Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
September 18, 2006
Carl Brandon Strehlke Italian Paintings, 1250–1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Exh. cat. Philadelphia and University Park: Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. 600 pp.; 130 color ills.; 700 b/w ills. Cloth $95.00 (0271025379)

For nearly ninety years, John G. Johnson’s bequest of 1,279 objects to his native Philadelphia has counted among the city’s great treasures. For over twenty years, Carl Strehlke, adjunct curator of the collection; Mark S. Tucker, the Philadelphia Museum’s vice chairman of conservation and senior conservator of paintings; and Tucker’s extensive team have focused scrutiny on ninety-seven early Italian pictures in the Johnson Collection and another twenty among the museum’s holdings. Their work has long constituted a vibrant force in the prolific, ever-dynamic scholarship of that field. The museum has published countless outstanding catalogues over many decades, and this meticulously researched, luxuriously produced book is yet a new jewel in Philadelphia’s crown.

Johnson (1841–1917)—a lawyer and long-time friend of Philadelphian Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915), whose collection is now in the National Gallery of Art—was a civic leader active in the administration of the Pennsylvania Museum housed in Philadelphia’s Memorial Hall. After his death, the Johnson Collection, which famously includes Jan van Eyck’s small Stigmatization of Saint Francis and Rogier van der Weyden’s great Crucifixion, remained precariously housed in the collector’s crowded former residence at 510 South Broad Street until the structure was condemned in 1933. Transferred to the present building of the Philadelphia Museum (renamed in 1938), the collection remains to some extent administered separately from the museum.

Johnson began acquiring early Italian pictures in the opening years of the twentieth century. As were many contemporary US collectors in this area, he was advised by Bernhard Berenson and bought works from or with the assistance of the scholar-dealers Herbert Horne, with whom Johnson toured Florence in 1909, F. Mason Perkins, Robert Langton Douglas, and Osvald Sirén. Berenson wrote a catalogue, published in 1913, of Johnson’s pictures. Successive curators of the collection—Hamilton Bell, Henri Marceau, Barbara Sweeney, Joseph Rishel—were counseled on attribution, principally by Richard Offner (during the later 1920s), Evelyn Sandberg-Vavalà, Ellis Waterhouse, Federico Zeri, Terisio Pignatti and, more recently, Everett Fahy, Miklós Boskovits, and Andrea De Marchi. Systematized by the Mellon Archives Project, the “John G. Johnson Papers” and “Johnson Collection Curatorial Records” are housed at the museum; their inventories are accessible online.1

The catalogue provides a list of provenances (551–52) and an introduction reviewing the Johnson Collection’s history, including that of its conservation treatment. The extensive recent program of technical analysis, cleaning, and restoration of early Italian pictures was carried out with the participation of conservators George Bisacca, Suzanne Penn, Mark Aronson, Teresa Lignelli, David Skipsey, Stephen Gritt, Roberta Rosi, and Nica Gutman. The current, now more uniform appearance of the works catalogued is evident in inclusive color illustrations. The volume comprises ninety-four entries ordered alphabetically by the painter’s name or eponym, with entries for pictures that are assigned regional attributions (e.g., Florentine school) and one entry for a modern forgery grouped at the end. Each is given a plate number, and accessions that originally belonged to one specific complex (such as Allegretto di Nuzio’s dismembered pentaptych, pl. 1) or constituted a single object (such as the works by Pietro Lorenzetti and by Masaccio and Masolino discussed below) are grouped together and designated as A, B, etc. An especially helpful organizational feature is the individual treatment, in mini-entries (as “Companion Panel A, B, etc.”), of works in other collections that originally belonged (or may have belonged) to the same ensemble as the work(s) catalogued under a given plate number. Another laudable practice, one that is now found with increasing frequency in the field, is the inclusion in the photo captions of the original locations, where known, of works illustrated for comparison along with data on their current locations, dimensions, and media.

The book is massive—set in tiny type, three columns per page—and presents extensive information and argument that can only be suggested here. For sources cited below that are included in its bibliography (483–523), the short form employed in the book will be used, and complete citations are assembled under “References” at the end of this review. Attributions and dates given below are as assigned in the catalogue.

Outstanding works are Pietro Lorenzetti’s Virgin and Child Enthroned and a Donor (pl. 39 A, ca. 1320) and the Saints Paul and Peter and Saints John the Evangelist (?) and Martin of Tours (pls. 44 A, B, ca. 1427–28) that originally constituted a lateral panel of Masaccio’s and Masolino’s two-sided altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The Johnson Lorenzetti, where remnants of the artist’s signature have been detected (reported in Strehlke 2001; see fig. 39.1 for Tucker’s reconstruction), has been newly restored by Lignelli and reunited with two spandrel panels (pl. 39 B and C, ca. 1319–20), restored by Bisacca and Lignelli, that depict angels and were acquired by the museum in 1985. Millard Meiss’s observation (Meiss 1964) that the identities of the pairs of saints depicted in the panels by Masaccio and Masolino had been transposed at an advanced stage in their execution provided the starting point for a laboratory study, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, that was to result in an article (Strehlke and Tucker 1987) and multi-authored book edited by Strehlke and Cecilia Frosinini (Strehlke and Frosinini 2002). The changes noted by Meiss, as well as his observations of incision used in the layout of the design, were further clarified by means of x-radiography and infra-red reflectography. Through examination of paint samples and analysis of samples of binding media from the Philadelphia panels and their two companion panels (also originally a single two-sided panel) at the National Gallery, London (for which see Dillian Gordon’s excellently succinct and superbly illustrated recent entry [Gordon 2003, 224–47]), a clearer picture of the collaborative nature of the work has emerged. In brief, the flesh areas of the London panel traditionally attributed to Masaccio manifest a green preparation using egg tempera as the binding medium, whereas the London panel usually assigned to Masolino employs instead a whitish underpaint beneath the flesh areas with tempera grassa (egg tempera admixed with oil) as binding medium. In the Johnson panels, the first technique was used for the hands and feet in the Saints Paul and Peter, prior to the changes observed by Meiss, whereas the second was employed for the faces and for the preparation of the flesh areas in the Saints John the Evangelist(?) and Martin of Tours. Masaccio’s role in the laying-out of the Johnson panels is urged, and a bequest of Cardinal Pietro Morosini to the church is postulated as the source of funding for the execution of the altarpiece. Discussion of the question of its original placement within Santa Maria Maggiore would have benefited from inclusion of a ground plan (for which see Gordon 2003, 242, fig. 16).

Other notable works among the Trecento pictures are the Angel (pl. 23) from the upper framing element of Duccio’s Maestà completed in 1311, Vitale da Bologna’s multi-figured Crucifixion (pl. 85, early 1330s), the three central panels of an altarpiece by Bernardo Daddi (pl. 17, 1334), the distinctively plastic and animated Virgin and Child with a Dog attributed to Dalmasio (pl. 19, ca. 1335–40), the pentaptych of half-length figures mentioned above whose attribution to Allegretto was recently recognized by Erling Skaug (pl. 1 A–E, ca. 1346?; see 26), the exquisite assembly of saints attributed to Bartolomeo Bulgarini that originally constituted the wings of a tabernacle preserved in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (pl. 15, ca. 1355–60; see fig. 15.6 for the photographic reconstruction reproduced from De Botton 1980), and works by Niccolò di Tommaso and Niccolò di Pietro Gerini noted further below.

The early years of the Quattrocento are significantly represented by Starnina’s albeit generally abraded Dormition of the Virgin (pl. 76, ca. 1404–8). A number of exceptionally interesting Tuscan works are those, in addition to the Masaccio-Masolino panels, assigned to the 1420s: a Virgin of Humility here attributed outright to Lorenzo Monaco (pl. 40, ca. 1420), Giovanni Toscani’s beautiful Madonna fragment (pl. 81, ca. 1422–23), Battista di Gerio’s Virgin and Child Enthroned (pl. 12, 1423; recently identified by Maria Teresa Filieri as deriving from an altarpiece documented in San Quirico all’Olivo in Lucca [Filieri 1998]), Fra Angelico’s predella panel representing the Dormition of the Virgin (pl. 7, ca. 1425; where the influence of Masaccio’s lost Sagra is perceptively argued, 48 [as previously presented in Strehlke 1993, 8]), the fragmentary kneeling Saint Francis likewise newly attributed outright to Fra Angelico (pl. 8, ca. 1427; now restored to its original silhouetted contour and photographically reconstructed [fig. 8.4] as part of the Crucifixion group in San Niccolò del Ceppo, Florence [Skipsey 1993; Kanter, Strehlke, and Dean 2001]), and the extraordinary Christ Healing a Lunatic and Judas Receiving Thirty Pieces of Silver (pl. 24, ca. 1425–26), attributed by Curtis Shell (Shell 1965) to Francesco d’Antonio. This canvas, described by Vasari in his life of Masaccio, has long been studied for its perspectival architectural setting, one that incorporates features of Brunelleschi’s work and may, as suggested by Christine Smith (in Millon and Magnago Lampugnani 1994), relate to contemporary doubts in Florence as to the viability of his plan to vault the Duomo. Another important early fifteenth-century work is the Sienese innovator Domenico di Bartolo’s signed and dated half-length Madonna of 1437 (pl. 21), a remarkably sculptural work compared by De Marchi (120) to Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna in Berlin (fig. 21.8) for the motif of Mary’s foreshortened hand.

Roger Fry, as quoted in the foreword (viii), wrote to Johnson in 1909 of the “imaginative intensity and intimacy which I find to be the real note of your collection.” This comment is wonderfully apt, time and again, for numerous of the works here assembled. Giovanni di Paolo’s arresting depiction of a nocturnal shipwreck and the miraculous intervention of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (pl. 33, 1457) perfectly exemplifies the first characteristic, just as the second is poignantly illustrated by the beautifully detailed diptych, attributed to Benedetto di Bindo, that pairs the Virgin of Humility in a domestic interior with Saint Jerome in his study (pl. 13, ca. 1400–5), or by Zanobi Strozzi’s elegant, miniature-like Annunciation (pl. 77, ca. 1453). Fry’s comment reverberates strongly, as well, for the numerous engaging narrative predella panels here catalogued.

Preparation of a catalogue such as this one entails a great deal of work, attention to detail, command of a vast literature, and careful review of manuscript material; the correspondence between Johnson and his advisors is not transcribed, but salient passages are quoted in individual entries. The author does a generally consistent job of assembling, critiquing, and augmenting the existing body of information and proposed argumentation for each accession. In accord with mainstream Renaissance art history over the past thirty some years, the author examines virtually each work in its historical context, with close attention to original appearance, genre, and function and to the circumstances and concerns of the audience for which it was produced. In the tradition of Martin Davies (Davies 1953, Davies 1961), Strehlke is exceptionally dogged in pursuing questions of patronage and original location where that information is or was unknown (archival finds are transcribed in Appendix I). He shows close concern for localized theological and devotional texts and liturgical practices, including conventions for vestment and habit, that may bear on these questions and/or be reflected in pictorial composition or details. He tracks possible specific sites within specific churches, for example, for the Lorenzetti Madonna and Niccolò di Pietro Gerini’s deeply moving Christ in the Tomb and the Virgin (pl. 27, ca. 1377, with retouching possibly from the sixteenth-century). Especially noteworthy for its ramifications for analogous commissions is Strehlke’s discovery, introduced at a symposium held at the National Gallery in London in 1990, that the latter’s Scourging of the Four Crowned Martyrs (pl. 28, ca. 1385–90) most probably derives from a painted ensemble intended to decorate an interior pilaster allocated to the Guild of the Stonemasons and Woodworkers in the church of Orsanmichele in Florence.

Among many examples of the author’s consideration of detail in connection to devotion are the explanation of an iconographic oddity in Fra Angelico’s Dormition with reference to the writings of the Dominican Observant theologian Antonino Pierozzi (48; presented earlier in Strehlke 1993, 8), of the rod held by Duccio’s Angel with reference to the passage on angels as lictors of God in the apocryphal Gospel of Saint Bartholomew (129), and of the inscriptions, book texts, and subject matter in Benedetto di Bindo’s attributed diptych within an extensive discussion of Sienese usage of Books of Hours and summation of recent research on the significant role of Saint Jerome in contemporary Sienese piety (73, 76–78). In the latter case, it might have been noted that the passage from the Meditations on the Life of Christ quoted on page 77 refers specifically to the sojourn in Egypt (Ragusa and Greene 1961, 68–76). Another source relevant to the imagery, and especially that of figure 13.3 (a work attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti ca. 1340–45 that represents the boy Jesus with Mary and Joseph in an interior; Riggisberg, Switzerland, Abegg-Stiftung), might be sought in the early Trecento sermons of the Sienese Servite theologian Fra Niccolò di Pietro Barlettaio (for which see Angelo Battiston 1959 and Wilson 2001); further, the Servite order’s embrace of St. Joseph’s feast by 1324 may be noted.

Also in accord with catalogues concerning analogous material and dating from the past decade—namely, Rowlands 1996, Wilson 1996, Gordon 2003, and Boskovits and Brown 2003—is this volume’s incorporation of illustrations recording technical analysis (x-radiography, infra-red photography, and infra-red reflectography); photographic documentation of punch marks, panel construction, and the appearance of backs and frames; reproductions of comparative works to support observations on attribution, context, or iconography; and photomontages of original (proposed) multi-panel objects. Hypothetical (graphic) reconstruction of framing elements was not attempted, but two such illustrations from Bomford et al. 1989, the pathbreaking London exhibition catalogue devoted to Trecento technique, are reproduced (figs. 37.3, 84.4), as are constructional diagrams (figs. 50.2, 50.3, 84.6) and illustrations of still intact polyptychs. All illustrations are incorporated in the relevant entries except for the scale photographs of punch motifs (nearly inclusive for the works here catalogued), which are assembled in Appendix II. The admirably detailed “Technical Notes” (a term that [as in Rowlands 1996, Wilson 1996, Gordon 2003 (with subheadings), and Boskovits and Brown 2003] has now meaningfully replaced the older “Condition”) were written by Strehlke and Tucker. Their painstaking studies have enabled reevaluation of condition and prior restoration, detection of fabric where applied to the original support, specification of the application of silver and gold (including the color of mordants), as well as detailed notation of incised or punched decoration. Identification of pigment and binding medium is by sight, with the exception of the study of the Masaccio-Masolino panels as discussed above.

Interesting finds through infra-red reflectography presented in this catalogue include the presence of wash in the underdrawing of Battista di Gerio’s Madonna, along with distinctive curved hatching (69; 71, fig. 12.2). The significance of this discovery, in conjunction with Molly Faries’ detection in 1988 of wash employed in the undermodeling of Mary’s face in the Master of the Straus Madonna’s eponymous picture in Houston (Wilson 1996, 104, 110; fig. 8.8), to the study of technique in late-Trecento-early Quattrocento Tuscany may here be noted. Wash was also found beneath the faces of the two main figures in the Saint Cecilia (pl. 53, figs. 53.1a, b) by the Venetian Master of the Pesaro Crucifixion, a work of considerable charm and interest for its architectural setting. Here the disposition of the wash indicates that the artist had blocked out broad areas of light and shade. Further discovered were remnants of a colorless medium suggesting that the red bedcloth in the Venetian picture was originally articulated by a transparent glaze. Underdrawing detected in a painting in the Brooklyn Museum of Art ascribed to Andrea di Bartolo (fig. 5.6) is conveniently illustrated for comparison with underdrawing found in the Johnson Collection panel by the same artist (pl. 5). Observations of woodgrain analysis to assess the original ordering of predella panels (e.g., those illustrated in figure 7.3), however, would have benefited from illustration of the x-radiographs or further explication.

The new Philadelphia catalogue is patently a work of importance, depth, and potential resonance. Some further observations on structure and style are nonetheless in order. The book’s title corresponds imprecisely to its contents. The earliest works included (pls. 50, 51) are dated, respectively, ca. 1285–90 and ca. 1285. There are eighteen entries, many of them lengthy, for works dated after 1450 (and as late as the mid-1480s, pl. 20), as well as one for Sano di Pietro’s relatively summarily treated Madonna (pl. 73) that may have been painted after 1450 but is not assigned even an approximate date. The inclusion of the post-1450 works is understandable in certain cases (notably those—Giovanni di Paolo, pl. 33 and Benozzo Gozzoli, pl. 36—whose elimination would entail splitting coverage of Philadelphia’s examples of the artists’ oeuvres), but a note clarifying their inclusion here would have been welcome (see Boskovits and Brown 2004, xiii). So, too, would a statement in the foreword (viii) regarding any projected catalogues of the Johnson Collection’s other Quattrocento and later Italian pictures and of its extensive Northern Renaissance holdings (see Gordon 2003, vi; Boskovits and Brown 2004, ix). Despite Strehlke’s careful attention to iconographic detail and the inherent value of the collection to the study of imagery, neither subject titles nor the names of saints are included in the index except for the names of a very few historical figures (Benedict, Catherine of Siena, and Bernardino of Siena, but not Francis of Assisi). Nor does the index include the names of scholars mentioned in the text except for Johnson’s contemporaries Berenson, Douglas, Fry, Horne, Perkins, and Sirén. Incorporation into the list of works by accession number (550) of the former attributions published in Berenson (1913) and in Fredericksen and Zeri (1972) would have been handy.

Small errors include the misspelling of Geminianus in the title of pl. 29 (162) and an erroneous citation for De Marchi’s observation noted on page 120. Saints’ names are rendered in English in the titles, but one finds inconsistencies in the usage of English or (often more familiar) Italian forms in the text. There are also a few inconsistencies among the titles assigned to accessions. A panel attributed to the Marchigian school (pl. 93) is aptly called Nativity of Christ and Annunciation to the Shepherds, whereas pictures of precisely the same two-fold subject by Domenico di Zanobi (pl. 22) and the Master of the Castello Nativity (pl. 46) are captioned Adoration of the Christ Child (as is the Castello Nativity itself; fig. 46.3). Two outstanding predella panels, one by Giovanni di Paolo and the other by the Master of the Osservanza, are respectively titled Christ on the Way to Calvary (pl. 31) and Christ Carrying the Cross (pl. 52); usage of the former title for both would have been preferable, since Christ is in fact not shown carrying the cross in the latter work. The beautiful color reproduction of Taddeo di Bartolo’s predella (pl. 78) is spread over pages 404–5 so that the central figure of Christ is bisected and, in some copies, largely lost in the binding as an effect of the volume’s size.

We have become accustomed in recent years to huge catalogues, especially for exhibitions, but they are not easy to handle. Here, the number of entries for Duecento and Trecento holdings is quite close to that of the entries for those dating between 1400 and 1450. The material might easily have been more conveniently presented, and would have been more visually unified, had it been divided into two matched volumes for each period, with the post-1450 works catalogued elsewhere with other contemporary holdings. The text throughout could certainly have been streamlined. There are frequent repetitions among and within entries (between the biographies or “Technical Notes” and the “Comments”), occasionally with cross-reference but usually without. A substantial proportion of the material presented has already been published by the author elsewhere. Several consecutive paragraphs that appear on pages 170–73, for example, are repeated with only minimal variation from pages 172–75 in Christiansen, Kanter, and Strehlke 1988, but without notation of this circumstance.

Numerous lengthy quotations and/or translations from literary sources are included. In most cases, they are decidedly helpful, particularly those from Latin and Italian sources that are little known and difficult to access. Even where this is not the case, such as the quotations of Vasari on pages 137 and 141, they may be crucial to the discussion. The very long passage quoted on page 344 from Hendrik Cornell’s English translation of St. Bridget’s account of her vision of the Nativity (Cornell 1924) is surely justifiable: Niccolò di Tommaso’s marvelous picture (pl. 62) is a signal representation of the Vision of St. Bridget; Cornell’s book tends to be available only in older-established art libraries; and Bridget’s vision is often over-evoked in commentary on Renaissance Nativity imagery without precise consultation of the text. But quotation in English from the Gospels or the Meditations (Ragusa and Greene 1961 being widely available) is at times perhaps excessive. Of the many narrative events recounted in the two passages, from the Meditations and Bridget, respectively, quoted on page 122 in the entry for Domenico di Zanobi’s Nativity, only one (Mary’s kneeling) is relevant to the picture catalogued. The reader may therefore be left wondering why these quotations are included. In the picture, as opposed to the texts, the ox is not shown warming the Child with his breath (a little remarked but recurrent motif observable elsewhere, for example, in figs. 47.2 and 93.3); the infant is not in the manger but propped against the saddle that Joseph fetches, rather, to extract its stuffing for Mary to rest on (in the sentence immediately following the passage quoted; Ragusa and Greene 1961, 35); and Joseph is shown neither kneeling (as in pl. 93) nor attending the Virgin—again, as in the late-medieval texts—but rather in the traditional, long-established contemplative posture (see also pls. 75B and 87) that denotes his reception of instruction from God in dreams (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:20) and hence his exegetical role in the scheme of salvation.

The reader is advised that she or he may find hypothesis stated as fact rather than as an opinion that the author shares or a possibility that he accepts. For example, Federico Zeri’s eminently reasonable but tentatively presented proposal (Zeri 1975, 4) for the original location of Allegretto di Nuzio’s panels now in the Southampton City Art Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is not established by document and remains speculative (Wilson 1996, 61, 63–64); it is nevertheless stated as fact in both the third and fifth paragraphs of the artist’s biography on page 22. Also encountered are passages where a point is offered hypothetically in one place and assumed as fact in the succeeding text. An example is the lengthy discussion (219) of the black habit worn by the kneeling donor in Pietro Lorenzetti’s picture, one that reaches the conclusion that it is most likely but not definitively a contemporary Servite habit. On the following page, however, “the fact that its [the painting’s] donor was a Servite friar” is offered in support of a proposal for the picture’s original setting. Had the author written instead “the probability that its donor was a Servite friar,” his compelling argument for association of the work with the documents published in Appendix I (467–68) would have been better served.

Any work composed over the span of the past twenty-some years requires making continual adjustments, not only such as changing “Leningrad” to “Saint Petersburg” (see Acknowledgments, ix) but notably the updating of bibliography and redrafting of text to incorporate new finds and argument. Strehlke has done an admirable job of citing recent references to the Philadelphia accessions and the issues they raise, although in a number of places fuller attention to other scholars’ observations and conclusions would have been helpful to the reader. Particularly welcome is the specification of where paintings cited have recently been reproduced in color, with generous information as to which reproductions record new restoration. Such exemplary citing of photographs is not, however, entirely consistent: in note 2 on page 61, regarding a privately owned Saint Anthony Abbot associated with Fra Angelico, reference is made to the 1950s black-and-white photograph, published by Boskovits in 1976 when the location of the work was unknown, rather than to the 1995 color photograph published in a full-page plate in Wilson 1996 (fig. 10.5, 135) that better documents the panel’s appearance prior to its most recent restoration in 2003. Recent studies that might have been noted for tangential interest are, for the introduction, Caroline Elam’s (2003) and Flaminia Gennari Santori’s (2003) articles on Roger Fry and, for the discussion of the youth confraternity at San Niccolò del Ceppo in Florence (56), Konrad Eisenbichler’s (1998) book on another contemporary Florentine youth confraternity. Andreas Dehmer’s (2004) substantial contribution to the study of confraternal gonfaloni, which likely appeared too late for inclusion in the catalogue, might now be mentioned with regard to Strehlke’s notable discussions on pages 142 and 312 of confraternal processional standards.

Among new ideas embraced (60) in this book is Anne Leader’s astute oral observation in 1999 regarding a small fragmentary panel attributed to the workshop of Fra Angelico and depicting two clerics seated in a landscape before a city gate (pl. 9). Leader postulated that this work and three other fragmentary scenes (figs. 9.1–3) must originally have been cut from a Thebaid. Strehlke has also accepted the argument (Wilson 1995; Wilson 1996, 138–39) for isolating the three latter panels from consideration as part of a predella that would also have included a Saint Anthony Abbot Shunning the Mass the Gold in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and a Nativity in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an idea that had been hypothesized by various authors between 1974 and 1984 and tentatively accepted in Strehlke 1993 (20). Objections to the hypothesized predella had included the disparate vantage points and figure-scale among the panels (those aspects that now make Leader’s alternative explanation of their origin so compelling); the qualitative superiority of the Houston panel, acknowledged in Boskovits 1976, Wilson 1995 and 1996, and Spike 1997; observation that the argument for the hypothesized predella appears to have originated in a specific historiographic fluke; and two simple facts: first, that contrary to misreporting in one earlier reference, the Houston panel does not share a continuous horizontal crack with the other panels, and, second, contrary to the tentative suggestion of another scholar, it has not been cut down. Even though all four original edges are clearly visible in the color plate on page 131 of Wilson 1996, the erroneous statement that the Houston panel has been trimmed is perpetuated in the Philadelphia catalogue (59). It is also here potentially confusing to the reader that, even though the Houston and Metropolitan panels are correctly excluded from the list of “Companion Panels” to pl. 9 (61), both an illustration of the Houston picture (fig. 9.5) and reference to its subject as a Thebaid theme (61) have been retained in the discussion of the Philadelphia picture, as is the unsupported remark (60) that it is “seemingly” by the same hand as the latter. The entry for plate 9 and for Leader’s new argument would have been far better served had the Houston photograph been substituted for one showing an intact Thebaid, such as that in the Uffizi reproduced in Strehlke 1998 (pl. 13).

Best read, then, in conjunction with other recent publications in the field, the new Philadelphia catalogue is a remarkable contribution to the study of a remarkable collection eminently worthy of close attention. Recipient of the Association of Art Museum Curators’ annual book award in 2005, this volume is a magnificent springboard for continuing interest in the pictures here assembled and so often distinguished for their “imaginative intensity and intimacy.” The cataloguing effort richly merits applause for the author’s hard work and for the Philadelphia Museum’s strong support as well as for the generous funding that made it possible. In addition to the Kress grant already noted were contributions from the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, matched by corporate and private donations. Praiseworthy above all is the sustained, close coordination of curatorial and conservation expertise that Strehlke’s and Tucker’s collaborative work represents and that will determine both the future appreciation and responsible care of John G. Johnson’s bequest to the citizens of Philadelphia.


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Bomford, David, Jill Dunkerton, Dillian Gordon, and Ashok Roy, with contributions by Jill Kirby, Art in the Making: Italian Painting before 1400. London: National Gallery, 1989.

Boskovits, Miklòs, “Appunti sull’Angelico,” Paragone-arte 27:3313 (March 1976): 30–54.

Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, DC: The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, 2003.

Christiansen, Keith, Laurence B. Kanter, and Carl Brandon Strehlke, Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.

Cornell, Hendrik, The Iconography of the Nativity of Christ. Uppsala: A.-b. Lundequista bokhandeln, 1924.

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——— National Gallery Catalogues: The Earlier Italian Schools, 2nd rev. ed. London: National Gallery, 1961.

——— National Gallery Catalogues: The Earlier Italian Schools. Revised by Dillian Gordon. London: National Gallery, 1988.

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Eisenbichler, Konrad. The Boys of the Archangel Raphael: A Youth Confraternity in Florence, 1411–1785. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Elam, Caroline, “‘A More and More Important Work’: Roger Fry and The Burlington Magazine,” Burlington Magazine, CXLV: 1200 (March 2003), 142–52.

Filieri, Maria Teresa, Sumptuosa tabula picta: pittori a Lucca tra gotico e rinsacimento, exhibition, Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, March 28–July 5, 1998, Livorno, 1998.

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Gennari Santori, Flaminia. “Holmes, Fry, Jaccaci and the ‘Art in America’ section of the The Burlington Magazine, 1905–10,” Burlington Magazine, CXLV:1200 (March 2003), 153–63.

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Kanter, Laurence B., Carl Brandon Strehlke and Clay Dean, Rediscovering Fra Angelico: A Fragmentary History. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001.

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Ragusa, Isa and Rosalie B. Greene, Meditations on the Life of Christ: An Illustrated Manuscript of the Fourteenth Century. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Ms. Ital., 115. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961.

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Skipsey, David, “A Note on the Conservation of Fra Angelico’s Saint Francis of Assisi.” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, 88:376 (Spring 1993): 27–28.

Smith, Christine, Cat. No. 51, in Henry A. Millon and Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo. The Representation of Architecture. Milan: Bompiani, 1994: 458–59.

Spike, John T., Fra Angelico. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.

Rowlands, Eliot W., The Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Italian Paintings, 1300–1800. Kansas City: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996.

Strehlke, Carl Brandon, “Fra Angelico and Early Florentine Renaissance Painting in the John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 88:376 (Spring 1993): 5–26.

——— Angelico, trans. Anna Maria Agosti. Milan: Jaca Books, 1998.

——— “A Signature for Pietro Lorenzetti,” in Opere e giorni: studi su mille anni di arte europea dedicati a Max Seidel, ed. Klaus Bergdolt and Giorgio Bonsanti. Venice: Marsilio, 2001, 131–34.

Strehlke, Carl Brandon with Cecilia Frosinini, eds., The Panel Paintings of Masolino and Masaccio: The Role of Technique. Milan: 5 Continents, 2002.

Strehlke, Carl Brandon and Mark Tucker, “The Santa Maria Altarpiece: New Observations.” Arte cristiana 75:719 (March–April 1987): 105–24.

Wilson, Carolyn C., “Fra Angelico: New Light on a Lost Work.” The Burlington Magazine, CXXXVII:112 (November 1995): 737–40.

——— Italian Paintings, XIV–XVI Centuries, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Houston and London: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in association with Rice University Press and Merrell Holberton Publishers), 1996.

——— St. Joseph in Italian Renaissance Society and Art: New Directions and Interpretations, Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2001.

Carolyn C. Wilson
independent scholar

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