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Lorenzo Monaco, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1415-17, tempera on panel, 62 x 33 cm, private collection

Travel guide for Tuscany
Lorenzo Monaco

Don Lorenzo Monaco, whose real name was Pietro di Giovanni, was born in Siena about I370. [1] Little is known about his youth, apart from the fact that he was apprenticed in Florence. He was influenced by Giotto and his followers Spinello Aretino and Agnolo Gaddi.

His work combined the graceful lines and decorative feeling of the Sienese school with the traditions of the Florentine school. His Coronation of the Virgin (1413) reveals his predilection for swirling draperies and rhythmic, curvilinear forms and his understanding of light. His late frescoes in the Bartolini Chapel of Santa Trinità in Florence establish him as a master of Gothic art.

Although rightly seen today as one of the leading artists of his time and the greatest proponent of the last flowering of the elegant Gothic style of painting in Florence, Lorenzo Monaco remains nevertheless a somewhat enigmatic figure. While his artistic output was robust and well delineated, the particulars of his life have remained elusive to scholars, who have not been able to ascertain the year or even the place of his birth.
Lorenzo Monaco must have come to Florence at an early age, for his first known works, dating from I387-I388, show very close affinities to the style of Agnolo Gaddi, who was in all probability his teacher.[2]
In I39I he entered the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he learned the art of miniature painting. The practice of this craft, which requires great precision of technique, marked his style even in altarpieces. From the start, however, he possessed as well a genuine sense of monumentality and grandeur. The culminating point of his career was the great altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin of I4I4, now in the Uffizi, in which he successfully combined Gothic linearism with Giottesque plasticity. The felicitous blend of these two very different aesthetics is the hallmark of his style.
Lorenzo Monaco painted four altarpieces for the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Starting from around 1404 his works show the influence of the International Gothic, of Lorenzo Ghiberti's earliest works and of Gherardo Starnina. From this period is the Pietà in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Florence. His works, often over a gilted background, showed in general a spiritual value, and usually did not feature profane elements. The influence of Sienese artists such as Duccio, led him to transform the sober style of late 14th- century Florentines such as Spinello Aretino into a graceful and sophisticated idiom. This in turn was influential on later Florentine painters, especially Masolino.

In 1414 he painted the Coronation of the Virgin (now at the Uffizi), characterized by a great number of saints and brilliant colors. In the late part of his life, Lorenzo did not accept the early Renaissance innovations introduced by artists such as Masaccio and Brunelleschi. This is visible in the Adoration of the Magi of 1420-1422, where the now widespread geometrical perspective is totally absent. Lorenzo's works remained popular in the 1420, as testified by the numerous commissions he received, such as the Stories of the Virgin in the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel of Santa Trinita, one of his few frescoes.

Giorgio Vasari includes a biography of Lorenzo Monaco in his Lives. Accordin to the Florentine historian, he died between 1422 and 1424. for a not well identified infection, perhaps a gangrene or a tumour.


Lorenzo Monaco, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1415-17Lorenzo Monaco, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1415-17

Images of the Man of Sorrows are commonly encountered in Florentine trecento and early quattrocento in predella paintings, where they are often paired with a scene of the Crucifixion. However, the relatively large size of the present panel suggests that it was not conceived as part of a larger complex but rather it was meant as an independent object of private devotion.

The Coronation of the Virgin

The Coronation of the Virgin is a tempera on panel polyptych by the Italian late Gothic artist Lorenzo Monaco, centred on the subject of the Coronation of the Virgin. Once in the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where Lorenzo was a monk, it is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The Scenes of the Life of St Benedict in the predella, with their fairy tale charm, are to be reckoned among the highest achievements of the master.

The Coronation of the Virgin, 1414, tempera on wood, 450 x 350 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Lorenzo's elegant style reached maturity in this very large altarpiece. In this painting the edges of the figures' garments have an animation quite independent of the actual movement of the figures. Although the composition of the painting is quite conventional, the figures display a new fluidity in their poses and in the movements of their drapery which is suggestive of the International Style then being employed in sculpture by Ghiberti and Niccolò Lamberti. Surface patterns vie for attention with the volumes of the figures; even the superimposition of figures tends to read as pattern. Brilliant, light-toned colour and the lavish use of gold and expensive ultramarine blue pigment would have made the painting a strong focal point in the church and would also have testified to its importance and to the donor's extraordinary generosity.

The Magus Hermogenes Casting His Magic Books into the Water was originally part of a predella at the base of an altarpiece commissioned in 1387 or 1388.    
Adoration of the Magi by Lorenzo Monaco
c. 1422,Tempera on wood, 115 x 177 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Four Prophets

Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni), Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, ca. 1408–10, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

One of the most attractive pictures of the late Middle Ages," wrote Bernard Berenson in I932 about one of the four panels by Lorenzo Monaco purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1965. This beautiful series of four enthroned prophets represents one of the most important acquisitions made by the Metropolitan Museum in the area of late Gothic Italian painting since the early years of the century.
The Four Prophets (Abraham, Noah, Moses, and David) are each portrayed seated on a cut stone bench or chest set on a fictive marble dais, which is alternately pink with a strip of green in the foreground (Noah and David) or green with a strip of violet in the foreground (Abraham and Moses).
Abraham wears a pink tunic with green shadows, a violet cloak with pink highlights, and a white shawl draped over his shoulders. He holds a silver sword and a firebrand in his right hand and lays his left on the head of his son, Isaac, kneeling in profile before him, dressed in an orange tunic over a gray robe.

Art in Tuscany | Lorenzo Monaco | The Four Prophets Abraham, Noah, Moses, David

The choir books

Antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 7, folio 124v), 1406, tempera and gold on parchment, 315 x 265 mm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The choir books of Santa Maria degli Angeli are the crowning monuments of the art of illumination in early Renaissance Florence. They were highly praised by Vasari, who claims to have seen them many times. Twenty codices, most of them missing pages where illuminated initials were presumably cut out and sold to collectors, were transferred to the Biblioteca Laurenziana from Santa Maria degli Angeli upon the suppression of the monastery at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The earliest of the series of choir books (Cod. Cor. 2, dated February 1370, and illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci) is the only volume written before the sacking and burning of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1378. In 1382 the monastery received a large bequest, provided for the completion of a full set of choir books for both Santa Maria degli Angeli and its neighbour Santa Maria Nuova. A complete set of antiphonaries, in twelve volumes, was apparently finished (that is, written, but not necessarily illuminated) for Santa Maria degli Angeli by 1397. Eleven of the volumes of the antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 9, 16, 14, 17, 13, 12, 1, 8, 19, 5, 6) contain both movable and fixed feast for a portion of the liturgical year. Two volumes Cod. Cor. 11 and 7), containing commons of the saints, were added in the 1390s and in 1406. The series of graduals was completed in 1406 and 1410 with the addition of four further volumes (including Cod. Cor. 18, 3 and 4).

In studying the rich variety of illuminations present in these volumes, as well as those cuttings in collections around the world that can confidently be traced to these codices, it is apparent that they were not completed strictly in the order in which the books were written, and in some cases there was a considerable delay between writing and painting a given volume. It is probable that the first three volumes to be completed with illuminations were Cod. Cor. 9, 19 and 6, all painted by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci. The illuminations from Cod. Cor. 16 and 11 were commissioned to artists outside the monastery, while the remaining volumes of the antiphonary, Cod. Cor. 1, 5, 7, 8 and 13, may all be associated with the art of Lorenzo Monaco.

Most scholars see Lorenzo Monaco as directly responsible for only a limited number of the initials in the books associated with Lorenzo Monaco, assigning the others to a variety of assistants and followers.

The antiphonary Cod. Cor. 7 at the Biblioteca Laurenziana retains three illuminated initials, while three others are missing. The cutting in the Metropolitan Museum contains one of the three missing initials, it is a fragment of the missing folio 124. This cutting shows a depiction of the Last Judgment in an initial C.
In the blue initial lined with bands of yellow and red and decorated with yellow, orange, and green foliation, the half-length figure of Christ, loosely wrapped in a blue cloak, floats on a bank of clouds above a desolate rocky landscape. He raises his right hand in judgment, points downward with his left, and looks across to the right toward the now missing text that would have followed the initial. At the left, cropped by the red band lining the initial, is an angel in a blue tunic sounding a long golden trumpet. Below, the bodies of four of the resurrected dead emerge from holes in the cracked and barren ground.


Lorenzo Monaco, Abraham and the Three Angels in an initial B. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel

Lorenzo's paintings of events from the life of the Virgin in the Bartolini-Salimbeni Chapel was commissioned by the Bartolini family. They cover an earlier fresco cycle by Spinello Aretino believed to have been commissioned by Bartolomeo Salimbeni in 1390.

The painted architecture of the frescoes extends over the entire narrative, stepping back along sharp diagonals, while the row of figures moves in a gradual diagonal back into space.

Lorenzo Monaco, Marriage of the Virgin, 1420-24, Fresco, 210 x 230 cm, Santa Trinità, Florence

The Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel (Italian: Cappella Bartolini Salimbeni) is a chapel in the church of Santa Trinita, Florence, central Italy. Its decoration by Lorenzo Monaco, dating to the 1420s, are one of the few surviving examples of International Gothic frescoes in Italy. The chapels has kept other original elements, such as its altarpiece, an Annunciation, also by Lorenzo Monaco, and the railings.


The chapel, created during the Gothic renovation and enlargement of the church started in the mid-13th century, was owned by the rich merchant family of the Bartolini-Salimbeni since as early as 1363. Their residence, the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, was located in the same square of the church.
Around 1390, the chapel had been already decorated by Spinello Aretino: traces of his work were found during the 1960s restorations. Lorenzo Monaco's frescoes date to 1420s, when a re-decoration program was carried on in the whole church, as testified also by fragments of Giovanni Francesco Toscani's frescoes in the annexed Ardinghelli Chapel.
Monaco was inspired by numerous contemporary examples of Histories of the Virgin cycles, such as the Baroncelli Chapel by Taddeo Gaddi, the Rinuccini Chapel by Giovanni da Milano and others, in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Orcagna's frescoes in Santa Maria Novella, the Holy Cingulum Chapel by Agnolo Gaddi in the Prato Cathedral and the stained glasses of Orsanmichele, which perhaps Lorenzo Monaco had collaborated to.
The frescoes were covered by white plasters in 1740, and were rediscovered in 1885-1887 by Augusto Burchi. In 1944, the German invasion forces blew the nearby Ponte Santa Trinita, causing damages also to the frescoes. They were restored in 1961 and again in 2004.[3]


Bartolini Chapel

de Montebello, Guy-Philippe. "Four Prophets by Lorenzo Monaco." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 25, no. 4 (December, 1966).
JSTOR | The Metropolitan Museum of Art is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve, and extend access to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin | PDF

Bent, George R., Monastic Art in Lorenzo Monaco’s Florence: Painting and Patronage in Santa Maria degli Angeli, 1300-1415, Lewiston, New York, 2006.
Santa Maria degli Angeli is well-known to Medieval and Renaissance art historians as an important center of illuminated manuscript production and the monastic home of the accomplished painter Lorenzo Monaco. Locked inside the walls of a severely cloistered monastery, monks from the Camaldolese house of Santa Maria degli Angeli had access to some of the most innovative paintings produced in Florence between 1350 and 1425. Leading painters of the day, like Nardo di Cione and Lorenzo Monaco, filled manuscripts and decorated altars with richly ornamented pictures that related directly to liturgical passages recited – and theological positions embraced – by members of the institution. In a city marked by wealthy and sophisticated ecclesiastical communities, the one at Santa Maria degli Angeli had few peers.
Dependent on the benefices of a powerful network of patronage, the monks in Santa Mara degli Angeli counted among their staunchest allies families associated with the most important political alliances in Florence, and by 1378 the monastery was considered by many to be closely linked to the city’s most potent families. Monks executed a variety of tasks and obligations which took place throughout the year. Among these was a lengthy and solemn procession, held on specific feast days, that took the community to every altar and altarpiece in the monastic complex. The route they took and the images they saw caused each participant to see his collection of images in sequence, and thus encouraged him to consider the altarpieces in his environment both individually and collectively. The culmination of this procession came to be the extraordinary high altarpiece produced by Lorenzo Monaco in 1413, the Coronation of the Virgin, which summarized both the entire program of monastic imagery in Santa Maria degli Angeli and the importance of individual patronage in Europe’s most progressive and potent city-state. This work examines and explains the appearance, function, and uses of painting in one of the day’s most important cultural centers.

Magus Hermogenes Casting his Magic Books into the Water |
(...) 'The Magus Hermogenes Casting his Magic Books into the Water, in fact, represents a sort of "document" of the young Lorenzo's early career, clearly indicative of this future promise. It is part of a predella of an altarpiece painted for the chapel of San Jacopo e San Giovanni Decollato in Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence. The painting was commissioned by Bernardo di Cino Bartolino dei Nobili, who had founded the chapel in July of 1387 apparently in honor of his wife Piera degli Albizzi who had died in February of that year. This has allowed a firm dating of 1387/8 for the altarpiece and the other extant panels of the predella , which are divided between the Louvre (the three principle scenes of the Feast of Herod ; the Crucifixion ; Hermogenes before Saint James, and the Martyrdom of Saint James); the National Gallery, London ( Baptism of Christ); as well as one location unknown (a donor panel of Piera degli Albizzi and her daughters). Thus, the present panel -- together with its companions -- is amongst the very first works by Lorenzo Monaco, made when he may have still been in his teens and completed before he had even taken holy orders at the very monastery, for which it was painted. Some scholars, in fact, regard this series of paintings as the artist's first known work.' (...)
The present panel depicts an extremely rare subject; in fact, it appears to be the unique treatment of it in Italian art. The episode is described in the life of Saint James the Greater as told in the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Voragine, and occurs after a sort of magical competition between the saint and the Magus (or sorcerer) Hermogenes.

Mirella Levi D'Ancona, The Choir Books of Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Florence, Centro Di (1993)

Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994

[1] It is likely that he was indeed born in Florence, as would seem natural given that all of his artistic career was spent there. An early document suggests that he was from the parish of San Michele Visdomini in Florence, although a document of the 29th of January 1415 mentions him as "don Lorenzo dipintore da siene" (see J. Czarnecki, "Lorenzo Monaco," in Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996, vol. 19, p. 678).
The dearth of information appears to have resulted partly from changing tastes. His reputation suffered in the years immediately following his death with the startling innovations of the subsequent generation of Florentine artists, and thus early sources treated him scantily. It was only in the latter half of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century that scholarship restored Lorenzo to his rightful place, and that a clearer picture of his primacy in Florentine painting in the final two decades of the 14th century was understood.
[2] Vasari, who did write a Vita of Lorenzo, suggested that he was a student of Taddeo Gaddi. Since Taddeo was dead in 1366, it seems likely that Vasari was confusing Taddeo for his son Agnolo.
[3] Tigler, Guido (1998). "La Cappella Bartolini Salimbeni a Santa Trinita". Cappelle del Rinascimento a Firenze. Florence: Giusti.

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia articles Lorenzo Monaco and Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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