Fontana + The GothicNew York
Bicci di Lorenzo
The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1430–40?
This small oblong panel represents the Massacre of the Innocents, a biblical narrative in which King Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in and around Bethlehem, in order to guarantee that he would keep his throne despite the prophecy of the Magi announcing the birth of a new King of the Jews (Matthew 2:16–18). Crowned and dressed in red and blue robes, Herod is depicted here seated on a throne under a grey architectural structure and raising one hand, as to give a command. Soldiers wearing bright robes and carrying large swords are shown slaughtering babies. The corpses of massacred newborns and young boys are lying on the ground. On the right side of the panel, a mother wearing a bright orange dress attempts to protect her child.
In February 2014, Sonia Chiodo (written communication) attributed this panel to Bicci di Lorenzo. Highly characteristic of the artist’s hand, this Massacre of the Innocents is an interesting addition to the artist’s corpus of works. Active as part of the prolific Bicci family workshop, Bicci di Lorenzo’s oeuvre offers a perfect balance between the spiritually-infused and idealizing idiom of the late trecento and the genre-like realism and Gothic elegance of the early fifteenth century. His skillfully executed works were highly appreciated; he received a steady flow of commissions and he expanded the family studio which eventually became one of the most active in Florence.
The attribution of the present panel to Bicci di Lorenzo is further confirmed by comparisons with other works by the artist. Amongst others, the present painting may be linked with Bicci’s Miracle of Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1440, Böhler collection, Munich) in which appears a similar stone construction as the one above King Herod. The movement of the draperies, the volume of the figures and the depiction of the hands are also very characteristic of the artist and find echoes, amongst others, in his Saint Anthony of Padua (c. 1430, Pinacoteca Vaticana). Similarly, the brutal and merciless aspect of the soldiers can be linked with that of the torturer in the Scenes from the Life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1440–49, Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia, Rome).
Brimming with narrative inventiveness, strong dramatic tension and brilliant colour, this small panel is exemplary both of this artist and of Florentine painting of its period. The size and format of the panel point to it having been part of the predella of an as yet unidentified altarpiece, a question which merits further investigation.
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