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Gentile da Fabriano, Quaratesi Polyptych, (detail)
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Gentile da Fabriano, Quaratesi Polyptych, 1425

Gentile da Fabriano, whose real name was Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio, came from Fabriano in the Marches. Typical of Gentile's early style is the polyptych (ca. 1400) from the convent of Valle Romita in Fabriano, in which Gentile displays the International Gothic love for naturalistic detail. In 1409 he was commissioned to decorate the Doges' Palace in Venice with historical frescoes, now lost. His most important fresco cycle, also destroyed, was in the church of St. John Lateran in Rome. His major surviving painting is the celebrated Strozzi Altarpiece (1423), featuring The Adoration of the Magi. Its combination of naturalism and rich ornamentation influenced Italian artists throughout the century, notably Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli, and established Gentile as one of Italy's greatest proponents of the International Gothic style. He was the most important Italian painter of the first quarter of the 15th century.

Gentile also produced a number of Madonnas, such as the altarpiece known as the Quaratesi Polyptych (1425), which shows the Mother and Child, regally clad, sitting on the ground in a garden. It is an outstanding example of the artist's brilliant use of elegant and luxurious materials, painted with such extraordinary naturalness that they seem real, as well as the splendid gold and the silver the artist often modelled onto the surface of his paintings.

The polyptych is from the Quaratesi chapel in San Niccolò Soprarno, Florence. The central panel of the polyptych is at the National Gallery, London, and parts of the predella are in the Pinacoteca in Vatican.

The four saints represented are Mary Magdalen, Nicholas of Bari, John the Baptist, and George. In the upper tondos supported by angels and cherubs are the Angel Annunciating, St Francis, St Dominic, and the Virgin Annunciate.


Gentile da Fabriano, Quaratesi Polyptych

Despite the fragmentation of this work, the solid figures of these saints demonstrate the way Gentile da Fabriano's painting developed during the time he spent in Florence. Without jeopardizing the grace of his lines or the richness of his materials, the painter seems aware of the strides being made in art around that time by Masolino and Masaccio. The flowering grass of his early work is here replaced by a tiled floor. Each figure is treated with a solemn human and monumental characterization. He achieved this by a more rigorous definition of the volume the figures occupy in real space. But overall it remains thoroughly Gothic in its atmosphere.

This panel formed the centre of an altarpiece commissioned by a member of the Quaratesi family for the high altar of San Niccoló Oltrarno, Florence. It was flanked by Saints Mary Magdalene, Nicholas of Bari, John the Baptist and George. The predella showed scenes from the Life of Saint Nicholas.

The Child holds what seems to be a daisy. The cloth of honour behind the Virgin is silver (now tarnished) glazed with red. The highly decorative nature of the variously patterned luxury textiles, the elaborately tooled gold, and the delicate nature of the figures contrast strongly with the same subject painted by Masaccio a year later. The gable with God the Father is original but within a modern frame.

This panel belonged to the predella of the dismembered Quaratesi Altarpiece.

It appears that Gentile felt freer to experiment in the minor scenes of a predella than in the main panel of an altarpiece. In the panel Pilgrims at the Tomb of St Nicholas of Bari he shows the interior of a church, which itself was quite a difficult task, with a rather convincing treatment of the space.
The panel also belonged to the predella of the dismembered Quaratesi Altarpiece. The last surviving work by Gentile da Fabriano documents, in this pilgrimage scene, an interesting chapter in the history of religion. It shows the viewer the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari, the popularity of the pilgrimage site, and also, in the figure of the man front left, an instance of miraculous healing.
It appears that Gentile felt freer to experiment in the minor scenes of a predella than in the main panel of an altarpiece. In this case he shows the interior of a church, which itself was quite a difficult task, with a rather convincing treatment of the space.


Gentile da Fabriano. The Crippled and Sick Cured at the Tomb of Saint Nicholas, 1425. From the predella of the Quaratesi triptych from San Niccolo, Florence. 1425. Tempera on wood. The
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The scene illustrates the episode in which Nicholas saved three impoverished girls from prostitution by tossing three gold balls through their window one night.

Pictures of Nicholas often show three bags of gold next to him, and often these bags have become simply three disks or balls. The Three Gold Balls represent the gold given to provide dowries for the impoverished maidens. Nicholas' gold balls became the pawnbroker's symbol. Sometimes oranges or apples are used to represent the gold.

Gentile da Fabriano, St. Nicholas and the Three Gold Balls. From the predella of the Quaratesi triptych from San Niccolo, Florence. 1425. Tempera on wood. Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome


Gentile da Fabriano, Quaratesi Altarpiece: Quaratesi Polyptych, St. Nicholas Bringing Three Young Men Back to Life, 1425, oil on panel, Pinacoteca, Vatican

Holiday accomodation in Tuscany | Podere Santa Pia | Artist and writer's residency

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Podere Santa Pia, garden view, April
View from Podere Santa Pia
on the coast and Corsica

Podere Santa Pia situated in panoramic position in the Maremma countryside


[1] Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio was born circa 1370 in or near Fabriano, in the Marche. The most sought-after and famous artist in Italy during the first quarter of the 15th century, he carried out important commissions in several major Italian art centres and was recognized as one of the foremost artists of his day. Sadly, most of the work on which his great contemporary reputation was based has been destroyed, which may be why he is not more widely known today.
Along with Ghiberti, Gentile da Fabriano was Italy's outstanding representative of the International Gothic style. He also contributed to the advanced art that foreshadowed the birth of the Renaissance. Gentile's paintings feature deep, vibrant colors, richly patterned surfaces, and people with soft, full faces, heavy-lidded eyes, and dreamy expressions. His lyrical atmosphere, elegant refinement, and attention to detail in rendering landscapes, animals, and costume typify the International Gothic style, originally developed in French and Burgundian courts and used especially in illuminated manuscripts.
Gentile's most famous surviving works were made during a short but influential stay in Florence in the 1420s, where he probably encountered the austere realism of his younger contemporary Masaccio. His altarpiece depicting the Adoration of the Magi (1423), now in the Uffizi, is regarded as one of the masterpieces of International Gothic style. Its delicate linearity and vibrant colours enhance the effect of rich exoticism. It is remarkable not only for its exquisite decorative beauty but also for the naturalistic treatment of light in the predella, where there is a night scene with three different light sources. The painting's graceful figures are clothed in velvets and rich brocades, and the Magi are attended by Oriental retainers, who look after such exotic animals as lions and camels.
Unlike Masaccio, who launched his art straight into the Renaissance, Gentile straddled the threshold between Gothic and Renaissance. How he loved to tell a story! The Quaratesi Polyptych is a perfect example of this. Its many panels depict the salient moments in the life of St. Nicholas, bringing faraway legends to life for the illiterate masses who had no other way to learn the stories.
The decorativeness of Gentile's elegant, courtly style continued to influence Florentine artists throughout the century and rivaled the austere realism introduced by Masaccio. Gentile's other contributions to Renaissance art were: abandoning abstract backgrounds for real skies, introducing a light source into the picture, depicting cast shadows, and making the earliest known drawings after the antique.
Gentile da Fabriano had widespread influence, notably on Fra Angelico, who was his greatest heir. Michelangelo said that his works resembled his name, meaning "noble," or "refined." They are full of a quiet and serene joyfulness, brightened by a naïve and innocent delight in splendor and gold ornaments, but never overdecorated.
Gentile da Fabriano died in 1427 while working on frescoes (since destroyed) in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran. He is commonly said to have been buried in the church now called S. Francesca Romana in Florence, but his tomb vanished; there is evidence, however, that he may be buried in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome.

This page uses material from the Wikipedia article Gentile da Fabriano, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.