Matteo di Giovanni’s lost altarpiece for Sant’Agostino, Asciano
Appendix: Travel notes of Ettore Romagnoli
Ettore Romagnoli’s mention of Matteo di Giovanni’s Asciano altarpiece has long been known, but his unpublished travel notes of 27 September 1800, on which his later account is based, offer some more detail:
The predella of the high altarpiece, with works by Giovanni di Asciano, is in the sacristy, and in the wood store of the convent I had the chance to save from fire a very famous work by Domenico Bartoli, in which there are Peruginesque figures. The work I am referring to consists of an ensemble of triangular and rectangular panels, all with admirable, excellently drawn little figures, and large figures that are finely finished and well worked, and very beautiful gold decoration. Some parts of it have already been burned, and in the old times these panels formed a large painting placed in the room located to the right of the high altar, as one goes towards the door. The Father Prior, to whom I suggested saving this outstanding masterpiece, promised to put it back in the choir. [Added above: ‘in 1801 he had it placed in the choir’.]32
On 15 September 1810, Romagnoli returned to Asciano, and described the National Gallery ‘Assumption’ in the sacristy of Sant’Agostino, now with the correct attribution to Matteo di Giovanni:
In Sant'Agostino […] the very beautiful painting by Matteo in the sacristy is painted with great affection. It depicts the Virgin Mary in glory among very beautiful little angels.33
It is unfortunately unclear what predella ('gradino') Romagnoli saw in the sacristy in 1800, but it was possibly the predella of the ‘Assumption’ altarpiece discussed here. Indeed, Romagnoli attributed parts of the ‘Assumption’ altarpiece (identifiable with the lateral panels, pinnacles, and/or the pilaster fragments) to Giovanni d’Asciano elsewhere as well, for example, in his biography of that artist:
In 1800, besides a very beautiful panel by Domenico Bartoli, I found four or five pieces of panel painted by our artist [Giovanni d’Asciano] in the woodstore of Sant’Agostino in Asciano. Some others had already been burned but I managed to convince the Prior to conserve whatever was still there. He judiciously did so and placed them in the choir of that church where they can still be seen. They depict various saints.’34
This last account is based on Romagnoli's 1800 travel notes in which he mentioned the same fragments as Giovanni d’Asciano's works immediately after his long description of Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio's 'Nativity' altarpiece, which he attributed to Giovanni d'Asciano (on the second altar to the left): 'Of this follower of [Si]Mone, there are a further four or five works of the same beauty in the woodstore'.35
During his 1800 Asciano visit, Romagnoli tended to ascribe Lippesque and Sassettesque works to Giovanni d’Asciano (in reality by the Memmi workshop, Sano di Pietro, Pietro di Giovanni, and Pietro di Rufolo) and Matteo di Giovanni’s works to Domenico to Bartolo and Girolamo di Benvenuto, but his attributions are too vague to rule out that the predella and the ‘four or five fragments’ he ascribed to Giovanni d’Asciano in fact belonged to Matteo’s ‘Assumption’ altarpiece.
Alternatively, other mid-fifteenth-century predellas that Romagnoli might have seen in the sacristy in 1800 include the now lost predella of the 'Nativity' altarpiece and the predella of one of Matteo di Giovanni's two altarpieces painted much earlier for the church, around 1460, for Jacomo Scotti.36 In 1800 Romagnoli documented the predella of one of these altarpieces surmounted by the main register of the other one on the second altar to the right (with the exception of the miracle-working central panel depicting the 'Virgin and Child', which, as he notes, had been moved to the high altar by that time). The 'Nativity' by Pietro di Giovanni and the extant parts of Matteo di Giovanni's two early altarpieces are now in the Museo di Palazzo Corboli of Asciano.
- Precedents and influences
- Structure and reconstruction of the altarpiece
- Appendix: Travel notes of Ettore Romagnoli
32. Biblioteca Comunale di Siena, P.VI.63, f. 107, ‘In sagrestia vi è il gradino dell’altar maggiore con op[er]e di Gio[vanni] di Asciano, e nel legnajo del convento ebbi la sorte di salvar dalle fiamme un opera Celebratissima di Domenico Bartoli, ove sono figure Peruginesche. Questa opera di cui parlo consiste in un complesso di tavole a triangoli e quadrati, tutte figurine ammirabili, disegnate egreciamente, e figure grandi tutte finimento, tutte lavori, e riporti d’oro bellissimi. Parte già erano abbruciati, e nel antico queste tavole formavano un gran quadro situato nel Vacuo a destra dell’altare maggiore, andando verso la porta. Il Padre Priore a cui raccomandai la Salvazione di sì gran bell’opera mi promise di riporla in Coro [nel 1801 le pose in coro].’ The room ('Vacuo') which according to Romagnoli's sources once housed the large structure may have been a chapel, now dismantled, on the north side of the church, where the three bays closest to the high altar have been restored heavily and partly reconstructed.
33. Biblioteca Comunale di Siena, P.VI.64, ff. 106-107, 'In S. Agostino [...] bellissimo il quadro di Matteo in Sagrestia con grande amore toccato esprimente M. V. in gloria con angelini bellissimi.'
34. Romagnoli Ante 1835, III, p. 195, ‘Nel’1800 trovai nel legnajo di S. Agostino d’Asciano oltre una bellissima tavola di Domenico Bartoli, quattro, o cinque pezzi di tavole colorite dal nostro artista [Giovanni d’Asciano]. Alcune altre erano già state abbruciate e di ciò che vi rimase potei persuadere il Priore a conservarle, e come giudiziosamente fece le situò nel coro di quella chiesa dove ancora si vedono. Esprimono varj santi.’
35. Biblioteca Comunale di Siena, P.VI.63, f. 108, ‘Di questo seguace di mone vi e’ pure nel legnajo 4 o Cinque opere della stessa bellezza.’
36. Cf. A. Angelini in Bellosi 1993, pp. 126–31; L. Paardekooper 2002, pp. 25–26.