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Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence: 1300-1450.

[Exhibition catalogue, with introductory essays.] By Laurence R. Kanter, Barbara Drake Boehm et al. pp. 394, P11. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, $60/$45. ISBN 0-87099-725-4/0-87099726-2. [Harry N. Abrams, New York; ISBN 0-8109-6488-0].)

While Florentine Renaissance sculptures, buildings, and paintings on panel and fresco are well known, manuscript illuminations, drawings, embroidery, and paintings on glass are comparatively little known. The exhibition `Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300- 1450', organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and on display between 17 November 1994 and 26 February 1995, was thus not surprisingly the creme de la creme among exhibitions in this year's cultural schedule in the USA. The exhibition presented manuscript illuminations of the Florentine masters from five generations of painters. It began with the contemporaries of Giotto at the beginning of the fourteenth century and ended with Fra Angelico and his followers in the middle of the fifteenth. Most of the exhibited works were cutouts and single leaves from choirbooks which originally had the disadvantage of being too beautiful, so that their nineteenth-century owners disassembled them. All that is preserved today from many such books is a number of illuminated initials or painted pages dispersed through various collections around the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art did a wonderful job of identifying those remnants, and reassembled some of them for the first time, attempting to show a book's original appearance. In the words of Philippe de Montebello, the Museum's director. `together they present an unconventional but compelling portrait of the emergence of a Renaissance style in Florence, one of the most significant events in the history of Western painting'.

The lavish, well-written catalogue opens with Laurence B. Kanter's introduction, which sets the context within which the early Renaissance Florentine illuminators worked. Following this is an informative survey by Barbara Drake Boehm, describing the contents of the liturgical manuscripts--the missal, gradual, antiphonary, laudario, psalter and book of hours--and the manner of their usage. Finally there is the catalogue itself, presenting fourteen painters, each with a biography and a discussion of his work.

One aspect of the exhibition, which occurred unintentionally and remained unnoticed, is the wealth of musical instruments depicted in the exhibited works. Out of some 110 exhibited works, nineteen contain a total of 36 instruments, all reproduced in full-colour photographs in the catalogue. In addition, it includes fourteen black-and-white-white reproductions of works relevant to music iconography, which are, or used to be, part of the exhibited books but were not included in this exhibition, or are important as comparative material. Although each of the exhibited works of art is provided with an extensive and detailed commentary explaining its history, context and symbolism, the musical instruments, when depicted, are either ignored, mentioned in general terms without identification or, which is worse, in several cases misidentified. I thus feel it important to list here all these instruments as an addendum to the catalogue, particularly since some of the works of art have never been exhibited before and most of them have been only rarely reproduced in books.

Nearly two dozen leaves of the laudario of the Compagnia di S Agnese of S Maria del Carmine, Florence (catalogue No. 4a-1), are today dispersed among a number of collections in both Europe and America. The laudario was one of the most ambitious and lavish manuscripts created in Florence during the first half of the fourteenth century The openings of the text for ten major feasts consist of a large rectangular miniature dominating the page, with a single musical stave and a single line of text in gilt capitals against a dark block underneath. All but five of the surviving illuminations were painted by Pacino di Bonaguida, the most prolific manuscript painter in Florence at the time. The remaining pages are by the Master of the Dominican Effigies. Out of twelve exhibited leaves, five include instruments. The scene of the nativity and the annunciation to the shepherds (Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collectin, 1949.5.87) includes a three-shepherd group shown as they receive the angelic message of the birth of Jesus. One of them holds a pipe. The scene is framed by a decoration with a putto in the upper left corner, blowing a long straight trumpet with two bosses and a wide bell (not a horn, as indicated in the catalogue). The miniature of St Agnes enthroned is also on the page, combined with two other scenes from her legend (London, British Library, Add. MS 18196). St Agnes is flanked by two standing angels: one plays a four-stringed fiddle and the other a trapezoidal psaltery (not identified in the catalogue) with ten pairs of strings, which he holds in his left hand from the bottom and plucks with the fingers of his right. The Ascension scene (New York, private collection) includes in the marginal decoration at the left and right two standing angels, one playing a psaltery, which he holds in the same way as the earlier one, and the other a lute. The Trinity scene (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M.742) is dominated by the figure of Christ in Majesty attended by angels holding liturgical implements. One of them plays a trapezoidal psaltery with twelve double courses, which is held this time from above by the left\hand and plucked with the right. The other angel plays a four-stringed fiddle. Finally, the marginal decoration around the All Saints scene (Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, 1950.1.8) is filled with saints and angels, two of them playing trumpets and the other two fiddles.

The tabernacle (catalogue No. 5) attributed to the Master of the Dominican Effigies, the dominant figure in Florentine illumination during the second quarter of the fourteenth century, includes in the tympanum the scene of the Last Judgement (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.99). Below Christ, seated in a mandorla, are two angels trumpeting the resurrection of the dead above two empty sarcophagi.

The missal decorated by the Master of the Codex of St George (Pierpont Morgan Library, M.713), and the masterpiece of Italian Gothic manuscript painting, includes four illuminated initials. The second one, the Nativity scene in the initial C (catalogue No 8), opens the preface for Christmas (f. 55). In the left-hand border below the initial, two angels swoop down, carrying the message of the Nativity to the three shepherds watching over their flock. One of them blows what is probably a shawm, with a conical shape and visible fingerholes.

The gradual (sanctorale), which Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci painted in 1371 for his monastery, S Maria degli Angeli in Florence, stands out for its high artistic quality (catalogue No. 16a-j). The gradual (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Cod.Cor.2) was mutilated during the Napoleonic period: the twenty most decorated pages were cut out and today are dispersed among various collections. The image of the death and assumption of the Virgin (British Library, Add. MS 37955A) depicts three moments in a single composition: the Virgin's entombment, the passing of her soul to Christ, and her assumption to the heavenly realm. At the top of the composition is a mandorla held up by angels. One of them plays a double pipe, the other a lute. In the initial G cut out from the same manuscript is a picture of the Virgin and Christ in glory surrounded by saints and angels (Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 30.105). The angels at the top of the composition are offering flowers; the others, at the bottom, are playing music. They are back-on to the viewer. One is playing a lute (seven pegs, portions of the neck, and the back are visible), the second is playing a portative organ, and the third is playing a fiddle with a bow (three pegs are `visible, and one drone string is depicted off the upper side of the fingerboard). The catalogue description mentions that some of the angels are dancing, although they seem, rather, to be kneeling.

The other choirbook illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, which was partly reassembled for the exhibition, is the gradual for S Michele a Murano (catalogue No. 17a-g). The marginal decoration at the bottom of the page, which opens the introit to the Mass for Christmas Day, includes the annunciation to the shepherds (Pierpont Morgan Library, M.653, f. 1). At the right-hand corner there is a shepherd playing a bagpipe and accompanied by his dog. The other miniatures, once belonging to the same manuscript, which are reproduced in the catalogue but not included in the exhibition are: the initial R, opening the introit to the Mass for Easter Sunday (Chantilly, Musee Conde), which includes, in the marginal decoration at the top of the page, players of a mandora and a lute; and the initial O, opening the introit to the Mass for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Pierpont Morgan Library, M.478, f. 11), with a prophet playing a psaltery.

A single leaf (from the 1380s) decorated by Don Simone Camaldolese includes in the initial A an image of the Annunciation (Brooklyn Museum, X 1015; catalogue No. 25). The leaf is from the beginning of the response for the first nocturn of the first Sunday in Advent, which usually occurs as the first page of the first volume of an antiphonary. Above the lower half, with the Annunciation set in the Virgin's bedchamber, is a full-length frontal figure of God the Father seated in a mandorla surrounded by King David and possible Isaiah. King David is plucking a psaltery (identified in the catalogue as a lyre) with a plectrum held in his right hand. The instrument, which has ten sets of three strings, is held on one side with the deft hand.

Among the exhibited pieces by Lorenzo Monaco (1367/mid 1370s-1423/4) there are two items with instruments: a panel representing King David (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 65.14.4; catalogue No. 32a) and the initial C with the Last Judgement (ibid., Robert Lehman Collection. 1975.1.2485; catalogue No. 33). On the panel. David is tuning his psaltery (in the catalogue he is described as playing a lyre), which he is holding on his left knee. Since the image is relatively large (56.5 x 43.1 cm.), the tuning keys and all the strings are clearly visible: seven double courses alternate with seven single strings. In the initial C, an angel plays a long straight trumpet, summoning the quick and the dead to judgement. The other works by Lorenzo reproduced in the catalogue are the altarpiece from the monaster; of S Benedetto fuori Porta a Pinti representing the coronation of the Virgin (London, National Gallery, 215, 216, 1897), which includes an angel playing a portative organ, and an initial B with King David (Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana. Cod.Cor.7, f. [20.sup.r]), who is again tuning his psaltery. The psaltery (this time correctly identified but described as being played) has eight pairs of strings with two additional single strings inserted between the top pairs.

The well-known desco da parte by Lorenzo Monaco s pupil and collaborator Bartolomeo di Fruosino (1366 or 1369-1441), from the New York Historical Society, which was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (L1979.11.2; catalogue No. 43), on its recto side represents a birth scene with a woman playing a harp. From among Banolomeo's work is also exhibited a manuscript of the most frequently illuminated book of mediev-al literature, Dante's Inferno (Paris, Bibliotheque .Nationale, Department Manuscrits, f.ital.74; catalogue No. 44). In the border of the page opening canto 1 (f. [3.sup.r]) personificiations of the seven liberal arts are depicted, with their chief protagonists seated at their feet. Music plays a positive organ, and sitting in front of her is Tubalchain, or Cain.

The only work by Lippo d'Andrea di Lippo (1370/71-1451) to be included is a large full-page illumination of the Annunciation (New York, Bernard H. Breslauer Collection; catalogue No. 45) underneath which is an image of S Bridget (c.1304-73) with nine Bridgettine nuns gathered before a lectern. They appear to be chanting the Divine Office. One of the nuns is at the lectern, turning a page of a large choirbook. A representation of Camaldolese monks chanting around the lectern, possibly by Battista di Biagio Sanguigni, from Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Cod.Cor.3 (f. [41.sup.v]), as well as a photograph of the Renaissance lectern which still exists at the S Domenico monastery, Gubbio, are also reproduced in the catalogue.

The exhibition ended with works by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro, c.1400-1455) and Zanobi di Benedetto di Caroccio degli Strozzi (known as Zanobi Strozzi, d. 1468). Fra Angelico's reliquary tabernacle, with the burial and Assumption of the Virgin (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, catalogue No. 50), includes in its central part angels accompanying Christ. They play a psaltery, a tambourine, a five-string fiddle, a lute and two straight trumpets. Fra Angelico's tabernacle served as a model to Donato di Leonardo and Antonio di Salvi for their niello pax (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, 45.4), which includes four instruments: a trumpet, a psaltery, a fiddle and what is probably a shawm. Two other Fra Angelico tabernacles reproduced in the catalogue in black and white include instruments: one represents the Virgin of the Stars (Florence, Museo di S Marco), with angels playing two portative organs, and the other the coronation of the Virgin and the adoration of the Child and angels (ibid.), with two angels blowing shawm. Fra Angelico's sanctorale, possibly made for the convent of S Domenico, Fiesole (ibid., cod.558, f. [67.sup.v]; catalogue No. 48), includes an illustration with the convent's titular saint celebrated in a fullpage illumination. He is shown in glory with eight angels, four of them each playing a fiddle, a lute, a straight trumpet with two bosses and wide bell, and a portative organ.

The last image with an instrument is an initial B by Zanobi Strozzi showing David in prayer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.2470; catalogue No. 52). David's attributes, a kingly crown and a partly visible psaltery (this time identified in the catalogue as the psalmist's harp), lie on the ground next to him. The other Zanobi musician, reproduced in the catalogue but not in the exhibition, is a putto playing a horn, painted in the border decoration around the Annunciation, in Hiblioteca Riccardiana, MS 457 (f. 4).

The other reproductions included in the catalogue but not exhibited are: an image of Guido of Arezzo explaining his musical notation (Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod 51, f 35); two decorations by the Master of the Codex Rossiano, namely, the initial V with the Ascension of Christ, where angels are playing two psalteries (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cod. Rossiano 1192.2), and the marginal decoration in which David plays a psalter\with two monks beside him (ibid, Cod. Rossiano, 1192.10); and Matteo Torelli's initial C with the Last Judgement (Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, cod.E70, f [84.sup.v]), which includes two angels playing buisines.

Although most of the images are not well known to music iconographers, some of them have previously been described in musicological literature, and the organizers of the exhibition could have avoided misidentification at least of those instruments. The Research Center for Music Iconography, New York, has published' inventories of music iconography in five American collections. Among them are those of the Cleveland Museum of Art, compiled by Ross Duffin (New York, 1991), which lists and describes Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci's initial G with the Virgin and Christ in glory, and the medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from the Pierpont Morgan Library, compiled by Terence Ford and Andrew Green (New York, 1988), which includes descriptions of three exhibited items from this collection. The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art included one image which was omitted from the Pierpont Morgan Library inventory (the initial O, with a prophet playing a psaltery, once belonging to Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci's gradual for S Michele a Murano). The inventories were neither consulted nor included in the extensive, seventeen-page bibliography.

It is rare that an exhibition not exclusively focused on music gathers together such a large number of images relevant to music, and it is a pity that the catalogue did not pay more attention to them. Nevertheless the catalogue will be of value to scholars of music iconography and Renaissance music history in general. Music iconographers will recognize the instruments and their symbolism anyway. But for others less familiar with Renaissance music, the opportunity to enable them to enjoy an additional aspect of an exceptional, wonderfully presented exhibition has been missed.
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Author:Blazekovic, Zdravko
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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