Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 46



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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
Dressed in a white alb and richly decorated cope
with embroidered prophets and saints, Gabriel enters
through an open door from the left. As he kneels in
front of the Virgin, he raises his right arm in blessing
and pronounces the angelic greeting. The Virgin,
kneeling in prayer, turns her head. She kneels before a
prayer stool with intarsia decorations which functions
as a repository for books. Rays of gold descend from
God the Father above who appears to the Virgin
amidst seraphim and cherubim to show the moment of
the Messiah’s incarnation.
The interior is unusually detailed and complex. The
left part of the room consists of a wide space with a
tiled floor. A tripartite window looks out to a hilly
landscape in which additional scenes of the life of the
Virgin are shown.70 Placed on a stone bench below
the window, a vase with a lily and a pyx with spindles
allude to the chastity of the Virgin. A niche in the wall
to the right of the window contains a small brass basin
filled with water with a shiny brass jug above. The jug
hangs from a hook on a wooden shelf on which books,
pyxes, and a candle are placed. A towel hangs next to
the lavabo.
Fig. 14 / Jos Amman,
Annunciation, ca. 1451,
fresco, Genoa, church of
Santa Maria del Castello.
Amman’s work in Santa Maria di Castello was not
limited to the Annunciation but included the painted
vault with the depictions of four prophets in front
of the Annunciation, as well as various half-length
figures of prophets and sibyls on the other ceilings
of the two cloisters on which he worked alongside
various other painters. The decoration was part of
a building campaign launched after Santa Maria di
Castello was transferred to the Dominicans from 1441
onwards.66 This included building a new sacristy and
the cloisters for which the monks solicited patrons.
The brothers Emmanuele and Lionello Oliva – two
merchants from Genoa who had made their fortune
from spices, wool from Spain, and leather from Tunis
– contributed to the sacristy and paid for the fresco.67
They undoubtedly wanted to demonstrate their social
status, having as recently as 1448 ascended to the
noble albergo of the Grimaldi. The coat of arms of the
Grimaldi is thus included not once but twice within
Amman’s Annunciation.68
This Annunciation takes place in a remarkably
sophisticated space, and seems, at first sight, to refer to
paintings attributed to the Master of Flémalle.69 The
biblical event appears to be staged behind an arcade-like
opening within a wall that is decorated with traceries
and floral ornaments. This painted arcade, supported
by two trompe-l’oeil columns, suggests a division from
the beholder’s space in front of it, and at the same time
creates the illusion that the painted scene is real.
The wall and niche separate the chamber from Mary’s
bedroom. A canopied bed can be seen through a
doorway that opens behind the praying Virgin. To the
right of the doorway is another small niche in which
books and an hourglass are kept. A somewhat odd
detail is the shadow that is cast on the wall next to the
arch by the right column supporting the arcade: this
makes the placement of the Virgin in the room highly
improbable and likely indicates a misunderstanding by
the painter of the presumed prototype by Jan van Eyck.
Serena Romana has challenged the notion that Jos
van Ravensburg’s Annunciation is directly linked to
Van Eyck’s lost composition. Acknowledging that the
Genoese fresco shows affinities with works from
the Master of Flémalle Group as well as with Jan
van Eyck, she argues that the painter could have
encountered several Flemish motifs in paintings,
murals, or prints from the Upper-Rhine, Swabia,
and Switzerland, and that due to the councils
of Constance (1414-1418) and Basel (1431-1448),
northern compositions would have been readily
available in the region from which the painter
originated.71
This argument neglects the likelihood that
Emmanuele and Lionello Grimaldi olim Oliva,
when commissioning the murals from Jos Amman,
might have sought to distinguish themselves by
way of their artistic patronage from other families
in Genoa; pointing the artist to the rare and
therefore exclusive work of Jan van Eyck in the
possession of a member of one of the branches of
another prominent albergo in the city, they would
have ensured that their recently raised social status
would be made visible.
While Jos Amman’s Annunciation shares its somewhat
hybrid use of pictorial sources with Barthélémy
d’Eyck’s triptych in Aix (which can also be linked to
works attributed to the Master of Flémalle) specific
details of the mural transcend generic influences
and point to the direct reception of Van Eyck’s
lost original. As Carl Strehlke has pointed out,
“Justus’ knowledge of Van Eyck’s painting seems
to have been direct and recent, through first-hand
experience of a Van Eyck painting while he was
working in Santa Maria di Castello.”72 Indeed, the
refractions of the transparent prayer-beads, the
conspicuous display of reflections on shiny surfaces,
as well as the pronounced depiction of cast shadows
imply the artist’s ambitious attempt to emulate the
art of Jan van Eyck.
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