Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 33

Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych
and his Genoese patrons
Italian merchants, financiers and businessmen
played an important role as patrons of artists in the
Burgundian Netherlands; in addition to ordering
altarpieces, devotional images, and portraits from
panel painters in Flanders, they commissioned carved
retables and illuminated manuscripts, and acquired
tapestries (arazzi) as well as painted canvases ( panni)
for individual use and/or for commercial purposes.1
Amongst the most significant works which resulted
from their patronage are two triptychs by Jan
van Eyck, only one of which survives. This article
takes a new look at the impact these triptychs had
on fifteenth-century painting across the western
Mediterranean – focusing on works in Genoa, Naples,
Sicily, Girona and Aix-en-Provence – and considers
what recurring motifs in these artistic responses tell us
about Van Eyck’s lost panels.
Jan van Eyck, Annunciation
(outer wing panels of the
'Dresden Triptych'), 1437,
oil on panel, Dresden,
Gemäldegalerie Alte
Nowhere can the phenomenon of Italian patronage
be better observed than in the mercantile metropole
of Bruges where, during the entire fifteenth and early
sixteenth centuries, members of the affluent merchant
communities– the so-called nations of Florence,
Venice, Genoa, and Lucca – ranked prominently
among the clients of painters like Jan van Eyck, Petrus
Christus, Hans Memling, and Gerard David.2 While
the vast majority of works commissioned by Italians
preserved today date from the second half of the
fifteenth century onwards, the significance of foreign
patrons of Flemish art in the previous decennia can
hardly be overestimated: no less than four of the
known patrons and/or sitters of Jan van Eyck and his
workshop were of Italian origin, and together with
members of the clergy but ahead of clients from the
ducal entourage, they represented the single largest
group among the painter’s recorded clients.3
Commissions of panel paintings by members of
the Italian diaspora in Bruges were likely inspired
by, or answered to, common social practices that
were exercised among the trading communities that
consisted of foreign and Flemish businessmen. The
paintings in question – whether these were portraits,
devotional images or altarpieces – had to be fully
functional in both the northern milieu where the
patrons lived as well as in the southern environment
from where they originated and where they were likely
to return.4
Besides their primarily devotional and
commemorative functions as part of larger
religious foundations, these paintings also publicly
demonstrated the donors’ social prestige and
ambitions.5 Competition in status must have been a
significant incentive and brought about competition
in patronage. If a member of one Italian nation
approached no less than the court painter of the
powerful Duke of Burgundy for a commission,
another member of the same nation might feel
inclined to follow suit.6


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