Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 119



116
Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
It has not previously been observed that another
important, early mention of the altarpiece occurs in
Pietro Antonio Pacifico’s Cronica Veneta, first published
in 1697 and then again in 1736; this – following
Sansovino’s description of the church – states that,
on entering, “on the right-hand side there is the
Saint Thomas altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini, and
then the one of Saint Vincent, by the same author.”7
Pacifico’s work – like Sansovino’s – was intended as
a guide to the city, and in some respects should be
considered a more accurate reflection of what must
have been common knowledge in the monastery
than the accounts of critical writers. However, in
order to accept the attribution of the polyptych to
Giovanni Bellini it is necessary first to establish a clear
understanding of the work’s chronology.
Fig. 4. / Giovanni Bellini,
Miracle of the Drowned
Girl and Miracle of the
Girl Buried Beneath the
Rubble, Saint Vincent
Ferrer Polyptych, ca.
1464, panel, Venice, Santi
Giovanni e Paolo.
Fig. 5 / Giovanni Bellini,
Miracle of the Preaching
to the Sinful Couple, Saint
Vincent Ferrer Polyptych,
ca. 1464, panel, Venice,
Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
Fig. 6 / Giovanni Bellini,
Miracle of the Baby in the
Fire and Miracle of the
Tied Young Man, Saint
Vincent Ferrer Polyptych,
ca. 1464, panel, Venice,
Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
The documents about the altar published by Gino
Fogolari in 1932 have often been considered unreliable,
most of them being no longer traceable.8 However,
given the fact that they are the only documents that
have to date been directly linked to the execution, it is
worth looking at them again, together with the existing
archival evidence from the papers of the “Scuola di San
Vicenzo Ferrer.”
The mariegola or statute book for the Principio della
Scuola di S. Vincenzo (foundation of the Scuola of
Saint Vincent) is dated 1450, five years prior to the
canonization of the Valencian saint (1455), and eight
years before the Council of Ten granted permission
for the Scuola to erect a building (1458). Chapter
sixteen of the statutes states that the newly elected
guardiano of the Scuola should take over the post from
his predecessor before the altar of Saint Vincent
Ferrer, with the Cross in his hand (la Croce in man),
a passage that has created some misunderstanding
in the past, as it was interpreted to indicate to the
existence of a wooden statue of the saint with a cross
in his hand.9 Nevertheless, this statute makes it clear
that the Scuola already had plans for an altar at this
117
stage. That construction of this commenced a few
years later is suggested by one of the lost documents
published by Fogolari, recording a payment for wood
for the altar of San Vincenzo Ferrer (lignamine pro dicti
altaris) in a book of expenses bearing the date 1453.10
A note in Rocco Curti’s eighteenth-century Cronaca
– an important manuscript largely based on now lost
documents relating to the monastery – corroborates
the initial stage of construction of the altar recorded
in the above-mentioned 1453 document: this reads
“1454. In our church the altar dedicated to Saint
Vincent Ferrer was built.”11 However, Curti continues
with the following annotation: “while in the book of
expenses we have this receipt: note of what I, friar
Alricus de Argentina, received from father Joanne de
Muriano for the works of the altar of Saint Vincent.”12
Although this receipt has been interpreted to relate
to the 1454 construction of the altarpiece, recorded
above it, Curti’s phrasing can be interpreted in
another way.13 Fogolari subsequently transcribed the
same excerpt from the book of receipts, but included
the date of the document: “another document records
that in the Book of the Sacristy of 1464 on 6 January
one finds the following note of receipt: ‘note of what
I, Alricus de Argentina, received from Father Prior
Magister Joanne de Muriano for the works of the
altar of Sant Vincent’.”14
Thanks to Fogolari’s more complete transcription
of this now untraced document, there is record of
payment for further (although unspecified) work on the
altar in 1464, though the date is probably recorded in
more veneto, and therefore should be interpreted as 1465.
Historically this lost document was taken as evidence
for dating the altarpiece to the mid-1460s. More
recently, however, since the document does not actually
refer to any specific work and is no longer traceable,
scholars have doubted this chronology, preferring a date
closer to 1470, with Fogolari’s documents regarded in
some ways as archival “fake news”.

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