ANDREA DI NERIO
(Arezzo, documented from 1331 – died before 1387)
Virgin and Child.
Tempera, gold and silver on panel.
80 x 62 cm.
London, Colnaghi (1954 – 1955).
Oxnead hall, Norwich (Norfolk), Mrs Jeremy Harris (1971).
Andrea di Nerio, la Madonna Sarti ad Arezzo, Casa Museo Bruschi, 2nd Dec. 2015-31st January 2016.
L.Bellosi, Da Spinello Aretino a Lorenzo Monaco, in “Paragone”, XVI, 1965, 187, pp.18-43, speciatim 23-25, fig.6 (Spinello Aretino) ; M.Boskovits, Ancora su Spinello : proposte e inediti, in “Antichità viva”, V, 1966, 2, pp.23-28, speciatim 28 note 3 (same painter as the Annunciation of the Museo diocesano, later discovered to be signed by Andrea di Nerio) ; P.P.Donati, Sull’attività giovanile dei due Spinello, in “Commentari”, XVII, 1966, 1-3, pp.56-72, speciatim.72 (Spinello Aretino) ; P.P.Donati, Per la pittura aretina del Trecento, in “Paragone”, XXIX, 1968, 221, pp.22-39, speciatim 37 (Spinello Aretino) ; P.P.Donati, Per la pittura aretina del Trecento. II, in “Paragone”, XXIX, 1968, 221, pp.10-21, speciatim 20 (Spinello Aretino) ; F.Bologna, Novità su Giotto, Turin, 1969, pp.107-108 (Aretine painter whose formation took place around 1330-1340 ; he also painted the two Stories of the Baptist from Bern and an Assumption of St John evangelist in a private collection, but not the Annunciation in the Museo diocesano) ; F.Zeri, Un problema di Trecento Aretino, in Diari di lavoro 1 (1971), reed. Turin, 1983, pp. 29-31, speciatim 30, fig.23 (Aretine painter) ; M.Boskovits, Appunti su un libro recente, in “Antichità viva”, X, 1971, 5, pp.3-13, speciatim 6, 8 fig.8, 11 note 14 and 12 note 18 (Master of the Vescovado, to whom he also attributes the Annunciation in the Museo diocesano) ; L.Bellosi, Buffalmacco e il Trionfo della Morte, Turin, 1974, p.55 note 7 (Aretine painter distinct from the Master of the Vescovado, not Spinello Aretino) ; A.M.Maetzke, in Arte nell’aretino. Recuperi e restauri dal 1968 al 1974, Florence, 1974, pp.53-58, speciatim 53-54 and 57 (Andrea di Nerio) ; M.Laclotte-E.Mognetti, Peinture italienne. Avignon – Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, 1976, 1977, pp. n.n., cat.149 (Andrea di Nerio, the nearest work to the signed Annunciation) ; C.Volpe, Un polittico integrato di Spinello (e alcune osservazioni su Maso), in “Paragone”, XXX, 1979, 349-351, pp.29-38, speciatim 31 and 34 (Andrea di Nerio) ; O.Pujmanová, in Italské gotické a renesancní obrazy v ceskoslovenskỳch sbírkách, catalogue of the exhibition under the direction of O.Pujmanová, Prague, 1986, pp.38-39 (14th century Aretine painter) ; A.De Marchi, La mostra di ‘Pittura italiana del Gotico e del Rinascimento’ a Praga, in “Prospettiva”, 1986, 45, pp.69-77, speciatim 75 (Andrea di Nerio) ; S.Ricci, s.v. Andrea di Nerio, in La pittura in Italia. Il Duecento e il Trecento, under the direction of E.Castelnuovo, Milan, 1986, p.553 (Andrea di Nerio) ; M.Laclotte-E.Mognetti, Avignon, musée du Petit Palais. Peinture italienne, Paris, 1987, p.152 (Andrea di Nerio) ; G.Freuler, in “Manifestatori delle cose miracolose”. Arte italiana del ‘300 e ‘400 da collezioni in Svizzera e nel Liechtenstein, under the direction of G.Freuler, Einsiedeln, 1991, pp.189-190 (Andrea di Nerio around 1350) ; R.Bartalini, I Tarlati, il ‘Maestro del Vescovado’ e la pittura aretina della prima metà del Trecento, in “Prospettiva”, 1996, 83-84, pp.30-56, speciatim 45 and 48-49, fig.33 (Andrea di Nerio) ; O.Pujmanová, Arte rinascimentale italiana nelle collezioni ceche. Pitture e sculture, Prague, 1997, p.24 (Aretine painter around the mid-14th century) ; M.Boskovits, Marginalia su Buffalmacco e sulla pittura aretina della prima metà del Trecento , in “Arte cristiana”, LXXXVI, 1998, 786, pp.165-176, speciatim 173 note 5 (Andrea di Nerio) ; S.Weppelmann, Andrea di Nerio o Spinello Aretino?, in “Nuovi studi. Rivista di arte antica e moderna”, IV, 1999, 7, pp.5-16, speciatim 15 (Andrea di Nerio) ; I.Droandi, Questioni di pittura aretina del Trecento, in “Annali aretini”, VIII-IX, 2000-2001, pp.349-393, speciatim 364-365 and 371, fig.12 (Andrea di Nerio) ; R.Bartalini, Da Gregorio e Donato ad Andrea di Nerio: vicende della pittura aretina del Trecento, in Arte in terra d’Arezzo. Il Trecento, under the direction of A.Galli and P.Refice, Florence, 2005, pp.11-40, speciatim 32 (Andrea di Nerio, fourth-fifth decade) ; L.Bellosi, Riconsiderazioni sull’opera giovanile di Spinello e qualche cenno alla sua attività aretina più tardo, ibid., pp.97-112, speciatim 97, fig.107, and 98 (Andrea di Nerio) ; M.Laclotte-E.Moench, Peinture italienne. Musée du Petit Palais Avignon, Paris, 2005, p.58 (Andrea di Nerio) ; A.Lenza, in Le opere del ricordo. Opere d’arte, dal XIV al XVI secolo, appartenute a Carlo De Carlo, presentate dalla figlia Lisa, under the direction of A.Tartuferi, Florence, 2007, pp.14-19, speciatim 18-19, fig.2 (Andrea di Nerio).
The “magnificent” Virgin and Child that was part of the Harris collection in Oxnead Hall (Norfolk) and the two “delightful” Stories of the Baptist from the Kunstmuseum in Bern are the works which in the Sixties were at the root of the reconstruction of the Aretine pictorial school in the 14th century, until then entirely unrecognized.
This critical enterprise began with the publication of these three works by Luciano Bellosi, initially as autographic works by Spinello Aretino, still in his homeland in the eighth decade of the 14th century. After the studies that followed and above all after the discovery of Andrea’s signature on the Annunciation from the diocesan Museum in Arezzo, published by Anna Maria Maetzke in 1974, Andrea di Nerio’s personality took shape ; he is amply documented in the Tuscan city as the head of a school that was part of the generation which preceded that of Spinello, who was probably his pupil around 1370. Bellosi thereafter wanted to also transfer to Andrea di Nerio’s catalogue three particularly grandiose and moving Aretine frescoes, the Marriage of St. Catherine and the Baptism of Christ from the church of San Francesco in Arezzo, and the Virgin and Child from San Michele and Adriano. Like the majority of specialists, I am convinced that these are, on the contrary, works by Spinello and are chronologically placed a short time before the Virgin and Child between St. James and St. Anthony Abbot from the diocesan Museum (originating from Sant’Agostino) dated 1377 ; these straight and slender figures like swords, highly strung up, already contain in nuce Spinello’s expressive way of drawing, but the human spirit that livens them owes everything to the more delicate and careful figures by Andrea di Nerio, whose period of excellence is not, it is true, in the 70’s – when his career was already in decline and his workshop’s participation became considerable, even for secondary commissions –, but forty years earlier 6. Spinello therefore then carried out a programmed recuperation, the first of those that were to lead him to revisit in an original way the great art of Giotto himself and of Taddeo Gaddi and to take the role as the principal figure that ensured a renewal of Tuscan painting at the end of the 14th century.
The direct examination of this panel allows us to conclude a fairly early date, earlier than one would usually presume. In all likelyhood it is one of the first works by Andrea di Nerio, with the two St. Francis and St. Dominic painted in fresco on one of the columns in the Pieve, probably at a date near to 1331, when in this same church he decorated a chapel commissioned by the priest Goro di Isacco.
Next come, during the Thirties, the series of Saints that were cut out of two tabernacle panels and are divided between Olomouc and various collections, and the Stories of the Baptist (Bern, Avignon, Naples), then in the Forties, the frescoes from the Bertoldini chapel in Arezzo cathedral, built after 1340, and in the Fifties the signed Annunciation (Arezzo, diocesan Museum), possibly originating from the Compagnia della SS. Annunziata, founded between 1348 and 1354.
The early date is brought to light by two elements that concern the physical structure of the panel and the decoration of the gold ground.
The picture is made of two horizontal boards 50 cm. (19 in.) wide at the base and 20 cm (77/8 in.) at the apex, 30 cm (1111/16 in.) with the point restored). The use of wood horizontally instead of vertically implies the prolongation of the lower board into the lateral compartments, in a polyptych that would have still had the shape of a rectangular altarpiece with a central apex (the “low dossal with central projection” from E.B. Garrison’s classification), that is to say still a late 13th century model. Starting from the Badia polyptych by Giotto and the Ducciesque polyptychs, in Florence as in Siena, each part is thought of as an independent work, built with separate vertical panels held together with pegs and crosspieces. The use of continuous horizontal boards was on the other hand usual in the 13th century for all altarpieces known as “dossali”, conceived with the same rectangular shape as the “paliotti” (frontal altar panels), but contrary to these placed behind the altar table. In Florence during the first decades of the 14th century many polyptychs were still built with horizontal boards, up until around 1330, when Bernardo Daddi was one of the last to use this traditional construction. Onwards from Giotto’s Badia polyptych, the compartments are punctuated by architectonic elements in miniature like columns, while in the case under study the separation is achieved with a flat pilaster with a central strip in silver-leaf – discovered by Stefano Scarpelli under the regilding during the restoration – decorated in the cosmatesque style with star patterns formed by the intersections of diagonal and vertical lines, where hexagons and triangles start. The silver strip therefore followed along the base on the lower splay of the frame superimposed on the back panel, which defined the trilobate arch inscribed in the simple apex of the triangle. The upper moulding in relief has been replaced, but probably true to the original model, that however would have continued in a straight line on the sides ; what is more there are two holes in the thickness of the point, into which was probably inserted a listel with foliated ornaments, and one at the top of the pilasters, for fitting the inevitable arrows. The panel has kept its original thickness (4,3 cm (111/16 in.)) and shows at the back signs of the fixture of a vertical crosspiece, perpendicular to the wood grain, exactly on a central axis : two nails (a third, lower down, would have gone into the plinth, generally intended for the inscriptions, that no longer exists) and two engraved lines, one corresponding to the axis of the whole altarpiece and therefore bisecting the summit of the point, and the other 7 cm (2 ¾ in.) further to the right (the crosspiece was obviously double this width, 14 cm (5 ½ in.), and only one lateral incision was necessary to centre it). Traces of nails for a vertical transom in the same position are readable in the X-rays of the famous Virgin and Child from Castelfiorentino, attributed variously to Duccio or to Cimabue with the possible collaboration of the very young Giotto, which was indeed the centre of an altarpiece with busts of saints at the sides. What could there have been either side of the Harris Virgin ? Considering the probable typology, a “low dossal with central projection”, it seems to me more plausible that there were not busts of saints, who would have been on too small a scale, but rather four stories from the life of Christ. An example is supplied to us by the Farneto altarpiece (Perugia, Galleria nazionale dell’Umbria), from which a protogiottesque Umbrian painter has taken his name and in which the half-length Virgin and Child is surrounded by four stories of the Passion of Christ (The Arrest, The Laying Bare of Christ, The Descent from the Cross, The Entombment).
The other archaic aspect is that of the gold ground decoration. As in the Saints cut from the tabernacle panels, shared between Olomouc and various private collections, the gold-leaf is only grained, with a nail point, whereas already in the haloes and borders of the Stories of the Baptist appear small punch marks that have a more and more important role in the works that follow, in the Annunciation from the diocesan Museum as in the triptych by the Master of the Vescovado from San Domenico in Arezzo. In the Stories of the Baptist all the ground is worked with leaf motifs engraved with crosshatching, following models that were common in Riminese painting, absent on the other hand in Florence and Siena, a supplementary proof of the very original character of the Aretine school. In the Harris Madonna there is also the idea of the ornamentation of the whole gold leaf, but by making the foliated motifs stand out en réserve on the background grain. This ornamentation, a kind of imitation of cloth, is limited at the edges by a series of small arcs and it is significant that these are also following along the base ; it was different in Florence and Siena, where the engraved and punch marked edgings of the grounds tended to underline the structural and illusionist values of the frame, while only accompanying the architectural profile in a vertical direction. The difference is significant in relation to works by Aretine artists of an only slightly earlier generation like “Gregorio and Donato d’Arezzo” and the Master of St. Flora and St. Lucilla, who also show, by their completely different solutions for the engraving on the gold ground of great haloes and wide border margins, that they come from the Master of St. Cecilia’s Florentine protogiottesque circle.
The Harris Madonna also shows how important the teachings of Buonamico Buffalmacco, heterodox Florentine master active in Arezzo for Bishop Guido Tarlati between 1321 and 1327, were for Andrea di Nerio, to the point that one might imagine that he was his direct pupil. This appears even clearer today since Boskovits enriched Bellosi’s brilliant reconstruction when attributing to his Aretine period two paintings on panels like the St. Michael Archangel from the Museo statale d’arte medioevale e moderna and the Virgin and Child from San Donato in Pergognano (today in the diocesan Museum in Arezzo). The grey and hard chiaroscuro and the sharp facial features derive from Buffalmacco, even if they are refined with a more gothic accent : it suffices to compare the slender face of the Harris Madonna and that of the St. Michael, or the chubby Infant’s face in three-quarter perspective and that of the child Jesus from Pergognano, a little more fleshy and grumpy.
Andrea di Nerio built onto this robust naturalism with more graceful and relaxed rhythms that are due to the evident influence of the masterpiece left by Pietro Lorenzetti at the beginning of the Twenties in Arezzo, the polyptych from the main altar of the Pieve. Andrea eliminates any kind of reference to the back of a throne, so that this Madonna, also presented half-length, is there as a standing figure and not a seated one. Moreover the statuary value of this choice is exalted by the sculptural quality of the cloth folds which do not cover the bust laterally, but open towards the front, widening into large curves, and successively folding into waves, that one guesses at, in the darkened azurite of the cloak if one looks at the wavy profile of the outline against the gold ground. The model is clearly the centre of the polyptych from the Pieve by Pietro Lorenzetti, painted between 1320 and 1323, from which was also liberally inspired the idea of the restless Infant. Compared to the lateral twisting of Pietro’s Madonna, who looks questioningly into her Son’s eyes, here however predominates a more serene and soft intention, of calm monumentality : the Madonna is viewed frontally, and looks straight on, slightly inclining her head with its noble features ; the Infant is restless, yes, but it is as if He had suddenly stopped, holding up a hand with an open palm ; the flap of the cloak amply falls between the Mother’s arms, leaving visible an attractive band of grey squirrel lining.
One should probably re-evaluate the supposed influence of Maso di Banco in a work of this type : the ground appears falsely in Maso’s style due to the darkening of the azurite cloak which leads to the flattening of the cloth folds that were originally lively and very gothic. The cloak falls in curving folds with an amplitude that does not derive from Pietro’s nervy rhythms but is rather directly inspired by examples of French statuary, the same that were soon to incite emulation in the great vein of Pisan sculpture, from Andrea to Nino. More than submitting to Maso’s influence, that was to come later and was anyway a little overestimated, this work reveals Buffalmacco and Pietro Lorenzetti’s intimately interlaced models with a wish to imitate Giotto himself in his maturity, the Giotto of the Bardi frescoes and the Ognissanti Cross, from the beginning of the Twenties. The precious illusion of the squirrel fur lining as well as the gold ornaments on the Infant’s little pink tunic, of which only the darkened gilding remains, are a response to Pietro Lorenzetti, who clothed his Virgin in the Pieve polyptych in a very singular way, with an extremely luminous pink embroidered with ornaments ; however the solid foreshortening of the right hand with which the Mother holds her Son has not the nervy energy of the Sienese painter : it is much closer to Giottesque ideas. From Giotto’s maturity also derive the importance of the wide brushstrokes that underline the profiles and provide them with lightly tempered shadows : an “abridged” way of painting, as that of Maso di Bianco was to be, but still animated by an extremely gothic richness and impregnated with a tender and melancholic expressivity.
Andrea DE MARCHI