The Coronation of the Virgin.
Signed “Symon fecit hoc opus”.
Tempera and gold on wood panel, 35 3/8 x 22 in (90 x 56 cm).
– Near-certainly Church of San Michele del Mercato di Mezzo, Bologna.
– Private collection.
This Coronation of the Virgin is in very good condition and is signed by its author, the Bolognese painter Simone di Filippo. Apparently unpublished, it represents an important addition to his oeuvre.
The painting certainly formed the central panel of a monumental polyptych, the shape of its frame still visible above and around the angelic choir. We know of at least three other polyptychs by Simone that have a central panel with the Coronation of the Virgin: two of them are in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, catalogued with inventory numbers 254 (signed “Symon de Bononia fecit hoc opus” and lacking an early provenance) and 298 (signed “Symon fecit hoc opus”, from the chapter-house of the church of Santi Leonardo e Orsola) ; the third, signed and dated 1382, is now in the Istituto dell’Addolorata in Bologna. The subject of the Coronation of the Virgin was often treated by Simone di Filippo and enjoyed great popularity from the twelfth century onwards, when the cult of the Virgin Mary spread throughout Europe.
The signature on our Coronation of the Virgin enables us to identify its provenance with near-certainty. In the seventeenth century Carlo Cesare Malvasia mentions a polyptych with precisely this signature in the Bolognese church of San Michele del Mercato di Mezzo, which has since been destroyed:
“Nel primo altare l’antica tavola fatta a spartimenti dorati, entrovi, all’uso commune di que’ tempi, frà le tante altre figure la Incoronata nel mezzo, e che servì già per tavola dell’Altar maggiore, postavi in luogo d’un’altra anche più antica in muro, hà scritto sotto: Symon fecit hoc opus, che fù intorno il 1370.”
(“Over the first altar, the ancient panel composed of gilded parts, including among many other figures the Crowned Virgin in the middle, as was common at that time, and which once functioned as the high altarpiece, replacing an even earlier mural work; its lower part bears the inscription Symon fecit hoc opus, which dates from around 1370).
(Le pitture di Bologna [Bologna, 1686], ed. Andrea Emiliani, Bologna: Alfa, 1969, p. 155).
As its name indicates, the church of San Michele del Mercato di Mezzo was located near the market, and the two donors at the base of our composition lend further support to our hypothesis as they are dressed as merchants. Four panels with Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Jude Thaddeus (Gozzadini collection, Bologna, in 1906)1 and the apostles Andrew and Peter (private collection), which resemble this Coronation of the Virgin in style, dimensions and decorative detail, may be part of the same polyptych .2
As regards date, a study of style suggests the 1390s, and the work should be compared to the fragments of a polyptych commissioned in 1396 by two merchants, Mercadante and Lorenzo Cospi, for their chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in San Petronio.3 During this mature period of his career, Simone tempered the strong penchant for expressionistic forms he inherited from his great predecessor Vitale da Bologna. In contrast, the more tranquil bearing of his figures here suggests the influence of the Tuscan painters inspired by Orcagna, while a taste for Venetian luxury is reflected in the rare fabrics and refined tonal harmonies.
Simone di Filippo was given the nickname Simone dei Crocefissi (“Simone of the Crucifixions”) during the Counter Reformation because of his skill in that particular area of iconography. He left a very important legacy, and – together with Vitale da Bologna – represents fourteenth-century Bolognese painting at its finest.
Probably trained in Vitale’s workshop during that great artist’s final years, spent in Pisa, Simone had a well-documented career that begins c. 1355 with his participation in the frescoes at Santa Maria di Mezzaratta, where he painted the Healing of the Cripple (signed “Symon”) on the lower register and the Circumcision on the entrance wall (both works are now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale) and the Presentation in the Temple, which has remained in situ.
1 Collection de tableaux et objets d’art qui appartenaient au comte sénateur Jean Gozzadini, qui seront mis en vente à Bologne le 12 et 13 mars 1906, Bologna, 1906, p. 23, cat. no. 85.
2 Bologna, Photographic archive of the Fondazione Federico Zeri, nos. 28519 and 28500.
3 C. C. Malvasia, Le pitture di Bologna [Bologna, 1686], ed. Andrea Emiliani, Bologna: Alfa, 1969, p. 165; M. Fanti, La fabbrica di San Petronio a Bologna dal XIV al XX secolo. Storia di una istituzione, Rome, 1980, p. 71 f.; M. Medica, “Quatro tavole di Simone dei Crocifissi alla Compagnia dei Lombardi: un’ipotesi per la loro provenienza”, in La Compagnia dei Lombardi in Bologna. Contributi per una storia di otto secoli, Bologna, 1992, pp. 71-76.