Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 59



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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
The frontal depiction of the Saint Jerome in Antonio
da Fabriano’s painting is strikingly reminiscent of a
painting of Saint John the Baptist in a landscape
that was painted around 1445-1450 by Enguerrand
Quarton. It is the left wing of a small diptych that
depicts the Virgin and Child (fig. 26a) surrounded by
angels on the right. Both wings, first recorded in the
eighteenth century in the collections of the Vatican,
and now in the Lindenau Museum of Altenburg,
originally had small lunettes with representations
of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that, in turn,
clearly resemble the prophets from Van Eyck’s Ghent
Altarpiece.108 Originally from Northern France – then
under Burgundian rule – Quarton moved to Aix-enProvence in 1445, and lived between 1447 and 1460 in
the papal town of Avignon.109
Figs. 26a & b /
Enguerrand Quarton,
Altenburg Diptych
(Virgin and Child, left;
Saint John the Baptist,
right), ca. 14451450, oil on panel,
Altenburg, Lindenau
Museum.
Figs. 27a & b / Hans
Memling, Diptych of
Saint John and Saint
Veronica, ca. 1470, oil
on panel. Saint John the
Baptist (left), Munich,
Alte Pinakothek; Saint
Veronica, Washington
D.C., National Gallery
of Art.
Quarton’s painting represents the Baptist sitting on
a dead tree in front of a vast landscape with his bare
feet (fig. 26b). Dressed in the traditional simple animal
skin, he wears a red cape around his shoulders. His
face is shown from the front while his body is turned
towards the right. He has a book on his lap and points
with his right hand to the lamb that is about to enter
a forest at the right edge of the panel. On the left
edge of the painting is another forest: this narrow row
of trees serves as a subtle indication of the depth of
pictorial space. It is a significant motif that can be seen
in a second painting that is of relevance here. Hans
Memling’s John the Baptist ­– originally the left wing of a
diptych (figs. 27a & b) with the representation of Saint
Veronica – depicts the same elements of trees in a row.
Like the Baptist in Quarton’s painting, Memling’s Saint
John sits within a landscape and points with his right
hand to the little lamb at the right edge of the painting,
indicating the Lamb of God. Memling’s panel was
originally part of a diptych painted for Bernardo
Bembo, the distinguished humanist and ambassador
of the Venetian Republic to Burgundy.110 Christiane
Kruse has demonstrated that the diptych – which
confronts the Baptist (the last prophet of the Old
57
Testament, who recognizes Christ as the Messiah) with
Veronica (the one who receives the miraculous image
in the New Testament) – is among the most complex
and conceptually-ambitious works within Memling’s
oeuvre.111 Did Memling model his painting consciously
after one of Van Eyck’s best-known paintings in
Italy at this time to impress his distinguished patron?
Memling certainly had access to works by the deceased
Van Eyck, and it does not seem impossible that this
access extended to workshop drawings that must have
still circulated in Bruges in Memling’s time.
How, on the other hand, Enguerrand Quarton came to
know about the composition of the Lomellini Triptych
is more difficult to answer. If Quarton actually saw
the triptych and not copies of it, this would have most
likely happened in Genoa shortly after Quarton’s
arrival in the South around 1445. It is also possible, of
course, that he learned about Van Eyck’s painting from
third parties such as patrons or fellow artists. Given
the fact that in 1446 he worked in Aix-en-Provence
alongside René d’Anjou’s court painter Barthélémy
d’Eyck, it might have been through him that Quarton
knew the composition.
These few examples show that the impact of Van
Eyck’s central Annunciation from the Lomellini
Triptych might have been more diverse, more
widespread, and longer-lasting than has hitherto been
assumed. Alongside the question of whether certain
Flemish motifs had become commonplace by the
third quarter of the fifteenth century, it contributes
greatly to our understanding of the significance of
the export of Flemish paintings to Italy. Van Eyck’s
original may at first have inspired only a few artists in
Genoa or at the court of Alfonso the Magnanimous
in Naples, but copies or paintings that to some degree
took over selected motifs must have circulated for a
decade or two both in the South and in the North,
ensuring a lasting dissemination of Eyckian motifs
and inventions.

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