Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Finding a link to Rome in a Sienese Renaissance painter - The gold of Giovanni di Paolo

The Rome connection here is a bit of a stretch, but the art of Giovanni di Paolo (1399-1482)-  currently the feature of an exhibition at The Getty Center in Los Angeles - is so astounding, I couldn’t pass up writing about it.

Giovanni di Paolo’s 1427 altarpiece for the Branchini Chapel in Siena is deservedly considered his masterpiece.  Even the jewels in Mary’s crown are still intact.  The gold that di Paolo, primarily a manuscript illuminator, distributes in this central panel of the altarpiece warrants the title of the exhibition, “The Shimmer of Gold.” 

Note jewels in Mary's crown.

The painting (above, top), and one smaller one that likely was part of the altarpiece, belong to the Norton Simon Museum in nearby Pasadena.  The Getty is exhibiting it, and several other related pieces owned by the Siena Pinacoteca and a Dutch museum, because of its work in restoring the work.  The Getty shows us the various pieces together and speculates how they might have been mounted in the San Domenico church.

The shimmer of the gold is impossible to ignore
(photo taken by Bill at The Getty Center).

The exhibition takes note of di Paolo’s influences, particularly the “master” Gentile da Fabriano, with whom some suggest di Paolo may have worked on the altarpiece.  And, now, for the Rome connection.  The name Gentile da Fabriano rang a bell with us, not because we know so much about Renaissance art, but because we have lived in a Rome apartment that is on Piazza Gentile da Fabriano.  

Piazza Gentile da Fabriano is across the Tevere at the end of
Ponte della Musica - the large, treed piazza in the center of
this photo (taken from Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario).

Rome’s neighborhoods beyond the Centro are marked by thematic street and piazza names.  This neighborhood, Flaminio, features names of artists. We have lived nearby on via Pietro da Cortona.  And I wanted to rent an apartment one time simply because it was on via Masaccio, a painter I studied in college.  The art museum MAXXI's address, for another example, is viale Guido Reni.  Da Fabriano did set foot in Rome, unlike his student di Paolo.  Da Fabriano, who was from Northern Italy but also worked in Siena, where he influenced di Paolo, painted in the nave of Rome's San Giovanni in Laterano, paintings destroyed in a 1600s’ “restoration” of that basilica.  Da Fabriano died in Rome, and there is evidence he might be buried in Santa Maria in Trastevere.  That’s it – the tenuous Rome connection of Giovanni di Paolo through his mentor Gentile da Fabriano.
Gentile da Fabriano's The Coronation of the Virgin, about 1420, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Meanwhile, if you are in LA, don’t miss this lovely, small, beautifully curated exhibition that is on until January 8, 2017.  And if you can’t make it in person, there are photos of the works, and reproduction of the explanatory panels online.


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