TOSCANA - Firenze
FILE : Val d'Ema Charterhouse 5
TITLE : Grotesquerie with St. Brunone’s stories – The arrival at the Désert de la Chartreuse


The monks little cloister plan

LOCATION: Val d’Ema Charterhouse [Florence Charterhouse] Little cloister, Colloquium of the monks. Wind. n IV a

DIMENSIONS: lancet window 182 x 80 cm; central medallion 31,5 x 21 cm

PROVENANCE: original location

CHRONOLOGY: Like the other stained glass windows: 1559 (central oval) – 1560 (decorative parts); date confirmed by the inscription in the cartouche in the interior half of the external frame on both the sides of this and the contiguous window (n.3).

AUTHOR: stained-glass ovals : unknown author, cartoons; Paolo di Brondo glazier, execution . Decorative frames: unknown author, cartoons; Gualtieri di Fiandra glazier, execution.

ASSIGNMENT: Chapter of the Carthusians.

SUBJECT/S: the storied scene is part of the cycle of the six windows (FIRENZE Val d’Ema Charterhouse 1, 2, 4, 6) that narrate the main events of St. Bruno’s life, the founder of the Carthusian order . This is the third of the three illustrating episodes of ‘Dr. Raymond Diocrès’s Funerals’ taking place in Paris and during which it is said that his remains raised three times crying meaningful sentences of the divine justice. In St. Bruno’s life is narrated that the saint, being present at that event, was so astonished that he decide to retire to an ascetic life.

In the present window Hugh of Grenoble, after personally escorting the seven hermits in the Desért de Chartreuse, shows them the right place seen in his dream. ‘EP(ISCOP)US STELLIS SIBI DUCATU(M) PREBE(N)TIB(US) OSTE(N)DIT IPSIS LOC(UM)’.

In the window the ends up the cycle (FIRENZE Val d’Ema Charterhouse 6), Bruno and his followers are building the first charterhouse.

There are couples of decorations in the windows similar among them (see FIRENZE Val d’Ema Chartehouse1-2, 3-4, 5-6).

In both this window and the previous one (n1) the motif that frames the oval is a cartouche with two grotesqueries with a couple of facing puttoes above it ; behind those a broken curvilinear tympanum architectonic element with a vase in the middle and in it, a cartouche with an inscription. Bottom, a double volutes motif on a winged protome with feminine features, wand two festoons hanging from it.

The exterior decoration is composed of grotesque masks alternating stylised vegetation. In the middle of the side motif, on both sides, the Carthusian symbol and below, in a cartouche, the date ‘1560’.

TelaioCRITICAL NOTES: Giuseppe Bacchi, in his Guide to the monastery was the first to consult the archive sources and to annul the old assignment to Giovanni of Udine that would have realized them on Raphael’s cartoon (Guide 1861, p.34). Bacchi presumed the author was the glazier Maestro Paolo of Brondo fro Genoa, except for the two windows that present the date 1560, works of Gualtieri of Flanders (Bacchi, 1930, pp.113-116).

Marchini (Marchini, 1958, pp. 56-57, 232) notes how Vasari, entrusting the stained glass masters coming from the Flanders, adopted the grotesquerie motif in the stained glass windows as a precious decoration, and about that he cites the Laurenziana Library windows (see FIRENZE Biblioteca Laureziana, the Charterhouse Colloquium and some halls of the Palazzo Vecchio (see FIRENZE Palazzo Vecchio, grotesquerie 1).

A further comparative reading of the works style and of the documents related to the cycles at the Colloquium goes beyond even the considerations made in previous studies by the writer (Chiarelli, 1982, pp. 270-81) and carries to the following remarks.

Leaving the two incomplete windows momentary apart (see FIRENZE Val d’Ema Charterhouse 7,8), in the other six ones two hands can be singled out together with a further and more recent restoration that was more integrative than preservative. The six central stained glass ovals are attributed to the first hand: Raphaelesque is the influence, stylistically quite close to Giulio Romano, they are characterized by a certain expressive ingenuity, clear in the somewhat awkward manner of representing the figures, mainly when foreshortened. They turn out to be a work by Paolo of Brondo. A glazier from Genoa, as confirmed by his surname ‘Brondi’, a family whose presence is documented in Altare, a centre of glass production, since the XVII century (cp. Malandra, 1983, p.20).

The decorations and figures around the central coats of arms were attributed to a second master, identified as Gualtieri of Flanders. That master reveals an extraordinary freshness and fluency in the chiaroscuro effects of the grisaille painting, and maybe of sanguine too, pointed out by a luminous silver yellow and giving life to figures and grotesquerie motifs that from a stylistic and iconographic point of view can be traced back to the mature Florentine Mannerism area, in the same Vasari’s group. Besides, it must be noticed his contrapuntal skill in the use of silver yellow with a technique spared along the border. It is extremely interesting for the history of the mannerist stained glass window to notice how the particular structure of the frame is a determining element for the drawing ductus of the lancet window.

A far as the executive technique is concerned, the master’s provenance is confirmed in a comparison with the works that the Flemish master glaziers exported all over Europe.

That stylistic rereading was borne out by a further revision of the archive documents: Paolo of Brondo seemed to be carrying out a considerable work in order to realize the stained glass windows especially in the church and in the guest quarters of the Charterhouse. He was paid for the works, the materials and the equipment from October 19 1658 to December 1659 (21, cc.178r, 184v, 191r, 194v, 195r, 195v, 197v, 201r). on December 1559 he was paid for ‘six oval figures of glass’ that, on the monks’ request, he brought from Genoa (Ibid. c. 13v; n.45 c.25d). From January 1560 Gualtieri took his place , a master glazier cited as the ‘Fleming’ ( in 22, c. 37v, 85 c.47s) that had a permanent appointment until July of the same year (22, cc.15r, 17r, 26v, 27r 35v, 37v,40r, 44r, 47v; 45 cc. 20, 24, 28, 29, 35, 36, 38, 42,48,53); he works with his cousin George (22.c.37v).

If we consider that until the winter 1559 they were still building up the Colloquium (22, cc. 11r-v); that the wooden pieces of furniture were realized only in the first semester of 1560 (22 c. 37r); and that finally, on June 9 of the same year Antonio di Salvi ‘blacksmith at Galluzzo’ was paid for "libbre 287 fat in telaio per le ramate delle finestre, cioè il finestrone sopra il coro, sei finestre per il Colloquio,…" (22. c.38v) we can confirm the stained glass windows work could be assigned only to Gualtieri of Flanders, the same master cited by Vasari in his ‘Vite’ (Lives), naming him together with his cousin George, as the executor of ‘fired stained glass windows’ for the grand duke, on the same Vasari’s drawing (Vasari, pub. 1881, VII. P.588) The technical skill as well is characteristic of a Flemish master.

CONDITION: there are various re-leaded breaks .The grisaille painting faded away in some parts was restored by De Matteis, a master glazier working for Ditta Bruschi that around 1907-10 was active at the Charterhouse certainly not only as executor of stained glass windows (his it’s the lancet window behind the main altar in Santa Maria Chapel; cp. Bacchi, p. 85), but also as the restorer, a role assumed also in other Florentine churches (cp. Orsanmichele, Santa Croce). The fact that Bruschi was familiar with the windows of the Colloquium is proved by the group of windows in the Kress Coll., now at the Birmingham Museum of Art, that are a clear paraphrase of the Florentine ones.  See De Matteis’ Atelier  and Birmimgham Museum of Art. Raymond Diocrés’ Funerals a, b, c , and The dream of Hugh of Grenoble.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: see Bibl. Charterhouse of Val d’Ema

PHOTOGRAPHIC FILES: Niccolò Orsi Battaglini, Florence

EDITOR: Caterina Chiarelli (November 2001)