TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Cathedral 29
TITLE : Virgin with Child an two Saints

LOCATION: Firenze, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore - Apsidal Tribune, apse window s III, Saint Jacopo the Younger’s and Saint Philip’s chapels (mullioned window).

PROVENANCE: original location.

DIMENSIONS: cm. 700 x 190.

CHRONOLOGY: 1442 (documented: commission 13/1/1442).

AUTHOR: Domenico di Piero da Pisa on Lorenzo Ghiberti’s decorative project.

ASSIGNEMENT: Opera del Duomo.

SUBJECT: a 1-4 Saint; b 1-4 Saint; ab 5-8 Enthroned Virgin with child in a canopy.

CRITICAL NOTES: The window is part of the works in the transept projected by Lorenzo Ghiberti that extend also to the 30 windows in the Tribunes and the Chapels. They were realized by various master glaziers between 1435 and 1443 aiming to celebrate - in a vast iconographic program – Christ’s genealogy (Acidini Luchinat).

Ghiberti drew the cartoons himself of some windows, as he had already drawn the ocula in the façade, with the Assumption (1405) –maybe in collaboration with Mariotto di Nardo (Boskovitz) - , St. Laurence and St. Stephen on the sides (1412-15). Furthermore, he supervised the various glaziers so that the whole work comes up to be homogeneous in the style and colors; characterized by refined thematic and chromatic references from chapel to chapel and overall by uniformity of lighting and a subtle calculation of the windows exposure

In this case, the window of the Virgin was made by Domenico di Piero da Pisa, a religious man active as a glazier especially in his town. He was urged by the Opera del Duomo several times, in order to finish upp his work in Florence.

Beside the artist’s contribution, what stands out in this work is the lay out of the main figures that is typical of Ghiberti’s. Favouring a composition based on foreshortening – as can also be seen in the windows of St. John the Evangelist, Thomas, St. Zanobi – the artist represents a certain twisting movement of the figure, exalting linear rhythms of the mantle drapery, with soft undulations.

However, a certain evolution can be found there if compared with the elaborate and ‘abstract’ decoration of the draperies in the previous windows of the Assumption and, overall, of St. Laurence, as if Ghiberti wished to make a compromise between the greater consistency of the volume and the elegance of the late gothic tradition.

There is a compromise also in the iconic typology. In fact, in the lower part of the window- where the figures are ‘contained’ in a considerable perspective in a very plain architecture - there is a reference to the more ‘classic’ orientation of the Florentine culture of the ‘400; on the top of the window, the traditional gothic image of the canopies ids still predominant.

Such a typology, brought in Italy in the last decades of ‘200 (Assisi, Upper Basilica) and spread rapidly all through the ‘300 in more and more elaborated models and similar to those of the contemporary architecture (examples in Assisi, Lower Basilica ; Firenze, S. Croce, S. Maria Novella, Certosa del Galluzzo, Cathedral naves) up to the beginning of the ‘400 , in the height of its elaboration ( see Perugia, Church of St .Domenic 1). With Ghiberti starts the crisis in that tradition and its following decline, when gradually, there are more and more models of architecture ‘ancient’-like that will replace the old gothic ones.

As far as iconography is concerned, the two Saints of the lower register have been identified (Acidini Luchinat) as St. Jacopo the Younger and St. Philip, titular saints of the Chapel and close to the Child for their relationship.

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 October 1990.

The dissembling was made with great care as the stained glass was without frame. On the outer surface of the glasses deposits were found, at times together with biotic elements that, together with humidity, is the cause of the present corrosion of the glass. The deposits were 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 baked linseed oil and beeswax was passed on the surfaces .On the inner surfaces the black smog deposits were cleaned up with compresses of ammonium carbonate in solution. Then, the cleaning of the lead frames – came 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 were stuck with U.V. ray photosensitive resins, occasionally with pieces of colourless glass purposely shaped, and then painted without heating process.

Noteworthy are the two faces of the saints that resulted to be previously restored. On the contrary, the face of the Virgin is among the few originals still left, even though during the last restoration there was evidence of crevices reset in the past with such a web of lead that it altered the features of the figure completely.

During the work some tesseras replaced in previous restorations were singled out. They are fragments and paintings whose origins are unknown but certainly related to ancient windows – even though made later if compared to our window –that presented chromatic notes clashing with the context.

Addressed by Mrs C. Acidini Luchinat, of the Monument and Fine Art Office in Florence, they decided to replace all the fragments damaging for the reading of the work. That operation was documented in each single passage: the fake tesseras were removed, than a photographic survey of the stained glass window was carried out.

Then, several tests were made to single out the exact chromatic value of the glasses and grisaille to be used in the remaking. Afterwards, the drawing of each tessera was realized on paper, then followed the painting and heating of the new tesseras, all signed "P", a useful symbol in their identification. The dismantled pieces were catalogued and their numbering was reproduced on the scheme of the lead web. The new replaced tesseras are 86.

The fragments were removed and reassembled. As some fragments were missing, they were reproduced, glued on a support of colourless glass and retouched with painting.

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 and graphic and photos surveys, with also a scheme of the previous integrations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: see Bibl. FIRENZE –GHIBERTI.

PHOTOGRAPHIC FILES:

EDITOR: Marina Del Nunzio (October 2000).