Fontana + The GothicNew York
Master of the Demidoff Triptych
Three Panels Depicting Saint Raphael the Archangel with Tobias, Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Nicholas, 1420s
ProvenanceSaint Raphael the Archangel with Tobias and Saint Michael the Archangel:
Demidoff collection, Florence
Carlo de Carlo collection, Florence
Lisa de Carlo collection, Florence
Demidoff collection, Florence
Christie's, New York, 31 May 1991, lot 22 (as Bolognese School).
LiteratureA. Lenza, Le opere del ricordo. Opere d’arte dal XIV al XVI secolo appartenute a Carlo De Carlo, presentate dalla figlia Lisa, Florence, 2007, pp. 11, 32–37.
A. Lenza, The Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. Paintings and Sculptures from the Carlo De Carlo Collection and other provenance, Florence, 2011, pp. 142–151.
The present panels show three saints. The Archangel Michael, represented with a pair of scales in his left hand, weighs the souls of the dead. The Archangel Raphael holds Tobias by the hand, accompanying him on a journey to collect the ten talents his father had lent to a relative twenty years earlier, while the young Tobias holds a fish, the gall from which he used to anoint the eyes of his old father. Saint Nicholas is lavishly clad in the vestments of a bishop, holding a red gospel book as well as his crozier.
The panels were clearly originally part of the same polyptych complex; a card fixed to the verso of the Saint Michael locates it and the others in the nineteenth century in the Demidoff collection in Florence. The Demidoffs were a noble family from Saint Petersburg of which the most famous member was Nikolay, a passionate collector of works of art that he gathered together from 1824 onwards in Palazzo Serristori in Florence and were subsequently moved by his son Anatole I in his new residence, the sumptuous villa at San Donato in Polverosa, just outside the city. From the 1860s, the Demidoff family began to sell off the collections in their Paris residence and in the Florentine villas of Quarto and San Donato with a major sale held between 15 March and 10 April 1880. As these three panels do not seem to appear in these sales, it is unclear when the two first arrived in the Carlo de Carlo collection and the last, representing Saint Nicolas, seems to have taken another route besides. It is however most probable that all three panels were sold before 1880.
It is difficult to fully apprehend the original appearance of the original polyptych, though it likely included an image of the Virgin and Child that were flanked by panels showing saints, and may or may not have folded to show the family arms of the patrons. As the decorations on the back of the Michael and Raphael panels do not coincide, these two panels were clearly not contiguous.
The attribution of the panels has been a matter of some debate. Assigned to an anonymous Emilian artist by Federico Zeri (handwritten annotation on the back of the photographs of the paintings in the Fototeca Zeri in the box of Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Modena; PI 00113/5/3 no. 29190), the Raphael and Tobias had previously been attributed to the circle of Giovanni da Modena in the auction catalogues of the inheritance of Carlo De Carlo in which it was also hypothesised that they originally formed part of the predella of a polyptych that was later dismembered (Florence, 11 June 2003, lot. 9, and Venice, 17 April 2005, lot 31). Angelo Tartuferi noted in these paintings the influence of Barnaba da Modena and a noticeable neo-Trecento tendency (in Le opere del ricordo. Opere d’arte dal XIV al XVI secolo appartenute a Carlo De Carlo, presentate dalla figlia Lisa, Florence, 2007, pp. 32–37) while Daniele Benati (oral communication) attributed them to a Bolognese painter and identified echoes of Orazio di Jacopo and the early production of Michele di Matteo. The Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, in the catalogue of the 1991 Christie’s auction, was generically attributed to the Bolognese School with a dating around 1430.
The style of the paintings is typically Emilian in the expressiveness of the figures, which at times borders on caricature, and the vivid naturalism with which the devil and the fish are depicted; these elements, together with the rich colours, like the winey red of Saint Michael’s robe, and the fullness of the hair, call to mind a painter like Giovanni da Modena. The humoristic tone of the expressions is also reminiscent of the Bolognese painter Orazio di Jacopo. The clothes of Saint Raphael, meanwhile, recall the diptych divided between the Fondazione Longhi and a private collection (formerly Aynard collection, Lyons) and attributed to Stefano da Ferrara, datable around the middle of the 1420s. On the basis of these stylistic analogies, it seems appropriate to date the execution of the present panels to the third decade of the fifteenth century.
The influence of painting from Piacenza may also be discerned: the framing devices are similar to those used in the wings of a triptych-reliquary in the Musei Civici di Piacenza, executed in the last decade of the trecento. The soft, pasty pictorial texture and the preference for colour combinations alternating pastel hues with brightly-coloured tints, together with the outline highlighting the sculptural quality of the figures, instead, reveal stylistic affinities with the works of Antonio de Carro; in particular the Saint Nicholas shows physiognomic similarities with that of Saint Augustine Enthroned between two Angels (private collection, Parma, datable on the basis of lost documentation to 1397).
Nevertheless, despite these clues and the refinement and elegance of the panels’ execution, carried out with such meticulousness that it is reasonable to imagine that the artist was also an illuminator, the authorship of the works remains an open question. It is a testament to their profound originality that Alberto Lenza based the name of an entire artistic personality around them—the Master of the Demidoff Triptych.
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