TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Church of Orsanmichele 14
TITLE : Musical Angels


DIMENSIONS: Lunette composed of four tracery panels that follow the curve of the portal frame ca. x cm. Two poly-lobed rose windows (2ab, 2bc; diam. cm.), a small central medallion (2b; diam. cm.).

PROVENANCE: Original location.

CHRONOLOGY: 1432 (documented)

AUTHOR: Lorenzo Ghiberti (?) - designs (attribution); Francesco di Giovanni Lastra, Bernardo di Francesco - execution (documented).


SUBJECT/S: Lunette: choir of Musical Angels. The theme of the choir of musical angels seen in this window, and probably also in the adjacent bay, sV, is referable to the ritual of singing laudi mariane, a rite that established the foundation of the cult. The choir was composed of a director, two monks, and ten musicians. The Laudesi were accompanied by the instruments that we see reproduced in the window which, therefore, depicts this popular liturgy. In the two small rose windows are a cheribim (2ab) and a seraphim (2bc), each enclosed in a poly-lobe. Floral motifs fill the spokes of the large rose window.

CRITICAL NOTES: van Straelen is credited with the first systematic study directed at identifying the personalities of the artists who prepared the designs as well as the glaziers who executed the windows. She conducted her research by means of a series of correlations between the stylistic characteristics of the windows of Orsanmichele and documentary sources for glazing activity not only at Orsanmichele but at the Cathedral of Florence and the church of Santa Croce. Pointing to precise chromatic analogies between the Assumption in the facade of the Cathedral, executed by Niccolò di Piero Tedesco (1412-1415), and this lunette, van Straelen saw in this window the collaboration, which she hypothesized from documents, of Niccolò and Lorenzo.

Marchini recognizes in the Musical Angels "vibrant and deep color" that is the artistic expression of Lorenzo Monaco.

Burnam agrees with the attribution of the designs to Lorenzo as proposed by Marchini. And, as to the execution of the window, on the basis of her methodological approach, comes to accept the assignment to Niccolò di Piero Tedesco which was hypothesized by van Straelen and Marchini by proceeding to a comparative analysis of the technical solutions adopted by Niccolò di Piero Tedesco in the Assumption window of S. Maria del Fiore and those found in the two windows of Orsanmichele, this one and the panel nIV, depicting the Vision of Joachim (v. Firenze Orsanmichele 13). Peculiar to Niccolò di Pietro Tedesco’s operative choices is, above all, the juxtaposition of glasses of intense color, such as harsh greens, purple, citrine yellows, bright blues, standing out one next to the other without the mediation of white glass, so as to achieve a saturated effect. And in the three windows appears, as a hallmark of the glazier, a sophisticated rosette pattern that decorates the haloes.

Finiello Zervas, on the basis of the exhaustive group of documents published by her for the first time, reexamines the construction of the northwest and southwest bays (nIV and sIV), and the ghibertian northwest portal (nV), works that were completed between 1429 and 1432, dates, therefore, post quem the Life of the Virgin stained glass series. The documents published by Finiello Zervas provides a means of tracking down the location of the windows in which five of the stained glass compositions are installed (four lunettes of the Life of the Virgin and the Musical Angels window), offering, thereby, an irrefutable date. In particular, several documents can easily be referred to the window of the Musical Angels: beginning with a payment of January 16, 1432 to "Antonio di Franciescho" for the scaffolding "sopra l’uscio d’Orto Sa’Michele"; in April of the same year the two master glaziers were paid for that window ("Finestra del vetro sopra alla detta porta"). As to the artist who prepared the designs, Finiello Zervas invokes the continual working relationship of the two master glaziers and Ghiberti, to whom she assigns the creation of the cartoons for this window and for the windows of the Life of the Virgin cycle.

CONDITION: Fortunately, the stained glass complex of Orsanmichele has not been altered by invasive restorations as has happened for the windows of S. Croce. The loss of the lateral panels in bay nV, can probably be ascribed to the practice established in the nineteenth-century of substituting stained glass windows with clear glass windows to make the interiors more bright. According to documents, in 1918 ten roste istoriate were taken down and placed in crates to protect them from possible war damage; and already on that occasion de Matteis, in his estimate for the removal of the windows, emphasized the poor condition of the panels, in which numerous cracks pervaded the compositions. Nevertheless, their restoration was conducted much later, from 1929 to 1939, by Armando Bruschi, who employed some stopgaps (fortunately not many) described as "vetri ricavati dalle vecchie finestre".

In the years 1969-70 the windows, by then in an advanced stage of deterioration, partly due to damage suffered during the flood of 1966, were restored by S. Papucci of the Guido Polloni Studio. The windows were also in danger because, in some instances, the painted, interior side was reinstalled facing out, and therefore it was exposed to atmospheric agents. In the course of Papucci’s restoration, the stopgaps were eliminated and substituted with modern pieces of glass labelled with the letter "P". The panels were cleaned and releaded.

The Musical Angels is one of the worst preserved panels, though there remains enough original glass to attest to its the superior quality of its glazing.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: See Bibl. Orsanmichele


CONTRIBUTOR: Caterina Pirina January 2001