The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with St John the Baptist.
Tempera and gold on wood panel, 21 7/16 x 15 3/8 in (54.5 x 39 cm).
Inscriptions: Ecce Agnus Dei (on Saint John the Baptist’s scroll)
Baron Heinrich von Tucher collection, Vienna (until 1925). Cassirer und Helbing sale, Berlin, 1925.
Ludolf and Edith Rosenheim collection, Berlin.
Frederik Muller sale, Amsterdam (December 1930). Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam.
Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit (until 1948).
Istituto di storia dell’arte dell’Università, Groningen. Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (inv. 3458 ; until 2006). Heirs of Mr J. Goudstikker collection.
The panel discussed here, created for personal devotion, represents the so-called Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria: the Christ Child is shown grasping the holy martyr’s right hand with his left, while blessing her with his right hand, in this instance replacing the canonical gesture of placing a ring on her finger, emblematic of their mystical union. Standing in the same pictorial space is Saint John the Baptist, while an Angel descends from above, at left, holding a crown – incised on the gold ground – destined for the head of the Virgin Mary. These peculiarities hardly seem fortuitous within the context of the birth of this picture, since the composition arrangement is shared on an iconographic level by the triptych in the church of San Giovanni Battista at Monte San Biagio in the Province of Latina, south of Rome, painted by Cristoforo Scacco and dated 1500. There, the Child’s gesture is identical, and the scene also includes the Baptist, in this case paired with John the Evangelist; and two angels crown the Virgin.
The figures in the painting before us are set on this side of a Renaissance-style marble balustrade and stand on a floor that slopes downwards towards the immediate foreground. An architectural frieze runs along the front of this space, its function essentially decorative, and consisting of a sequence of small, perforated trefoil arches, late Gothic in idiom, set within a convex cornice with foliate motifs and dentils. A worn, unidentified coat of arms appears over the central arch, revealed by X-radiography in 1991 to have been added after the completion of the painting, even though it is early in date; the paint layer under the shield bears a complete depiction of the hidden arch.
Our knowledge of the work’s provenance starts with the early twentieth century, when it belonged to the collection of Baron Heinrich von Tucher in Vienna, where it remained until 1925. Offered for auction in that year at Cassirer & Helbing in Berlin (von Falke 1925), it entered the collection of Ludolf and Edith Rosenheim in the German capital, and then, auctioned anew in December 1930 at Frederik Muller in Amsterdam (Tableaux 1930), it passed to the celebrated art dealer and connoisseur Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940); the catalogue of his Amsterdam gallery’s latest acquisitions, published in November 1930, appeared too early to include the picture. The Dutch dealer may have acquired it on the advice of Raimond van Marle, his principal consultant in that period for the purchase of Italian paintings (see Important Old Master Paintings 2007, p. 14), who was the first to illustrate it, soon thereafter. When the Second World War broke out, Goudstikker fled his country, leaving behind about 1300 works, including this Mystic Marriage, that were requisitioned by the Nazi authorities in 1940. At the end of hostilities, this opulent collection returned to Holland, and our panel was stored until 1948 with the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit and subsequently with the Institute of Art History of the University of Groningen, and then from 1987 onwards at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht (inv. 3458; de Jong-Janssen 1995). There it remained until 2006, when it was returned, together with other items, to the Goudstikker heirs.
The painting’s critical fortunes are richly documented but have not been fully recounted. When it was sold in Berlin in 1925 it bore the generic attribution, formulated by Otto von Falke (1925), to the circle of Perugia, fifteenth century, and similarly, when it was auctioned in Amsterdam five years later, “Maître de Pérouse XVIe siècle” (Tableaux 1930). As we have said above, van Marle was the first to give it a critical reading (1934, 1934-35), and he included the picture in Antoniazzo Romano’s output of the 1480s: “This panel – wrote the scholar in 1934 – […] is full of rich decorative effects, not only in the gold ornament background but also in the beautiful material of which the dresses of the Virgin and St Catherine are made”. With this authorship it was displayed at the exhibition of Italian painting in Dutch collections held in Amsterdam in 1934 (Italiaansche Kunst 1934). At the end of the following decade Federico Zeri (1949) considered it “a typical work of Cristoforo Scacco from about 1490-1495” – that is, by the Verona-born painter active in Lower Lazio and Campania in the years that bridged the new century. In his studies on the Veronese artist, Raffaello Causa (1952) also discussed our Mystic Marriage, stating that in the last years of the Quattrocento Scacco “already had a close follower, almost an imitator, named Tucius de Giufreda de Fundis, as he signed himself in a small unpublished panel of 1494 in the Santocanale collection in Palermo, a work providing the attributional key for the ‘Marriage of St. Catherine’ formerly in the von Tucher collection”. The scholar was referring to the Virgin and Child Enthroned between Saints Bartholomew and John the Baptist and, in the upper register, Saints Lucy, Sebastian and Agatha (64 x 45 cm) housed in Palermo, a work displayed in the following year in an exhibition dedicated to Antonello da Messina. The curators of the event in Messina, Giorgio Vigni and Giovanni Carandente (in Antonello da Messina 1953), confirmed Causa’s opinion, inserting Tuccio di Gioffreda da Fondi within the circle of Antoniazzo Romano, on a parallel though less articulated path than that followed by Scacco. Stefano Bottari defined him soon thereafter (1954) as “an immediate follower” of Scacco, adding how “like his master’s language, that of his pupil, albeit in an exquisitely artisanal idiom, shows itself to be refined and radiant”.
Bottari also offered a different reading of the date on the little altar painting in the Santocanale collection, which he believed was 1491, and as reragrds the rest of the inscription, he read the abbreviation “F(ieri) F(ecit)” after Tuccio’s name, thus leading to his hypothesis, and then conviction (Bottari 1959), that Tuccio di Gioffredo should be identified as the patron of the work rather than its author. In his second article on this question, Bottari proposed that the Mystic Marriage and the Palermo panel could be among the earliest works of the Sicilian painter Riccardo Quartararo, theoretically followed by a polyptych in the Diocesan Museum in Gaeta, which came from the church of San Pietro in Fondi. The latter work, a Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints, had been the object of an earlier study by Luigi Salerno (1956), who had connected it with Tuccio di Gioffredo, the author (in his opinion) of both the little panel in Palermo and the Mystic Marriage, works that “reveal a culture oscillating between Antoniazzo Romano and Cristoforo Scacco”.
These readings yielded the key points of stimulus for scholars in the decades that followed: the names of the mysterious Tuccio di Gioffredo, and of Cristoforo Scacco and Riccardo Quartararo, in the context of painting in Lazio and Campania during the last quarter of the 1400s, and bearing in mind the broad expansion of the language of Antoniazzo – to whom, as we have seen, the painting was initially attributed. For Maria Grazia Paolini (1959), too, the Palermo and ex-Goudstikker panels were by the same hand, perhaps that of Quartararo, from the period in which he would have been collaborating with Scacco, and the same applied to the polyptych in Gaeta; the Sicilian painter’s authorship was upheld by Giuseppe Alparone (1973, 1988), but not by Maria Andaloro (1974-1976), who connected these and other works to a follower of the master. Maria Letizia Casanova (in Arte a Gaeta 1976) appears to have sought to recover the attribution to Scacco suggested by Zeri, an opinion subsequently shared only by Ilaria Brui (2009).
While Italian art historians continued the discussion we have just outlined, English-language scholarship tended to stick to the early reference to Antoniazzo (Wright 1980; Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst 1992), which led to Gregory Hedberg’s proposal (1981) to include the work within the oeuvre of the Master of the Liverpool Madonna, in the period 1485-1490. The attribution to this anonymous follower of Antoniazzo, whose stylistic profile had earlier been defined by Zeri, was received with some hesitation by de Jong-Janssen (1995; Id., in Bonnefantenmuseum 1995) and then more explicitly in the Christie’s sale catalogue of 2007 (Important Old Master Paintings 2007; see also Entre tradition 2008). With the exception of these critical voices, the studies of the last decades have mostly accepted the common authorship of the Santocanale and Goudstikker pictures, with differing views as to the identity of the painter. Riccardo Naldi (1986), who sees our painter as one of the first to have been influenced by Scacco, and Teresa Pugliatti (1998), are among those who consider Tuccio di Gioffredo as the patron of the first panel; Tuccio’s name as the actual artist was instead put forward, once again, by Fausta Navarro (1987, 1988) and Anna Cavallaro (1992), who assessed the Mystic Marriage as indicative of Quartararo’s influence on this master. Furthermore, Cavallaro regarded the artist as one of the immediate followers of Antoniazzo Romano. The connection with the language of the latter is limited to some aspects of figure type, and do not reflect the varied formal approach of the panel discussed here. As emphasized in the catalogue Entre tradition et modernité (2008), the pose of the blessing Child, balanced on his mother’s lap, ultimately derives from the triptych in the church of San Pietro in Fondi, a work completed by Antoniazzo around 1476 or shortly thereafter. Together with the altarpiece in Capua Cathedral, also commissioned by the Caetani family, who were Counts of Fondi, this painting was one of the key works of the leading master of this school in Lower Lazio and Upper Campania.
This interpretation of Antoniazzo fits particularly well with what we see Cristoforo Scacco doing in the central part of the triptych formerly in Itri, in the Province of Latina (now in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples – a painting dated by some scholars – rightly, in my opinion – to before 1493, when Scacco’s activity begins to be documented in Campania. The figure of the Child, his torso thrust forward and his legs apart, appears to be literally repeated, though in the opposite direction, in the Mystic Marriage. Thus, not implausibly, Antoniazzo has been viewed through the prism of Scacco. As in the latter’s triptych now in Naples and in Antoniazzo’s in Fondi, which was probably the prototype for it, the Virgin is here seated on a throne without a backrest, and the hem of her cloak rolls along the ground with almost the same folds.
Antoniazzo’s name may also be borne in mind for the type of the Virgin’s face, turned downwards, recalling models such as the Madonna of 1464 in Rieti, but the resemblances stop there. Unlike the works with which it has been compared, our painting does not show the classical, solemn bearing typical of the Roman master, or the composed quality of his noble figures. The affinities with the Master of the Liverpool Madonna, a painter who was close to him and who benefited especially from the legacy of Pintoricchio, depend on shared roots in Antoniazzo, and on the fact that the anonymous master also worked in southern Lazio. In any case, compared with that under discussion here, the latter’s culture appears less varied and based more exclusively on the polarity of the two names we have just mentioned.
Now, to come to the question of attribution, it must be said that the ties with the little altar painting formerly in the Santocanale collection in Palermo and now in an unknown location are so close that we can only confirm the opinion given by Causa and other scholars. The principal figures in both of these small-format paintings are touched by restlessness, and caught in a lively, slightly unstable movement, or in a barely-hinted springing forward of their lean, athletic bodies, not without a certain irregularity of form.
Comparisons between the two versions of the Baptist, wrapped in a cloak with deep, broken folds, the angels, or the smiling expressions of the three martyrs in the topmost part of the Palermo panel and the flying angel in our painting, are eloquent. To this we can add the dense, uniform decoration of plant-like volutes on the gold background, enriched by the same motifs (for example, the sequence of trefoil arches bordering the floral pattern in the Mystic Marriage, repeated in the central section of the ex-Santocanale panel), which can be found with variants in Scacco’s decorative repertoire, whereas they are almost absent in the customary procedures of Antoniazzo’s workshop.
The Palermo panel bears an inscription on a double register, above and below the principal painted subject, its capital letters worn away at the ends, and thus hindering a straightforward reading. Photographic reproductions show the following: “TVCIVS DE GIOFREDA DE FVNDIS F[…]OC OPVS”, and below, “[…]D. M CCCC L XXXX I”. Bottari (1959), as we have said, regarded the first part of the inscription as ending in “F(ieri) F(ecit) HOC OPVS”, and had no doubt about deciphering the date, so that we may rule out the first reading of 1494 (Causa 1952) as well as the other, supposed by Andaloro (1974-76) to be 1499. Vigni and Carandente (in Antonello da Messina 1953) instead read it as “Tucius de Giofreda de Fundis fecit hoc opus / A.D. M CCCC L XXXXIV”. Given the impossibility of first-hand inspection, and taking into account the question of the status of the individual named in the inscription, about whom no other documentary reference is currently known, we have chosen here to consider Tuccio di Gioffredo (or di Gioffreda) as a name for classifying a small but homogeneous body of paintings. An alternative name for ‘Tuccio di Gioffredo da Fondi’ would be the Pseudo-Tuccio di Gioffredo, suggested by Naldi (1986) and Pugliatti (1998).
This artist’s profile, based on the starting-points provided by the former Santocanale and Goudstikker pictures, is that of an artist who draws his inspiration from Antoniazzo Romano and then turns above all towards Cristoforo Scacco, who had begun to work in Caetani territories in the 1480s (he was to take citizenship in Monte San Biagio) before moving south to Campania. The figure of the angel in our little panel and those of the saints in the painting formerly in Palermo reflect an awareness of models such as the Annunciation in the triptych in San Pietro in Fondi, in which Scacco revises his style, as formed in Verona and Padua, to reflect the latest tendencies in Central Italian painting. The broken and slightly angular line of draperies and gestures offers a precise echo of this. Details such as the hem of the wind-blown dress above the right sleeve of the angel crowning our Virgin recur in the angels of Scacco’s Coronation of the Virgin triptych now in the Capodimonte Museum. The sequence of little arches in the foreground simulates the frames of the polyptychs produced in Lazio and Campania during the Quattrocento, ranging from Giovanni da Gaeta to the altarpiece in the Diocesan Museum in Gaeta, formerly attributed to the same author as the painting discussed here. This work – with a provenance from the same church that houses Antoniazzo’s triptych, cited above, and the Annunciation triptych by Scacco – also attests to the widespread influence of the latter’s culture, with stylistic elements close to Riccardo Quartararo (the sculpturally-rendered faces of the Virgin and deacon saint, and the swollen, fleshy lips), but without the Sicilian- and Valencian-inspired surface qualities that are typical of that painter. The strong resemblance between the angels in the main panel and the Saint Agatha, on the one hand, and the figures in the Santocanale and Goudstikker panels, on the other, make it very likely that our painter was present, as a collaborator of Quartararo, in the execution of this much-debated group of panels, and even more so in the polyptych in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore a Piedimonte Matese (Province of Caserta, ascribed to Tuccio di Gioffredo by Ferdinando Bologna.
The thrones and their complex outlines are constructed in a similar manner, and there is a comparable interest in the robust language of Scacco, transposed into figures who are ultimately fragile and lanky. Alparone (1973) noted how the Baptist in Piedimonte Matese seems a mirror image of the panel before us.
The question of Quartararo’s presence in the geo-cultural context considered here is the subject of some debate, but the partial accord of his language with that of ‘Tuccio di Gioffredo’ seems evident in passages such as the Saint Catherine in our panel, which may be compared both with Scacco’s Annunciation, mentioned above, and the Coronation of the Virgin by Quartararo in Palermo (Palazzo Abatellis); and, in general, one can also sense some similarities with certain protagonists of Neapolitan painting of the late 1400s such as Pietro Buono and Pietro Befulco (cf. the Saint Stephen altarpiece of 1490, now in the Capodimonte Museum).
The dating of the painting discussed here cannot be far from the one dated 1491, which could be slightly later, given its dimmer reflection of Antoniazzo’s art, which is more evident here. The comparisons we have made with the work of Cristoforo Scacco and other figures active in Campania indicate that we should not establish a much earlier date; the work was thus probably painted in the years around 1490, before ‘Tuccio di Gioffredo’ put his hand to the polyptychs in Gaeta and Piedimonte Matese.
Dr. Mauro Minardi