TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Cathedral 19
TITLE : St. John the Baptist and two Saints

LOCATION: Firenze, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore. Southern tribune, window trib. s IV, Chapel of the Baptist (two-lancet w.).

PROVENANCE: originl location.

DIMENSIONS: cm.700 x 190.

CHRONOLOGY: 1441-43

AUTHOR: Giovanni del Ponte (attribution Neri Lusanna) on a decorative project by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

ASSIGNEMENT: Opera del Duomo.

SUBJECT: a 1-4 Saint; b 1-4 Saint; ab 5-9 St. John the Baptist enthroned in a canopy.

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, as to celebrate Christ’s genealogy (Acidini Luchinat).

The cycle was executed between 1435 and 1443, starting with the windows of the tribunes and finishing with the ones in the chapels, realized in the years 1439-43.

Ghiberti himself drew the cartoons for many of the stained glass windows ; committing others to collaborators, but all in a strict unity of composition and style.

In addition to the work of the many artists, a fine plan of stylistic and chromatic references can be picked up, connecting each stained glass window to the others, according to a rigorous and well worked out project, careful of the relation in the tones that are wisely changed according to location and exposure of the window.

That care to the luminous and chromatic values shows how the works were conceived and "born" like stained glass windows and not like pictorial image on a transparent glass.

As far as colour sensibility is concerned, Ghiberti had already worked at the stained glass production, drawing the cartoons for the ocula on the cathedral’s façade with the Assumption (1405) – maybe collaborating with Mariotto di Nardo (Boskovits)-and the side ones with St. Laurence and St. Stephen (1412-15). Some authors trace the first steps of Ghiberti’s work back to his experiences as a painter and overall in the cycle of frescos made in Pesaro, for Malatesta IV (Salmi), together with Mariotto di Nardo.

As for the possible collaborators in drawing the cartoons, even though there is only a circumstantial evidence in the documents, it has sometimes been proposed the name of Giovanni del Ponte (Poggi/Haines, II, pp.195-7) and in particular the Master’s intervention only to this window, even for its execution. (Neri Lusanna in AA. VV. 1978, pp.244-5). So the artist – with a personality still to be defined, who even the eye of the façade in S. Croce has been attributed to (P. TOESCA Vetrate dipinte fiorentine, in Bollettino d’Arte, XIV, 1920, pp. 2 sgg.) – would be put beside the masters Bernardo di Francesco or Guido di Niccolò, whose activity at the cathedral’s stained glass windows is vast and much more known.

As for the typology, the stained glass W. – as the 14 other of the chapels – takes back the scheme of the iconic window with canopies: introduced in Italy in the 70s of the 13th century (windows of both the French style and Master of St. Francis’ groups in the Assisi Upper Basilica) and quickly developed in central Italy (examples: Grottaferrata (1300 ca.), St. Ludovic and St. Catherine chapels in the Assisi Lower Basilica , Bardi and Tosinghi Spinelli chapels in S. Croce in Firenze). Such a genre has been quickly transformed into the gothic more and more since the 30s of the XIV cent. Besides, there is also a process of "rendering images more concrete" to compare the models with the real contemporary architecture (see the following Fiorentine exs.: Baroncelli chapel in S. Croce by Taddeo Gaddi (1332-38); Strozzi chapel in S. Maria Novella by Nardo di Cione (1360-70); S. Croce apse by Agnolo Gaddi (1380); Certosa del Galluzzo chapel by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini (1395 ca.).

The change into a "prospectic" and monumental style reaches its peak in the window of the Florentine Duomo – especially in that by Antonio di Piasa in 1395 (v Firenze Cattedrale 11) – and in that by Mariotto di Nardo in St. Domenic in Perugia (1411) (see Perugia C. di S. Domenico 1), coming then to Umbria and Toscana also in the second half , but with fewer models (see for ex. The stained glass w. of the Duomo in Prato or the panels collected in the Assisi Basilica Museum, coming from Perugia and Foligno)

Ghiberti, a man in the transition between Gothic and Renaissance, takes part of this school but starting its crisis: to the traditional gothic canopy of the upper part, he instead opposes a sober setting and rigorously made out by the linear prospective, anticipating the need of updating the typology that will become clearer and clearer in the second half of the century, when the classical taste of the Renaissance will take the place of the obsolete Gothic.

CONDITIONS: All the Cathedral stained glass windows have undergone a through restoration and integration work, of which considerable is the latest, executed by U. de Matteis of Bruschi’s glasswork (end XI – beginning XIX century) and by Studio Tolleri in Florence (1946-1957).

The most recent intervention was led by Prof. S. Papucci, A. Beccatini and R. Cappelletti of Studio Polloni in Florence, concluded in May 1989.

The dissembling was made with great care as the stained glass was without frame. On the outer side of the glasses deposits has been found, at times biotic elements as well that, together with dampness, is the cause of the present corrosion of the glass. The deposits have been washed off with distilled water, compresses of E.D.T.A., ammonium carbonate and scalpel for the cavities. To protect the glass, a blend of heated linseed oil and beeswax was spread on the surfaces .On the inner sides the black smog deposits have been cleaned up with compresses of ammonium carbonate in solution. Then, the polishing of the lead frames – they turned out to be not the originals but made in the restorations of the XIX-XX century – and the soldering of the parts broken.

The crevices in the tesseras have been stuck 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 to protect and isolate it from external humidity, thanks to the isothermal glazing.

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

BIBLIOGRAFIA: vedi Bibl. FIRENZE –GHIBERTI.

REF. FOTOGRAFICHE:

ESTENSORE: Marina Del Nunzio (ottobre 2000).