Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 37



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The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
A coat of arms is painted on the edge of the original
frame on the left wing above the donor portrait
(fig. 2). Showing an eagle above a castle with three
towers, it is very similar to that of the Giustiniani
family from Genoa and indicates the donor’s
alliance with this clan. It has nevertheless proven
to be particularly difficult to convincingly identify
the donor. One of the peculiarities of the leading
noble families of Genoa was that, from as early as
the thirteenth century onwards, they systematically
adopted members of lesser families and formed socalled albergi. The members of each albergo usually
took the name of the most prominent family.17 The
Giustiniani differed from other albergi in that their
albergo was founded in 1347 as a business consortium of
families that were exploiting the alum mines in Chios
and organizing the profitable trade thereof.18
Van Eyck’s patron, like most of the Genoese who were
either residing in Bruges or traded commodities with
Flanders, was presumably involved in naval services
and in the alum trade of which the Genoese held a
de facto monopoly until 1455.19 Between 1430 and
1440 there were forty residents from Genoa recorded
in Bruges. During the fifteenth century, most of them
belonged to the albergi of the Spinola and Lomellini,
who each counted more than twenty members in
Bruges; there were only nine Giustiniani in the same
period.20
Fig. 2 / Jan van Eyck, Dresden
Triptych (detail of left inner
wing), 1437, oil on panel,
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie.
Alte Meister.
Fig. 3 / Jan van Eyck, Dresden
Triptych (detail of right inner
wing), 1437, oil on panel,
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie.
Alte Meister.
Several candidates have been proposed for the
identification of the fashionably dressed supplicant
on the Dresden Triptych, none of them entirely
convincing. Until the original signature of the artist
was discovered during a restoration in 1959, alongside
the year ‘1437’ below overpaint on the original frame,
the triptych was generally dated early in Van Eyck’s
career. When Roberto Weiss identified the donor with
35
Michele di Marco Giustiniani in 1956, his argument
seemed persuasive.21 Michele di Marco had been living
in Bruges and appealed in 1430 to the government of
Genoa to reside in the Ligurian metropole. However,
the triptych’s later date casts doubt on Weiss’s
hypothesis as it would have required Michele di Marco
to have postponed his move to Genoa for more than
seven years, or to have returned to Bruges for business
at an unrecorded later date. This is not entirely
impossible, as the frequency of travel – despite all the
ensuing risks – should not be underestimated.
Albert Châtelet recently suggested identifying Van
Eyck’s donor with a certain Michele di Antonio
Giustiniani whose business interests were – as far
as we know – exclusively concerned with the Isle of
Chios. With no records of commercial activities in the
North, this identification rests on the similarity of the
name of the patron’s saint with that of the patron.22
Noëlle Streeton put forward Raffaello Giustiniani
who was residing in Bruges in the 1430s and acted as
business liaison for the Giustiniani clan; she suggests
that he either was Van Eyck’s patron or acted as a
middleman for a family member. 23
Streeton bases her argument on the interesting but
somewhat arbitrarily preserved records of Raffaello
as one of the Genoese account holders recorded in the
ledgers of the Borromei Bank for Bruges and London
for the years 1437/38.24 However, with insufficient
knowledge about account holders and business
activities of most of the other Italian merchant
banks active in Bruges at this time, it is premature
to draw conclusions. The author herself admits
that “the question of whether Raffaelo Giustiniani
commissioned the Dresden Triptych for Michele
Giustiniani, for a member of his circle, or for himself
may never be answered satisfactorily.”25

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