Ventura di Moro

(Florence 1399 - 1486)

Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saint Anthony the Abbot and two Private Donors, c. 1425 - 1430

tempera on panel, gold ground, 51 x 36 cm (20.08 x 14.17 inches)

  • Reference: 726
  • Provenance: Florence, Charles Henry Coster Collection
Literature:

D. C. Shorr, The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy during the XIV Century, New York 1954, p. 33, fig. 5 Florence 4

Descriptions:

In a minimal and abstract setting – just a single line on the gold-ground separates the ground from the sky – the Virgin is seated on a marble throne with the Child on Her lap as she welcomes Saint Anthony Abbot, who kneels in front of Her with the usual black pig. Saint Anthony introduces a father and a son, who also prostrate in front of the holy group.

The garments of the father and the son lead to speculate on the nature and the reason behind this votive panel: the child wears a dark monastic dress similar to the saint’s, while the adult displays a purple giornea, attesting to his wealth and social status. Therefore, the father can be easily identified as the patron of the panel, likely an ex-voto for the son’s acceptance into a monastery, while the child is clearly destined to a coenobitic life. The family was likely devoted to Saint Anthony, perhaps relating to the child’s name or the patron saint of the monastery he was about to enter. The panel, enriched by the use of the foil in the upper part and by a decoration with continuous small arches long the edges, is a precious gift to cherish the memory of this important moment in the life of the family.

Our painting has been know to the scholars for over sixty years: in 1954, it was included in the iconographic catalogue of devotional images with the Child painted in Italy between the XIV and the beginning of the XV century, edited by Dorothy Shorr[i]. Here, it was attributed by Richard Offner to the school of Jacopo di Cione, yet the most interesting aspect is the panel’s location: the collection of Charles Henry Coster (1897 – 1977) in Florence. The famous jurist, who was born in New York but moved to Florence at an early age – where he married Vincenza Giuliani and inherited his wife’s family villa in Costa Scarpuccia – is historically known for his long friendship with Bernard Berenson, who counselled him in the purchase of paintings and sculptures, and with whom he exchanged many letters[ii]. Despite being considered the work of a school, our panel was nonetheless part of an important collection, which was the result of the propulsive enthusiasm of the greatest connoisseur of XIV-XV century Italian art of the time. There is no mention of the painting in the following studies, but today – due to the increased knowledge and the construction of wide repertories on the masters of Florentine art in the turn of the century – it is easy to assign it to Ventura di Moro, one of the most interesting personalities of the development from the Late Gothic to the painting of the Renaissance.

Only quite recently has Ventura di Moro’s personality been studied. Sources inform us that he is the author of the 1446 frescoes with the Stories of saint Peter Martyr, painted in collaboration with Rossello di Jacopo Franchi on the façade of the Palazzo del Bigallo in Florence[iii]; in 1419, he became member of the Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali, and died in 1486, at a very old age, in his hometown. Analysing the artist’s Madonna and Child, now in the collections of the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena (signed by Ventura di Moro and a ‘Giuliano’, most likely his collaborator Giuliano di Jacopo), Enzo Carli suggested that the author of this panel could have been the anonymous master known under the conventional name of Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese[iv] – who is now correctly identified with the Florentine painter Lippo di Andrea, born around thirty years before Ventura (see this catalogue’s essay dedicated to the artist). Enrica Neri Lusanna managed to construct a coherent oeuvre and a plausible chronology with the works of the artist[v], who clearly trained in contact with the masters of the International Gothic in Tuscany and was later influenced by Masolino da Panicale. In the list of paintings suggested by the scholar, the early panels are of the greatest quality, close to the linear poetry of Lorenzo di Monaco and Mariotto di Nardo. Yet, in these years, throughout the third decade of the XV century, the comparison with other ‘petits maîtres’ active in the Chianti and Valdarno regions at the beginning of the century is surprising: we immediately think of the so-called Master of 1419, a useful comparison to analyse our painting.

Studying the garments of the patron, Mauro Minardi[vi] suggests to date the panel to circa 1425: in the Virgin’s expressive and, at the same time, colloquial nature, her profile anticipates the outlines of the Miracle of Saint Peter Martyr of the Palazzo del Bigallo.  It is also close to the other female profile drawn on the back of the aforementioned Madonna of the Pinacoteca di Siena[vii] – which perhaps is slightly more recent –, and with the panels today in the parish church of San Leolino in Panzano in Chianti[viii] and in the Museo Civico di Pescia[ix] respectively. The curly head of the Child is just as close to the ones in Siena and Panzano. The atmosphere of these works clearly tends toward the fluent elegance of the International Gothic, here highlighted in the wavy outline of Mary’s cloak. The style is precious and is not particularly influenced by the figurative experience of Gentile da Fabriano in Florence. The closest model is Lorenzo di Monaco – see the figure of the Madonna in the Adoration of the Magi in the Uffizi Gallery – but, in the 1420s Ventura di Moro was likely influenced by the followers of Lorenzo and Gherardo Starnina active in Florence. It is Enrica Neri’s belief that in this phase there is a remarkable closeness with the expressiveness of the Master of 1419 (so-named because of the date on a central panel of a triptych previously in the church of Santa Maria in Latera near Barberino nel Mugello and today in the Museum of Art in Cleveland). In particular, the beautiful panel with the Madonna and Child of the Ackland Art Museum at Chapel Hill (North Carolina) can be compared to our painting and to the aforementioned works, especially in the elaborate rhythms of the outlines and in the expressive features of the portraits[x].

Later, Ventura detached himself from this manner to personally interpret the experience of the ‘pittori di luce’ with a narrative approach – as in the frescoes of Palazzo del Bigallo. Yet, the acute spirit of his early compositions is reduced in the more mature works. The on-going frantic formal changes of Florentine art unsettled Ventura, as it did other masters of his generation. He believed that good painting was still the one of the masters of the first quarter of the century, between the Late Gothic and the nostalgia for the solemnity of the panels of the XIV century. In the rich and dreamy transfiguration of a familiar event, our panel reveals the distance between the historical time and the poetical horizon of art – and the minimized setting, with the profiles of the figures drawn on the gold, highlights this antinomy. In the years when space was depicted as something to fill and measure, and perspective represented the symbolic shape of the bourgeoisie, Ventura di Moro preferred to cancel the third dimension, aware of the fact that votive images of dense devotion continued to make sense only if in a mystical and fabled setting.



[i] D. C. Shorr, The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy during the XIV Century, New York 1954, p. 33.

[ii] The letters between Bernard Berenson and Charles Henry Coster, edited by G. Constable, Florence 1993.

[iii] H. Saalman, The Bigallo, New York 1969, pp. 19-24; Il Museo del Bigallo a Firenze, edited by H. Kiel, Florence 1971, pp. 121-122, nn. 13-15.

[iv] E. Carli, Chi è lo “Pseudo Ambrogio di Baldese”, in Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Valerio Mariani, Naples 1972, pp. 109-112.

[v] E. Neri Lusanna, Ventura di Moro: un riesame della cerchia del Pesello, in “Paragone”, 485, 1990, pp. 3-20.

[vi] Oral communication.

[vii] The double signature on the painting, with both Ventura and his collaborator Giuliano di Jacopo as authors, led Enrica Neri to suggest that the painting was made later, around 1440. Yet, the collaboration between Ventura and Giuliano began before, around 1427. We can, therefore, suggest that the panel of the Pinacoteca was made in a realtively early phase of Ventura’s career, perhaps at the beginning of the forth decade of the century. Neri Lusanna cit., 1990, pp. 5-6. The triptych previously in San Donnino in Celle di Dicomano (Florence), today in the nearby parish church of Santa Maria, is similar to the Madonna in Siena: S. Albertazzi, in Bagliori dorati. Il Gotico Internazionale a Firenze 1375-1440, edited by A. Tartuferi, exhibitioncatalogue (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, 19/6 – 4/11/2012), Florence 2012, pp. 230-231, n. 66.

[viii] R. C. Proto Pisani, La pieve di San Leolino a Panzano: restauro e restituzione dei dipinti recuperati, in “Il Chianti”, VIII, 1988, pp. 59-62; Linda Pisani disagrees with the attribution: she compares the painting to the style of Lippo di Andrea: L. Pisani, Pittura tardogotica a Firenze negli anni trenta del Quattrocento: il caso dello Pseudo Ambrogio di Baldese, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz”, 2001, 1/2, p. 32 note 14.

[ix] Neri cit, 1990, p. 8, tav. 6; the triptych with the Madonna and Child in thone with saints Thaddeus, Simon, Anthony Abbott and Leonard, today at the Studio Grassi in New York, another important document of the painter’s activity, can be compared with the panel in Pescia: S. Chiodo, in The art of devotion. Panel painting in early Renaissance Italy, exhibition catalogue (Middlebury (VT), Museum of Art, 17/9 – 13/12/2009), Middlebury 2009, pp. 92-93, n. 9.

[x] M. Boskovits, Ancora sul Maestro del 1419, in “Arte cristiana”, 2002, 812, pp. 332-334, 337.

Biography

Born at the end of the XIV century, our Florentine painter was active throughout the XV century. There are only two documented works all through his long career: the Madonna and Child, today part of the collection of the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena – signed with his pupil Giuliano di Jacopo – and the 1446 frescoes with the Stories of saint Peter Martyr, painted on the façade of the Palazzo del Bigallo in Florence in collaboration with Rossello di Jacopo Franchi. From these certainly attributed works, Enrica Neri Lusanna managed to coherently construct the activity of Ventura, an artist who clearly trained in the context of the Florentine Late Gothic and later interpreted the innovations of the masters of the so-called ‘pittura di luce’, with a traditional approach. His early works are undoubtedly the most interesting, as they reveal refined lines and a colloquial approach to the figures, indicating that Ventura was close to Lorenzo Monaco and to the anonymous artist know as Master of 1419. Works painted in similar years, such as the Madonna of the parish church of San Leolino in Panzano in Chianti and the slightly more recent one today at the Museo Civico in Pescia, reveal a solemn and hieratic composition that recalls the models of the second half of the XIV century, harmonized with quite a modern approach that is already sensible for the formal composition of the holy groups by Masolino da Panicale’s works. Since circa 1430, Ventura’s main model is, in fact, Masolino: our artist had clearly been impressed by the appeal of the mediation culture of which Masolino, previously Masaccio’s collaborator, was the main representative in Florence.

 

 

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