GENTILE DA FABRIANO, the Umbrian master, when he reached Venice in the early years of the fifteenth century, was already a man of note. He had received his art education in Florence, and he brought with him fresh and delicate devices for the enrichment of painting with gold, which, derived as it was from the Sienese assimilation of Byzantine methods, was very superior in fancy and refinement to anything that Venice had to show. He was a man of a gentle, mystic temperament, but he was accustomed to courts, and a finished master whose technique and artistic value was far beyond any-thing that the local painters were capable of. He spent some years in Venice, adorning the great hall with episodes from the legend of Barbarossa ; one of these, which is specially cited, was of the battle between the Emperor and the Venetians. Gentile was working till about 1414, and the walls, finished by Pisanello, were covered by 1416. After this Gentile remained some time in Bergamo and Brescia, and settled in Florence about 1422. The year after reaching Florence, he painted the famous Adoration of the Magi,” now in the Florentine Academy. Even after leaving Venice his fame survived ; pictures went from his workshop in the Popolo S. Trinith, and he sent back two portraits after he had returned to his native Fabriano.
We have no positive record of Gentile and Vittore Pisano, commonly called Pisanello, having met in Venice, but there is every evidence in their work that they did so, and that one overlapped the other in the paintings for the Ducal Palace.
The School of Verona already had an honour-able record, and its Guild dates from 1303. The following are its rules, the document of which is still preserved, while that of Venice has been lost :
RULES OF THE VERONESE GUILD (abridged)
1. No one to become a member who had not practised art for twelve years.
2. Twelve artists to be elected members.
3. The reception of a new member depends on his being a senior.
The members are obliged in the winter season to take upon themselves the instruction of all the pupils in turn.
5. A member is liable to be expelled for theft.
6. Each member is bound to extend to another fraternal assistance in necessity.
7. To maintain general agreement in any controversies.
8. To extend hospitality to strange artists.
9. To offer to one another reciprocal comfort.
10. To follow the funerals of members with torches.
11. The President is to exercise reference authority.
12. The member who has the longest membership to be President.
There were also by-laws, which provided that no master should accept a pupil for less than three years, and this acceptance had to be definitely registered by the public notary, a son, brother, grandson, or nephew being the only exceptions. No master might receive an apprentice who should have left another master before his time was out, unless with that master’s free consent. There were penalties for enticing away a pupil, and others to be enforced against pupils who broke the agreement. Severe restrictions existed with regard to the sale of pictures, no one but a member of the Guild being allowed to sell them. No one might bring a work from any foreign place for purposes of sale. It might not even be brought to the town without the special permission of the Gastaldiones, or trustees of the Guild, and those trustees were permitted to search for and destroy forged pictures. Every painter, therefore, had to subordinate his interests and inclinations to the local school. It helps us to understand why the individual character of the different masters is so perceptible, and one of the primary causes of this must have been the careful training of the pupils in the master’s workshop.
The fresco left by Altichiero, Pisanello’s first master, in the Church of S. Anastasia in Verona, shows how worthily a Veronese painter was at this early time following in the footsteps of Giotto. Three knights of the Cavalli family are presented by their patron saints to the Madonna. The composition has a large simplicity, a breadth of feeling which is carried into each gesture. The knights with their raised helmets, in the pattern of horses’ heads, are full of reality, the Madonna is sweet and dignified, and the saints are grand and stately. The picture has a delightful suavity and ease, and the colouring has evidently been lovely. The setting is in good proportion and more satisfactory than that of the Giottesques. From the series of frescoes in S. Antonio, Verona, we gather that while Venice was still limited to stiff anconæ, the Veronese masters were managing crowds of figures and rendering dis-tances successfully. Altichiero puts in homely touches from everyday life with a freedom which shows he has not yet mastered the principles of selection or the dignified fitness which guided the great masters ; as, for instance, in the case of the old woman, among the spectators of the Crucifixion, who shows her grief by blowing her nose. He lets himself be drawn off by all manner of trivial detail and of gay costume; but again in such frescoes as S. Lucia, or the “Beheading of St. George,” in the Paduan chapel of the Santo, he proves how well he understands the force of solid, simply-draped figures, direct in gesture and expression, while the decorative use he makes of lances against the background was long afterwards perhaps imitated, but hardly surpassed, by Tintoretto.
Pisanello, who followed quickly upon Altichiero and his assistant, Avanzi, exhibits the same chivalresque and courtly inclinations which commended Gentile da Fabriano to the splendour-loving Venetians. Verona, under the peaceful but gallant government of the Scaligeri, had long been the home of all knightly lore, and the artists had been employed to decorate chapels for the families of the great nobles. Among these, Pisanello had attained a high place. Though very few of his paintings remain, they all show these influences, and his subtly modelled medals establish him as a master of the most finished type. A much destroyed fresco in S. Anastasia, Verona, portrays the history of St. George and the Dragon. In the St. George we probably see the portrait of the great personage in whose honour the fresco was painted. He is mounting his horse, which, seen from behind, reminds us of the fore-shortened chargers of Paolo Uccello. The rescued princess, also a portrait, wears a magnificent dress and an elaborate headgear in the fashion of the day. Other horses, fiery and spirited, are grouped around, and in the band of cavaliers, beyond St. George, every head is individualised ; one is beautiful, another brutal, and so on through the seven. A greyhound and spaniel in the foreground are superbly painted, the background is excellent, and a realistic touch is given by the corpses which dangle unheeded from the trees outside the castle-gate. A ruined, but fortunately not restored, ” Annunciation ” in S. Fermo, has a simple, slender figure of the Virgin sitting by her white bed, and the angel, with great sweeping, rushing wings and bowed, child-like head with fair hair, is a most sweet and keen figure, thrilling and convincing, in contrast to all the dead, over-worked frescoes round the church. All these paintings are too small to be the least effective at the height at which they are placed, and can only be seen with a good glass. Pisanello’s art is not well adapted to wide, frescoed walls, and he seems to have enjoyed painting miniature panels, such as the two we possess. In these he is full of originality, and shows his love for the knightly life, the life of courts, in the armed cap-à pied figure of St. George, whose point-device armour is crowned by a wide Tuscan hat and feather. The artist’s knowledge and love of animals and wild nature comes out in them, and his interest in beauty and chivalry as opposed to the outworn conventionalities of ecclesiastic demands.
We shall be able to trace the influence of both the Umbrian and the Veronese painter on men like Antonio di Murano and Jacopo Bellini, and it is important to note the likeness of the two to one another. In Gentile’s ” Adoration ” we have on the one hand the Holy Family and the gay pageant of the kings, of which we could find the prototype in many an Umbrian panel. On the other we see those contrasting elements which were struggling in Pisanello ; the delight in flowers and animals, in gaily apparelled figures, in dogs and horses. The two have no lasting effect, but though they created no actual school, they gave a stimulus to Venetian art, and started it on a new tack, enabling it to open its channels to fresh ideas. During the time they were in Venice, Jacobello del Fiore shows some signs of adapting the new fashion to his early style, and the horse of S. Grisogono is very like that of Gentile in the ” Adoration,” or like Pisano’s horses. Michele Giambono is actually found in collaboration, in the chapel of the Madonna da Mascoli in St. Mark’s, with such a virile painter as the Florentine, Andrea del Castagno, who is evidently responsible for God the Father and two of the Apostles ; but Castagno must have been thoroughly antipathetic to the Venetians, and though he may have taught them the way to draw, he has not left any traces of a following.
Facio, writing in 1455, speaks of Gentile’s work in the Ducal Palace as already decaying, while Pisanello’s was painted out by Alvise Vivarini and Bellini.
PRINCIPAL WORKS Gentile da Fabriano.
Florence. Academy : Adoration of the Magi. Milan. Brera : Altarpiece.
Padua. Capella S. Felice, S. Antonio : Frescoes. Capella S. Giorgio, S. Anastasia : The Cavalli Family.
Padua. S. Anastasia : St. George and the Dragon. Verona. S. Fermo : Annunciation. London. S. George and S. Jerome : S. Eustace and the Stag.