maestro dell’Annunciazione Ludlow, in F. Zeri, Diari di lavoro, I, Bergamo 1971, pp. 50-53 (p. 52, fig. 63)
M. Boskovits, Appunti su un libro recente, in “Antichità viva”, 1971, 5, pp. 3-15 (p. 13, note 21)
G. Gamulin, Za Lovru Dobricevica, in “Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji”, 26, 1986–7, pp. 345-378 (pp. 356-357)

Zeri Photographic Library
no. 24274

The Virgin, swathed in a sumptuous mantle, is seated on a rich marble throne in the Byzantine style. The Christ Child rests in her lap as she endeavours to cover him with a thin, lacy veil.
The iconography of Byzantine origin known as the Virgin Hodegetria still exercises a certain influence over this work, yet its overall nature is more homely and less hieratic than is customary in Byzantine art.  The pose of her hands, captured in the affectionate gesture of placing a veil over her Son's head, seeks to emphasise the miracle of the incarnation, drawing the onlooker's gaze along a line that leads from the face of Mary to that of Jesus. The richness of the phytomorphic decorations on her golden mantle tells us that this painting partakes of the International Gothic mood in an osmosis of mutual influences stretching from French illumination to the early 15th century art of the Adriatic.
The panel was part of the collection belonging to antique dealer Antonio Jandolo in Rome[1]. Federico Zeri, who was able to inspect it in person in Jandolo's gallery in Via del Babuino, added it in 1971 to the corpus of works of an anonymous painter known at the time by the conventional name of "Master of the Ludlow Annunication"[2]. It was only after that master's identification as the painter Lovro Marinov Dobričević, an artist born in Kotor in what is now Montenegro but who worked in Venice and then in Dubrovnik, that the picture was recognised as marking one of the high points of the output of this leading exponent of the Venetian Late Gothic style on both shores of the Adriatic. 
Art historians had been grappling since the early 20th century with the problem of the identity of an unquestionably important master who played the go-between in Venice between the culture of Gentile da Fabriano and that of the eldest Vivarini, and who was to be credited with a splendid panel painting of the Annunciation formerly in the private collection of Alice Ludlow in Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire. Evelyn Sandberg Vavalà[3] thought that the painter in question might be Jacopo Moranzone, an artist who signed a polyptych with the Assumption of Mary with St. Helen, St. John the Baptist, St. Benedict and St. Claudia now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice[4], while Bernard Berenson chose to identify him as the painter of Greek origin Antonio da Negroponte[5] on the strength of a similarity between the anonymous master's decorative style and that of Negroponte in a signed altarpiece in the church of San Francesco della Vigna[6]. Some years later, discerning "surprising microdepictions of distant landscapes" in the artist's vocabulary, Roberto Longhi added him to a list of Venetian illuminators who occasionally dabbled in painting[7]: in that connection he also put forward the name of Leonardo di Ser Paolo, a nephew of Jacopo Bellini and thus a cousin of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, who is recorded as having worked in his uncle's workshop from 1431 to 1443. We have Federico Zeri to thank for unfettering the Luton Hoo picture from the names suggested by these scholars in order to bind it to the figure of a new artist working predominantly on paintings of small and medium format characterised by a precious yet humorous style and by the homely, psychological mood in which he handles his figures. To this artist, identified by the name of the panel painting formerly owned by Lady Ludlow, Zeri attributed panels with Twelve Saints now somewhat arbitrarily reassembled as a polyptych in the Národní Galerie in Prague[8]; and above all, a group of Madonnas which he argued belong to a more mature phase in the artist's career and which are now in various public and private collections. He assigned the panel under discussion here to the central phase of the painter's career, c. 1450, highlighting evidence of both a plausible formative experience with the work of Gentile da Fabriano in Venice and exposure to the early work that Antonio Vivarini was busy producing in lands belonging to the Venetian Republic. It finally fell to Grgo Gamulin[9] – acting on a suggestion formulated by Miklòs Boskovits[10] – to identify in the archives the name of Lovro Dobričević as the painter of a polyptych previously posited by Zeri to which both the Luton Hoo Annunciation and the panels of the Saints now in Prague originally belonged[11]. At that point it became clear that the entire catalogue put together by Zeri should be attributed to this artist, a painter better known (especially to Croatian historians) for a series of pictures painted in the neighbourhood of Dubrovnik – and on a more general level, along the coast stretching from Dalmatia to the Principality of Zeta – which, it has to be said, are perfectly consistent in formal terms with the group attributed to the Ludlow Master. Gamulin added further works to the corpus of paintings of a devotional nature that can be attributed to Dobričević, including the former Jandolo panel, a work of exemplary value thanks to its perfect condition and to the superb quality of its draughtsmanship, which shines through in particular in the brocaded decoration of the mantle. Our panel is distinguished from works that stand the closest comparison with it – for example, a Madonna and Child in the Museo Civico Amedeo Lia in La Spezia[12] and another formerly in the Knoedler Gallery in New York, both published by Zeri, or the Madonna and Child in the Brajcin collection in Split that Gamulin added to his catalogue – by the taste for detail that permeates even the meticulous depiction of the lacy veil and the adornments on a throne foreshortened in accordance with the imaginative vision of space that was typical of Late Gothic artists and that harks back in its volutes to the formal models of the Byzantine tradition – almost hinting at the origin of the painter who was born in Kotor, a Byzantine imperial port in the Middle Ages before it became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Serbia and finally, in 1420, part of the Venetian empire. In fact it was thanks precisely to this latter event that young Dobričević was able to train in Venice at the very height of the Late Gothic age, when the legacy of the work done by Gentile da Fabriano in the Doge's Palace was paving the way, through the mediation of such major figures as Jacobello del Fiore, Niccolò di Pietro and Michele Giambono, for a new generation of artists as yet untouched by the innovative ideas in the handling of perspective that were making their way up from Florence. Dobričević is likely to have worked cheek by jowl with Antonio Vivarini in a workshop of a strikingly international character in which the northern European (but adoptive Venetian) painter Giovanni d'Alemagna worked alongside promising young men from Dalmatia such as Dujam Vučković, a master from Trogir by the name of Blaž Juriev, Dobričević himself and the younger Giorgio Chiulinovich, known as Lo Schiavone[13]. In this milieu each artist tended to cling to his own prerogatives, indeed so much so that it is a simple matter, when examining workshop pictures, to identify the assistants summoned by Vivarini to help him on each occasion. While in Venice, Dobričević developed a clearly meticulous style in which echoes of the classicising culture reaching the city from Padua served as decorative elements intended to astound the observer. Our Madonna, depicted as an illusory vision carved in gold and shining in a universe without shadows, is a striking emblem of Gothic culture as it drew to a close yet was still capable of producing examples of the highest quality demonstrating its determination to endure.


[1] Its presence in the Jandolo collection is recorded by Federico Zeri.
[2] F. Zeri, Un appunto per il Maestro dell’Annunciazione Ludlow, in F. Zeri, Diari di lavoro, I, Bergamo 1971, pp. 50-53.
[3] E. Sandberg Vavalà, Il Maestro della Vita della Vergine al Louvre, in “Dedalo”, XI, 1930-31, I, pp. 663-680 (pp. 676-677).
[4] S. Moschini Marconi, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia. Opere d’arte dei secoli XIV e XV, Rome 1955, pp. 31-32, n. 29.
[5] B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance. A list of the principal artists and their works with an index of places, Oxford 1932, p. 592
[6] For this painting see N. Pulliero, “Un giardino per Maria”. Note sulla Madonna adorante il Bambino di Antonio Falier da Negroponte, in “Arte documento”, 12, 1998, pp. 226-232.
[7] R. Longhi, Viatico per cinque secoli della pittura veneziana, in R. Longhi, Edizione delle opere complete, X, Ricerche sulla pittura veneta 1946-1969, Florence 1978, pp. 47-48, n. 29.
[8] O Pujmanovà, Italian painting c. 1330 – 1550. National Gallery in Prague. Collections in the Czech Republic, Prague 2008, pp. 83-84.
[9] G. Gamulin, Za Lovru Dobricevica, in “Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji”, 26, 1986–7, pp. 345-378.
[10] M. Boskovits, Appunti su un libro recente, in “Antichità viva”, X, 1971, 5, pp. 3-15. In actual fact Boskovits is the one thanking Gamulin in his turn for the suggestion taken from the Croatian historian's book Madonna and Child in old art of Croatia (Zagreb 1971). In a note to the text (p. 13, note 21) Boskovits says that he "not totally convinced" regarding the attribution of our painting to the Ludlow Master that Zeri had recently suggested. 
[11] For the identification of the Ludlow Master in Dobricevic see also K. Prijatelj, Die Malerei Dalmatiens des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, Zagreb 1983; and more recently I. Prijatelj Pavičić, Prilog poznavanju Navještenja Ludlow, in Sic ars deprenditur arte. Zbornik u Äast Vladimira Markovića, ed. S. Cvetnic and M. Pelc, Zagreb 2009, pp. 439-454.
[12] A. G. De Marchi, in F. Zeri, A. G. De Marchi, La Spezia, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia. Dipinti, Milan 1997, pp. 190-192, n. 82.
[13] For Antonio Vivarini's workshop in Dalmatia see C. Schmidt Arcangeli, Antonio Vivarini und seine Werkstatt. Tradition und Innovation in zwei vergessenen Altarwerken, in “Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen”, L, 2008, pp. 53-77 (esp. pp. 66-72)

 

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