Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 38

The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
It should be noted that the records in Bruges may not
list every Genoese merchant who stayed in the city
for a longer period of time. It might also be possible
that if Van Eyck’s patron is in fact recorded, the
recorded name might refer to former family ties. The
identification of the much-damaged second coat of
arms on the right wing – on the opposite one to that
displaying the Giustiniani arms – should therefore
be taken into serious consideration as it may shed
a different light on the commission (fig. 3).26 The
presence of the second coat of arms must present some
personal link with the owner of the triptych and may
provide the key to his identification.27
Whereas the identification of the donor of the
Dresden Triptych remains an open question, we are
somewhat better informed about Van Eyck’s other
patron from Genoa. The problems concerning this
commission are, instead, of a fundamentally different
nature since the painting in question is long lost. Due
to fortunate circumstances, the work – the so-called
Lomellini Triptych – was described by the humanist
Bartholomeo Facio in a small book he wrote on
famous men, De Viris Illustribus, in 1456:
His is a remarkable picture in the most
private apartments of King Alfonso, in
which there is a Virgin Mary notably
for its grace and modesty, with an Angel
Gabriel, of exceptional beauty and with
hair surpassing reality, announcing
that the Son of God will be born of her;
and a John the Baptist that declares the
wonderful sanctity and austerity of his
life, and Jerome like a living being in
a library done with rare art: for if you
move away from it a little it seems that it
recedes inwards and that it has complete
books laid open in it, while if you go
near it is evident that there is only a
summary of these. On the outer side of
The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
the same picture is painted Battista
Lomellini, whose picture it was – you
would judge he lacked only a voice
– and the woman whom he loved,
of outstanding beauty and she too is
portrayed exactly as she was. Between
them, as if through a chink in the
wall, falls a ray of sun that you would
take to be real sun-light. …28
and consequently have been a matter of some
speculation. It is unclear, furthermore, when the
work arrived in Liguria or when and how it came
into the possession of Alfonso.32 Finally, the scale of
the lost work is doubtful: the fact that the painter
depicted the donor and his wife on the exterior of
the triptych’s shutters rather than on the interior
finds parallels in the Ghent Altarpiece as well as
in some large Flemish retables that were produced
before the third quarter of the fifteenth century.33
These observations do not, however, provide any
conclusive arguments for an early dating, nor do
they per se suggest that the lost painting might have
been substantially larger than Van Eyck’s triptych
in Dresden, as Roberto Weiss has assumed.34 The
only indication of the work’s scale is its omission
from Facio’s account. This is a significant and
hitherto overlooked point since Facio would not
have failed to mention the size of the work if it was
in any way remarkable – small or large.
Even though Facio’s eloquent account uses
common literary motifs to describe the
extraordinary artistic qualities of the Flemish
painting to an erudite humanistic audience, he
remains a credible eye-witness.29 Facio had resided
in Genoa for a long period in 1435/36. He was then
involved with the republic’s diplomacy in 1443/44,
before entering into the services of Alfonso the
Magnanimous, King of Naples (fig. 4) in various
capacities from 1445: not only was he entangled with
writing the king’s biography, but he served as tutor
to Alfonso’s son Ferrante. He most certainly had
access to Van Eyck’s triptych in the king’s private
apartments of the Castelnuovo after he took up
residence there in 1449.30
Facio’s unusually detailed description of the painting
allows us to identify traces of Van Eyck’s lost
triptych in several other works from the period that
still survive across the western Mediterranean. The
reflection of Van Eyck’s invention in these works
implies that the triptych must have been publicly
accessible in or around Genoa before it entered the
collection of Alfonso the Magnanimous in Naples:
once in southern Italy it was only visible to a very
select audience in the private royal chambers, the
penetralia.31 We will return to this aspect shortly
when we discuss the impact of the lost work.
The circumstances and date of the commission
of Jan van Eyck’s lost triptych are unknown
De Viris Illustribus explicitly mentions the name
of the triptych’s donor: Battista Lomellini. The
albergo Lomellini was an important clan that was
involved in shipping, trading and banking. Ever
since Weiss’s article, it has been assumed that Van
Eyck’s patron was the Genoese merchant Battista
di Giorgio (Georgio) Lomellini. It is, however,
necessary to take a closer look at this, since some
aspects of the identification remain unclear due to
the complicated family structure of the Genoese
albergi.35 In addition to Battista di Giorgio, who
was the second of four sons of Georgio di Vicenzo
Lomellini, there was also a Battista di Battista with
contacts to Bruges during Van Eyck’s lifetime.
Fig. 4 / Juan de
Juanes, Alfonso the
Magnanimous, 1557,
oil on panel, Saragossa,
Museo de Zaragoza.
Battista di Battista was from a branch of the family
that was closely involved with the private Lomellini
bank in Genoa. He was the son of Battista di
Napoleone Lomellini who held a prominent
position within the family bank in Genoa.36


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