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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gentile da Fabriano

Adoration Of The Magi, 1422-23, Gentile da Fabriano
Pseudo-Arabic script in the
Virgin Mary's halo, (detail above)
from Adoration of the Magi.
We all like to think that art is eternal--especially our own. However, in the back of our minds, we all know that's not the case. To clean up an otherwise nasty quote regarding the history of human ex-istence (including art) "Excrement hap-pens." Wars happen. Fires happen, as do floods, earthquakes, human greed, simple neglect, and many other enemies of mankind's creative efforts. In large part, perhaps far more than most other artists, that's been the story of the Italian painter, Gentile da Fabriano. In researching this unfortunate painter's work, the words, "now lost" keep appearing over and over again.
Gentile da Fabriano
from Vasari, 1568
Fabriano lived during the early years of the 15th-century, and thus worked almost exclusively for various churches creating lavish altarpieces, which, as art goes, tend to be the most treasured and best preserved works an artist can produce. However, he also lived and worked all his life in northern Italy, which, from Roman times on, may well be the most fought-over hunk of real estate on the face of the earth. As I've said many times before, war is the archenemy of art. In fact, it encompass virtually all the other disasters that may befall this fragile rendering of the genius of man.

Valle Romita Polyptych, 1405-1410, Gentile da Fabriano
Fabriano was born around 1470 and died in 1527. As his assumed name would indicate, the artist was born in Fabriano, located on the back side of the Italian "boot" roughly due east of Florence. In his youth, he gravitated to Venice and the workshop of Jacopo Bellini, where he worked helping to decorate the Doge's Palace. A disastrous fire palace in 1577 destroyed his early work. Fabriano's earliest surviving piece is the Valle Romita Polyptych (above), from around 1405-10, (now in Milan's Brera Art Gallery).

Quaratesi Altarpiece, 1425, Florence, Gentile da Fabriano.
As was the case with many lesser-known artists of the time, Fabriano moved around a lot. Besides Venice, he also worked at various times in Brescia, his hometown of Fabriano, Siena, Rome, and Florence. It was in Florence, in the family Church of San Niccolò Oltrarno, that he painted what's considered his greatest masterpiece, the Quaratesi Polyptych (above) from 1425. Though the work has long since been divided among several museums, through the magic of digital imagery, I've manage to reassemble (after almost two hours). The lower paintings depict (left to right) the Birth of St. Nicholas, The Gift of St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas Saving a Ship from the Tempest, St. Nicholas Saves Three Youths from the Brine, and the Miracle of the Pilgrims at St. Nicholas' Tomb. The upper images depict Madonna with Child and Angels (central compartment), flanked on the left by St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Nicholas of Bari, while on the right side we find, St. John the Baptist, and St. George.

Coronation of the Virgin, ca. 1420, Gentile da Fabriano
If the work of Gentile da Fabriano seems strangely formal and contrived, keep in mind that he worked in a style that's come to be called Italian Gothic. In short, this was the style which preceded the classicism of the Italian Renaissance. In his Coronation of the Virgin (above) from 1420, he used extensive tooling, decorative patterning, gold leaf, and rich pigments to create a sumptuous surface resembling a tapestry. The complex patterning, elaborate materials, and long flowing lines of the robes of the Madonna and Christ are characteristic of the Italian version of the International Gothic style.

Madonna With The Child,
Gentile da Fabriano--
characteristic of the
ravages of time and neglect,
offering a clue as to why so
much of the artist's
work is labeled "now lost."


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