ROSSELLO DI JACOPO FRANCHI

(Florence, 1376 – 1456)

 

 

St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata

 


Tempera on panel

26 ¾ x 7 ⅞ inches

(68 x 20 cm.)

 

 

 

Provenance:

H. M. Sinclair, Dublin, before 1910;

Sale, Christie’s, London, June 8, 1928, p. 11, lot 81, as attributed to Master of the Bambino Vispo;

Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam;

Y. Hyldebrand, Stockholm, 1933

Sale, Christie’s, London, April 19, 1996, lot 244 (as by Rossello di Jacopo Franchi); where purchased by:

Private Collection, New York (1996-2016)

 

Literature:

Elisa Camporeale, in Peintures italiennes du XIVe au XVIIIe siècle,  exh. cat. ed. by Charles Beddington (Monte Carlo 1998), pp. 72-76, as by Rossello di Jacopo Franchi

Rossello di Jacopo Franchi, Florentine painter and illuminator, was born in 1376[i]. He resided for a long period, together with his brother Giunta, he too a painter and two years younger, in the Santa Croce quarter, in a house in which they were the tenants of the Compagnia del Bigallo since 1416. Of the artistic output of Giunta nothing is known. Rossello’s first securely authenticated work can be dated to 1408 or shortly before: this was the panel of St. Blaise Enthroned in the Duomo in Florence, commissioned from him by the physician Niccolò Falcucci. In January 1420 the painter signed a Coronation of the Virgin, executed for the monastery of the Campora, to the south of Florence, and in the same year dated a Crucifix in the church of San Michele at Rovezzano, near Florence. Dating to 1428 -1429 are the miniatures painted by Rossello in collaboration with others in Choir Book D for the church of Santo Stefano at Prato. Other miniatures, for which he received payment in 1431, are contained in an Antiphonary, now lost, which he illuminated for the Compagnia del Bigallo in Florence. Rossello di Jacopo’s presence among the painters who frescoed the series of Apostles on the walls of the chapels of the tribune in Santa Maria del Fiore is documented. Together with him, Bicci di Lorenza, Giovanni di Marco dal Ponte and Lippo d'Andrea participated in the project. The series, now considerably retouched, was painted in 1436 on the occasion of the consecration of the cathedral. Another panel by Rossello representing the Coronation of the Virgin, signed and dated 1439, is now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena. Between 1444 and 1446 Rossello, together with his brother Giunta and Ventura di Moro, frescoed the facade of the Oratorio del Bigallo with two Scenes from the life of St. Peter Martyr. The painter died in Florence on 10 August 1456.

 

The panel represents the Saint in a standing position, with his body turned in three-quarter profile to the left and his gaze directed upwards. He receives the stigmata in the form of luminous rays that strike the palms of his open hands, his side and feet[ii]. The Saint’s eyes, sparse beard and tonsure are chestnut brown. He is wearing a light brown tunic fastened around the waist with a cord, characterized by the three knots that, according to tradition, symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience[iii]. The blood-stained wound in his side is visible through a rent in his habit. The Saint’s legs are slightly splayed. The ground on which he is standing is light pink in color and bare but for one or two tufts of grass in the foreground. The rest of the ground, like the luminous rays, is of gold.

 

The painting's state of conservation is on the whole good. The panel has probably been cropped on all four sides. It is now slightly warped. Old woodworm holes are visible on the back. The gilding along the edges has here and there been repaired in the course of an old undocumented restoration. Also visible on the back of the panel is a vertical incision, some 9 cm long, running from the upper edge. Some of the gilding of the Saint's halo has rubbed away to reveal the underlying preparatory stratum of red bole. Minor retouches on Francis’s tunic around his right foot and the border of his halo are detectible under ultraviolet light.

 

The painting appeared for the first time on the art market in London in June 1928[iv], part of a lot which also included another panel representing a group of seven music-making Angels. Though the provenance of the two paintings is not specified in the sale catalogue, it is known that they belonged to H. M. Sinclair in Dublin[v]. After the sale they entered the possession of the dealers de Boer in Amsterdam. At the London sale in 1928 the two panels were attributed to the Master of the Bambino Vispo, on the basis of a written expertise by Tancred Borenius. Two years later the two companion panels parted company. The one with the music-making Angels reappeared at another sale held in Berlin[vi], as part of the collection of Han Coray in Erlenbach, Switzerland. The catalogue compares it with a panel of the same subject formerly in the Benson collection in London[vii]. From an annotation on the back of a photo of the painting here being discussed in the Photographic Archives of the National Gallery of Art in Washington[viii] we learn that in 1933 it was the property of Y. Hyldebrand in Stockholm. Both panels were identified as the work of Rossello di Jacopo Franchi many years later by Miklós Boskovits; the attribution was made in a handwritten annotation on a mount in the photographic archive of the Frick Art Reference Library in New York in 1978.

 

There can be little doubt that both the panel of St. Francis and that of the angels originally formed part of a larger composite work. This is suggested by their uniform style, identical height and shared provenance. From an iconographical point of view, the depiction of the Saint in a standing position as he receives the stigmata is rare[ix]. The luminous rays that strike the palms of his hands, side and feet are interrupted: if we were to prolong them to their point of convergence, we would identify a point of irradiation situated outside the existing edges of the panel and presumably identifiable with the figure of the Seraphic Christ. We may suppose that the winged image of Christ on the cross, according to St. Francis's vision, occupied the upper left half of the scene that has not come down to us. The lower part of this image may have been devoted to a landscape passage with the figure of the Saint's companion, seated and intent on reading, or asleep. The panel with St. Francis made its first appearance, as we have seen, together with a charming group of music-making Angels (see figure 2): the angels, with long curving bodies, are placed on a cloud, and their heads are for the most part turned to the right. This arrangement leads to the conclusion that they formed the left shutter of a small portable triptych; they would have been complemented by a matching group of angels looking to the left in the opposite shutter. Placed at the centre between these two choirs of angels might well have been a Coronation of the Virgin, a scene likewise set in heaven.

 

The comparable height of the panel with the angels and that of St. Francis might suggest that originally the shutters of the triptych were painted on both sides and that, when the tabernacle was closed, it would have presented St. Francis receiving the Stigmata in a single scene[x]. When the wings were opened, it would have shown, at the centre, the Coronation of the Virgin between two groups of music-making Angels, situated in the lateral compartments.

 

From a stylistic point of view the St. Francis receiving the Stigmata probably belongs to an early stage in Rossello's career, in the chronology of his works, it may be placed after the St. Blaise Enthroned in Santa Maria del Fiore of 1408[xi], but before the Coronation of the Virgin in the Galleria dell'Accademia, dated 1420[xii]. I would suggest a date within the period 1405-1415.

 

This was a period when Rossello di Jacopo was still under the influence of Gherardo Starnina, who had returned to Florence from Spain by 1404 and profoundly influenced Tuscan art before his premature death in 1413. ln particular, the panel being exhibited here recalls the series of narrow panels that decorated the lateral pilasters of the (dismantled) polyptych for the chapel of the Certosa del Galuzzo, to the decoration of which Gherardo di Jacopo is thought to have contributed in 1407[xiii].

They portray St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Ursula and a Female Saint (Florence, Martello collection)[xiv], a Male Saint (Florence, de Carlo collection), St. Lawrence (Assisi, Museo del Tesoro, Perkins collection)[xv], St. Vincent and St. Stephen (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts)[xvi] and St. John the Baptist and St. Zenobius[xvii] (whereabouts unknown). These are paintings characterized by soft modelling, tender humanity and aristocratic bearing which must have profoundly struck the imagination of Rosello. His St. Francis in fact shows that he has absorbed the lessons of Gherardo, and proposes a striking version of the image of the Saint.

 

The spontaneous grace of his painting, its luminous colours and the softness of its modelling would certainly not have been displeasing to even the most far-sighted of the younger painters at that moment: I mean Masolino and the young Angelico.

 

- Elisa Camporeale

 

[i] For a brief biographical profile see A. Thomas, “Franchi, Rossello di Jacopo,” in Dictionary of Art, XI, London, 1996, p. 698.

[ii] The episode of the stigmata is recounted in the first biography of Francis, that of Tommaso da Celano (1190 -1260). According to this account (Vita Prima, 112), the incident occurred two years before the Saint's death (1226). Cf. G. Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting, Firenze, 1952, columns 397, 413; and J. Hall, Dizionario dei soggetti e dei simboli nell'arte, Milano, 1996. pp. 181,183-184.

[iii] Cf. J. Hall, op. cit., p. 181.

[iv] Cf. Catalogue of Important Pictures by Old Masters and Early English Painters, Christie, Manson & Woods. London, June 8, 1928, p. 11, lot 81: the overall dimensions of lot 81 are given as 62.2 x 47 cm.

[v] The collection of H. M. Sinclair was sold, together with other property, at Christie's in London on 5 February 1910.

[vi] Cf. Sammlung Han Coray, Wertheim, Berlin, October 1, 1930, p. 9, lot. 15, pp. 38 – 39; the dimensions reported in this catalogue are 68 x 30cm.

[vii] Cf. Catalogue of Italian Pictures at 16, South Street, Park Lane, London and Buckhurst in Sussex collected by Robert and Evelyn Benson, London, 1914, pp. IX, 31, fig. on p. 30, where the painting is attributed to Parri Spinelli; it is now in the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam, cf. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam. Old Paintings 1400 - 1900. Illustrations, Rotterdam, 1972, p. 215, fig. on p. 126.

[viii] The photo number 322 15514 is catalogued under the heading Anonymous (late XIV – early XV century) and comes from the collection of George Martin Richter (1875 – 1942).

[ix] This particular iconography was adopted by painters in Siena in the 15th century; it is found in the polyptych in the church of San Francesco frescoed by Lippo Vanni and in a shutter of the tabernacle painted by Bartolomeo Bulgarini, now in the Johnson Collection in Philadelphia: cf. K. Krüger. Der Frühe Bildkult des Franziskus in ltalien, Berlin, 1992, p. 174, figs. 332, 335.

[x] A precedent is found in the Seilern triptych, attributed to Bernardo Daddi and assistants and dated 1338, the laterals of which, when closed, form a single scene. cf R. Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting, VIII, New York, 1958. pp. 19-21; this triptych is now in the collection of the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London.

[xi] Cf. C. Frosinini, “Testimonianze pittoriche e di arredo tra Duecento e Quattrocento,” in C. Acidini Luchinat (ed.), La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore a Firenze, II, Firenze, 1995, p. 228 and fig. 8 on p. 213.

[xii] Cf. G. Bonsanti, La Galleria dell’ Accadernia. Firenze. 1987, pp. 81, 90, fig. on p. 84.

[xiii] For the most recent art-historical discussion of the oeuvre of Gherado Starnina, see the papers in the catalogue of the exhibition held in Lucca: Sumptuosa tabula picta; Pittori a Lucca tra gotico e rinascimento, Livorno, 1998, in particular the interventions of A. De Marchi, “Gherardo Starnina,” pp. 260 – 271, 411 - 419, M. T Filieri on pp. 272 -  272, A. Gonzales-Palacios, “Trattato di Lucca,” pp. 22 - 25 and D. Parenti, pp. 274 - 276.

[xiv] Cf. M. Boskovits, The Martello collection. Paintings, Drawings and Miniatures from the XIVth to the XVIIIth centuries, Firenze, 1985, pp. 134 - 139, and L. Bellosi, in Arte in Lombardia tra Gotico e Rinascimento, exhibition catalogue (Milan), Milano, 1988, pp. 192-193.

[xv] Cf. F. Zeri, La collezione Federico Mason Perkins, Torino, 1988, pp 32 – 35, fig. 1.

[xvi] Cf. L.B. Kanter, Italian Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, 1994, pp. 130 – 136, figs. on pp 131 - 132.

[xvii] Cf. F. Zeri, op. cit., p. 35, fig. 2 on p. 34.