Saturday, August 12, 2023

An Altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Ss Clare and Anthony

Since today is her feast day, I was planning on doing an article about one of the very oldest paintings of St Clare that exists, a late 13th century altarpiece which is in her basilica in Assisi. Unfortunately, there is no image of it freely available and in high enough resolution to make it worth doing, but while looking for one, I stumbled across this very beautiful piece which is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. (Click the image to see it up close; public domain from Wikimedia Commons. The museum’s website gives no information about its original provenance.)

This was painted in the workshop of an Aragonese artist named Llorenç Saragossà (Lorenzo Zaragoza in the modern Castilian spelling), whose work is documented in Barcelona and Valencia between 1363 and 1406. In the center of the lower part, we see the Virgin suckling the Christ Child, with St Barbara to the left and St Lucy to the right. St Clare is shown on the left, with a book and a rosary; on the right, St Anthony the Abbot, with a book and a bell. In the center of the upper section is depicted the Crucifixion, with the Virgin fainting amid a group of several other women, and St John next to the soldiers. The Annunciation is shown in two parts to either side: St Gabriel on the left, holding a banderole in his hands with the words “Ave, Maria... fructus”, and the Virgin kneeling in prayer on the right.

This work is very typical of the richly decorative International Gothic style; note the patterns worked into the architectural backgrounds of each of the six parts, the floors, and the Virgin’s robe. At the same time, it shows the influence of the emerging trends in Florentine painting. I suspect that the panels of Ss Clare and Anthony were done by a different hand from the one that did the rest of it, since they show show a greater awareness of these trends than the other parts do. Their faces are better proportioned, and there is a much better sense of space within their figures, created by the variations of color in their robes.

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