TUSCANY - Florence
FILE : Cathedral 2
TITLE : Coronation of the Virgin

LOCATION: Firenze, S. Maria del Fiore Cathedral Dome tambour Ta1 (roundel)

DIMENSIONS: diametro cm 480 c.

PROVENANCE: collocazione originaria

CHRONOLOGY: 1434-38

AUTHOR: Donatello – cartoon (documented), Domenico di Piero - execution (documented)

ASSIGNMENT: Opera del Duomo

SUBJECT/S : Coronation of the Virgin. The subject is one of the Christological episodes included in the complex iconographic programme dedicated to the Glorification of the Virgin: the Annunciation (Ta5-destroyed), the Nativity (Ta6), the Presentation at the Temple (Ta4),the Prayer in the Garden (Ta3), the Resurrection (Ta8), the Ascension (Ta2); the sequence ends up with the Coronation of the Virgin (Ta1), located above St. Zenobi Chapel.

CRITICAL NOTES: Once the works at the grandiose dome by Brunelleschi were near the end, the interest turned to the eight round-shaped windows of the tambour finishing them with their relative stained glass window. That is the period when Ghiberti, completed the three ocula in the counter-façade, was contemporary working both at the Orsanmichele’s yard and to the Golden gate of the Baptistery. The Opera del Duomo assigned a cartoon, as a sample, of the first stained glass window both to Ghiberti and Donatello, a roundel above St. Zenobi chapel. They chose Donatello’s project and he was paid on 25th August 1434.

Three weeks before the artist was paid, the Opera del Duomo purchased the nails, and the workers were supplied with bread and wine so that they could go on working on Saturday too ‘ad achonc[i]are e’ disegni degli ochi’. That fact, as Martin pointed out, together with the high amount of money given to both the artists (18 Fiorins to Donatello and 15 to Ghiberti) is evidence of how the artists’ commitment to present their own coloured and in full-size cartoon, locating it in situ as to esteem its overall effect.

Donatello’s cartoon introduced in the stained glass window that new orientation in the perspective he was already carrying out in sculpture. The composition doesn’t move back very deep, represented in an episode compressed in the space and defined by the throne basement. The border, generally decorated with floral motifs, here is part of the perspective definition: seraphs and cherubs peep from the splay of an intrados that sticking out highlight the splay.

The execution was given to Domenico di Piero and to Angelo Lippi that had been drawn the work out from 1434 to the end of 1437. When the two master glaziers received the commission, on 30th April 1434, the Opera gave them a certain amount of glass as well, together with an earnest of 40 Fiorins and the use of a house where the two artists could work. But in 1435 already, they left Florence. Burnam, in her volume on the stained glass windows of Pisa’s Cathedral, dedicates a chapter to Domenico di Piero. It’s a small chapter as the loss of the windows made by Domenico in Pisa precluded her a deeper study on the master’s activity. Yet, from the documents collected it comes out that a persistent activity in Pisa of Domenico, prior of S. Sisto church in the town that had already assigned him two important windows in 1433; one with St, Ranieri, in the apse, the other in the choir. Their loss prevents the scholars from making any comparison with Donatello’s roundel.

In the meantime, the works at the roundel in the Florentine cathedral became urgent and the rebukes of the Florentine Opera’s supervisors were more and more pressing. On 16th August ‘35, while the purchase of the ground for the furnace was provided, the Opera’s supervisors at the yard threatened the masters with an economic sanction of 40 Fiorins if they didn’t hand them out the roundel. Furthermore, in December, the Opera was compelled to ask the Captain of Pisa to order an injunction to Domenico so that he was sent back to Florence to finish the work. According to Burnam’s cautious theory, as the Opera registers of that period are lost, Domenico was active at the glazing works of the Pisa’s Cathedral.

In March 1436, the artist weren’t in Florence yet. Thus, the Opera’s supervisors at S. Maria del Fiore on one hand urged the Captain of Pisa to guarantee Domenico’s return to Florence by three days; on the other, they asked the Vicar Mugello to issue a writ of subpoena against Angelo Lippi. In the end, the works went on: on 26th June 12 Fiorins were paid for chests of glass coming from Venice. On 19th December 1437 the two masters were paid for the window-laying.

In April 1439 Domenico is no more active in Florence, maybe recalled in Pisa for other business commitments. Prove of that is the request – made when they were running out of glass necessary to continue the works - to Ludovicho de Magnate (superintendent of the ‘Opera del Duomo’ in Pisa) by the Opera of the Florentine Cathedral in order to put pression on Domenico that habet plures cassas vitreorum pro faciendo fenestras…. Quod iuxta posse faciat ipsos habere pro pretio condecenti. Furhermore, they add: cum sit senex et non sit in termino ipsos laborandi. It is unknown whether Domenico fulfilled the request or not, but in spite of his stated ‘oldness’, the master glazier’s activity at S. Maria del Fiore started again. Between 1442 and 1443 he carried out the windows of the two chapels in the tribune dedicated to St. Bartholomew and Saints and to St. Matthias (see Firenze Cattedrale 18,23). And he continued his activity in Pisa where after the window behind the main altar of St. Martin in Kinzica’s (1448-49) he also made the windows for the church at the Captain’s Palace (1452-53)

Beside the extraordinary perspective created by Donatello, the Coronation of the Virgin window is an unicum even for its execution. Trying to interpret Donatello’s cartoon, Domenico used almost only large pieces cut out from ‘round’ glasses or cives . The difference in the undulating thickness due to the blowing, was turned into gaudy marbling that Domenico used in order to obtain the gushing loosening of the folds in the cloths. Such an execution doesn’t recur in the windows of the Tribune, close in style to the other apsidal windows that strictly follow Ghiberti’s project. Domenico’s personality is still elusive.

CONDITIONS: As all the Cathedral stained glass windows this roundel underwent 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 irritating lead frame made in the several breakings is due to those restorations. There is a clear deterioration in the great loss of grisaille painting, no more readable in many pieces.

The most recent intervention was led by Prof. S. Papucci, A. Beccatini and R. Cappelletti of Studio Polloni in Florence . 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 and the soldering of the parts broken. All the broken pieces were glued and the lead frame grid remaking was taken off. All the painting integrations were without heating process. 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:

Sources

G.POGGI Il duomo di Firenze, Firenze, (1909), ed. a cura M. Haines 1988, pp. nn. 720,721, 724-34, 740,798.

Texts

H. VAN STRAELEN Studien zur Florentiner Glasmalerei des Trecento und Quattrocento, Wattenschad, 1938, pp. 81-83

G. MARCHINI Le vetrate italiane, Milano Electa, 1955 p.42, n.53; C.ACIDINI LUCHINAT Le vetrate, in AA.VV. La cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore a Firenze, Firenze, 1995, vol. II, pp. 278-80; F. MARTIN- P. G.RUF Le vetrate di S. Francesco in Assisi, Assisi, 1998, pp. 132 –3.

As far as Paolo Uccello’s activity is concerned, see A. ANGELINI Paolo Uccello in AAVV Pittura di luce, Milano, 1990, pp. 73- 84.

As for the bibliography of the whole stained glass windows complex of the Cathedral, see Bibl.Ghiberti .

For an exhaustive general bibliography on Donatello see: A. PHIPPS DARR- G. BONSANTI Donatello e i suoi - scultura fiorentina del primo Rinascimento, Milano, 1986

PHOTOGRAPHIC FILES: Electa Editrice Archives, Milan.

EDITOR: Caterina Pirina, Febbraio 2001