THE ANGLO-AMERICAN love affair with Siena and its art was at its most passionate and quarrelsome in the early years of the twentieth century when so much remained to be discovered and when stakes were being claimed for Sienese art, only then emerging from the shadows of neglect. The city itself was a relative latecomer to any art-loving tourist’s itinerary (even in 1901 the Havemeyers and Mary Cassatt omitted it from their lengthy buying spree in Italy). Handbooks began to proliferate (in 1900 Baedeker’s 13th revised edition for Central Italy contained an expanded section on Siena); bluestockings such as Margaret Symonds and Lina Duff Gordon wrote accessible guides and histories; scholars and aesthetes – F. Mason Perkins, Robert Langton Douglas, William Heywood, Edward Hutton – took up residence to study and write. A few years either side of 1900 a visitor could hardly avoid seeing an art historian making notes or hearing them exchanging views – in English, Italian or German – in the churches, the Galleria Municipale, the Palazzo Pubblico. The city depicted at the start of Henry James’s novel Confidence (1879) was much the same as the one he recorded in letters twenty and more years later – its beauty unchanged, its donkeys just as obstinate, the hotels only a shade less shabby. Although scholars, notably Gaetano Milanesi, had been weevilling in the city’s seemingly inexhaustible archives for some time, documentation was now being harnessed to aesthetic appreciation. While there was a definite move towards chronological clarification and archival evidence, purple ink was liberally spilled in favour of Sienese elegance, purity, charm and spiritual uplift.
AT THE HEIGHT of his career, just after painting the Adoration of the Magi (Fig.19) for Palla Strozzi’s chapel in S. Trinita, Florence, in 1423, Gentile da Fabriano was commissioned to paint a picture in Siena by the Università dei Giudici e Notai, or the Notaries’ Guild, for the façade of their palace which faced onto the Piazza del Campo, next to the ‘bocca del Casato’ (Fig.22). This was the so-called Madonna dei banchetti, a work recorded among Gentile’s masterpieces by Bartolomeo Facio in his De viris illustribus (c.1456), but which was destroyed over two centuries ago. This article publishes new documents which, adding to the contradictory information supplied by Tommaso Fecini’s contemporary Cronaca and by Sigismondo Tizio in his sixteenth-century Historiae senenses, allows us to clarify the history of Gentile’s Sienese painting, provides a precise date for its execution and shows that Jacopo della Quercia oversaw the project.
PICTURES BY SIENESE PAINTERS of the mid-quattrocento are unevenly represented in British collections, public or private. Thus it was something of a surprise to realise that a particularly beautiful example has escaped notice, although it was bequeathed to the Aberdeen Art Gallery by Miss Georgina Forbes in 1895 and reached the museum as long ago as 1899 (Fig.40).
THE RECENT REDISCOVERY of two long-lost panels by Taddeo di Bartolo, foremost painter of Siena in the years around 1400, is of considerable importance. The works are of identical format and style and each depicts a full-length saint, Francis of Assisi and the apostle Simon (Figs.1–3). They prove to be the missing elements from the main register of a signed and dated Marian altarpiece of 1395 from the sacristy chapel at S. Francesco in Pisa, the second most important Franciscan house in Tuscany. The reappearance of the panels from the dismembered altarpiece together with a rich written record go a long way to reconstituting the painting. Also fundamental to understanding the structure was the opportunity the present writer had in January 2009 of closely studying the several known components of the altarpiece housed at the Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest (Figs.5–11). Subsequently, another panel in a private Italian collection, previously presumed to have belonged to the altarpiece, was made available for study and can now be fitted into the altarpiece with certainty (Fig.12).
ON THE EVE of the elevation of Enea Silvio Piccolomini to the bishopric of Siena in 1450, Sassetta died aged about fifty, leaving incomplete, among other unfinished works, an altarpiece in the church of S. Pietro in Castelvecchio. This commission and its hitherto unknown patrons, the Guglielmi Piccolomini family, as well as some of the panels of Sassetta’s altarpiece, which was eventually finished by Sano di Pietro, can now be identified and the appearance of the altarpiece partially reconstructed.
MATTIA PRETI (1613–99), a knight of Malta, who was known as the Cavaliere Calabrese, developed his dynamic and influential pictorial language over the course of a long and prolific career. Efforts to clarify his development as a painter, although impeded by the paucity of documented works, have recently culminated in a catalogue raisonné and a volume of documents, as well as in exhibitions marking the anniversary of the artist’s death. Nevertheless, the number of dated or closely datable paintings, even from the artist’s later years, is still not large.
THE ESSAY ‘AVANT-GARDE AND KITSCH’ (1939) that opens Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture (1961) remains the critic’s most famous text, yet it is also his strangest. It was obviously written with the intention of legitimising the avant-garde, of defending avant-garde art against its critics. However, it is difficult to imagine a text that would be less avant-garde in its main presuppositions and its rhetorical make-up. Texts from the epoch of the early avant-garde argue for the new and vital against the old and dead, for the future against the past. These texts preach a radical break with European art traditions – and in some cases even the physical destruction of traditional art. From Marinetti and Malevich avant-garde artists and theoreticians expressed their unreserved admiration for a new technological era. They were impatient to abandon tradition and to create a zero point, a new beginning. They were only afraid that they lacked the will to break with tradition radically enough, to be new enough – to overlook something that should be rejected and destroyed but, instead, still connected their work to the art of the past. All works of art and texts of the historical avant-garde are dictated by this competition in radicalism, a will to find some traces of the past that others had overlooked, with the goal of completely erasing these traces.
IN 2004 I REVIEWED for this Magazine the first two volumes of an extraordinary enterprise, John James’s projected seven-volume history of the growth of Gothic architecture and architectural sculpture in the north of France and Paris in the area he calls the ‘Paris Basin’. To call it a ‘history’ may seem a misnomer, because as it stands so far it is really more of a photographic inventory and description of around 1,420 churches, each containing work from the period from c.1130 to c.1250. Most of these churches have never before been recorded or published; and few of them have been brought together to be analysed in terms of date and style. One of the aims of this almost superhuman exercise is to provide a photographic description of all the more significant churches built during this 130-year period. In itself this alone would make the book an invaluable resource. But the enterprise is a history, albeit of a rather unusual kind. For its wider purpose is to analyse the stylistic development of early and High Gothic in France by examining changes to foliate capitals and the evolution of building techniques, thus pinpointing the time and place of the leading inventions of Gothic architecture. Yet another historical aim is to establish a solid and inclusive foundation for dating the construction phases of these churches, by comparing the little that remains of the documentary evidence for their construction with the changing patterns of their visual details (especially capital design). And all this effort is directed towards the goal of establishing a vast chronological matrix, which allows the specialist to identify the time and place for each of the creative ideas, inventions and innovations that produced the Gothic style, and to follow their evolution, identifying their major creators.
ANTHONY GEORGE RAY, who died on 7th August 2009, was born in Darjeeling, India, in 1926. His father, Reginald Ray, had a distinguished career as Commissioner of Police in Bengal. His mother, Marion Huggan, was the talented daughter of the mayor of Pudsey in Leeds. Ray inherited his linguistic abilities from both parents but it was to his mother, who died when he was ten, that he owed both his musical gifts and his dynamism. He was sent to school in England with his two elder siblings and was brought up by English relatives in what was not, by all accounts, an easy childhood. After Charterhouse where, during Robert Birley’s headmastership, he was head boy, Ray briefly served in the Navy in the last months of the Second World War before going up in 1945 to University College, Oxford, to read Modern Languages. It was there that he discovered the superb ceramic collections of the Ashmolean Museum, which were to stimulate his love as a collector and as a scholar of English and Continental tiles and ceramics.
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