Gentile da Fabriano (ca. 1370-1427) was a gifted painter from the small town of Fabriano in the Marche. I have previously discussed two of his works in the Brera Museum in Milan and I have spotted paintings that he or his studio created in other parts of Italy as well, for instance in the Duomo of Orvieto and in the Museo Correr in Venice. Such were Gentile’s talent and fame that Pope Martinus V (1417-1431) summoned him to Rome to paint frescoes for the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano. Unfortunately, Gentile died before he could finish his assignment, and the frescoes had to be completed by his student Pisanello (ca. 1395-1455). These frescoes have not been preserved, so not only can we no longer admire them, we also cannot establish the degree of Gentile’s involvement. As a result his most famous work is a splendid Adoration of the Magi in the Uffizi of Florence.
The Adoration of the Magi was commissioned by the Florentine banker Palla Strozzi (1372-1462) as an altarpiece for the Strozzi family chapel in the church of Santa Trinita. According to the frame, it was completed in the month of May of the year 1423 (MCCCXXIII MENSIS MAII). The frame also explicitly mentions that the altarpiece is an OPVS GENTILIS DE FABRIANO, a work by Gentile da Fabriano. The Adoration of the Magi should be viewed clockwise, starting in the background. There we see the three Magi travelling to Bethlehem in a long procession, guided by the star. In the foreground, the three present themselves before the new-born Christ child. The oldest King is on his knees and is blessed by the child. He has taken off his crown, which is on the ground in front of him (probably because Christ is the King of Kings). The middle King is about to take off his crown as well. Behind the young King is a squire taking off the King’s spurs, a lovely detail.
Gentile da Fabriano’s altarpiece is rich in detail and is seen as the perfect example of International Gothic painting. The Adoration of the Magi features several animals, such as falcons, twee monkeys, a large hunting dog and a lion. The ox and the donkey are present as well of course, and so are several splendid horses. It has been hypothesised that Palla Strozzi and his father are depicted as participants in the procession. One is tempted to assume that Benozzo Gozzoli was inspired by Gentile’s altarpiece when he painted his frescoes for the Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in 1459-1460.
The predella of the altarpiece is also a nice piece of work. It features scenes of the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt and the Presentation in the Temple. The scene of the Presentation is a copy; the original is at the Louvre in Paris.
In the same room in the Uffizi is another fine example of International Gothic painting: Lorenzo Monaco’s Coronation of the Virgin. This is an altarpiece that is even large than the Adoration of the Magi. It measures 450 by 350 centimetres, compared to 300 by 282 centimetres for the Adoration. Lorenzo Monaco – Lawrence the Monk; ca. 1370-1425 – was a friar at the Camaldolese abbey of Santa Maria degli Angeli and a contemporary of Gentile da Fabriano. He painted this altarpiece in 1414 for the church of the abbey. The Coronation is the central event of the painting. It is attended by a large number of angels and saints, of whom the two saints dressed in white are the most important spectators. They are Saint Benedictus (on the left) and Saint Romuald (on the right). The latter (ca. 951-1027) was the founder of the Camaldolese Order. Above the central panel we see God the Father and the Annunciation, while the predella features four episodes from the life of Saint Benedictus, as well as the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi.