Masaccio’s San Giovenale Triptych displayed for the very first time alongside work by the great painters of his day
The first exhibition in the Terre degli Uffizi 2022 project showcases the first ever juxtaposition of work by Masaccio and by the great Dominican painter Fra’ Angelico, whose celebrated St. Peter Martyr Triptych will also be on display in the exhibition
To mark the 600th anniversary of Masaccio’s San Giovenale Triptych on 23 April 2022, the great Renaissance master’s altarpiece is being displayed in dialogue with work by the great painters of his day. From 23 April to 23 October the Museo Masaccio d’Arte Sacra in Reggello will be hosting an exhibition entitled ‘Masaccio and the Masters of the Renaissance, in Dialogue to Celebrate the San Giovenale Triptych’s 6th Centenary’. Promoted and organised by the Museo Masaccio d’Arte Sacra and the Comune di Reggello, the exhibition is part of the Terre degli Uffizi 2022 project devised and produced by the Gallerie degli Uffizi and the Fondazione CR Firenze in the context of their respective Uffizi Diffusi and Piccoli Grandi Musei schemes.
An inscription on the lower edge of the triptych depicting the Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Bartholomew, St. Blaise, St. Juvenal and St. Anthony the Abbot tells us in modern, humanist capital letters rather than in traditional Gothic script that the picture was painted in: ANNO DOMINI MCCCCXXII A DI VENTITRE DAP(RILE). This is the first known picture to have been painted by the great artist Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone, nicknamed Masaccio, a genius whose art revolutionised Italian 15th century painting and left its mark on art in the Valley of the Arno and beyond down the centuries. Considered truly revolutionary for that particular moment in history and defined by Antonio Paolucci as
“the painting in which we encounter the genetic code of great modern Western painting”, the triptych testifies to what Vasari tells us about the artist in his Lives of the Artists when he says that in the Valley of the Arno “one may still see some figures made by him in his earliest childhood”.
In addition to illustrating the historical and artistic circumstances surrounding the production of the triptych, the exhibition also sets out to reappraise and to explore in greater depth the artist’s relationship with the painting of his day and its “formidable ferments of innovation”. At the same time, it will be looking for more certain information regarding Masaccio’s formative years as an artist, a period still largely unexplored and uncertain, by gathering around the triptych work by artists who were Masaccio’s contemporaries and who, albeit from different viewpoints, shared with him the ambition to see a renewal of painting in terms both of content and of iconographical models.
The artist who painted the San Giovenale Triptych was unknown until a few short decades ago. In 1956 the then parish priest of the small church of San Giovenale, Fr. Renato Lombardi, realised that the condition of the triptych behind the high altar was rapidly deteriorating on account of the damp in the church and he asked the Soprintendenza alle Gallerie in Florence to restore it. The picture was taken to Florence in 1961 to take part in an Exhibition of Old Master Religious Art from the dioceses of Florence, Fiesole and Prato, before finally being restored and studied in depth. Luciano Berti, then an official with the Soprintendenza before going on to become Director of the Uffizi in 1969 and an art historian and curator with an extremely fine flair and a unique sensibility, analysed the painting intensely and with the utmost lucidity, concluding that it was by Masaccio and that it was a milestone in the history of Early Renaissance painting. The triptych has been an object of ever growing interest since then, generating a constant stream of scholarship, study and exploration.
The exhibition proposes a direct comparison, never attempted before, between Masaccio and the great Dominican painter Fra Angelico (Vicchio di Mugello, 1395/1400 – 1455), a truly professional artist up to date with all the most recent developments in the art of his day and the first and most talented interpreter of Masaccio’s innovative style. The exhibition will be showcasing his St. Peter Martyr Triptych from the Museo di San Marco in Florence, which recent scholarship has set firmly within the radius of the young Valdarno artist’s influence. At the same time, and in parallel, the exhibition also sets out to offer an insight into artistic production towards the start of Masaccio’s career, either before or shortly after his first work as an independent painter, by hosting works – some of them little known to scholars – by painters working in the Valdarno area and still bound to the Late Gothic figurative tradition.
Other artists from Florentine circles in the last quarter of the 14th century whose work will be on display include Masolino da Panicale (Panicale di Renacci, San Giovanni Valdarno, 1383/4 – recorded until 1435), Masaccio’s partner in the Brancacci Chapel and a sophisticated artist who, though remaining bound to his Late Gothic training, took a first step into the Renaissance world to produce a synthesis merging elements of tradition with the new classical ideals. The exhibition will be showcasing his celebrated Madonna of Humility from the Uffizi. The exhibition also hosts a surprising early work by Filippo Lippi (Florence, c. 1406 – Spoleto, 1469), a keen experimenter who was to become one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and who, in his youthful phase, was heavily influenced by Masaccio, as we can see from the Madonna and Child from a private collection showcased in the exhibition which he painted while still a young man and in which he shows himself to be a pioneering follower of Masaccio.
The Director of the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, explained: “It is no mere coincidence that this exhibition coincides with the Donatello exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi and the Museo del Bargello. It shows that Florence and Reggello are united in the study and reappraisal of one of the most astonishing moments in Western art and culture, the birth of the Renaissance”.
The Director General of the Fondazione CR Firenze said: “This is the first of eight exhibitions that will be shining the spotlight on our region’s rich art heritage. The Terre degli Uffizi project offers us a unique opportunity to decentralise tourist flows while enhancing our minor museums. We hope that people flock to see this unprecedented exhibition just as they did with the exhibitions that made up the first edition”.
“The San Giovenale Triptych’s sixth centenary is an important and valuable moment for Reggello that heightens our awareness of just how strong a bond there was between Masaccio and this region and its people – explained the Mayor of Reggello, Piero Giunti -. Reggello and its community have looked, and still look today more than ever before, at the San Giovenale Triptych with pride in the knowledge that they are the guardians of a ‘precious treasure’ which they need to protect while at the same time acquainting a broader audience with it”.
The Terre degli Uffizi project is also produced thanks to the collaboration of Unicoop Firenze. For further information on the exhibitions please consult this website: https://www.uffizi.it/eventi/terre-uffizi-mostre. The website also contains a number of documentary videos illustrating the exhibitions that marked the first edition of the project.
Press release from the press offices of Fondazione CR and Gallerie degli Uffizi.