Mariotto di Nardo, Italian, ca. 1394-ca. 1424
Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1410-1420
Tempera on panel
12 3/8 x 20 5/8 in. (31.4 x 52.5 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1943
A typical example of International Gothic style as interpreted by Florentine painters at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Adoration of the Magi is one of Mariotto di Nardo's most sophisticated and accomplished works, and was perhaps realized with the assistance of the premier
figural sculptor of the time, Lorenzo Ghiberti.
The Adoration of the Magi was recognized as the work of Mariotto di Nardo by F. Mason Perkins and Wilhelm Suida (in manuscript opinions) at the time of its purchase by the AMAM in 1943, an attribution that was subsequently confirmed by Marvin Eisenberg1 and Miklos Boskovits.2 The size, horizontal wood grain, and shape of the panel, which has been trimmed on all sides though not within the borders of the original picture field, indicate that it was painted as part of an altarpiece predella. Eisenberg correctly identified a panel representing the Adoration of the Shepherds3 (formerly in the Lanckoroncki Collection, Vienna), as a companion to the Oberlin panel and from the same predella. The original picture fields of the two panels are the same size and shape.4 Additionally, both panels preserve traces of identical punch patterns along the margins of their gold grounds and in the haloes of the principal figures, and are closely related to each other stylistically.
As was noted by Eisenberg, it is unusual to encounter scenes of both the Adoration of the Magi and the Adoration of the Shepherds within a single early quattrocento Florentine predella. In those cases where they are found together,5 there are usually other scenes from the infancy of Christ6 either in the other predella panels or in the altarpiece above. Though no such panels are known that might have completed the Oberlin/Lanckoroncki predella, it is possible that they originally stood together beneath Mariotto di Nardo's altarpiece of the Annunciation now in the Galleria dell'Academia, Florence.7 The Academia Annunciation is of an appropriate size to have accommodated the Oberlin and Lanckoroncki panels in its predella, and it relates well to them in style and quality. It is also one of the few paintings by Mariotto di Nardo to experiment with an architectural perspective (in the dais of the Virgin's throne) as ambitious as that of the shed covering the manger in the Oberlin Adoration of the Magi.
The extremely high quality of the Oberlin Adoration of the Magi, its adventurous spatial construction and figural contrapposti, and its subtle light effects make precise dating of this panel difficult, as Miklos Boskovits observed, since it stands out as an anomaly within the artist's oeuvre. Boskovits tentatively suggested that Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) may have collaborated on the painting's design or execution.8 Ghiberti is known to have worked for Mariotto di Nardo on a commission in Pesaro around 1400,9 and appears to have assisted him again (or to have been assisted by him) on the design of the stained glass window of the Assumption of the Virgin for Florence Cathedral in 1404/5.
That Ghiberti may have been involved in the realization of the Oberlin Adoration of the Magi is highly plausible. Certainly the painting is indebted to Ghiberti's bronze relief of the same subject on the north door of the Baptistry in Florence, and it displays a more complete understanding of Ghiberti's formal innovations than does any other work by Mariotto di Nardo. If Boskovits's hypothesis is accepted, then the Oberlin Adoration of the Magi assumes the role of a significant document in charting the development of pictorial style in early Renaissance Florence.
The standard source for the life of Mariotto di Nardo is Colnaghi's Dictionary of Florentine Painters10 where it is claimed that he was the son of a Florentine stonecutter, maestro Nardo di Cione, about whom it is known only that he was employed in 1380 and 1381 in Siena and Volterra. Recently, however, Ladis has suggested that his father was the painter Nardo di Cione (d. 1365),11 which would establish Mariotto as heir to one of the most distinguished artistic dynasties of Florence, and in part explain his inordinate popularity and influence in the years immediately before and after 1400. The earliest documented reference to Mariotto di Nardo is a contract of 1394/95 to paint an altarpiece for San Donnino a Villamagna, although a Madonna and Child dated 1393 (Sta. Cristina a Pagnana) can be securely attributed to him on stylistic grounds. That his career most likely began at least a decade before this has been deduced, by Boskovits,12 from the regularity of commissions he received in the 1390s from the Opera del Duomo (the board of works of the Cathedral) in Florence, indicating his status as a well-established master by that time. Boskovits's deduction may now be confirmed by the death date of his putative father.
Mariotto di Nardo appears to have assumed the role of one of the principal masters of Florence following the death of Agnolo Gaddi in 1396,13 and to have retained that distinction even into the first decade of the fifteenth century. Among his assistants and followers may have numbered as important an artist as Lorenzo Ghiberti, who later claimed credit in his Commentari for Mariotto's designs for the stained-glass window of the Assumption in the central oculus of Florence Cathedral (1405). Although the frequency and prestige of his commissions in Florence continued unabated until about 1416, when he painted an altarpiece for the oratory of the Bigallo, Mariotto worked increasingly for provincial patrons in his later career and depended increasingly on the intervention of assistants in the execution of both his large- and small-scale works. Mariotto's last will and testament is dated 24 April 1424, and it may be presumed that he died shortly afterwards.
Collection Marchese Franzoni, Genoa
With N. Acquavella, New York (by 1940) from whom purchased in 1943
New York, Acquavella Gallery, 1940. Italian Paintings: XIV and XV Century. 22 April - 22 May. Cat. no. 19.
Zanesville, Ohio, Art Institute, 1948. Paintings of the Adoration of the Magi. 1 - 31 December. No cat.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 18.
Chapel Hill, N.C., William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center, 1961. An Exhibition of Mediaeval Art. 28 April - 20 May. Cat. no. 5.
Eisenberg, Marvin J. "A Partial Reconstruction of a Predella by Mariotto di Nardo." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 9, no. 1 (Fall 1951), pp. 9-16.
"Recent Research." The Burlington Magazine 94 (1952), p. 85.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 30; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 193.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance Florentine School. Vol. 1, The Phaison Press, London, Great Britain, 1963, pp. 132.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 102-3, fig. 7.
Boskovits, Miklos. "Mariotto di Nardo e la formazione del linguaggio tardo-Gotico a Firenze negli anni intorno al 1400." Antichita Viva 7, no. 6 (1968), pp. 28, 30-31.
Fredericksen, Burton and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 121, 272, 614.
Boskovits, Miklos. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1975, pp. 395, 398.
The painting has been removed from its original context as the predella to an altarpiece. The poplar panel has been thinned and cradled, and the corners cut at a 45-degree angle. The cradle itself was thinned and freed in 1951, possibly to halt a system of checks that had appeared at the back of the panel. The paint surface, stabilized by a layer of linen fabric applied between the panel and gesso ground layer, was not affected. Remnants of a gesso barb around the perimeter of the panel indicates that the painting originally had an engaged wooden frame. The paint medium is egg tempera, with localized oil glazes and gold leaf in the sky and haloes. Green copper resinate pigment, used in the fore- and background vegetation, has darkened considerably. There are old losses in the roof of the shed, and in the face of the kneeling Magus, but the paint surface is generally intact.
2. Miklos Boskovits, "Mariotto di Nardo e la Formazione del linguaggio tardo-Gotico a Firenze negli anni intorno al 1400," Antichita Viva 7, no. 6 (1968), pp. 21-31.
3. 30.5 x 52.2 cm, Cracow, Wawel Castle, inv. 7941; illustrated in Marvin J. Eisenberg, "A Partial Reconstruction of a Predella by Mariotto di Nardo," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 9, no. 1 (Fall 1951), figs. 2 and 5. This painting was first attributed to Mariotto di Nardo by Osvald Siren, "Early Italian Pictures in the University Museum, Göttingen," The Burlington Magazine 26 (1914-15), p. 108. It was subsequently ascribed to Agnolo Gaddi by Raimond van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. 3 (The Hague, 1924), p. 556 n. 1, but restored to Mariotto di Nardo by all subsequent authorities. On the Lanckoroncki collection, see Jerzy Miziolek, "The Lanckoronski [sic] Collection in Poland," Antichita Viva 34, no. 3 (1995), pp. 34-34, 47 n. 71.
4. The Lanckoroncki panel had at one time been enlarged to a regular octagon by the addition of pieces of new wood at the top and bottom that were painted--in an inappropriate oil medium--with extensions of the sky and foreground landscape.
5. As in the set of six predella panels by Mariotto di Nardo in the collection of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres.
6. The Annunciation, Presentation in the Temple, Flight into Egypt, Massacre of the Innocents, or Dispute in the Temple.
7. Tempera on panel, 137 x 136 cm, Florence, Galleria dell'Academia, inv. 463; from the church of San Remigio (until 1842) in Florence; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 1842-1933; Academia since 1933. W. and E. Paatz, Die Kirchen von Florenz, vol. 5 (Frankfort, 1953), pp. 12, 18, n. 38, almost certainly correctly identified it as the painting in San Remigio attributed to Orcagna by Vasari, Vite de'piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (1568), ed. G. Milanesi, vol. 1 (Florence,1878), p. 607. It is unclear whether the Academia Annunciation is complete in its present format (its Gothic frame is a modern reproduction) or whether it was once flanked by panels representing full-length standing saints, as in the altarpiece of the Annunciation with Saints Nicholas and Julian by Mariotto di Nardo and Rossello di Jacopo Franchi in the Museo Civico, Pistoia. It is therefore uncertain whether the predella that hypothetically stood beneath it comprised only two panels, or might have been completed with further narrative scenes, possibly illustrating the lives of the attendant saints above.
8. No documented examples of Ghiberti's work as a painter, however, are known which could be adduced for comparison. Miklos Boskovits, "Mariotto di Nardo e la Formazione del linguaggio Tardo-Gotico a Firenze negli anni intorno al 1400," Antichita Viva 7, no. 6 (1968), pp. 21ff.
9. Mario Salmi, "Lorenzo Ghiberti e Mariotto di Nardo," Rivista d'arte 30, (1955), p. 147ff.
10. Sir Dominic E. Colnaghi, Colnaghi's Dictionary of Florentine Painters (London, 1928, reprint Florence, ca. 1986), p. 172.
11. Andrew Ladis in Erling Skaug, Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico, vol. 1 (Oslo, 1994), p. 280 n. 42.
12. Miklos Boskovits, "Sull'attivita giovanile di Mariotto di Nardo," Antichita Viva 7, no. 5 (1968), pp. 3-13.
13. Miklos Boskovits, "Mariotto di Nardo e la formazione del linguaggio tardo-gotico a Firenze negli anni intorno al 1400," Antichita Viva 7, no. 6 (1968), pp. 21-31.