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Lorenzo Lotto in Recanati
Rrecanatis' works
THE POLYPTYCH OF SAINT DOMENICO

IDENTITY CARD

Polyptych of San Domenico

 

Madonna and Child, Saint Dominic, Popes Gregory (XII?) and Urban V, an angel and two musician putti (central panel)

Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Flavian (left side panel)

Saint Peter Martyr and Saint Vitus (right side panel)

Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent Ferrer (upper left side panel)

Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Sigismund (upper right side panel)

Lamentation of the dead Christ supported by an angel, Saint Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin and Mary Magdalene (cimasa)

1506-1508

Oil on panel

Signed and dated on the lower central panel:

LAVURENT LOTVS M D. VIII

The Dominican friars commissioned the polyptych on 20 June 1506, as part of the renovation of the Gothic church of S. Domenico, one of the most important in the city, still located on one side of the main square. The work, probably the highest paid in Lorenzo Lotto’s long career, with 700 florins (around 320 ducats), described in great detail by Giorgio Vasari in 1568, was equipped with a frame replaced by the current one in 1914, which is similar to the original one. At the center of the polyptych is the Madonna enthroned with Child handing over the scapular (long strip of cloth to wear, typical of the Catholic monastic orders) to San Domenico.

In the side compartments, among the saints linked to the Dominican order, the titular saint of the Cathedral stand out Flaviano and the patron saint of Recanati, Saint Vitus. Above in the cymatium he Lamentation of the Dead Christ is visible. His body stiffened by death, the restrained cry of the angel, the devout gesture of Magdalene, the gaze obscured by the Madonna, the silent expression of Joseph of Arimathea, make this section of the polyptych, one of Lotto’s best-known and most evocative paintings.

THE WORK

CHRONOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK

1506, 17 June

Lorenzo Lotto is active in Recanati and makes a deal for the execution of the Polyptych.

The Dominican friars ask the Municipality for a contribution of 100 florins which will be paid in three installments (20 June 1506; 25 November 1510; 10 August 1511).

1506, 20 June

The two parts, Lorenzo Lotto and the friars of San Domenico come to a deal for the execution of the Polyptych. The payment for the polyptych amounts to 700 florins, of which 100 will be paid by the Municipality that also takes care of the stay of the artist and one of his collaborator.

1506, 24 November

The friars of San Domenico ask for and obtain from the Municipality twenty-five wooden panels to be used for the polyptych, which, evidently, has not yet begun at this date. During 1507 Lotto is documented on several occasions in Recanati also in relation to the commission of the Transfiguration of the church of Santa Maria di Castelnuovo (visible in the museum).

1506, 26 July

The goldsmith Francesco Polini of Piermatteo gives a contribution of 60 florins to the friars and the mayor of the convent of San Domenico for the creation of the Polyptych.

1507, 9 February

Donna Vannella, wife of Nicolò di Pierpaolo, gives another contribution of 50 ducats to the convent for the creation of the Polyptych.

1508

The artist signs the polyptych of San Domenico; it was completed either by 15 June, the day of the patron saint San Vito, or by 4 August 1508, the Feast of San Domenico. In the same year, he also executed the Madonna and Child with Saints Ignatius (or Flavian?) in the Borghese Gallery, a work that from a stylistic point of view is very closely linked to the Polyptych. He maintains relationships with the famous humanist Nicolò Peranzone from nearby Montecassiano and receives payments for a figure of a Saint Sebastian that has not been identified yet. In 1509, he is in Rome, working in the Vatican Rooms next to Raphael.

1510-1511

He works in Recanati in relation to activities for the city fair and receives the money for the Polyptych on several occasions, until 15 May 1511. In the same year, he signs the contract for the altarpiece of the Deposition of Jesi that he delivers in 1512. He carries out the other Recanati works such as the Transfiguration and the San Giacomo Maggiore (visible in the museum) the San Vincenzo Ferrer (Recanati cathedral) and he worked on other commissions such as the Judith and Holofernes (1512, Rome, BNL GRupo BNP Paribas Collection).

1568

Giorgio Vasari, in the second edition of the Lives, is the first to describe in the main altar of San Domenico the Polyptych and the three currently lost sections of the predella which, starting from the left, depicted: The sermon of San Domenico, The Madonna of Loreto carried flying from the angels, Pope Honorius confirming the Rule to San Domenico.

1601

The city art historian and collector of Lotto’s works, Giovan Francesco Angelita, records the Polyptych in the church of San Domenico.

1648

Carlo Ridolfi (The wonders of art, 1648) and Francesco Maria Tassi (Lives of the painters, sculptors and architects of Bergamo, 1793) take up the description of the Polyptych of San Domenico by Giorgio Vasari in the parts dedicated to the biography and works of Lorenzo Lotto.

1711

Diego Calcagni in his Historical Memoirs of the City of Recanati points out, regarding the church of San Domenico, that in the back of the choir you can see the beautiful work on the panel by Lorenzo Lotto, famous painter of his century. Then, he adds the exact description of the Polyptych that Giorgio Vasari made in 1568.

1723, August 27

The presence of the Polyptych with its frame is attested in the choir of the church.

1783

The abbot of Treia Luigi Lanzi in his travel notebook where he describes the works of art of the Papal State, points out in the church of San Domenico the central compartment of the Polyptych surrounded by the Mysteries of the Rosary, some compartments as being located in the choir but also in the chamber of the Father Prior. Probably between the end of the century. XVIII and early XIX the Polyptych was completely removed from the main altar and replaced with a panel depicting the Madonna and Child with saints by Cristoforo Gherardi.

1801

A document attesting the presence in the Cathedral of Recanati of the predella compartment of the Polyptych depicting the Miracle of St. Peter the Martyr, erroneously identified by Giorgio Vasari and other critics, with the Sermon of St. Dominic, dates back to 1801.

1834

Amico Ricci in his Historical Memoirs of the Arts and Artists of the March of Ancona points out the works of Recanati by Lorenzo Lotto and with regard to the Polyptych he describes it as the main altarpiece. Today, divided into several sections, it adorns the choir, and the church itself. He also makes a description of the graceful figures that Vasari appropriately praises as very precious things in the predella (which can no longer be found).

1861

Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle and Giovanni Morelli, traveling in the Marche and Umbria from 27 April to 9 July to draw up the inventory of the most significant works of art present in the territory of united Italy, describe the disassembled Polyptych, without the predella, part in the choir and part in the sacristy of the church of San Domenico.

1876

The six panels of the Polyptych are brought back to the church and fixed to the wall.

1896

The six panels were reunited and placed in a room on the second floor of the municipal building, home to the municipal art gallery established on November 26, 1872.

1914

The polyptych is equipped with a new frame designed by Oreste Grazzini which follows the original one quite faithfully and achieves at least in part the effect initially intended, i.e. a strong syntactic unity with the painted panels.

1998

The Polyptych of San Domenico becomes part of the exhibition itinerary of the Civic Museums of Villa Colloredo Mels.

2011

With the last major restoration for the exhibition dedicated to Lorenzo Lotto at the Scuderie del Quirinale, curated by G. Villa, a charcoal sketch of the carpentry appeared on the back of the Polyptych which seems to be attributable to the original project, probably a note that Lotto had left for the shipwright in the workshop.

The Polyptych described by Giorgio Vasari (1568)

Giorgio Vasari, in the second edition of the Lives, is the first to describe the Polyptych and the three currently lost sections of the predella in the Dominican church of Recanati, starting from the left, depicts: The sermon of San Domenico, The Madonna of Loreto carried by flying angels, Pope Honorius confirming the Rule to San Domenico.

The description is included in the chapter Life of Iacopo Palma and Lorenzo Lotto, Venetian painters:

This painter also being young and imitating partly the manner of Bellini and partly that of Giorgione, he painted the panel of the high altar divided into six pictures in San Domenico di Ricanati. In the middle one is Our Lady with her Son in her arms, who is placing the habit of St. Dominic, who is kneeling before the Virgin, at the hands of an Angel. There are also two little boys playing a lute and a rebechino. In another painting, there is Saint Gregory and Saint Urban as popes, and in the third Saint Thomas Aquinas and another saint who was bishop of Ricanati.

Above these are the other three paintings: in the middle, above the Madonna, an Angel, and the Mother kissing his arm and Saint Madeleine support dead Christ. Above San Gregorio is Santa Maria Madalena and San Vincenzio; and in the other, that is, above San Tommaso d’Aquino, there is San Gismondo and Santa Caterina da Siena. In the predella, characterized by small and rare figures, the Angels carry Santa Maria di Loreto in the territory of Schiavonia with the stories of Saint Dominic who preaches and Pope Honorius confirming the Rule to San Domenico.

 

• Commissioners

Gaspare di Giannino di Recanati, mayor of the convent of San Domenico, Giovan Domenico, a cultured theologian, preacher and prior of the convent and friar Agostino da Regensburg, were the commissioners of the polyptych. Giovan Domenico was probably Lorenzo Lotto’s main interlocutor for the iconographic design of the work.

In addition to the Dominicans and the Municipality, the following contributions to the creation of the Polyptych were also of great importance: the confraternity of Santa Lucia, which managed the hospital that had its headquarters in San Domenico. The brotherhood of Saint Peter Martyr; Francesco Polini di Piermatteo, goldsmith, who on 26 July 1506 promised the friars and the mayor of the convent of San Domenico to pay 60 florins for the Polyptych that was about to be built. Donna Vannella, wife of Nicolò di Pierpaolo, who promised 50 ducats to the convent on 9 February 1507 as a contribution for her soul and that of her deceased, for the creation of the Polyptych.

 

The context and the connection with the Loreto Shrine

Lorenzo Lotto arrived in Recanati in 1506 from Treviso where he had already made portraits, allegorical subjects and altarpieces for important citizens such as Bishop Bernardo de’ Rossi. The artist therefore wisely chose to satisfy the needs of the Dominican Order of Recanati: the polyptych aimed to be a great masterpiece placed in plain sight in the church that overlooked the main town square, home of the important fair. Furthermore, at the time the city the Sanctuary of Loreto was under the jurisdiction of Recanati. The place was a popular pilgrimage destination and since its construction in the 15th century, it attracted well-known artists such as Melozzo da Forlì, Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Giuliano da Sangallo. At Lotto’s time, the governor of the Holy House and bishop of Recanati was the powerful Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere, cousin of Julius II, the pope who, on 21 October 1507, decided to detach Recanati from Loreto and submit it directly to the papal government. Furthermore, on 25 November he announced that he would send the architect Donato Bramante to Loreto to supervise the major expansion works of the Sanctuary.

The Polyptych of San Domenico was the turning point in Lorenzo Lotto’s career. He accepted the commission of the polyptych, and after that, he had even more important commissions, like the one in Rome by Pope Julius II.

 

The subject and the characters

The polyptych is linked to the Dominican Order and gives information about its foundation and the the Order itself. It emphasizes the roles of saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Martyr, Vincenzo Ferrer and Caterina da Siena and the protagonists of the sacred history of the city such as the patron saints San Flaviano and San Vito, without forgetting Saint Lucia to whom an important confraternity was dedicated. The same confraternity co-financed the company that managed the hospital. It had its headquarters in S. Domenico and the less predictable San Sigismondo (as Giorgio Vasari identifies him). Also significant is the fact that in 1506, the year the polyptych was commissioned, the Loreto jubilee was celebrated: the scene in the central compartment of the lost predella depicting the Madonna of Loreto carried by flying angels and the presence of Pope Urbano V seems to refer to this anniversary. He was pope from 1362 to 1370, confirmed and expanded the privileges of Recanati towards the sanctuary of Loreto, recognizing its cult and importance.

In the central compartment of the polyptych the delivery of the scapular by the Madonna to Saint Dominic via an angel is depicted. On his right we see Pope Urban V and then on the left the pope indicated by Giorgio Vasari as Gregory. It is uncertain whether it could be the Venetian Angelo Correr, who rose to the papal throne as Pope Gregory XII (who was also bishop of Recanati from 1415 and Macerata) or Saint Gregory the Great, doctor of the Church.

On the left side panel is depicted Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dominican theologian and philosopher, founder of Scholastic Philosophy, holding in his gnarled hands an elegantly bound semi-open book, in homage to his eminent role.

There is also the patron bishop of Recanati San Flaviano, with vestments richly decorated sacred buildings, whose presence alongside that of San Vito, was requested by the municipality of Recanati to grant the contribution of 100 florins. Some critics identify the portrait of the bishop of Recanati Teseo de Cuppis in the features of San Flaviano.

On the right side panel, we recognize Saint Peter Martyr, a Dominican preacher and inquisitor known for his fight against heresies, whose preaching in Recanati and the gift of the relic of the Cross was remembered in local tradition. He is depicted with a falcaster on his head, later used to kill him and holds the palm of martyrdom in his hand. The Confraternity named after the saint, active in Recanati since 1337, contributed to the costs of the Polyptych of San Domenico.

Next to it stands the elegant figure of San Vito. The latter, martyr saint and patron of Recanati, who lived at the time of Theodosius II, wears armor in the lower part, an iron chain mail in the upper part, small buttonholes in the sleeves and an ornament of showy colored ribbons.

In the upper left side panel, Saint Lucia emerges from the darkness, recognizable by the palm of martyrdom and the glass jar in her hand containing the oil: from the jar rises, faint and transparent, almost invisible to the naked eye, red on red, the flame lit, attribute of the saint. While the presence of Saint Lucia, depicted with her gaze turned downwards, is not attributable to the Dominican order but to the fact that the confraternity that co-financed the polyptych was named after her, the Spanish Saint Vincent Ferrer, who lived between the 14th and 15th centuries, he is instead a central figure in the Order. He is portrayed looking outwards with a clearly visible flame in his hand, unlike the impalpable flame of Saint Lucia, a symbol of faith that burns without burning.

In the upper compartment on the right the first saint depicted is the Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena, theologian, philosopher and mystic: like Saint Lucia she has her gaze turned downwards, intent on contemplating the crucifix and the suffering heart, attributed to the intimate relationship supreme religiosity between the saint and Christ. At his side is the character identified by Giorgio Vasari as Saint Sigismund, the ancient Burgundian emperor who lived in the 6th century; it cannot be ruled out, however, that it could be Sigismund of Luxembourg, the emperor who was the protagonist of the Council of Constance (1414-1418), convened to put an end to the Western Schism.

In the sixth compartment, or the cymatium, there is the “Lamentation over dead Christ in presence of an angel, the Virgin, Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Joseph of Arimathea”. The protagonist of the scene is the suffering Christ, supported by the angel with splendid wings and a pink robe. His body is rigid, characterized by the signs of martyrdom suffered and is about to be placed in the tomb whose edge is in the foreground while in the background you can perceive the rocky entrance to the cave where it is placed. Behind the dead body of Christ stands the astonished Joseph of Arimathea with his eyes visibly red from tears while, in a compassionate way, he tenderly holds the head and bust of Christ with his hands. On the side, the suffering Madonna while her cloak darkens her face; next to her, the subdued figure of Saint Mary Magdalene, who kisses the hand of Christ.

 

• Historical-artistic reading and the links with the art of the time from venetian to the nordic one

Giorgio Vasari was the first to identify the polyptych as a work of conjunction between the fifteenth-century pictorial season, embodied in Venice by Giovanni Bellini and the modern manner introduced in the lagoon by Giorgione. The style connections with the artists active on the Venetian scene are evident, led by Giovanni Bellini but also well represented by Cima da Conegliano and Alvise Vivarini. Lotto demonstrates the knowledge of Giorgione’s contemporary art evident in the figure of San Vito (who recalls the San Liberale in the Giorgione altarpiece of the cathedral of Castelfranco Veneto from 1503-1504) and in the angel of the central compartment, whose pose recalls that of Judith (The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg circa 1504). Lotto characterizes the polyptych and its characters with a sense of emotional instability that will characterize his stylistic and authentic signature. The innovations introduced by Albrecht Durer in Venice are also present in the Polyptych. There are similarities with the San Bartolomeo Altarpiece (today visible in Prague), due to the natural truth of the bird’s eye view behind the figure of Saint Vitus. The link with Christ among the Doctors (Madrid, Coll. Thyssen-Bornemisza) from which it takes both the play of intertwining the fingers of Saint Thomas and Saint Sigismund, and the choice to make the face of Saint Joseph emerge from the background Arimathea of the coping.

  

 

DETAILS

 

Architecture

Lorenzo Lotto divides the polyptych into compartments upon indication of the commissioner, as a unitary space, an environment where the light, the characters and the whole narrative body are conceived and structured in a real and tangible visual context. The characters in the foreground, although distributed in three compartments, are placed in a single ecclesiastical space divided into a central chapel and two smaller lateral ones. A light coming from the right illuminate them as the church is next to the town hall and therefore has no light on the left side. The truth of the scene is given by some details that reveal the grandeur of the artist’s vision. A coffered barrel vault delimits the space of the central chapel with rosettes of Bramante influence. Mosaics decorate the basins of the apses on a golden background. The lance of San Vito descends from the step and lands beyond the edge of the frame; iron clamps fixed to lead bind the stone curb of the floor; the sides of the room are open and a landscape opens up behind San Vito.

The jewels

Lorenzo Lotto loved jewels, especially cameos. He regularly attended jewelers and goldsmiths with whom he formed long-lasting friendships. Among them, Gian Pietro Crivelli, the brothers Antonio, Bartolomeo and Vittore Carpan, Lauro Orso, Girolamo Pulino da Recanati, Thomas of Empoli. His familiarity with these characters and his passion for these objects led him, right from his first works, such as the Recanati Polyptych, to represent them in an extraordinary way. Note the clasp of the cope, the curl of the crosier that begins with a dolphin and ends with an angel hanging from its tail and the ring with the seal of San Flaviano. The jewel with Christ as a pelican pinned on the chest of Saint Vitus and the nielloed pommel of his sword; the heavy gold necklace and the belt with the large buckle of Saint Sigismund.

• Musical instruments

One of the many unforgettable details of the polyptych is that offered by the two musical cherubs sitting under the throne of the Virgin, recurring in the Venetian sacred works of Giovanni Bellini. They are caught in the same moment, when, as if realizing the solemnity of the scene, they stop playing; the largest of them, the first on the left, has already put away the small rebec and with the bow resting on the other’s arm, gently warns him to stop playing the lute. The rebec, a bowed musical instrument with two to five strings, has a pyriform sound box made from a block of hard wood and a soundboard with CC-shaped openings. The lute, which reached its maximum diffusion in the 16th century, is composed of a shell built with wooden slats. The neck is coplanar with the soundboard and the reclined spatula peg box is fixed orthogonally to it. In the Renaissance the lute was the main instrument used for court and secular music, it could be played with the fingertips or with a wooden or bone plectrum.

• The armor

Among the most extraordinary details of the polyptych are the armor of Saints Vitus and Sigismund. The first, depicted in the right side compartment, wears armor suitable for riding a horse, therefore consisting only of the lower part, with chain mail shoes tied to his foot and a spear with a banner. The meticulous rendering of the chain mail in thin rings, including golden rings, which protrude even at knee height, is extraordinary. The sword, a one and a half hand rapier, with a double S hilt, is richly decorated and worked with the age mina technique, the ancient metal inlay work technique. Saint Sigismund, depicted in the upper right side compartment, carries a sword of German manufacture, used in hunting activities, the handle of which is made of silver decorated with gold leaf and ivory.

 

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