TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Church of Orsanmichele 16
TITLE : Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

LOCATION: Bay nIV, panel 1b

DIMENSIONS: Poly-lobed lunette ca. 140 x 165 cm. In the same bay are two other poly-lobed lunettes (without stained glass windows; 1a, 1c; cm. 140 x 165), three six-lobed medallions (2a, 2b, 2c; diam. 50 cm.), two double six-lobed medallions (3ab, 3bc; diam. 85 cm.), and a rose window (4b; diam. 140 cm.).

PROVENANCE: Original Location

CHRONOLOGY: c. 1429. According to Finiello Zervas, the panel belongs to a third glazing campaign.

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

PATRONAGE: In February 1413, Arrigo di Bacciameo di Leone made available 500 florins to dower poor girls and fund two stained glass windows to be placed above the western doors, for which he was permitted to choose the subjects; in return, the Capitani were to help him with his court cases pending before the Sei della Mercanzia . According to Finiello Zervas, the windows glazed during the third campaign must have been partially paid for by Arrigo’s donation.

SUBJECT/S: The episode depicted in this lunette is part of the series dedicated to the Life of the Virgin. The two other lunettes of Bay nIV, whose stained glass windows have been lost, most likely originally depicted the Nativity of the Virgin (1a) and the Marriage of the Virgin (1c).

Depicted in the three smaller medallions (2a, 2b, 2c) are busts of prophets. In the double six-lobed medallions (2ab, 2bc), the central panels depict busts of Angels; the outer lobes depict floral motifs. In the center of the rose window is a rosette enclosed in a quadrifoil from which radiate spokes filled with floral motifs.

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. Basing herself on documents published by Milanesi, van Straelen proposed 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. According to Milanesi, Niccolò di Piero Tedesco glazed designs by Lorenzo Monaco in 1409 for unspecified windows in Orsanmichele and was repeatedly employed at Orsanmichele; therefore, van Straelen infers a continual collaborative relationship between the two artists for the windows of the Oratory. While van Straelen pays particular attention to certain windows, such as the Vision of Joachim (see Firenze C. di Orsanmichele 13) and the Miracle of the Child Saved from Drowning (see Firenze C. di Orsanmichele 9), this window (sIII, pann.1b) and others are left ill-defined regarding the collaborative relationship between the creator of the designs and the master glazier who translated them into glass.

Marchini, based on the presumption that the stylistic qualities of a stained glass window are attributable to the painters who designed the cartoons, of which the master glazier is a mere executor, searches for the authors of the cartoons from among the artists called to decorate the Oratory, among whom Agnolo Gaddi, Niccolò Gerini, Ambrogio di Baldese, and Lorenzo Monaco. He justifies the difficulty in reaching a precise identification by alleging that the various personalities would have been obscured by the glazing of the cycle by a single workshop or, at the most, two. In particular, his stylistic investigation hits upon only a few lunettes; dwelling upon the nI lunettes, Marchini is of the opinion that they can be assigned to the artistic current of academic giottismo, with reminiscences of Niccolò Gerini. Regarding the Assumption of the Virgin, having assigned the design for the Vision of Joachim window to Lorenzo Monaco (see Firenze C. di Orsanmichele 13), the scholar recognizes in the remaining stories of the Life of the Virgin lorenzettian influences, albeit touched "con qualche andamento costretto e in robustezza di colori bassi e contrastati".

Following the methodological approach she employed for examining the other stained glass windows in Orsanmichele, Burnam addresses her research principally at recognizing the contribution of the master glaziers, not only in the figurative details of the compositions, but also in the decorative repertoire of borders, rose window spokes, and "straforamina", all choices ascribable to the master glazier alone. Therefore, the scholar proceeds to a comparison between the solutions adopted by Niccolò di Piero Tedesco in the occhio of the Assumption in S. Maria del Fiore and in the decoration of Bay sIV: in both the luminous effect is accomplished by means of a kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of red, green, yellow, and blue glass whose chromatic intensity is increased by the shrill notes of white glass. This affinity in the glazing choices prompts the supposition that also the medallions and rose window of this bay (nIV) should be given to Niccolò di Piero’s workshop. But in the lunette below, depicting the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, one does not encounter the same cromatic gaiety seen in the decorative glass above it. And perhaps this dicotomy can be ascribed to a direct intervention of the artist that made the cartoons. The typological analogies between the figures in the two lunettes, the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (see Firenze C. di Orsanmichele 17), and the saints of the Impruneta altarpiece by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, persuades the scholar to advance, albeit with much caution, the name of Gerini for these two windows and for the other of the cycle, the Assumption of the Virgin (see Firenze C. di Orsanmichele 15).

Finiello Zervas’ discovery of a group of documents enables her to make a new, decisive contribution, by pin-pointing, on the basis of archival sources, attributions and dating for the phase of glazing that the scholar defines as the "third campaign". On May 24, 1429, the Capitani of Orsanmichele allocated 50 florins on behalf of Francesco di Giovanni Lastra "che si fanno come piacesse ‘loro". Not many months later, on Novembe 4 of the same year, Lastra, together with his associate Francesco di Bernardo were paid another 50 florins for the total cost of 102 florins "che debbono avere della finestra del vetro…che feciono nell’oratorio sopra la porta ch’ è dirimpetto al’Arte de’ Bechai" [OSM, 62, ff. 5, 12]. The documents do not indicate the subject of the window, but the indication of the Palazzo dell’Arte dei Beccai is enough for an identification with Bay nIV. Finiello Zervas’ stylistic notes focus on the perspective used in this lunette: the architecture is not a mere late-gothic backdrop, but a true perspective box in proportion to the figures, with the same compositional approach seen in many of the bronze reliefs on the ghibertian north door, such as Christ Before Pilate; also, the same full modelling is encountered in the tribune windows of S. Maria del Fiore, executed on cartoons supplied by Ghiberti. The attribution to Ghiberti of the three windows of Orsanmichele’s "third glazing campaign" is affirmed not only by stylistic references but also by his presence in the keep of Orsanmichele as superintendent of the works of the Oratory.

In the inextricable web of collaborations and successive restorations that characterize the works of the stained glass windows of S. Maria del Fiore, the personalities of the master glaziers evade unequivocal definition. Due to invasive reworking and extensive replacement of original glass, the stained glass window of S. Zanobi (see Firenze Cattedrale 26), impedes distinguishing between the two personalities of Bernardo di Francesco and Francesco di Giovanni Lastra in the context of their close collaboration. Executed, so it seems, in 1428, only a year earlier than the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, the S. Zanobi window, had it not been marred, could have furnished illuminating elements of comparison through close examination on a restorer’s table. Burnam, in her volume on the stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Pisa (in press), dedicates ample space to Leonardo Della Scarperia, called "Lastra", pupil of Francesco di Giovanni.

CONDITION: Fortunately, the stained glass complex of Orsanmichele has not been altered by invasive restorations as has happened for the windows of S. Croce. 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, which had numerous cracks. 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, by then in an advanced stage of deterioration, partly due to damage suffered during the flood of 1966, the windows were restored by 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 labeled with the letter "P". The panels were cleaned and releaded.

The panel has been subject to invasive restorations, probably already before the restoration of 1930. Many tesseras are modern; others have been reused to repair the garments of the Virgin. Some of the faces have been repainted.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: See Bibl. Orsanmichele

PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE: Archivio R. Burnam

CONTRIBUTOR: Caterina Pirina, February 2001.