TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Cathedral 16
TITLE : Antony Abbot and two bishops saints

LOCATION: Firenze, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore. Southern Tribune, trib. window s III, St. Antony Abbot chapel (two-lancet w.).

PROVENANCE: original location.

DIMENSIONSI: cm.700 x 190.

CHONOLOGY: 1441-43.

AUTHOR: Bernardo di Francesco (in collaboration with Niccolò di Pietro Tedesco ?) (attrib.) on a decorative project by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

ASSIGNEMENT: Opera del Duomo.

SUBJECT: a 1-3 bishop Saint; b 1-3 bishop Saint; ab 4 –7 St. Antony Abbot enthroned in a canopy. Inscription S(an)C(tu)S ANTONIVS AB.

CRITICAL NOTES: The window belongs to a vast decorative cycle planned by Ghiberti between 1435 and 1443 for the cathedral tribunes ad the chapels, depicting prophets, kings, apostles, the Virgin and Child, in order to celebrate Christ’s genealogy and point out the continuity between the Old and the New Testament (Acidini Luchinat).

Even though Ghiberti’s painting activity at times has been criticized (Lane) or even passed over, it appears instead to be a very meaningful step to his artistic evolution, considering moreover the process of synthesis between the Florentine new ideas in the composition, in the van of experimentation and search for rhythms, elegance, preciousness, and the linear flexuosity of the late gothic tradition.

Besides, Ghiberti had already worked at windows, preparing the cartoons for the ocula on façade with the Assumption (1405) –maybe collaborating with Mariotto di Nardo (Boskovits)- and those for the sides with St. Laurence and St. Stephen (1412-15). Ghiberti himself also realized some cartoons for the decoration of the Tribunes and the Chapels, assigning others to collaborators, but all in a strict unity of composition and style.

The composite character of Ghiberti’s culture –hovering between Humanism and late Gothic – can be already grasped in the layout of the space in his window: in the lower part the "setting" that contains the figures is highlighted in its cubature thanks to the linear prospective, whilst in the upper part the canopy with the Titular Saint still represents a sumptuous gothic image and a less concrete study of the perspective..

That compromise between modernity and tradition is just Ghiberti’s personal choice in his interpreting of the iconic window with canopies typology: exquisitely gothic, it was imported from France to Italy in the 70ies of the 13th century (windows of both the French style and St. Francis’ Maestro groups in the Assisi Upper Basilica) and quickly absorbed and reinterpreted by the XIV c. glaziers in line with a taste aiming at being likely, at rendering the architectonic segments, a three-dimensional space.

That typology, spreading among the Minor Orders (see for instance the window at the Assisi Lower Basilica, at S. Croce and at S. Maria Novella in Firenze), arrives at the cathedral with the four nave windows (see Firenze Cattedrale 11,12,13,14) then continuing thanks especially to Mariotto di Nardo and his masterpiece at St. Domenic in Perugia (1411) (see Perugia C. of S. Domenico1), but also through Ghiberti, until the end of the century .

He represents the typology ver well in this window, in the figure of St. Antony abbot, but also in the two Bishops, work characterized by the slender figure, the composed attitude and, overall, the narrow and falling shoulders, as expressed in some sculptural groups (see the St. John the Baptist for Orsanmichele in 1414-15).

However, besides that search for formal elegance a care for the perspective persists, revealed by the presence of a flag at bottom right, that seems to come out of the window frame itself, thus creating a space where depth is unfolded in more plains.

At the same time, the winding lines of the standard make the representation in part more dynamic, creating a rhythm of lines with both the Bishop and the Titular Saint’s drapes, that may bring into mind in a toned down version the linear harmony in the already cited ocula in the façade with St. Laurence (1412-15).

The same refinement is found in the chromatic choice of the window, in the contrast/concordance between the figure of St. Antony abbott and the background, in the particular techniques used to create precious fabrics with damasks and the same general vision and layout of the work that conceive the figures first as pure colouristic values to be brightened with the light, changing according to the location of each chapel.

As far as iconography is concerned, even though hard is to identify the two bishops, the flag represented has been interpreted (Acidini Luchinat) to be that of the Guelphs and that St. Antony was the protector of the faction: in that case city life and religious feeling appear to be indissolubly united.

CONDITIONS: the window underwent many restorations, one dates to 1752 as from the year made ‘a graffio’ on the replaced glass. A further intervention dates instead to the XIX century, but in that case the year is unknown because the last letters made are illegible.

Between the end of the XIX and the starting of the XX the restoration by U. de Matteis of Bruschi glasswork, while the intervention of Studio Tolleri in Firenze dates to1946-57: most of the integrations and replacing of the original lead framing is due to the two latter restorations. Blame worthy is especially the full replacing of the figures’ faces with ‘copies’ that as a matter of fact creates a disturbing effect and extraneousness in the reading of the work.

In June 1984 the stained glass window was restored by prof. S. Papucci , A. Becattini and R. Cappelletti of Studio Polloni in Firenze: The dissembling was made with great care as the stained glass window, like the others, was without framing.

On the outer sides of the glasses dust deposits have been found, taking off biotic elements that have partially caused the process of deterioration in act of the glasses for the dampness. Those deposits have been washed off with distilled water, compresses of E.D.T.A., ammonium carbonate and scalpel for the cavities on the glasses. On the polished sides a protective veil has been spread made of heated linseed oil blended in beeswax. On the inner sides the black smog and dust deposits have been washed off with compresses of ammonium carbonate in light solution. Despite the lead framing was not the original, yet it was damaged and thus polished and soldered in the broken joints.

In the broken tesserae the lead frames cobwebs have been taken off and glued in again with U.V. ray photosensitive resins, occasionally with shaped pieces of colourless glass, and then painted without heating process. All the painting integrations are without heating.

The stained glass window has a frame and a counter-frame in brass and crystals in order to protect and isolate it from external dampness, thanks also to the air circulation from inside of the church..

The whole work has been documented with reports, graphic and photos surveys, also with a scheme of the previous integrations.



ESTENSORE: Marina Del Nunzio (luglio 2000).