Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 57



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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
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Da Fabriano depicts the Father of the Church clad
in the red garments of a cardinal; Jerome’s red galero
with its long tassels hangs on the wall behind him.
The bearded saint is shown almost frontally with his
head turned towards the right. A small lion – Jerome’s
attribute – is resting on the ground to his feet.
Jerome sits on a simple wooden bench behind a desk
that is attached to the wall. He is occupied with the
text in an open book that lies in front of him, holding a
quill in his right hand and an eraser in his left. An ink
jar is placed on the left of the table on which several
scrolls and additional books have been scattered. On
the right, a leather container for the quills is hung on a
hook on the wooden bench. A niche in the wall has two
shelves on which several books are stacked together
with an hourglass and brass candleholder. The room
is part of a larger house. Through an arched doorway,
above which there is a sculpted crucifix, it is possible
to glimpse into other rooms. A landscape is visible
through an open window at the left. This interior is
remarkably similar to interiors by Jan van Eyck such
as the Arnolfini Double Portrait or the miniature of
the Birth of Saint John the Baptist in the Turin-Milan
Hours, and there can be little doubt that the Italian
painter was particularly interested in imitating the
luminosity of the Flemish painting. The way that Da
Fabriano attempts to depict the effects of the sunlight
falling from the left – so that even the chambers in
the distance are lit from behind – is remarkable. It
is in details such as the hourglass on the right that
the painter’s interest in Van Eyck’s depiction of the
refraction of light becomes particularly manifest; in
others, such as the translucent white line applied on
top of the brown colour of the ornamented desk, his
engagement with the original becomes undeniable.
It also means that Antonio da Fabriano must have
studied the original carefully in Genoa and that means
– as Maria Galassi has recently demonstrated – that
the painting was still in the city around 1450, when the
later painting was made.
Fig. 24 / Petrus Christus,
Saint John the Baptist in
a Landscape, ca. 1445, oil
on panel, The Cleveland
Museum of Art.
Antonio da Fabriano was not an artist that possessed
the skills of Colantonio or even of Joos Amman of
Ravensburg, but he managed to copy Van Eyck’s
image and to master what seems to have been the
Flemish artists’s primary interest: the rendering
of light. While Da Fabriano tried to emulate these
qualities, he does not seem to have felt the need to
change the composition other than to simplify the
motifs where they proved too complicated. It is,
furthermore, clear that Van Eyck’s lost wing must
have shared the oblong composition of Antonio da
Fabriano’s image and probably the frontality of the
saint’s representation as well.101
Fig. 25 / Jan van Eyck,
Saint Francis Receiving the
Stigmata, ca. 1430-1432,
oil on panel,Turin, Galleria
Sabauda.
Facio’s description of the Lomellini Triptych is
particularly vague when it comes to Jan van Eyck’s
representation of Saint John the Baptist: Iohannes
baptista vitae sanctitatem et austeritatem admirabilem prae se
ferens.102 This rather generic wording poses a problem
when it comes to identifying paintings that could
perhaps reflect the lost composition. One of the
paintings that has been put forward in this context
is a tiny panel depicting Saint John the Baptist with
the lamb. Unknown before it was acquired in 1979 by
the Cleveland Museum of Art, the painting was first
given to the workshop of Van Eyck but has since been
convincingly attributed to Petrus Christus (fig. 24).103 The
vertical format of the panel and inclusion of a city gate
(perhaps the Ezelspoort in Bruges) suggest that it was
originally the right wing of a folding triptych. Its tiny
scale links it to Van Eyck’s Giustiniani Triptych which
might have been one of the reasons for Carl Brandon
Strehlke to first suggest a possible link with Van
Eyck’s depiction of the saint from the lost Lomellini
Triptych.104 In this context, Frédéric Elsig pointed
out that Bartolomeo Bermejo’s Saint John the Baptist,
painted around 1490 and today in the Museo de Bellas
Artes of Seville, shares an unusual rock formation
in the background that would indicate a common
prototype.105 This motif is, nevertheless, among the
most significant features of Jan van Eyck’s Saint Francis
Receiving the Stigmata (fig. 25) and has been copied
regularly.106 Several versions of this popular panel
had been produced by Van Eyck’s workshop, one of
them acquired in 1448 by the Valencian painter Juan
Reixach. It is thus more likely that Bermejo referred
to the painting in Valencia which had already inspired
other artists before him.107

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