THE ruling power in these early days of Francia’s work was his patron Giovanni Bentivoglio. The family had secured the dominion in Bologna about 1440, but Annibale Bentivoglio, who was then chief magistrate, was treacherously killed in 1445. In 1462, however, through the help of Cosimo de’ Medici, his father’s death was avenged by the son Giovanni, who was chosen chief of the Senate in his stead, and who very soon by his own energies, strength, and popularity, changed this elective position into a complete dictator-ship, and eventually ruled Bologna as if from a throne. In 1488 a serious revolt occurred against his dominion on the part of the Melvezzi family, who claimed to have more right to supreme dominion than Bentivoglio ; but Giovanni soon quelled this disturbance, killed many of the conspirators, and drove away the remainder, and then for upwards of forty years, without serious interruption, reigned in the city.
His government was a stern one and severe, but he kept the State free from invasion, and in a condition of peace, and therefore under his care it prospered. His own interests were in the direction of art, learning, and science, and he wisely tried his utmost to encourage the artists of the place ; to attract the greatest scholars to the city, and to do all that was in his power to make Bologna beautiful, attractive, and of great renown.
The University prospered, and became known all over Europe for its learning and the skill of its professors. The printers became famous, and their books were sought for far and near, and other printers came to Bologna for type and for education in the new art.
Bentivoglio spared no money to make the city beautiful ; he gave great and important commissions to artists and sculptors to decorate his palace with their finest work, he gave books and manuscripts to the library, he ordered important volumes from the printers, and helped them by gifts and encouragement to produce finer works than had hitherto been seen ; by his help the great edition of the Pentateuch was issued in 1482 in Hebrew, one of’ the first important books to be printed in that character.
In every way that he could Bentivoglio embellished his city, giving liberal emolument to all who could aid him, and attracting to him by every means in his power the artists, workers in metal, stone, marble, or jewellery, of whom he heard in the neighbouring States. He it was who commissioned from Perugino the altar-pieces for the Church of San Giovanni-in-Monte, and now, finding that in his very city he had ready to hand one who was the equal, if not the superior, of the great Umbrian, he gave him the commission to paint for his own chapel in the great church of San Giacomo Maggiore the altar-piece dated 1499, which is still one of the chief ornaments of that building.
In this noteworthy picture, perhaps the finest that the artist ever painted (Plate XIV.), there is to be seen a great advance over the works that had pre-ceded it. Doubtless Francia strained his utmost to please the important patron who had commissioned it, and whose satisfaction could make his reputation and insure for him many other commissions. Instructions from the chief of the State meant very much to the artist, and it can readily be believed with what anxiety he would work at this great altar-piece, and with what intense desire he would plan out all its features and decide upon its scheme of colour. There was a further necessity laid upon him in this picture which taxed all his powers, and that was the wish of Giovanni Bentivoglio that two of his children should be introduced into the picture, and that the artist should paint their portraits in the two angels who appear in the upper part of the composition on either side of the Madonna. In every way Francia acquitted himself well, and Vasari tells us that so pleased was Bentivoglio with the work, that he gave him over and above the promised payment ” a very handsome and most honour-able gift.”
He certainly ought to have done so, for the picture is a masterpiece, conceived in the most admirable manner, and painted with a full brush of rich and melodious colour. The background is very Ferrarese in its architectural character, but the draperies partake less of the Costa feeling in their folds than is the case in other pictures painted later. The figures of St. Sebastian and his companion on the opposite side of the picture are Umbrian, however, in their conception, and Francia never painted a finer figure than the one of St. Sebastian, which was so highly esteemed by later artists as to be often copied into their works. Who the opposite saint is cannot be stated with absolute certainty, as he is not named in the contract for painting the picture ; but I cannot accept either the attribution given in Murray, who calls it ” St. Fabiano,” a saint with whom I am not acquainted, or with Layard, who calls it ” St. Florian.” Why the Austrian saint, who so very seldom appears in Italian pictures at all, should be introduced this once only by Francia, I cannot conceive, nor can I find any evidence to connect this figure with St. Florian, save the fact that he is depicted in armour. I believe him to be the Bolognese saint San Proculo Soldato, who so often appeared in the Bolognese pictures, and who, like St. Florian and St. George, was represented in full armour. The two angels at the feet of the Virgin have been described as the two that are portraits of the children of Bentivoglio ; but, as the contract for the work speaks of the children being at the side of ” Our Lady,” it is clear that the two upper figures are intended. The face of the Madonna is not quite so sweet as Francia was able to make it in his later works ; but it has all the quiet placidity, downcast eyes, and earnest thought that are to be found in every representation of the Madonna that he painted.
This great picture bears the name of Bentivoglio, who ordered it, and of the artist who painted it-IL . FRANCIA . PINXIT-and has been in the same chapel, for which it was originally painted, from the very first up to now. Vasari tells us that its success was so great that it obtained for the artist two other commissions immediately.
One of these was from the son of the ruler, Monsignore de’ Bentivogli, who was Archdeacon of Bologna, and Papal Protonotary, and who ordered for the Church of the Misericordia an altar-piece which was to be done jointly by the two friends Francia and Costa. The subject of the centre, which Francia was to do, was ” The Nativity” ; this is now in the Bologna Gallery (81). The lunette by Costa, representing ” The Annunciation,” is still in the church, but is so high as to be difficult to see ; and the predella, which also was by Costa, and represents ” The Adoration of the Magi,” and is dated 1499, is in the Brera Gallery. With a view, I suppose, to subordinating his colouring to that of Costa in order to produce a pleasant harmony throughout, Francia worked in this altar-piece (Plate XV.) in a much colder scheme of colouring than was his custom, and this coldness has been intensified by the rifacimento which the picture has undergone since it was painted. This produces upon the mind of the spectator quite a different impression from that produced by the other works of the artist, and his reduction of the value of his colour scheme lost him much of the power to produce emotion that he generally possessed. The composition is certainly beautiful, and the silent, adoring saints are finely drawn and well grouped, while the distant landscape is more detailed and varied than has been the custom in earlier works, and produces a greater sense of distance to the vision. The bushy trees all in a row, and the square-built towers and houses which stand out so clearly, are very different from Umbrian landscapes, where they are always bathed in a golden haze, which only half reveals the distant beauties of the hills, and the trees but faintly stand out silhouetted against the sky.
Francia never possessed the Umbrian power to depict landscape, because he lived in the ‘Emilia rather than in Umbria. As the scenes in which he passed his life differed from those of Umbria, so did his treatment of them. Yet the Perugino influence is to be marked in the separate figures and in the grouping, while his own special power of delineating details of ornament is to be noticed in the cope of the Bishop, the chain around the neck of the angel, the rosary and cap of the Archdeacon, the laurel wreath and the birds in the foreground; and the ungainly Costa-like draperies must not be overlooked.
Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio had but lately returned from the Holy Land, and is therefore represented as a pilgrim with the Red Cross upon his habit and his cap, kneeling in humble adoration, while, with his hands upon his breast, he cries, ” Dominus non sum dignus,” with the accustomed gesture. Opposite to him stands Girolamo Pandolfi di Casio, who also went to the Holy Land, and whom Calvi tells us was a great friend of Francia’s. He was a goldsmith, and was in addition to that a poet, upon whom Leo X. by a brief of May 11, 1513, bestowed the laurel wreath which had been given him already by universal acclamation, and which Francia binds around his brows in this picture. Girolamo di Casio wrote a sonnet respecting this very picture, and in other poetical works praised the skill of his friend Francia, and extolled the country that had given birth to so great a genius. He outlived his friend, and wrote his epitaph. Vasari praises the portrait of the donor in this picture, and states that, ” according to those who know him, it is an excellent likeness “; but he does not refer to a tradition that can be traced back some seventy years, that the face of the St. Francis in the picture depicts the artist himself. It is, of course, possible that this may be so, as the artists of that day were in the habit of introducing their own portraits into their works ; but as no mention of such a resemblance is to be found in Vasari, who would have been likely to have heard the story if it was in existence in his time, and as it is not found as a tradition till the beginning of the nineteenth century, it may be deemed one of those accretions that have grown on to the description of the picture, and which has no more than local gossip to justify its existence.
One interesting feature appears in this work which is, as far as I know, unique in the pictures of Francia, and that is the presence of a fine filmy gauze veil around the neck of the Madonna. It is beautifully painted, and hangs in transparent folds; but in no other representation of the Madonna is a similar veil to be seen, although it is quite possible that it existed in the “Annunciation” in the Brera but has been re-moved in the cleaning to which this picture has been subjected. Calvi states that on this picture are the following words, painted in gold letters : PICTORVM . CVRA . OPVS . MENSIBVS . DVOBVS . CONSVMATVM ; but no trace of them is to be seen at the present time, although it is quite possible that in Calvi’s time (181z) they may have been visible, and the inscription is very interesting as affording an idea of how quickly the master worked.
It was for this same Church that Francia painted the puzzling little predella (Plate XVI.) which is now in the gallery at Bologna (82), and which in so many ways differs from his usual work. It is a representation of the Birth and the Death of Christ, of which the former half is of the customary type, albeit somewhat rougher than usual in execution ; in this the Madonna is bending before the Divine Child, who is upon the ground and attended by angels and shepherds ; but the latter half of the picture resembles nothing else that we have from the hand of the master. In it we have a somewhat mystic rendering of the scene, as St. Augustine, vested in a cope, stands in. the midst, having his hands outspread towards, on the right, the Madonna and Child, with St. John seated, a scene in which both the Saviour and Forerunner are represented as young children ; and on the left, the Christ crucified upon the cross at full age. There are three inscriptions to be found in this picture. Above the right hand of the saint are the words, on a scroll, HIC . AB . VBERE . LACTOR, above the left hand the words HIC . A . VVLNERE . PASCOR, and above the head of St. Augustine a double scroll with the words POSITVS . IN . MEDIO . QVO . ME . VERTAR NESCIO . DICA . ERGO . IESV . MARIA . MISERERE.
The landscape closely resembles the scene described in the last picture. There are the same rows of thick bushy trees, the same winding river, rocky foreground, distant hills, whilst in the distance is the city of Bologna, and on the right yet another city is to be seen.
The jewelled work on the cope bespeaks the master goldsmith, and the same may be said of the mitre and pastoral staff which are upon the ground in the front of the picture ; but the idea of mystical teaching by means of scrolls with words which come from the lips of the Bishop is one which is new to Francia, and which he does not use in any other work. For which of his Misericordia pictures this predella was intended was not very clear, as it is too long in size for the Manzuoli picture, and too short for the Bentivoglio one. I think, however, that some investigations I have made in Bologna will throw light upon the history of this curious work.
It appears that in 1499 there was a serious fire in the Palazzo Gozzadini, and that the head of the family, with his wife and three children, narrowly escaped death, having been rescued from the burning house by a monk. The fire seems to have attracted some considerable attention at the time by reason, I take it, of the narrow escape of the family, who were at that time of importance in the place, and also, as far as I can discover, from the fact that many persons perished in the destruction of the house. The event is mentioned more than once in the local records.
In the list of Francia’s works, which I found in the Archiginnasio, is included a votive picture for the altar of the Gozzadini Chapel in the Church of the Misericordia, and on measuring this altar I find that it coincides in size with this predella picture. The important point with reference to my attribution is that in the city depicted in the rear of the picture is clearly represented a large house on fire, and I am therefore convinced that in this predella we have a part of an altar-piece commissioned by the family for their own chapel in the popular church, in which the artist was desired to commemorate their escape from death in a prominent manner. It is possible that the person who ordered the picture himself suggested, as was the custom in those days, the subject of it, and that in this way the unusual characteristics of this very interesting work are accounted for. I believe this explanation will be found to give the name, date, and history of this predella.
The ” Christ Dead ” for this same church has already been noticed (p. 37), but there remains yet another picture done for the same building that has not been alluded to. This is a very important work (Plate XV II.), named by Vasari, who says that it was painted at the request of a lady of the Manzuoli family, and that in it ” he depicted Our Lady with the Child in her arms, San Giorgio, San Giovanni Batista, San Stefano, and Sant’ Agostino, with an angel beneath : the hands of the last-mentioned are folded in an attitude of so much grace that he seems indeed to belong to Paradise.” The description is a very good one, and the spectator will be in full accord with the words of the old historian as to the angel, for seldom did Francia paint a more lovely child.
In many ways the whole work is a masterpiece, and this is especially noticeable when examination is made of the detail that the artist so loved. The dalmatic worn by St. Stephen is of rare beauty, most exquisite in its design of large roses and leaves, whilst the sleeves and lower part are adorned with the very richest of decoration. The cope worn by St. Augustine is of the same set of vestments, similar in pattern, but richer, as would beseem the greater dignity of the vestment ; and this resemblance in these two vestments leads me to believe that the picture was painted from the vestments which the church records relate were presented by the donor of the picture, and which Francia, perhaps, designed for her, but which are not now, alas ! in the vestry or sacristy of the church.* Mark also the beauty of the chain armour of St. George, the border of the dress of the Madonna, the hem of the angel’s raiment, and all the lavish display of decoration that will be found upon the throne and the columns in the background.
It is important to notice that the drawing of horses upon the lowest step of the throne is identical with similar work on the medal designed some few years afterwards for Pope Julius II. The draperies are still crumpled, and lie upon the ground, in the customary Costa-like style, the grouping is as usual pyramidal ; but the execution, colouring, and finish of the work are superb, and show the great success that had attended Francia’s progress in the field of painting.
A fine effect of shot yellow and green is to be noticed in the angel’s dress, and the same combination of colourings, although not shot together, in the vestments, admirably contrasted with the green marble on which two of the saints stand. With respect to the Madonna, who in this picture is exactly the same as in the Mansi picture at Lucca, one curious feature of the artist’s work may be noted.
* Part of a vestment very much faded in colour, which formed a portion of the spoils taken from Italy by Napoleon, is now in the Louvre, and is, I believe, a part of the very vestment from which this picture was painted ; but I have not been able to examine it sufficiently closely to be able to arrive at a definitive opinion, or to discover any documents that would prove from which town in Italy it was brought.
Francia very seldom drew the human ear. He generally covered it up in some way, either with hair and a band or with part of the headdress. In the Bentivoglio altar-piece, in which there are eight persons depicted, there are but three ears to be seen. In the altar-piece with six saints, in which, including the donor, Felicini, there are ten persons to be seen, there are but two ears to be clearly perceived, those of the Christ and St. Francis, whilst the ear of St. John Baptist can just be discerned under his hair, peeping out, and the ear of St. Augustine is very nearly covered up by his staff.
The value of this curious fact will be more clearly seen when we come to examine the portraits painted by Francia, but it should be kept in mind as affording a mark of the work of this artist. In this Manzuoli picture there are seven persons depicted, and on four of them is to be seen one ear apiecethe Divine Child, St. Stephen, St. John, and the Bishop, but in the latter it is nearly hidden by the mitre. In the Madonna it is never to be seen, and the same almost may be said as regards the angels that Francia paints; and further, when the ear is painted, it is always the same ear, with one single crumpled volute, of which the inner part slightly protrudes.
In 1500 Francia painted an ” Annunciation ” for the Church of the Annunziata, outside, as Vasari tells us at that time, the gate of San Mammolo, and which, he states, ” is esteemed to be very well executed.” It is probable that a little earlier than that he executed for the same church the enthroned Virgin and Child which so closely resembles in its general arrangement the last-named picture. It is a very simple composition, as there are but two saints in it, one on either side of the Madonna, and below, at the foot of the throne, kneels a little St. John the Baptist, who carries his cross of wood with the banner of ECCE . AGNVS . DEI (Plate XVIII.). The landscape is more Umbrian than in any of Francia’s works, but has the presence of those bushy trees in a row which never appear in the works of Perugino, but which mark the Bolognese School. The throne is elaborately decorated with floral designs and musical instruments, and bears upon it a long inscription describing the devotion of the donor Joannes Scappus towards the Virgin and St. Paul, and his gift of this picture in memory of his son Lactantius, on the occasion of his untimely death, and in loving memory of him.
Grasped in the hand of St. Paul in the picture is to be seen a gold vase, closely resembling one yet to be seen in the Sacristy of St. Petronius in Bologna.
The marks of the stigmata are to be clearly seen upon the hands of the St. Francis, and they are also equally well to be seen in the similar figure in the Felicini altar-piece ; but they do not appear on the hands of the figure called St. Francis in the Archdeacon’s picture (Plate XV.), which has also been styled a portrait of the artist, and it is therefore quite unlikely that this figure in the Arch-deacon’s altar-piece does represent St. Francis, or even a saint at all.
My own impression is that this person, who is not shaven or tonsured, and has no attribute of a saint, and whose dress is more of a secular robe than a habit, is either Giovanni Filoteo Achillini, the poet, or his more celebrated brother Alessandro Achillini, as both of them were great friends of the Archdeacon and in high favour at the Bentivoglio Court ; and of one of them, if not of both, there is evidence in the Bolognese papers that Francia painted a portrait. Giovanni Achillini wrote a great deal in favour of Francia, and was writing at the very time that this. picture was being painted. He was also the special friend of Di Casio, although the opponent of the same man in the public favour, which veered from time to time first to one poet and then to another.
One of Achillini’s poems which refers to Francia, and is taken out of the volume called ” Viridario ” (p. 187), will be found in Calvi. The other brother, Alessandro, was a physician, and at that moment was specially noteworthy, as he had been called in to see Giovanni Bentivoglio, and had cured him from a troublesome boil that had worried him. He was a Professor of the University, a celebrated humanist, and one of the first persons to conduct dissection upon the human body in that city. He died in 1512, and I have a very strong impression that the portrait in this altar-piece, called in the gallery ” Francia,” or ” St. Francis,” represents one of these two brothers, probably the latter, as the two rival poets would be less likely to be introduced into the same picture.
We now come, after this lengthy parenthesis, to ” The Annunciation ” just mentioned, the first of three re-presentations of the mystical scene, and the earliest in point of the date of the three, if my suggested chronology is correct. Of the date of this one, 1500, there is no doubt, as it appears on the picture (Plate XIX.), and I think that in the two succeeding representations of the same scene the artist became more and more simple in rendering the subject, the picture done for the Oratory of St. Jerome having two saints in attendance upon the Virgin, whereas the one at Milan represents the angel and Virgin alone.
In this first one the composition is crowded, but the effect is very lovely. The angel is represented in the act of flying down with the message to the Madonna, who is standing (not kneeling, as some authority has said) with her hands folded and her head bowed while she receives the gracious message. In the sky, within an iridescent oval, is a representation of the Divine Child as an infant holding a cross of wood, and above is the Father, and below the feet of the child is the Holy Dove. The expression of the Madonna is that sweet, placid, and thoughtful one that is so noticeable in Francia’s works in their best period, and there is neither snood, veil nor other head-dress as would befit the youthful maiden who was about to receive so great a mission. Grouped around the Virgin are four saints, grand figures, two of whom nearest to her are gazing up at the Queen of Heaven in rapt adoration, full of the sublimity of the occasion in which they are allowed to take part ; for Francia, like many another Italian artist, conceived, as has been fittingly said by George Eliot in ” Adam Bede,” ” these supreme events as mysteries at which the successive ages were spectators, and in relation to which the great souls of all periods became, as it were, contemporaries.”
On the left is to be seen St. John the Divine writing his Gospel, and neXt to him St. Francis of Assisi. On the other side stands a warrior saint, perhaps St. George or San Proculo Soldato, probably St. George ; but why his long staff is represented broken at the top, contrary to the usual custom, I cannot tell ; and next to him is St. Bernardino of Siena. This last saint, the finest in pose and drawing of the four, was well known in Bologna, and the effect of his visit to the city had not even then passed away. As the church was a Franciscan one, it was fitting also that St. Francis and St. Bernard should appear in it, and below can be seen, in a scroll carried by a lizard, the two arms crossed, over a wooden cross, that were used as the effigy of the Order at that time. St. Bernard has in his hands an open book, in which appear the words from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians (ii. Io) : ” In nomine Iesu omne genu flectatur coelestium terrestrium et infernorum et omnis lingua confiteatur quia Dominus Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.” He is represented, as usual, without a beard, and wearing the habit of his Order, and is anxiously looking up at the Madonna, and pointing to the words in his book, which were always the keynote of his teaching, and therefore associated with him.
This picture is, as already stated, signed with the name of the artist and the date of its execution.
In examining it, attention should also be given to the birds that are depicted upon the branches near St. John, as birds, generally goldfinches, are a characteristic of Francia’s work, and are always beautifully painted with the utmost loving care. In this picture there are two lovely ones, and they also appear in the Manzuoli and Bentivoglio altar-pieces. The plants at the foot of the picture are delightfully represented, and evidently done by one who loved them ; but it is possible that the drapery of the armed figure has been done by a pupil, as in its technique it is not equal to the rest of the picture.
It was in all probability at this time that two missing pictures were painted which were in Paris in 1873, but which have since then been unaccountably lost to sight.
One was the Guastavillani altar-piece, which was once in the collection of Cardinal Fesch, and which is grouped in the same pyramidal manner as the pictures that have been lately considered. The four saints are St. Francis, St. John the Baptist, St. George, and St. Sebastian, and the latter figure is from the same model as the St. Sebastian in the Felicini altar-piece. There is a long inscription also upon this picture (see List of Pictures, p. 155), and in every way, in grouping, colour, and detail, it belongs to this period. The other picture I have only been able to judge of from description, as it was not reproduced in the private illustrated catalogue of the 1873 exhibition in Rue Leroux, as was the Guastavillani work ; but it has a special interest of its own. M. Charles Blanc, who described both pictures in the Gazette des Beaux Arts for September 1, 1863, stated that the button on the cap of St. Sixtus, who, with St. Laurence, is represented in the picture, is either a medal of Francia’s or a niello by the same artist ; and this is a feature which is of such striking importance that I am exceedingly sorry not to have been able to trace the present owner of this very important work. It was originally in the North-wick Gallery, and is described in the catalogue of the sale of that famous collection.
Another important work was, as proved by the date upon it, done at this period of 1500. This is the picture in the Hermitage Gallery (Plate XX.), which was painted originally for Ludovico de Calcina, Canon of the Church of San Petronio, and erected in that church in the same year. It was afterwards removed by the Calcina family into their own chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo delle Grotte, which had been rebuilt by the family, and for which the picture was really intended ; but on the demolition of this building it was carried to Rome by Cardinal Ludovisi, from whom it passed back again to Bologna by heritage to the family of the Ercolani, and then in 1843 was bought for the Hermitage Gallery. In this the Virgin is enthroned, as usual, upon a highly decorated throne, and is seated in the midst of a landscape and under an arch. St. Laurence (with reference to the name of the church) and St. Jerome stand one on either side of the Madonna, and at the foot of the throne are seated two child angels playing upon musical instruments, their fair, long curly hair flowing about their faces, and bound only by a fillet across the forehead. There are no birds in this picture, and there is not quite so much detail, but some strong, bold brush-work. The landscape is delicately sketched in, and is marked by the invariable bushy trees, and characterized by the somewhat hard outline and curious absence of atmosphere that is notable in Francia’s early pictures.
The next dated picture that we possess is the one at Berlin (Plate XXI.), dated 1502, which in its peculiar arrangement foreshadowed the much later picture in the Church of San Frediano at Lucca ; it will therefore be considered when that work comes under review, although, in point of chronology, it belongs to this period. But, excluding this work for a while, there are a great many pictures that fall into position between 1500 and 1505, when the Madonna del Terremoto was painted. The braided treatment of the hair of the Madonna is one mannerism by which this period will be recognised, as later on a distinctive religious head-dress is adopted invariably for the Virgin, which is equally a marked characteristic of the work of the artist’s full maturity.
The other two representations of the ” Annunciation ” come at this time. In the one in the gallery at Bologna (Plate XXII.) there is much the same attitude in the Madonna as was marked in the Franciscan one ; and she is seen standing upon a slight eminence clothed in very full draperies, with her hands folded, and a quiet, calm, serious expression upon her thoughtful face. The angel is also much the same ; but the two saints are in this case St. John and St. Jerome, a fitting selection, as the picture was ordered for St. John’s altar in the small Oratory of San Girolamo di Miramonte, and was commissioned by a donor whose name was Jerome. The old harsh features of the niellist have in this picture begun to fade away ; the very spirit of the Quattrocentist that was so marked in the early works of the master, and to which reference must be once more made when a comparison is instituted between the two representations of ” The Baptism of Christ,” has now given way to the fuller warmth of colouring and the greater sweetness and peace of the Cinquecento ; and although in the edges of the draperies there is still to be seen the metallic rigidity that Francia never wholly lost, yet in this work we have a finely conceived and gloriously -coloured picture that stands at the very boundary of the new ways in which the artist was to tread. The long fingers of the hand, the knuckleless hands, the bushy trees, the strange shrinking from the delineation of the ear, the braided hair enclosed by a slight filletall these marks of the master’s peculiarities are to be found in this work ; but in the piteous gaze of the face of St. Jerome, and above all in the superb colour scheme, we see how much progress has been made in his art by the master ; and we have the fore-shadowing of the power of representing the full expression of grief that was hinted at in the Bernardino of Siena in the other ” Annunciation,” and which was to find its fullest development in the Buonvisi altar-piece now in the National Gallery. The picture glows with rich colour, and is suffused in a warm light that makes the absence of such an atmospheric effect the more marked in the earliest works.
In the third ” Annunciation ” (Plate XXII I.), which is now in Milan, and was done for the Duke of Mantua, the artist has still further simplified his idea of the scene, and has presented two figures onlythe angel and the Madonna. The braided hair of the Virgin and the curly locks of the angel entirely conceal their ears. The architectural features, the pilasters, and the temple are Ferrarese, and the bushy trees are associated with the finer silhouetted ones that stand out against the landscape in a manner that Francia made specially his own. All these points and the treatment of the hands clearly refer the picture to Francia, and not to Perugino,. to whom for a long time the work was attributed. The draperies, in the way in which they fall about the feet and are curled up into strange twists and knots, are distinctive, and so also is the representation of the Dove coming down towards the Virgin within a glowing circle of golden light. The extreme simplicity of the picture makes it one of the most attractive of his works ; but too much stress must not be laid upon its colouring, as it has been terribly cleaned, and unfortunately, as can easily be seen, has been very much touched up, and in parts quite repainted. Its calm composure, stilly quietness, and fine expression of devout feeling, cannot be easily sur-passed ; and with all that it has suffered it is certainly an attractive work, and in the gallery at Milan is very well hung.
For his great friend Messer Polo Zambeccaro, Francia painted, as Vasari tells us, ” a tolerably large picture representing the Birth of Christ which was much extolled.” This work now hangs in the gallery at Forli, and must be given to this period; but in some places it is curiously stiff, notably in one of the kneeling angels, and the method in which it is painted differs from that of any pictures with which we have hitherto had to do. In its trees, hills, and general landscape it is the usual work ; but when examination is made of the figures, it will be readily noticed that the colour is put on with a broad full brush without the under-painting that was customary with the artist, and as though it had all to be put on at once and with great rapidity, for fear it should dry unevenly. The faces are different in technique from the rest, and are finished very much as usual, if possible with more than the usual care ; but the draperies remind the observer of fresco work, and it is from that work that I believe they acquire their curious technique. Vasari tells us that Zambeccaro was so pleased with this picture that he commissioned some fresco decoration for his villa ; but I think that Francia must have been doing some fresco work for his patron before he did this picture, or at least experimenting with fresco work, and that in this picture he used the fresco methods in oil, or had become so attached to them that he could not fall back again at once into his older method without trying the newer one on this his latest commission. It is mainly in the draperies of the four figures that this peculiarity is to be seen, the two angels approximating more nearly to his usual methods ; but the washy, stringy, and hurried technique of the four figures I can only explain by this theory that I have stated. The face of the St. John is the same as the one he had before used in the figure of San Proculo Soldato in the Bentivoglio altar-piece. There are but two ears to be seen in the entire group of seven personsone on the Divine Child and one on St. Josephwhilst on one angel can be just seen the tip of the ear under the hair.
In the Vienna picture of the Madonna with two saints (Plate XXIV.) there is the regular pyramidal form to be seen in the grouping, such as Francia adopted over and over again, with the central decorated throne, and, in lieu of the child angels playing upon musical instruments, the little St. John the Baptist with his cross and scroll. The two saints are St. Francis and St. Catherine, and the former is painted from the model which Francia always used for this saint, and of which, perhaps, the best example is the single figure in Dr. Frizzoni’s Gallery (Plate XXV.). Something of the Forli appearance is to be found in the draperies of these three figures, which have a curious washy look, and have been painted with a very full brush ; and as nothing is known at the gallery as to the provenance of this work, I am disposed to place it in the same chronology as the Zambeccaro ” Nativity.” Its colouring is pleasant, but more subdued than that of the Bolognese pictures; but, unfortunately, part of that defect is due to the over-zealous cleaning to which it has been subjected.
The ” Madonna in the Rose Garden ” at Munich illustrates a thoroughly Umbrian idea, but is treated with all the loving devotion to Nature that was a part of the character of Francia. His landscapes are invariably of a somewhat formal character, but they are truthful, and are presented in the dry manner that he preferred, as it gave to his love of detail more opportunity for display. Here in this picture he has painted the roses on their trellis, and the birds and lizards that sport in the branches, not as a Lombard artist, say Luini, would have painted them, as a grand, rich background for the figures in the picture ; but has subordinated them to the central figure, and yet given to their execution all the careful detail that he felt was their due. He has painted them lovingly, in a realistic manner, evidently from Nature, and as one who loved what he was depicting, and he has simply enclosed the Virgin within this hedge of exquisite flowers, planting her feet upon a greensward that is also spangled with flowers, and gives to the picture all the brilliancy and sparkle that such surroundings were so well qualified to produce. The whole is set in a fine landscape, and the humility of the Virgin, as she adores her Divine Son, could have no more fitting surroundings. The picture is signed, and is an altogether charming one.
There are four pictures which yet belong to the period now under consideration.
One is the very touching and pathetic head of the ” Man of Sorrows ” bearing His cross, now to be found in the Lochis Gallery at Bergamo (221), which was the predella picture, or, rather, the square picture in a predella below one of the Bologna altar-pieces, but to which it belonged I have not been able to ascertain definitely. The long, knuckleless hands and the absence of the ear are very distinctive marks of the studio whence it came, and the expression upon the face is so sweet and so full of tender love that perhaps Francia never painted anything, save the Buonvisi picture, that was so fine in its conception. Comparison of it with the much-praised ” Ecce Homo ” of Guido Reni will reveal what there is of controlled force in Francia’s work, and how superior the older man is in his knowledge of what will produce an emotion without any hysterical revulsion.
Another fine work which has the same power is the half-length figure of St. Sebastian that belongs to the Duke of Fernan Nunez at Madrid. On four other occasions Francia painted the figure of St. Sebastian, always a favourite saint in the paintings of the Renaissance. In the Felicini altar-piece the saint is looking upwards, and the head is raised ; in the Bentivoglio altar-piece the face is looking down ; in the Buonvisi altar-piece the face is looking up, but the head is inclined to the right; while the San Martino figure is quite differently posed, and has one arm upraised. The Madrid picture is almost exactly like the one in our own National Gallery, but the pose of the figure is less constrained, and is not urged forward as in the National Gallery picture. The hands are bound behind the figure in every case ; the body also is always nude, save for a loin-cloth, and the arrow is to be seen in the side.
The Madrid picture is the most pleasing of all, as there is less anguish in the expression of the face, and a greater sense of peace and speedy deliverance from the sorrows of martyrdom.
An interesting picture hangs at the end of the large room in the Capitol Gallery in Rome which has been attributed to Francia by Signor Venturi, and it requires some little assurance to differ, as I am obliged to do, as to this picture, from so able a critic. To properly understand the picture, it is needful, first of all, to go to Cesena, and examine the signed work by the artist which hangs in the little gallery in that town (Plate XXVI.) and which depicts the same scenethe presentation of the Divine Child to Simeon in the Temple. The Cesena picture is undoubtedly all the work of Francia, and bears his signature and all the characteristics of his work. It is simply conceived, very quiet, placid, and delightful. The scene is set within the apse of a temple with simple architecture, and rich, well-subordinated decoration upon the pilasters and curve of the apse, while the cope of Simeon is painted with all the loving care that Francia would be likely to put into so rich a vestment. There are only six figures in the composition, which is well balanced and not at all crowded, and the faces are quite lovely in their expression.
All this is changed in the Capitol picture. The scene is the same, but how different ! The architecture is rich, varied, and florid. In lieu of the simple circular lamp, there are two ornate candelabra, and a central oil-lamp of even more ornate appearance hanging from an ornamental knot. There are thirteen persons in this picture, a lion with St. Jerome, and a dog, which is never to be discovered in any work by Francia, and the whole picture is crowded as Francia’s never were. The grouping is much the same, but the details are quite different ; the head-dress of the Madonna is such as never appears in any other picture, as a light gauze veil is to be seen twisted in the hair and falling around the neck in lieu of the two simple fillets which are in the Cesena picture. The saints include St. Roch, St. Benedict, and St. James, who do not appear in other pictures by this artist, and, as the Cesena work was done for the Franciscans, it is not at all likely that St. Benedict would appear in it. Further than this, although the grouping is similar and the scene much the same, yet the florid treatment of the Capitol Gallery work will strike an observer at once ; and when a careful examination is made for the marks of Francia’s work, they will not be found. The hands are different, although in some ways alike ; but the clear appearance of the finger-nails and the presence of the knuckles are marked features. Then, the St. Sebastian is an entirely different man from the one whom Francia usually painted, and has long, curly hair and an eager, expectant face. The St. Jerome also is quite different, and even his lion is a ferocious, staring beast compared with the mild-tempered creature that this artist painted. The dog, as already stated, is quite unlike any, animal Francia ever painted, and, in fact, none of the saints really resemble the similar persons whom the artist was in the habit of presenting. One or two theories as to this puzzling work may be stated. It has been suggested that the central part only of the work is by Francia, and that another artist, perhaps Giacomo Francia, added the end portions. It has also been suggested that the central figure alone that of St. Anna, who more closely resembles Francia’s work than any otherwas done by the artist, and all the rest by another man. The right group of saints has been attributed to Francia with the central figure, and, again, it has been suggested that the sketch or design was by Francia, and the execution by another man.
Until quite recently it has not been possible to obtain a photograph of the picture at Cesena, but when I was last at that little citywhich is so seldom visitedI found that a local man had, for his own amusement, photographed the work, and done it fairly well.
On placing side by side the two pictures, the differences are at once apparent : the quiet simplicity of the genuine picture is contrasted with the crowded, excited, florid, and gorgeous composition of the Capitol picture, and the various adjuncts that appear in the work in Rome, such as book, inkstand, dog, crucifix, lamps, etc., are seen as quite different accessories from those which with loving care Francia was in the habit of using. The more I look at the two works, the more satisfied I am that the Capitol Gallery picture is not by Francia, as even the colouring which does approximate to his is much more crude, violent in tone, and brilliant than the colouring of the pictures that can with certainty be given to him, and far removed from the original work in Cesena. Even the St. Anna, on which Signor Venturi places some stress, is not like the figure of the same saint in the National Gallery, or as it is in any other work by Francia, and although he confesses that the Capitol Gallery picture has been ” altered, varnished, blackened, spoilt, and much retouched,” yet there is no one feature about it, save, perhaps, the face of St. Anna and parts of the body of St. Sebastian, that recalls Francia, and it will not suffice to give the work to him on these very slight grounds. I give it back again to Fra Bartolommeo, or else attribute it to Giacomo Francia ; but I am convinced by a most careful study of each picture that it is not by Francia, and I am disposed to question whether Signor Venturi has ever studied the work at Cesena, and that this is the reason of his attribution. Fra Bartolommeo very likely painted the work, having the design of Francia in his mind, and elaborating the idea in his accustomed way ; the colouring certainly recalls that of his great works at Lucca.
Lastly, in this chapter we come to the picture in the Church of San Martino Maggiore in Bologna, an undoubted work, and one in which the artist has himself designed the frame for the picture, and which still remains in the chapel for which it was first painted. Here is a thoroughly Costa-like work, pyramidal certainly, but arranged upon an archway in the way in which Costa delighted. The Madonna and Child are seated high up on the arch, which reveals in its opening a fine landscape with hills, trees, buildings, and water, all painted in the somewhat hard method that Francia used. The four saints who stand around are St. Sebastian, St. Anthony of Padua, with his bell, St. Bernardino of Siena, with his tablet bearing the letters ” I.H.S.,” and a third saint who is called St. Roch, and who, from his attitude, may very possibly be that saint, although the presence of the dagger in his shoulder is most unusual, and points to a saint who was killed, rather than to one who, like St. Roch, died in prison. I am not disposed to accept the guide-book attribution in this case. The features of Saint Sebastian are full of beauty and of hope, and this saint is one of the successes of Francia ; but above all is seated the Madonna, and seldom did the artist produce so sweet a figure as he has painted for the Blessed Virgin in this work (Plate XXVII.)
A remarkable fact is that in the hand of the Madonna is an open Bible, containing, painted with considerable skill, a long passage in Hebrew ; but the repair of the picture just in this place prevents our being able to decipher more than a few detached letters of it.
Another detail that should not be overlooked is the silk drapery that falls over the foot of the throne. It has upon it a lovely design of pineapples, of striking beauty, which in a modified form was used by the artist in one of the copes in a picture, but which is exactly to be seen in a stained-glass window in the Misericordia Church which Francia designed. The colouring of the entire picture is very rich, and glows intensely, the reds in the draperies of the angels and saints being particularly effective. The face of the Divine Child has been slightly touched up, but in other respects the picture is perfect.
The grand frame that contains it is worthy of notice, as it is a superb specimen of its kind. The two upright columns, the base, the cornice, and the two square bases to the columns, are all covered with delightful arabesque decoration carved out of the solid wood and gilt. The large brackets that support on either side the Pietà that is above appeared to me to be made of metal and laid upon the wood. They are boldly conceived branches, with leaves finely undercut. Above the central picture is a Pietà closely resembling the one in the gallery that was early work, while below, in a predella panel in the centre, appears a Christ with His cross, like the similar one in the Bergamo Gallery, but not so fine as is that one, nor so large. The arms of the donor, a connection of the Bentivoglio family, appear upon the bases of the columns in colour.
There is a famous work (Plate XXIX., frontispiece) now in the Chantilly collection, which, originally in the Northwick sale, passed into the possession of M. Reiset, from whom it was bought for Chantilly by the Duc d’Aumale. It is a wonderful picture, very Umbrian in its characteristics, especially in the way in which St. Albert, the Carmelite saint, is standing, his foot upon the crushed demon, and wrapped in contemplation, indifferent to all around him. Umbrian also is the manner of painting the landscape, but the scene was near to Bologna, and so closely has the artist copied the scenery, that I have been able to identify the very rock in the picture, at Sasso, near to which the Order had a country home. The Virgin, with her hair braided and an open book in her hand, is raising her eyes to the annunciate angel, who is flying towards her, bearing in his hands the lily branch. The shadows are intense, and somewhat dark, as are those in the other picture painted for the same church ; and the picture has the even appearance that is so characteristic of Francia. There are no ears to be seen, either in the figure of the Almighty Father, or of the Virgin, or of the angel, and one only can be seen in the picture, that belonging to the saint. The hands also have no knuckles, and the two groups of trees that are so characteristic are to be noted. The colouring is of a very rich order, hill of depth and tone, and the crimsons and blues are specially important, contrasting splendidly with the white of the saint’s robe.
The history of this picture before it came to France seems to have been lost. I have, however, found from some records at Bologna, in the Archiginnasio, that it was painted for the Duke Francesco Maria d’ Urbino, and given by him to his secretary, Giovanni Maria della Posta, for his family chapel in the Carmelite Church of Modena, and there, on the altar of St. Albert, it was first hung, and there it remained till it was sold to Lord Northwick’s agents.
The altar-piece at Berlin, signed and dated 1502 (Plate XXI.), has strong points of affinity with the much later altar – piece that stands in the Church of San Frediano at Lucca, for which place it was first painted. The arrangement of head – dress, of which mention has been made (see p. 62), must not be taken as an infallible guide in determining the date of Francia’s work, as there are great exceptions to the rule that I have laid down. All the works that re-present the Blessed Virgin without a religious head-dress, and in which the hair can be seen, and is laid flat or braided, fall, I believe, into one period ; but all the works painted in that period, which extended to 1505, were not so represented. The great altar-pieces show the exceptions, as in them there is more or less a religious head-dress, notably in the Felicini, Bentivoglio, and Archdeacon’s altar-pieces ; but it is not so decided as it became in later years, and after 1505 we never find the plain hair or braided locks, but invariably the religious garb.
The Berlin altar-piece is an exceptional case, in which in 1502 the style adopted always after 1505 appears ; and it is also exceptional inasmuch as the Madonna occupies in the sky, and the saints occupy on the earth, the positions which the artist gave to them in the San Frediano altar-piece, and which he gave on no other occasions. In the Berlin picture we see the Madonna bearing the Divine Child, seated within a halo of cherubs thoroughly Peruginesque, and painted just at the time when Perugino’s influence was strongest upon the artist, but the personality of Francia is apparent in the angel with outstretched arms which is under the feet of the Madonna, and which is not in the least like the work of Perugino. Below, grouped in the familiar Umbrian manner, and in the midst of a landscape almost Umbrian in its character, are six saints. First comes St. Geminianus, Bishop of Modena, patron and protector of the city. Next stands a saint called St. Bernard, but whom I believe to be St. Francis, as the picture was painted for a Franciscan church, in which a Cistercian saint would not be represented. The figure holds the slight wood crucifix with which Francia always distinguished St. Francis ; and although the face is not quite like the one he usually gives to the saint of Assisi, yet I can conceive of its being no other man, and certainly do not think that it is St. Bernard. Next stands St. Dorothy ; then St. Catherine, to whom the church was dedicated; then St. Jerome; and finally St. Louis of Toulouse, who so often appears in the Umbrian pictures, and was the patron saint of the donor of the picture, and who has his crown at his feet.
The altar-piece at Lucca (Plate XXVIII.) has many points in common with the Berlin one. There is the same mandorla of glory and the same cherubs’ heads. There are the same clouds in the sky, and the figures are grouped in the same way on the earth at the foot of the picture. In the Lucca picture, however, the scene depicted is the Coronation of the Madonna, who kneels humbly before the Father, who is attended by two adoring angels, and who with a rod touches the crown of the Queen of Heaven as she kneels. Below, on the flower-bedecked ground, stand four figures, and in the centre kneels a fifth ; and in respect to these figures, Francia has returned to an old habit, and has given to each of the standing figures scrolls upon which are lengthy inscriptions. The figures are those of St. Anselm and St. Augustine on the right, both habited in rich copes (one of which can still be seen in Lucca, and is perfectly copied), wearing mitres, and carrying, the one a cross, and the other a crosier. On the left are two KingsDavid and Solomonwearing crowns, etc., carrying scrolls, as are the other two ; and King David is playing upon a psaltery, to which a further allusion will be found on p. 84. In the centre kneels an Augustinian monk in his habit, and below, in the predella, are painted four scenes from the early history of the Order ; and the whole picture is a glorification of that influential Order for the important church where it still remains.
The inscriptions were selected by reason of their reference to the Virgin. That of St. Anselm reads : ” Non puto esse verum amatorem virginis qui celebrare respuit festam suæ conceptionis,” and may be thus translated : ” I do not consider him to be a true lover of the Virgin who refuses to recognise the festival of her conception “; and that of St. Augustine reads : ” In coelo qualis est pater, talis est filius ; in terra qualis est mater, talis est filins,” and may be thus rendered : ” What the Father is in heaven, such is the Son ; what the Mother is on earth, such is the Son.” It is not easy to identify the work of St. Anselm from which the words used by Francia could be taken. There are two documents bound up amongst his works in Migne’s edition which used to be attributed to the saint, one a sermon on the Immaculate Conception, the other an account of the legend of the Abbot Helsinus, to whom Our Lady is reported to have made a communication during a storm at sea to the effect that, if he would promise to celebrate the Feast of the Conception in his monastery at Ramsey, she would cause the storm to cease.
Later on a Council in London in the fourteenth century states that St. Anselm instituted the feast in England, which may have been the case, or more probably may have been gathered from the document as to the Abbot Helsinus, which was at that time attributed to St. Anselm.
These documents are not, however, accepted by all scholars as the work of St. Anseim, although they belong to his period, and there are passages in the works of the saint that do not support the doctrine which these passages enunciate, The words from St. Augustine I have been quite unable to trace.
The theological question involved in these quotations was at the time of St. Anseim a matter of discussion, as it had not yet been declared de fide. In all probability Francia was guided solely by the words of his instructions, and attributed to the saints the words which the Augustinians at that time accepted as their utterances. The question is purely one of the science of criticism.