Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 54

The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
The main event depicted by Colantonio shows
Jerome removing a thorn from the paw of the lion.
Uncommon but not entirely without precursors in
Italian Trecento painting, Colantonio has staged this
scene in the saint’s study instead of situating it, as did
many Italian artists of his time, in the wilderness.87
Arguably, Colantonio’s primary interest went into the
meticulous, precise and detailed depiction of the study
and the various still-life elements; it is almost as if the
saint was of secondary importance. Paraphernalia such
as stacks of leather-bound books, documents, papers,
letters, but also pyxes, a glass carafe, an hour-glass, a
brass candlestick, writing tools such as ink, quills and
scissors, are all depicted in detail and with the greatest
care. The Neapolitan painter made sure with this
panel that no one would miss his extraordinary skills in
emulating the physical materiality of these objects, just
like Flemish painters. He even depicted a mouse eating
a piece of paper from the floor below a shelf behind
the saint’s back.
The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
Among the Franciscan saints is Bernard of Siena who
died in 1444 but was not canonized until 24 May
1450. There is little reason to assume that, despite the
support of the Crown of Aragon for the Franciscans
in the matter, the unknown patron of the altarpiece
would have anticipated the church’s decision to have
the Franciscan depicted as a saint before his official
canonization.92 As has already been demonstrated by
Howel Powell, May 1450 thus provides a terminus post
quem for the commission of Colantonio’s retable.93
There can be little doubt that Colantonio must have
had first-hand knowledge of Jan van Eyck’s depiction
of the still-life objects in the lost Lomellini Triptych.
It is noteworthy that the objects Colantonio included
in his painting correspond closely with the repertoire
of motifs found in a tiny panel of Saint Jerome in his
Study by Jan van Eyck and his workshop (fig. 21).94
The panel, now in Detroit, was presumably made
for Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, as one of the letters
depicted is addressed to the Cardinal of Santa Croce.
It is first recorded in Florence in the inventory of
Piero di Medici in 1456-1463, and it allegedly inspired
Ghirlandaio’s murals of Saints Jerome and Augustine
in the church of Ognissanti in Florence.95 However,
one tiny detail – absent in the Eyckian panel in
Detroit but present in both Colantonio’s painting as
well as Joos Amman’s mural in Genoa – does indicate
a direct encounter with Van Eyck’s original: amongst
the books above Saint Jerome’s head is one in which
the rare motif of bookmark strings can once again
be seen. As discussed above, this is an extremely rare
motif that appears on the Ghent Altarpiece and seems
to derive from Van Eyck himself.
As mentioned above, Ferdinando Bologna – and before
him Liana Castelfranchi Vegas – have questioned
the traditional suggestion that Van Eyck’s Lomellini
Triptych was the main pictorial source for Colantonio’s
Saint Jerome. Based on this point of view, and on his
proposal to date the panel around 1444-1445, Bologna
further implied that Van Eyck’s triptych may not have
been in Alfonso’s possession much earlier than Facio’s
account, suggesting it had been acquired by Alfonso
between 1452 and 1456.88 While the latter suggestion
can be corroborated by looking into the lack of impact
of Van Eyck’s painting before the 1460s,89 the suggested
date of Colantonio’s altarpiece is not substantiated by
documentary evidence and may be too early.90
Fig. 21 / Jan van Eyck, Saint
Jerome in his Study, ca.
1435, oil on linen paper on
oak panel, Detroit, Detroit
Institute of Arts.
There is at least one argument to suggest a slightly later
dating: Colantonio’s Saint Jerome was originally part of
a two-tiered altarpiece in the Franciscan church of San
Lorenzo in Naples which also included Saint Francis
Distributing the First and Second Rules of the Franciscan
Order on top. This monumental panel, also kept at the
Museo di Capodimonte, shows Saint Francis standing
amidst the blessed and sanctified members of the
male and female Franciscan orders who kneel before
him on a floor made from tiles decorated with the
combined arms of the Houses of Aragon and Sicily.91
Fig. 22 / Niccolò Antonio
Colantonio, The Virgin
Appearing to Saint Vincent
Ferrer, ca. 1458, oil on panel,
Naples, Museo Nazionale di
Fig. 23 / Antonio da Fabriano,
Saint Jerome in his Study,
1451, tempera, oil (?), and
gold leaf on panel, Baltimore,
Walters Art Museum.
Of course, Colantonio’s Saint Jerome is not a simple
copy. The horizontal format of the composition and
its monumentality are not to be reconciled with the
vertical format of the wings of a triptych by Van
Eyck. It is also questionable whether there would
have been space in a vertical composition to include
Colnatonio’s scene; it has even been argued that the
lion was not part of Van Eyck’s design, as Facio did
not mention this detail.96 It is more likely that Van
Eyck’s lost original inspired Colantonio to demonstrate
his aptitude to emulate the Flemish painter’s skill in
his own art, if not to surpass it. From this point of
view the monumental Saint Jerome must be seen as an
extremely proficient appropriation of Eyckian motifs
and effects. A few years later, Colantonio treated the
motifs of Jan van Eyck’s Saint Jerome a second time and
in significantly smaller scale in his panel The Virgin
Appearing to Saint Vincent Ferrer from the Saint Vincent
Ferrer Altarpiece (fig. 22).97
While Colantonio’s Saint Jerome reflects some of the
splendour of Van Eyck’s lost original, a smaller panel
of Saint Jerome in his Study by a more modest painter,
Antonio da Fabriano, probably provides a more
reliable, if simplified, record (fig. 23). The painting is
signed on the original frame and dated ‘1451’ by means
of a painted cartellino in the center of the panel. Federico
Zeri was the first to recognize that Da Fabriano’s Saint
Jerome is the exception in the oeuvre of the artist and
must have been based on a Flemish prototype.98 Since
Antonio da Fabriano, a painter from the Marche,
almost certainly can be identified with “Antonelus da
Fabrianus, pictor” who is recorded in Genoa in 14471448,99 it is today generally accepted that his source
was Van Eyck’s lost painting which the painter must
have encountered during his stay in the city.100


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