Master of the Apollo and Daphne Legend

(Active in Florence, 1462 - 1542)

Crucifixion, in the Background the Brunelleschi's Dome, the Pescaia di San Niccolo and the Zecca Tower, c. 1498

tempera on panel, 45 x 30 cm (17.72 x 11.81 inches)

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Master of the Apollo and Daphne Legend

(Active in Florence, 1462 - 1542)

Crucifixion, in the Background the Brunelleschi's Dome, the Pescaia di San Niccolo and the Zecca Tower, c. 1498

tempera on panel, 45 x 30 cm (17.72 x 11.81 inches)

Re: 854

Provenance: Private collection


G. Botta, Le collezioni Agosti e Mendoza, Milano 1937, n. 137, tav. XII


Christ is depicted on the cross at the moment of his passing: he leans his head to his right, his eyes are closed and copious streams of blood flow from the wounds on his side. The cross is hoisted on a small protuberance of the ground, symbolising Golgotha, but the scene is set near the Arno river that runs alongside the city of Florence - one can recognise in the background the Torre della Zecca (at the time known as the 'Torre della notomia') and a little further back the profile of the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore -. At Christ's feet stand out the figures of St. Jerome, positioned near a rocky outcrop while beating his chest with a stone as a sign of contrition, and St. Paul, who is instead positioned in front of the gentle slope of a tree-lined hill.

The painting, which was probably originally intended to be the "cimasa" of an altarpiece - today this cannot be identified -, was made known on the occasion of a sale at the reknown Galleria Pesaro in Milan, which in the 1930s was located in the Poldi Pezzoli building right next to the museum entrance. In the auction catalogue of January 1937, the painting was attributed to the Perugian artist Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, active mainly in Perugia between 1470 and 1520[1]. In the same place, the provenance of our panel was noted, already in the prestigious Achillito Chiesa collection and later still in the Agosti collection in Milan[2]. After 1937, traces of the painting, which recently reappeared on the Italian market, were lost.

Andrea De Marchi has rightly hypothesised its attribution to the anonymous artist known as the Master of the Legend of Apollo and Daphne. The stylistic group related to this author had been isolated by Everett Fahy, starting from the study of two fronts of chests with scenes from the Story of Susanna, now scattered between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore[3]. These, like the panels in the Kress collection with the Story of Daphne, now at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago[4], gave the physiognomy of a talented pupil of Sandro Botticelli, who was nevertheless capable of updating himself on texts of another school in Florence in the last two decades of the 15th century.

Nicoletta Pons, to whom we owe instead the reconstruction of this master's late activity - well into the 16th century, first as a fresco painter together with Fra Bartolomeo della Porta in the church of the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena at Caldine di Fiesole[5], then on his own as the author of the panel with the Virgin of Mercy at the Conservatory of San Giovanni Battista in Pistoia[6] -, has cautiously assumed the identification of the artist with the unknown painter Giovanni di Benedetto Cianfanini (1462 - 1542), whose apprenticeship in Botticelli's workshop and later collaboration with Fra Bartolomeo and Piero di Cosimo[7] is recorded in the sources. Regardless of the validity or otherwise of Pons' hypothesis, the Master of the Legend of Apollo and Daphne, especially in the initial phase of his career, is a high-level interpreter of the themes of the late Laurentian age in Florence and then, even more so, of those of the Savonarola age, in line therefore with the poetics of his master.

Our painting, without prejudice to the pertinence of the profiles of the figures to the Botticelli and Philippine modes already shown in the aforementioned Stories of Susanna in Chicago and Baltimore, finds however perhaps its most tangible comparison in another later Crucifixion, now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (inv. no. 2144)[8]. In this panel, much larger in size than ours, the figures of Saints Jerome (this time kneeling) and Paul return, joined by John the Baptist and Francis of Assisi. The identity of the physiognomies and the layout between the two works leaves no room for doubt: in both cases we are faced with the subtle interpretation, by a notable master, of the retrospective turn imprinted on Florentine art by the new political and cultural orientation preeminent in the city in the last decade of the 15th century. The narrative and humoral quality of the scene, however, does not diminish the subtlety shown by the artist in the chromatic drafting, certainly dependent on the manner of Filippino Lippi but also betraying suggestions from the models of Piero di Cosimo.

[1] G. Botta, Le collezioni Agosti e Mendoza, Milano 1937, n. 137

[2] Achillito Chiesa's paintings had been sold in New York in 1925-27, but many later returned to Italy: see in particular on the collection: The Achillito Chiesa Collection, II, Italian primitives and Renaissance paintings, a small group of canvases by Flemish and French masters, New York 1926

[3] E. Fahy, The ‘Master of Apollo and Daphne’, in “The Art Institute of Chicago. Museum Studies”, 3, 1968, pp. 21-41

[4] F. R. Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, I, Italian schools XIII-XV century, London 1966, pp. 130-131

[5] N. Pons, Il maestro di Apollo e Dafne al convento della Maddalena alle Caldine, in “Antichità viva”, XXXI, 1992, 4, pp. 17-22

[6] Ead., Importanti opere perdute di pittori fiorentini a Pistoia e una aggiunta al Maestro di Apollo e Dafne, in Fra Paolino e la pittura a Pistoia nel primo ’500. L’età di Savonarola, exhibition catalogue (Pistoia, Palazzo Comunale, 24 April - 31 July 1996), Venice 1996, pp. 50-53

[7] Ivi, p. 52

[8] The panel, already assigned by Berenson to Bartolomeo di Giovanni and by Falke to Jacopo del Sellajo was reattributed to the Master of Apollo and Daphne by Everett Fahy: B. Berenson, The Florentine painters of the Renaissance with an index to their works, New York 1909, p. 99; O. von Falke, Die Sammlung Dr. Albert Figdor, Wien, Wien 1930, no. 24; Fahy cit., 1968, p. 36, no. 6