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Storia dei Carnesecchi
L'annunciazione di Paolo Uccello
nella Cappella Carnesecchi
Dedicare un capitolo autonomo di una monografia su Paolo Uccello ad un'opera perduta, potrebbe sembrare, se non altro, uno spreco di spazio e di tempo. Invece non è affatto inutile provare ad elaborare alcune riflessioni su quella che dovette essere un'occasione particolarissima di incontro, di collaborazione, di studio, nella Firenze del primo Quattrocento: un'occasione di scambio intellettuale e di maestria tecnica, presumibilmente "alla pari", senza cioè nessuna delle supremazie che a posteriori ci hanno insegnato i manuali di una storia dell'arte letta in chiave evoluzionistica.
Dalle fonti, Francesco Albertini prima e Giorgio Vasari poi, ci è testimoniata in Santa Maria Maggiore di Firenze l'esistenza di una cappella, dedicata a Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, affrescata da Paolo Uccello e i cui arredi comprendevano una tavola d'altare opera di Masaccio e Masolino. Si può verosimilmente ritenere che non di una cappella vera e propria si trattasse, ma di un altare a nicchia, addossato alla parete della navata sinistra, sulla cui mensa d'altare sarebbe stato il trittico,
Trittico rappresentante, secondo il Vasari, "una Nostra Donna, Santa Caterina, e San Giuliano, e nella predella fece alcune figure piccole della vita di Santa Caterina e San Giuliano che ammazza il padre e la madre; e nel mezzo fece la Natività di Gesù Cristo, con quella semplicità e vivezza che era sua propria nel lavorare" . Sopra di esso, come coronamento, Paolo Uccello avrebbe dipinto su muro una Annunciazione.
G. VASARI, Le Vite, a cura di G. Milanesi, Firenze 1906, vol. II, pp. ... e p. 292. Nella Vita di Masaccio viene detto: "Dipinse ancora in Santa Maria Maggiore accanto alla porta del fianco, la quale va a San Giovanni, nella tavola d'una cappella una Nostra Donna, Santa Caterina, e San Giuliano, e nella predella fece alcune figure piccole della vita di Santa Caterina e San Giuliano che ammazza il padre e la madre; e nel mezzo fece la Natività di Gesù Cristo, con quella semplicità e vivezza che era sua propria nel lavorare". Nella Vita di Paolo Uccello: "Lavorò ancora in Santa Maria Maggiore in una cappella allato alla porta del fianco che va a San Giovanni, dove è la tavola e predella di Masaccio, una Nunziata in fresco, nella quale fece un casamento degno di considerazione e cosa nuova e difficile in quei tempi, per essere stata la prima che mostrasse con bella maniera agli artefici, e con grazia e proporzione mostrando il modo di fare sfuggire le linee, e fare che in un piano lo spazio che è poco e piccolo acquisti tanto, che paia assai lontano e largo; e coloro che con giudizio sanno a questo con grazia aggiungere l'ombre a' suoi luoghi ed i lumi con colori, fanno senza dubbio che l'occhio s'inganna, che pare che la pittura sia viva e di rilievo. E non gli bastando questo, volle anco mostrare maggiore difficultà in alcune colonne che scortano per via di prospettiva; le quali ripiegandosi rompono il canto vivo della volta dove sono i quattro evangelisti, la qual cosa fu tenuta bella e difficile; ed in vero Paolo in quella professione fu ingegnoso e valente".
L'attestazione comune delle fonti relativa ad una collaborazione (o, forse meglio, concomitanza di esecuzione) tra Paolo Uccello e Masolino per la cappella Carnesecchi, non è stata oggetto di particolare attenzione da parte della critica, presumibilmente a causa della perdita del complesso originario. Poche e veloci annotazioni hanno indicato come chiave di lettura la precedente comune iniziazione presso il Ghiberti, - attestata dal Libro di Antonio Billi e dal Vasari - alla cui bottega, durante i lavori per la Porta Nord, sono nominati fra le maestranze un Paolo di Dono e un Maso di Cristofano. Rimandando la discussione su Paolo di Dono a quanto esposto nel saggio di Annamaria Bernacchioni, in questa stessa sede, l'identificazione del lavorante del cantiere ghibertiano con Masolino sembrerebbe ormai da scartarsi dopo le precise argomentazioni addotte dal Milanesi e le puntuali prove fornite recentemente da Ugo Procacci. Ma leggiamo la chiarificazione nella bella prosa di questo studioso: "occorre ... ricordare quanto siano frequenti le omonimie quando ancora non esistevano i cognomi o erano di scarso uso; a Firenze, per quello che è a mia conoscenza, vivevano tre Tommaso di Cristofano nei primi decenni del Quattrocento, e uno di questi - il cui nonno si chiamava Braccio, mentre l'avo di Masolino aveva nome Fino - era un orafo, iscritto regolarmente all'Arte della Seta. Sembra quindi più logico pensare che sia stato costui l'aiuto del Ghiberti, data anche la sua continuità nel lavoro (e non un'esperienza di poco più di un mese, come fu per Donatello, o di ragazzo, come per Paolo Uccello, che noi troviamo al lavoro per quasi cinque anni, ma da quando era decenne); ed è anche da presumere che l'errore dell'anonimo scrittore cinquecentesco e del Vasari sia derivato proprio dall'aver essi conosciuto i ricordati documenti che erano certo facilmente consultabili presso l'Arte di Calimala".
Le motivazioni della compresenza di Masolino e Paolo Uccello nella decorazione della cappella Carnesecchi, dunque, andranno cercate altrove: forse in una scelta dei committenti che, residenti nel popolo di Santa Maria Maggiore, avrebbero potuto indirizzarsi verso Paolo Uccello per motivi di conoscenza personale poiché sua madre apparteneva ad una famiglia della stessa parrocchia, i Del Beccuto.
Non è comunque nemmeno da escludersi il fatto che in questi primissimi anni del terzo decennio del secolo il giovane Paolo Uccello e Masolino, più anziano - ma esordiente sulla scena fiorentina - avessero un qualche genere di frequentazione di lavoro. La conduzione in comune della decorazione di una cappella fa evidentemente pensare ad un legame stretto e, verosimilmente, determinato legalmente: purtroppo da questo punto di vista nessuna documentazione precisa ci viene in aiuto. Il fatto che entrambi fossero maestri immatricolati all'Arte dei Medici e Speziali farebbe propendere per un rapporto alla pari, come quello che si stringeva con la stipula della compagnia. Nulla osta a ciò, a quanto ci è dato di sapere. Vorremmo però che venisse posta la debita attenzione al fatto che l'immatricolazione di Paolo Uccello è di un genere un po' particolare: egli infatti si iscrive all'Arte molto giovane, intorno ai 18 anni, nel 1415. In genere questo atto legale sanciva una professionalità già raggiunta e un certo giro di lavoro: solo in tal caso sembra che valesse la pena pagare la tassa dovuta all'Arte. Ed è proprio circa questo punto che il caso di Paolo Uccello si distacca dalla norma: egli infatti si immatricola gratuitamente, in quanto figlio di altro iscritto, il barbiere Dono. Essendo ormai ben noto come la piena fruibilità dei diritti "costituzionali" della Repubblica fiorentina si otteneva solo con l'iscrizione ad un'Arte, è evidente che colui che aveva la possibilità di farlo senza alcuna penalizzazione finanziaria si affrettasse ad esercitare il suo diritto non appena raggiunta la maggiore età.
È quindi sempre possibile, allo stadio attuale delle cose, pensare che Paolo Uccello forse da poco esercitava il mestiere di pittore (dopo la iniziale attività come garzone di bottega presso il Ghiberti e dopo un ignoto, ma evidentemente necessario, periodo di educazione all'arte presso una bottega pittorica). Quanto a Masolino, pur essendo rientrato a Firenze solo nel 1422, quasi quarantenne, era comunque un maestro più che avviato e, presumibilmente, di qualche notorietà anche in patria. Un tale ritardo nell'attività autonoma di Paolo Uccello potrebbe spiegare l'assenza di opere (e di documenti di lavoro) precedenti la sua andata a Venezia. Intorno al 1423 egli potrebbe quindi aver scelto di appoggiarsi a Masolino, forse anche in posizione subordinata. In qualche modo l'esperienza non ebbe successo: forse Masolino e Masaccio stabilirono in questa stessa occasione un sodalizio di ben altra sostanza. Da tutto questo complesso di ragioni e concomitanze si potrebbe forse comprendere meglio la stessa scelta, da parte di Paolo Uccello, di lasciare Firenze nel 1425, cosa non facilmente comprensibile se egli fosse stato maestro di sicurezza di mercato.
Certo che molte potevano essere le affinità elettive tra Masolino e Paolo Uccello: fra tutte l'interesse per un certo ambiente d'Oltralpe e per le sperimentazioni tecniche. Molti anche i punti di contatto tra quest'ultimo e Masaccio, in direzione di emergenti problematiche comuni di resa dello spazio. Se vogliamo stare alle parole del Vasari fu proprio in Santa Maria Maggiore che Paolo fece "cosa nuova e difficile in quei tempi, per essere stata la prima che mostrasse con bella maniera agli artefici, e con grazia e proporzione mostrando il modo di fare sfuggire le linee, e fare che in un piano lo spazio che è poco e piccolo acquisti tanto, che paia assai lontano e largo ... la qual cosa fu tenuta bella e difficile".
Quello che non è possibile credere è che la posizione di Masaccio fosse subordinata a quella di Masolino: qui i documenti, sensatamente interpretati, danno un'altra indicazione. La matricola di Masaccio all'Arte è del 1422; l'artista è senz'altro molto giovane, appena ventenne, ma immediatamente dopo, a tre mesi di distanza, licenzia un'opera autonoma, il Trittico di San Giovenale. C'è dunque da parte sua la necessità di giustificare il proprio lavoro, e, d'altra parte, una condizione economica familiare che gli consente, prima, di vivere a Firenze fin dal 1419 circa e, poi, di mettersi presto in proprio. L'immatricolazione, dunque, funzionale ad un'attività concreta, ne fa un maestro autonomo de iure e de facto. Pare più probabile, quindi, che il sodalizio con Masolino sia stato di tipo paritario. Come ormai ben noto, ma mai abbastanza ricordato, un vincolo di "compagnia" non necessariamente prevedeva una equanime spartizione del lavoro. Addirittura poteva sussistere senza alcuna attività comune: quello che si intendeva fosse in comune era il provento dei lavori assunti, sia separatamente che in comune.
Evidentemente troppo pochi sono i punti precisi di riferimento per parlare con una qualche certezza di un argomento tanto complesso come quello degli scambi culturali di questo straordinario momento della nostra storia. Ma anche dalla consapevolezza della scarsità di dati a nostra disposizione si può partire per allargare il campo delle considerazioni.
da un articolo dei dottori Cecilia Frosinini e Roberto Bellucci
Una tesi di
Dr. Hugh Hudson
School of Art History, Cinema, Classics and Archaeology The University of Melbourne
La tesi sostenuta su base documentaria da Hugh Hudson e' che Andreola Carnesecchi avesse sposato Deo di Deo Del Beccuto
Andreola era figlia di Zanobi di Berto di Grazino Carnesecchi fratello di Paolo Carnesecchi ( patrono della Cappella Carnesecchi in Santa Maria Maggiore )
Questa parentela coi Del Beccuto avrebbe favorito l'incarico a Paolo Uccello per l'affresco della cappella Carnesecchi
i Carnesecchi e i Del Beccuto erano della stessa Parrocchia Santa Maria Maggiore e vicini di casa
i tre fratelli Carnesecchi :Zanobi,Cristofano,Paolo figli di Berto erano tutti iscritti all'arte dei Medici e Speziali ( Arte in cui erano iscritti anche i pittori ) pure iscritto alla stessa arte era Deo di Deo Del Beccuto ( che ne sara' console nel 1413,1415,1419,1421,1430,1431 )
E' da notare come l’ex palazzo Guidalotti , nel 1427 di proprieta' dei fratelli Simone , Giovanni , Antonio Carnesecchi figli di Paolo di Berto e di Luca Carnesecchi di Luca di ser Filippo , si affacciasse sui palazzi dei Del Beccuto
Del Beccuto .( in verde scuro ) : in particolare di Deo di Deo Del Beccuto (verde scuro perimetrata di giallo ) che da sul canto ai Guidalotti
Ricevo dal dr Piccardi
Continuando l'esame di questi spogli notarili mi confermo nella convizione che li abbia fatti un Gherardini che cercava notizie dei suoi.
Si capisce anche in che condizioni fosse l' archivio, sia perchè descrive alcuni protocolli particolarmente "in disordine ", sia perchè ritrovo nel 515 (che è marcato C) notai e atti già visti nel 513.
Comunque, c'è questo atto interessante:
pag. 155 notaio Ser Paolo di Lorenzo Benivieni 1438-1474
c. 245 Domina Teodora Soror Felicis filii Adulti D.i Alterius dei Beccuti nubit Sancti Pieri Matthei olim merciario populi S. Michaelis Vicedominorum cum illa dote, quam dicet Manettus Zenobi de Carnesecchis.
Evidentemente c'è stato un matrimonio con un componente la famiglia Beccuto, La dote l'ha stabilita un Carnesecchi, forse perchè le due famiglie non si trovavano d'accordo.
Domanda: cosa c'entra Manetto con la dote di un altro? Erano solo vicini o c'era qualcosa d'altro?
Biografia di Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475)
Paolo di Dono nasce nel 1397 da Dono di Paolo, barbiere e chirurgo, e da Antonia di Giovanni del Beccuto. Malgrado Pratovecchio in Casentino si fregi d'avergli dato i natali, la sua città di nascita è probabilmente Firenze, dove Dono aveva preso residenza nel 1373. Della formazione artistica di Paolo non si è certi.
Il Vasari lo dice discepolo di Antonio Veneziano, ma la notizia mostra discrepanze cronologiche. E' più probabile ch'egli fosse a bottega da Gherardo Starnina. Si sa che nel 1407 egli fosse garzone per il Ghiberti, per la rifinitura della prima porta del Battistero fiorentino. Molti pensano che da qui derivi il suo soprannome Paolo degli Uccelli o dell'Uccello, come egli stesso si firma, poiché il giovane pittore attende specialmente ai volatili rappresentati nel fregio. Al 1415 risale la notizia della sua immatricolazione all'Arte dei medici e degli speziali, al 1424 quella della sua entrata nella compagnia di San Luca.
Nel 1425 è chiamato a Venezia per dedicarsi a parte dei mosaici. Realizza un "San Pietro" sulla facciata, ormai perduto, anche se presente nelle testimonianze pittoriche di Gentile Bellini. Torna a Firenze nel 1430: c'è traccia della sua presenza nel registro del catasto, istituito nel 1427. Paolo fa domanda per lavorare al Duomo di Firenze nel 1432, ma è probabile che stesse già lavorando a qualcosa, pur se di questa commissione non si ha notizia. L'Opera del Duomo gli affida, nel 1436, la realizzazione d'un grande affresco equestre destinato alla navata sinistra. L'opera è dedicata a John Hawkwood, detto l'Acuto, capitano delle truppe fiorentine nel secolo precedente.
Dal 1443 al 1445 lo stesso committente gli richiede dei cartoni per le vetrate di tre occhi della cupola. Due dei cartoni ancora esistenti rappresentano una "Natività" ed una "Resurrezione", mentre quello con l'"Annunciazione"; è andato perduto. Alle vetrate si aggiunge la decorazione della facciata posteriore del Duomo con la "sfera delle ore", un orologio con quattro teste di profeti su ciascun angolo.
Nel 1445 Donatello, caro amico di Paolo, lo chiama a Padova. Qui il pittore attende alla realizzazione di personaggi illustri in Casa Vitaliani. Si tratta di figure colossali, per questo soprannominate i "Giganti", oggi perdute, che all'epoca ebbero forse influenza sul Mantegna. Altre notizie della sua vita provengono negli anni seguenti (1442, 1446, 1457) dal catasto fiorentino.
Nel 1465, la Confraternita del Corpus Domini gli affida la decorazione della predella della sua chiesa d'Urbino, con i "Miracoli dell'Ostia". Si ferma in città fino al 1469, lavorando anche con suo figlio, all'epoca molto giovane. Nel 1469 ancora il catasto dà testimonianza della sua vita, di cui Paolo parla con parole di disagio: "truovomi vecchio (...) e con la dona inferma". L'11 novembre del 1475 fa testamento e muore un mese dopo.
The Monuments of Florence, Real and Imagined, in the Early Renaissance: The Development of Single-Point Perspective in Painting* by Dr Hugh Hudson
potrete leggere l’articolo qui sotto trascritto ma ulteriormente impreziosito di note importanti
Opposite the principal train station of Florence in the northwest quarter of the city stands the imposing church of Santa Maria Novella, distinguished by its slender belltower, long nave, elegant marble façade, and fine courtyards with cypress groves at either side. Inside are some of Italy’s most dazzling late Medieval and Renaissance mural painting cycles: Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Stories of the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist in the magnificent Tornabuoni Chapel behind the high altar, Nardo di Cione’s Purgatory, Hell, Paradise, and Last Judgment in the Strozzi Chapel on the left of the transept, and Filippino Lippi’s Stories of Saints Philip and John the Evangelist in the Filippo Strozzi Chapel on the right of the transept. In the lower nave of the church on the west wall is another chapel with exceptional decoration. Pilasters of white marble with rose marble Corinthian capitals support a rose marble entablature, framing the entrance to a tall, barrel vaulted chapel. In front of the pilasters, heavily robed figures kneel in prayer, while the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist stand inside the chapel on either side of the Trinity: God the Father supporting Christ on the cross, with the Holy Spirit flying between them. This is not a real chapel, of course, but Masaccio’s celebrated mural painting of a fictive chapel, called the Trinity.
From Via della Scala to the Cathedral: Social Spaces and the Visual Arts in Paolo Uccello’s Florence, by Dr Hugh Hudson
potrete leggere l’articolo qui sotto trascritto ma ulteriormente impreziosito di note importanti
This article reconstructs the experience of Florence’s urban spaces from the point of view of one of its most intriguing early Renaissance artists: Paolo Uccello. It assesses the evidence for his personal life and social status, and discusses his professional activity along an itinerary from his home on Via della Scala in the west of Florence to the Cathedral in its centre. In so doing it illustrates the significance of urban spaces as socially charged sites in the life of an artist and the web of associations that connected Florentine society with its communal spaces and artworks. Special attention is given to Uccello’s Nativity mural painting from ¬the cloister of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, whose iconography may reflect the support given by Florentine families and government to orphans—a significant aspect of the history of Uccello’s mother’s family and of his own experience as a young man.
As every visitor to the city knows, Florence retains the imprint of its history in its densely packed urban character, its streets lined with imposing Renaissance palaces, forbidding medieval towers, crooked alleyways, paved squares, and the Arno river bisecting the city east to west, in a valley bounded by hills to the north and south. Rising above the city, now as in the fifteenth century when it was built, the terracotta tiles, marble ribs, and lantern of the cupola of the Cathedral can be seen from most parts of the city, a constant reminder of the pre-eminent achievements of the early Renaissance period. Nevertheless, the city has undergone a constant process of transformation, involving the opening up of communal spaces within its urban fabric, such as piazzas, churches, convents, hospitals, cloisters, and loggias. Moreover, streets have been straightened, and intersections widened to aid the flow of traffic. Such disruptions to the urban fabric inevitably cause the loss of built heritage, however, they also create opportunities for urban regeneration, and in particular the employment of the visual arts to adorn new spaces. How, then, did the life of a Florentine early Renaissance artist intersect with the city’s network of communal spaces?
At the end of the nineteenth century, Guido Carocci, Royal Inspector of Excavations and Monuments for the city of Florence and one of the most intrepid scholars of its Renaissance history, created a map of the centre of the city showing the names of the heads of the city’s households where they lived in 1427. It was informed by catasto records, a vast archive of tax documents now housed in the Florentine State Archive, rich in information about the material lives of the city’s citizens. Few artists were included in Carocci’s map, as few were sufficiently wealthy to own valuable real estate near the city centre. An exception is Filippo Brunelleschi, artist, architect, and engineer, whose family home was opposite the small church of San Michele Berteldi in the inner part of the northwest quarter of the city. Carocci’s map shows that on his way to work at the Cathedral Brunelleschi would have left his house, turning left into the Piazza degli Agli, and then right into the Via dei Guidalotti, subsequently leading into the Canto dei Pecori. His view of the Cathedral would have been blocked by the building over the archway, called the Volta dei Pecori (demolished in the nineteenth century), beside the archiepiscopal palace on Piazza San Giovanni. Upon entering the piazza, the most important project of his career would have come into view: the cupola of the Cathedral. Although the street names have changed, as well as the configuration of the city blocks and many of the buildings surrounding them, it would be possible—approximately—to follow in Brunelleschi’s footsteps today.
If such historical reconstruction seems merely picturesque, or even banal, it is nevertheless pertinent to a discussion of the way artists negotiated Florentine society through its spaces. The intense competition for influence over space in the city by individuals, families, the church, guilds, and various government bodies, is brought to light in the individual’s journey through the city. Their progress embodies a negotiation of social boundaries, from the individual’s quarters within the family home to that of the nuclear or extended family (in Brunelleschi’s case he grew up with his brothers in the paternal home that he eventually inherited), into the neighbourhood dominated by the most powerful landowners (the Agli and Guidalotti families who gave their names to its streets and piazzas), and moving towards the centre where the city’s major religious and communal institutions held sway (the administration of the Cathedral’s construction, was delegated by the Signoria to the wealthy and powerful Wool Guild).
For artists less closely tied to the Florentine establishment than Brunelleschi, their social experience of the city could be marginal despite their culturally important works and posthumous fame, and, indeed, it was sometimes further marginalised by writers. The sixteenth-century art historian, Giorgio Vasari, peppered his Le vite de’ piú eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori italiani (Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects) with accounts of the friendships, rivalries, and love affairs of his subjects in the urban mis-en-scène of the city. Vasari’s anecdotes cast certain early Renaissance artists in a negative light through the literary strategy of setting them in humble domestic or street settings. Although the painter Andrea del Castagno is documented as living near the Cathedral at one point of his life, he was not a citizen of Florence, and so was something of a social outsider. In Vasari’s Le vite his character becomes positively malevolent. According to Vasari, while painting the Equestrian Monument for Niccolò Tolentino in the Cathedral, a boy passing by knocked Andrea’s ladder and for his carelessness was chased all the way to the Canto de’ Pazzi by the artist. Since ‘Canto de’ Pazzi’ literally means the ‘corner of the madmen’, and is located around the corner from the Cathedral, Vasari seems to be implying that Andrea’s preciousness eventually drove him round the bend! Further on in the same life Vasari claimed that Andrea became so jealous of Domenico Veneziano’s much-praised tabernacle painting Virgin and Child with God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Saints, located at the Canto de’ Carnesecchi near the church of Santa Maria Novella, that he plotted falsely to become Domenico’s friend, winning the secret of oil painting from him by deception, and then mortally wounding him in the street. That the latter episode was fictitious became apparent in the nineteenth century when it was discovered that Veneziano actually outlived Castagno.
There has been considerable academic interest recently in the idea of space as a means of investigating social relations in history. In particular, spaces outside buildings seem alluring for their potential to focus attention on less well known aspects of history, that is, history relating to subjects other than large state, church, or family institutions, especially concerning the lower classes, and behaviours viewed as anti-authoritarian, anti-social, or criminal. For art history too, locating the residences of Florentine Renaissance artists, describing the neighbourhoods, recreating their social networks, and identifying the original locations of their artworks, are important for creating a detailed and historically meaningful picture of their lives. Moreover, this approach is essential for creating a context within which to interpret their works, not merely as isolated aesthetic objects, but as part of the rich fabric of personal and social relations in which they were created. It has been applied with an emphasis on artists’ social connections with each other at the neighbourhood level, as Nicholas Eckstein has done for the community of mostly lower-class artists of the Gonfalone (one of four administrative sub-divisions of each of the city’s quarters) of the Green Dragon. Alternatively, it has been applied with an emphasis on the social connections of an artist’s patrician patrons, as John Spencer has done for Andrea del Castagno. Bill Kent has since identified a need for the investigation of the relationship between the social world of Florentine artists (of the artisan class) and that of their patrician patrons. This article seeks to represent a cross-section of an artist’s social world by examining their experience of traversing the gamut of the city’s spaces from a peripheral street to the city’s most venerable cultural monuments in its centre.
Artworks could serve purely personal functions for the individuals who commissioned or acquired them, as objects providing sensual pleasure, preserving memories, or serving a devotional purpose. However, art was commissioned above all to be seen in communal spaces in which an audience was available to receive whatever messages a patron might wish to communicate. The distinction between private and public in the Renaissance, as now, was often blurred or changeable. Certain domestic spaces were regularly made accessible to particular members of the public for social, commercial, or government transactions, while, conversely, private influence could be exerted over public spaces in various ways, such as the sponsoring of building works in or near communal spaces on the condition that the improvements bore the patron’s familial insignia.
Art was commissioned to decorate furniture and rooms inside the Renaissance home, in particular to commemorate marriages between families, such as the numerous surviving cassone bearing the coats of arms of the bride and groom. These acted as a constant reminder of the social alliances forged by a couple’s marriage. Art distinguished the façade of the home: coats of arms carved in stone were frequently placed at the property lines of buildings to mark the extent of the family property, or over the main door to communicate information to visitors about the occupants. The ubiquitous paintings and sculptures of the Virgin and Child in tabernacles on the outside of houses acted as talismans for the family and passers by.
For well-to-do families artistic patronage usually extended to the local church, where patronage rights over a chapel would be obtained to provide a fitting place to bury and commemorate the family’s dead, and to demonstrate the family’s wealth and power in the neighbourhood. Chapels could be furnished with stone altars covered with expensive fabrics, painted altarpieces, metal candelabra, wooden crucifixes, carved tombstones, and coats of arms. The rich might obtain patronage rights at the principal church of the quarter, in addition to or in preference to, the local church. The wealthiest citizens supported charitable institutions in their neighbourhood and elsewhere in the city, such as hospitals, which also often required a degree of adornment in the form of architectural finishes, sculptures, mural paintings, and panel paintings. Many wealthy families also owned agricultural land and villas beyond the city walls, extending the geographical scope of private patronage considerably.
The most significant patronage in the city was organised in a corporate fashion through confraternities, and civic institutions such as the guilds, the Parte Guelfa (a semi-official institution representing above all the interests of Florence’s conservative oligarchy), and the government’s various bodies. The building of churches, large hospitals, and other major infrastructure projects devoured sums of money that only very large institutions could afford, nevertheless, powerful individuals and families could still hope to influence the decision-making processes of corporate patrons. Thus, a variety of communal spaces within the city, from intimate domestic rooms to public squares, provided contexts for the commissioning of artworks that served to identify their functions to the public, to remind people who owned them or who had provided for them, and to render them dignified and worthy of respect.
A case study of an artist’s relationship with the social spaces of their city, challenging because of the limited direct evidence, is nevertheless valuable for Paolo Uccello (c. 1397–1475). While a legendary figure of early Renaissance art history, his biography has remained for the most part mysterious, obscured by Vasari’s caricature-like sketch of his personality, summed up in four piquant adjectives: ‘solitary, strange, melancholy and poor’ (‘solitario, strano, malinconico e povero’). Granted, the innovative and often fantastic nature of Uccello’s imagery makes his artistic personality seem singular, and for that reason intriguing. However, archival evidence provides a quite different picture of his life than Vasari’s literary topos of the poor, socially isolated artist.
In one of Uccello’s tax returns he indicated that at about the age of 37 he had acquired: ‘a house for me to live in, located in the parish of Santa Lucia near Ognissanti in Via della Scala, [surrounded on its sides by] first, the street, second and third, Gabriello the furrier, and fourth Cristofano the cook, bought on 21 April 1434 from Lorenzo di Piero Lenzi [for] 110 florins’. A later tax return shows he lived in the same house until the end of his life, that is, over a period of more than four decades. From the detailed information Uccello provided about his neighbours, it can be seen how Carocci was able to work out the overall pattern of the city’s occupation from individual tax returns, the information fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Carocci was helped by the fact that many of the major streets of Florence still follow the Renaissance layout, albeit approximately. The long, straight Via della Scala takes much the same route now from the bottom of Piazza di Santa Maria Novella west to the former boundary of the third city wall (since demolished), as it was depicted in the print of the city made shortly after Uccello’s lifetime: the street is visible in the so-called Chain Map woodcut of c. 1510 (Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin), a copy of an engraving of the 1480s, of which only a fragment survives.
Judging from the depiction of the buildings on the part of the street where Uccello lived, near the church of Santa Lucia (even if they represent only an approximation of the buildings that actually lined the street), the low price of Uccello’s house, its distance from the centre of the city, and the blue-collar professions of his neighbours, his domicile would have been a modest one. Nevertheless, Uccello was not poor, as Vasari would have it. In addition to his house in the city, he owned agricultural land at Ugnano, a few kilometres west of the city, from about the age of 28 (if not earlier) until his old age. In 1455, 1458, and 1459 he added to his property there with successive purchases of land. He seems only ever to have increased his land holdings, never to have sold off these investments. Uccello certainly came into contact with the poor, as we learn from a tax return in which he informs the tax officials of a debt owed to him, but not likely to be recovered, by one of his tenant farmers who ‘is poor [and] has nothing’.
Topographically, the northwest quarter of the city, comprising the segment of land in the angle between a point just west of the Piazza di San Giovanni in the city centre, the north bank of the Arno river running to the west, and the road to the Fortezza da Basso (corresponding in part to the present-day Via Faenza) covers much of the administrative Santa Maria Novella quarter, the area surrounding the Dominican church and convent renowned for its patrician families, their impressive palaces, and the lavishly decorated churches they patronised. However, wealth was not evenly distributed in the quarter. Samuel Kline Cohn Jr has argued that the redevelopments that resulted in the opening up of the dense urban fabric in the centre of Florence had a disproportionate effect on members of the artisan and labouring classes. From the late fourteenth century to the end of the fifteenth, the lower classes tended to be redistributed towards the periphery of the city. In Uccello’s time, this seems to have been true of the northwest part of the city. The rich tended to live and conduct their business closer to the centre of the city, within the boundaries of the second city wall. For example, the shops of wealthy wool merchants in the quarter seem to have clustered around the street running between San Michele Berteldi and Santa Trinita (now the Via de’ Tornabuoni), as well as along the Via della Vigna Nuova, while further away from the centre, along the edge of the river the workshops of wool processors were located in a less densely built-up area, where water was used in the dirty and foul smelling procedures of washing and dying fleece. The area was also popular with tanners, and the son of one such tanner, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni, is better known as Sandro Botticelli (c. 1444–1510). He lived in the parish of Santa Lucia after 1470, near Uccello’s house.
Even though Uccello’s career intersected for some time with that of Brunelleschi in the Cathedral (Uccello executed two mural paintings and designed three stained glass windows there between 1436 and 1444), the distance he travelled between work and home was further, and traversed a greater part of the social spectrum, as it were. So what did it mean socially to be a painter like Uccello living on the outer fringes of the Santa Maria Novella quarter in the mid-fifteenth century?
Since the research of the great archivist Gaetano Milanesi, published as annotations to his 1878 edition of Vasari’s Le vite, it has always been accepted that Uccello’s father was Dono di Paolo, a barber-surgeon from Pratovecchio, a small town east of Florence. Dono (short for Donato) gained his Florentine citizenship in 1373, and married one Antonia di Giovanni Castello del Beccuto in 1387. While Milanese was able to show that Uccello’s father had a coat of arms (a chevron between three lion heads), confirmed by a seventeenth-century description of the family’s tombstone previously in the cloister of Santo Spirito, south of the Arno, being the son of a migrant to Florence in the early fifteenth century could well have been a social disadvantage for Uccello. Since the fourteenth century, the conservative, oligarchic government of Florence generally discriminated against migrants, and made it difficult for them to hold public offices, the chief means of gaining high social status. Uccello’s mother’s family also had a coat of arms (a red field with a white band), but had a very long and respectable, even somewhat distinguished, history in Florence, putting Uccello in the awkward position of being both wellborn and slightly suspect, socially speaking. Compounding Uccello’s difficulty was the fact that his father died by the time Uccello wrote his first will in 1425, at the age of about 28, and it appears he had also been separated from what remained of his nuclear family, since he did not leave anything to family members in his will.
There is further evidence to suggest that Uccello was orphaned. When Uccello was away in Venice working on mosaics for the façade of San Marco in 1427, it fell to a distant relative from his mother’s family, Deo Beccuti, to submit his tax return. Deo described himself as Paolo’s attorney (‘p[r]ochuratore’), and stated that he submitted the return for a notary by the name of Ser Bartolo di Ser Donato Giannini. The death of a young person’s father in Renaissance Florence could call for the involvement of the Magistrato dei Pupilli, a communal institution providing judges and notaries to administer family property for orphans, who in turn dealt with orphans’ legal representatives: procuratores, curatores, and tutores. Uccello’s name has not been found in the Pupilli records, however, the facts that he left nothing to relatives in his will, and that his tax return was submitted by a distant relative while he was in Venice, suggest that he was without close family relations at this time. Ser Bartolo Giannini was Notary of the Signoria on a number of occasions from 1416 to 1438. It is not clear from the evidence whether he helped administer Uccello’s affairs following the death of his father, or merely requested that Deo Beccuti submit Uccello’s tax return while Uccello was away from Florence.
Deo was the most prominent member of Uccello’s mothers’ family at the time, and this may explain why he accepted the responsibility. Carocci identified Deo’s properties on his map, clustered around the Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, valuable real-estate near the centre of the city. It may have been because of the location of his mother’s ancestral home in this area that Uccello moved to the northwest part of the city by the age of about 28, and apart from professional trips out of the city, remained there for the rest of his life.
An unpublished, eighteenth-century genealogy of the del Beccuto family, compiled by a descendent, Anton Ranieri Orlandini, shows the male lineage of the most prominent branch of the family, including Deo, but does not make any reference to Uccello’s mother Antonia, or any woman born of the family for that matter. However, from her patronymic, ‘di Giovanni di Castello’, her grandfather’s name is known to be Castello, which was not a particularly common name in Florence. There is, however, one person with that name in the genealogy, Deo’s grandfather’s brother. Thus, Deo and Antonia may have been related through their grandfathers, which is supported by the age difference between Uccello and Deo. In 1427 Deo was 50, while Uccello was about 30, making Uccello approximately one generation younger than Deo. Castello di Lippo del Beccuto, tentatively identifiable in this way as Uccello’s great-grandfather, lived in the parish of Santa Maria Maggiore, as is indicated in a notarial record that also supports the assessment of Uccello’s relationship to Deo suggested here. It seems that when Castello died the tutelage of his sons Vanni and Antonio was assumed by his nephew Deo di Vanni, keeping the two lineages of the family closely bound, an arrangement sanctioned by the Pupilli. The name of one of Castello’s sons, Vanni—short for Giovanni¬, corresponds with Uccello’s grandfather’s name, known from his mother’s patronymic. This incidence of family solidarity provides a precedent for Deo di Deo del Beccuto’s later tutelage of Uccello.
Castello was a man of some social standing, whom the genealogy notes held the government office of prior in 1348, 1351, and 1355. Other archival evidence shows he helped the Signoria fortify the castello at Calenzano against Visconti attack in 1352. In turn, Castello’s great-grandfather was Geremia del Beccuto, who had been employed by the Signoria on works on the road outside the Baptistery in 1289. Thus, Uccello’s mother’s family had established a notable social status in Florence over many generations by the time of Uccello’s birth.
A large, carved pietra serena lintel, described by Carocci as a modern reproduction of a fifteenth-century original, was removed from the del Beccuto palace on the street of their name (Via del Beccuto), presumably at the time the building was demolished in the nineteenth century. The lintel is now housed in the Museo di San Marco in Florence, with hundreds of architectural fragments salvaged from the old centre of Florence. The lintel shows the family’s coat of arms in the centre, inside a wreath with two undulating ribbons flowing to each side. At each end of the lintel is the head of a fantastic, bird-like creature with plumes splayed out at the back and a giant beak, a witty allusion to their family name (becco means beak).
Also housed in the Museo di San Marco is a small mural painting of the Virgin and Child with an unusually expensive gold ground and lapis lazuli drapery. The credit for identifying this sadly damaged painting as a work of Uccello goes to the art historian Alessandro Parronchi, who realised that the inscription on the reverse of the work, ‘formerly in a house of the Del Beccuto [family]’ (‘già in una casa dei Del Beccuto’), and its elegant, gothic-inflected, Renaissance style indubitably linked the work to Uccello. Judging by the painting’s pointed-arch shape, it was originally located over a doorway, perhaps the same one the lintel came from. Together, the artefacts would have expressed symbolically the family’s piety, wealth, taste, and wit.
The del Beccuto had two, or possibly three, chapels in Santa Maria Maggiore. According to Vasari, the family had the chapel to the left of the main altar painted with scenes from the life of Saint John the Evangelist in 1383 by an obscure artist called Lippo, whose chapter in Le vite actually includes works by a number of artists, and nothing remains of the paintings that might help identify the individual responsible. A tomb of a member of the Beccuti family bearing the family’s coat of arms is still in the chapel; it is sometimes identified as belonging to Bruno Beccuti, presumably the Bruno del Beccuto who was a prior of the church. Other evidence shows Carnesecchi family patronage of the chapel: a tabernacle for the sacraments on the left wall of the chapel bears the date 1449 and the arms of the Carnesecchi, and Bernardo Carnesecchi’s tombstone, dated 1449, was recorded in the chapel in the eighteenth century. It is possible the del Beccuto and Carnesecchi families shared patronage rights to the chapel, or that patronage passed from one family to the other.
Deo Beccuti recorded that his father, Deo di Vanni, established a chapel dedicated to Saint Blaise in his testament notarised in 1386, without specifying its location within the church. However, the eighteenth-century antiquary, Giuseppe Richa, referred to a chapel founded in that year, third on the right from the entrance to the church, with a panel painting by the seventeenth-century artist Ottavio Vannini and his student Antonio Giusti, showing the martyrdom of Saint Blaise, with Saints Michael and John the Evangelist. An altarpiece that apparently stood in the chapel by 1423 is now lost. The chapel remained in the del Beccuto family until at least the seventeenth century. Further, Richa wrote that Deo di Vanni also had the patronage rights to the chapel to the right of the main altar, where he recorded an inscription declaring his foundation of the chapel in 1383 in language that left no doubt as to his own view of his high social standing: ‘SEP. NOBILIS VIRI DEI VANNIS DE BECCVDIS SPECTABILIS/ HONORABILIS QVI PRIMA DIE IVNII DOTAVIT AN. D. MCCCLXXXIII.’.
From sifting the fragmentary archival, artistic, and archaeological evidence, art historians such as Anna Padoa Rizzo and the present author have pieced together a picture of a long association between Uccello and Deo Beccuti, in which the patriarch of the artist’s mother’s family seems to have fostered the young man’s career in the absence of his father. Evidence of connections between Deo Beccuti and Uccello exists from the period Uccello was about 16 to about the age of about 36. Most importantly, Deo Beccuti had connections with Uccello’s earliest presumed patrons: the Confraternity of Saint Peter Martyr (it seems likely that Uccello worked in c. 1413 at their hospital at Castello just outside Florence, to which Beccuti had donated money for its renovation), the Bartoli family (in 1416 Uccello may have helped paint the street tabernacle near Castello belonging to this family with which Beccuti had financial dealings), and the Carnesecchi family (early sources state that Uccello helped paint the altarpiece, datable on current evidence to c. 1423, for a member of the family in Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence, the family from which Beccuti’s wife came), and as Padoa Rizzo suggested, Beccuti most likely commissioned the Virgin and Child now in the Museo di San Marco in the early 1430s.
Uccello’s 1458 tax return provides the first information about his wife and children. He named his wife, Tomasa di Benedetto Malifici, aged 25 (compared with his 62 years!), his six-year-old son Donato, and his daughter Antonia, who was just over a year old. Nothing is known about the social status of Uccello’s wife. At 200 florins, her dowry was neither particularly small nor large for a Florentine artist’s wife. The fact that she possessed a family name might suggest she came from a distinguished family, or one with pretensions. A little investigation of the tax records of the Florentine State Archive reveals that there were at least two Benedetto Malificis in Florence in 1427, one of who was potentially Uccello’s father-in-law. By coincidence, both of them were named Benedetto di Piero, while neither of them claimed to be particularly wealthy. One of them lived on Via della Scala, so Uccello might have met the family of his wife on the street where he lived. In the fifteenth century it was much more likely for an artisan or labourer to marry within their own gonfalone than for a member of the patriciate.
Uccello’s wife appears in the most famous of Vasari’s anecdotes concerning the artist, when one night she called him to bed he reportedly responded: ‘Oh what a sweet thing this perspective is!’ (‘Oh che dolce cosa è questa prospettiva!’). It is usually understood from this exchange that Uccello preferred to work on his perspective studies than sleep with his wife. Another interpretation, however, may be inferred from the words Vasari chose, no doubt carefully: that for Uccello the prospect of going to bed with his wife was a sweet thing (prospettiva meaning perspective and prospect). Both interpretations would have been intended more for the amusement of Vasari’s readers than their edification. Another of Vasari’s anecdotes concerning Uccello’s home relates that it was filled with the artist’s drawings of animals, which he kept there because he was too poor to afford real animals. It is, though, far from unusual for an artist to have drawings of animals at their disposal for the design of artworks. Ironically, Vasari admitted that he admired Uccello’s skill as a draughtsman, and that he was a collector of Uccello’s drawings, including a study of a beautifully foreshortened bull made for a painting then in the Medici Palace. Why, then, make Uccello (and Castagno, and other early Renaissance artists) the subject of disreputable anecdotes? Perhaps for no other reason than Vasari’s long series of artists’ lives would have made rather heavy-going reading if every artist was accorded the same reverential tone that he gave his favoured contemporaries, such as Michelangelo.
If the acquaintances Uccello made on his street might have lead to marriage, it seems they might also have lead to a commission for work. A mural painting by Uccello, datable on stylistic criteria after the late 1430s, was once found in the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala (subsequently renamed San Martino alla Scala) on the same part of the street where Uccello lived. The hospital was founded in the early fourteenth century by a local benefactor, Cione di Lapo Pollini, and it took on the role of caring for abandoned children; by the fifteenth century its administration was taken over by the Silk Guild. The smallish mural painting of the Nativity (140 by 215 cm) was originally in the arch above the door leading from the cloister of the hospital into the foyer in front of its chapel. The painting has been detached from the wall, and is now stored with its sinopia (the underdrawing on the preparatory layer of plaster) in the reserve collection of the Uffizi, due to its poor state of preservation.
While no document concerning the work’s commission has been found, Annamaria Bernacchioni suggested that the commission might relate to the presence of the children’s Confraternity of the Archangel Raphael in the hospital. The confraternity moved into the chapel and rooms between the present-day Via degli Orti Oricellari and the courtyard by 1427, which they renovated at their own expense. It had prominent supporters, including Pope Eugenius IV, who approved an alternative name for it, in recognition of the impressive nativity play it performed in 1430: the Confraternity of the Nativity of Our Lord (perhaps helping to account for the subject of Uccello’s painting). He also issued bulls to obtain accommodation for the confraternity at the hospital, not far from the entrance to his apartment at Santa Maria Novella on Via della Scala. The confraternity might well have known the paintings Uccello executed in 1437 for the Confraternity of the Purification at the Spedale di San Matteo in the north of the city, since that confraternity was a splinter group that had separated from them in 1427. The groups maintained good relations after the split, visiting each other every year on the feast days of their patron saints. Thus, Uccello was a local artist whose work would have been familiar to those at the hospital.
The Nativity has been discussed by art historians as much for its sinopia, showing a regular perspectival grid, as for the composition of the final painting itself. Indeed, the sinopia is unique in the Renaissance in establishing only the perspective for the final composition, not the figures, architecture, or natural landscape features. The grid informs the finished painting’s unusual use of perspective, showing two sharply contrasting views: one of a Nativity scene taking place in front of a wooden shelter whose perspective is aligned to a point at the far right, and another view of the landscape with a pavement whose perspective is aligned to a point at the far left of the picture. Art historians have interpreted this experimentation with perspective as an instance of Uccello’s engagement with this key technical feature in the development of the visual arts in Florence in the fifteenth century.
Alessandro Parronchi interpreted the separate vanishing points as a critique of Brunelleschian and Albertian orthodox single-point perspective. He related this approach specifically to Vitellione’s observation in Book III of his Perspectiva that an object is only seen distinctly when it falls on the central axis between the viewer’s eyes. If this theoretical interpretation of Uccello’s imagery seems perhaps too erudite for a hospital for abandoned children housing a confraternity for children, it may be relevant that Brunelleschi (the reputed discoverer of single point perspective) had been one of the Operai (on the board of works) of the Silk Guild that administered the hospital, although his duties related to the construction of the Spedale degli Innocenti in the 1420s, well before Uccello’s work was painted at the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala. Even so, there seems to be no definite imagery within the composition, such as blurred images at the lateral edges, to support Parronchi’s interpretation. Franco and Stefano Borsi interpreted the bi-focal perspective of the Nativity as an allusion to the duality of Christ’s incarnation, divine and human.
Alternatively, the divergence of the perspectival views towards the right and the left in Uccello’s Nativity, with the view to the right dominating, may have a moral and religious significance. The prominence of the sheep in the left foreground, near the point where the two perspective views separate, recalls the passage in the Bible in Matthew 25: 32–46 from Christ’s discourse on the Mount of Olives describing the separation of the sheep from the goats:
And before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
Part of the same text (the latter part of Matthew 25: 34) provides a central inscription in the fourteenth-century mural painting Allegory of Mercy in the Sala dell’Udienza of the Misericordia in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Florence, one of the most important charitable institutions in Florence in the late Medieval and early Renaissance period. Like the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala, it cared for foundlings, among its other charitable activities. The Allegory of Mercy has been described as the earliest instance of the representation of the works of mercy in an Italian philanthropic institution, and as such the model for a number of mural painting cycles of similar subject matter in Tuscany, some of them in hospitals. The best-known Tuscan depiction of the seven acts of mercy (the six acts referred to in Matthew plus the burying of the dead added by the Catholic Church) is the glazed terracotta relief frieze, mostly by Santi Buglioni, on the façade of the Ceppo Hospital at Pistoia, dating from the 1520s.
The separation of the sheep and goats seems rarely to have been depicted in art literally. A relief of the subject is found on a fourth-century Italian marble sarcophagus lid in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. An important example is found among the sixth-century mosaics in the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. If the iconography of Uccello’s Nativity does relate to the parable of the sheep and the goats, it could be interpreted as an allusion to the charitable work undertaken at the hospital, especially for children. While the children might be reassured that they will be cared for at the hospital by the image of the Virgin adoring the Christ Child, or (metaphorically) by the image of the shepherds watching over their flocks, the administrators of the hospital could be assured (allegorically) that ultimately their charitable work would be rewarded by Christ.
The Nativity may also hint at the punishment Christ alluded to for those who did not act mercifully. While the dominant view of the Christian story of the Nativity leads to the vanishing point on the right (traditionally the virtuous side and in the painting it is also on Christ’s right), the subsidiary one leads to a tiny gallows in the distant landscape at the left (traditionally the ‘sinister’ side). That the motif of the gallows might not just be an insignificant landscape feature, but a symbol, is suggested by the figure of Securitas in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Effects of Good and Bad Government in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, whose attribute is a man hanging from a gallows. The iconography of the Nativity apparently represents two paths: the Christian path leading to eternal life on the right, and another leading to ignominy on the left, a moral message on the rewards for charity and the danger of straying from the Christian path.
The Nativity is not an isolated instance of neighbourhood patronage. Some of Uccello’s most famous mural paintings are to be found in the Chiostro Verde (‘Green Cloister’) of the ex-convent of Santa Maria Novella, around the corner from where he lived. Elsewhere, the present author has argued that the commission for the Stories of Genesis mural painting cycle on three walls of the cloister probably relates to the presence of the Confraternity of Saint Peter Martyr at the convent, and that Uccello’s involvement with the project may have come about partly through his and his relative Deo Beccuti’s dealings with the confraternity.
If Uccello’s route is retraced in a hypothetical journey made in the late 1450s from his home to the Cathedral, much as was done for Brunelleschi, the topographical landmarks that would have stood out as spaces of particular significance for him can be identified. Walking down Via della Scala he would have passed the hospital from which the street took its name, where he painted the Nativity. He might have heard the voices of the orphaned children his painting overlooked in the cloister, and given thought to the difficulties he had faced as a young man in Florence without a father. His own family history demonstrates how Florentine families and the city’s government were concerned with protecting the young in a time of high mortality, and perhaps Uccello’s Nativity itself alludes to this.
At the end of the street he would have entered the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella where the magnificent church and convent rise, near which he had lived in his twenties, and for which he later painted scenes from Genesis in its cloister. Seeing work commencing on the spectacular white marble façade of the church he might well have recalled that the patron, Giovanni Rucellai, who lived only a few blocks away on the south side of the piazza, was also an owner of his work. Crossing into the present-day Via dei Banchi on the other side of the piazza he would have come to the intersection known as the Canto dei Carnesecchi where Domenico Veneziano painted the tabernacle that allegedly inspired Castagno’s envy, most probably for one of the Carnesecchi, a leading family in the area. As modern commentators have done, Uccello might have noted how its robust use of perspective and pure geometric forms was influenced by his own works in that vein.
Following the Via de’ Cerretani, Uccello would have passed on his right the houses of his wealthy relative Deo Beccuti, surrounding the small Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, even perhaps glimpsing above their door the Virgin and Child he painted for his mother’s family. Inside the church, sixteenth-century sources inform us he painted an Annunciation impressive for its pioneering use of perspective. The altarpiece to which it belonged was commissioned by Paolo di Berto Carnesecchi, from the family into which Deo Beccuti had married, making Uccello a very distant relation of his patron. To square the circle, as it were (constituting Uccello, Deo Beccuti, Paolo Carnesecchi, and Filippo Brunelleschi) Paolo di Berto Carnesecchi would have known Brunelleschi from their time together as representatives of the Gonfalone Dragon on the government Consiglio del Popolo in 1400. Brunelleschi’s house was located in the small block south of Deo Beccuti’s properties, and Uccello would have given some thought to the technical innovations of this most famous artist and architect, as even a fifteenth-century source suggests. From such a social context it is not very far to the upper echelons of Florentine society. Deo Beccuti also owned property in the parish of San Lorenzo, the heartland of the Medici, located a little further up Via de’ Cerretani and a small block to the north. Moreover, he was a neighbouring landlord of Cosimo de’ Medici in Calenzano, and had financial dealings with Averardo de’ Medici.
Coming to the Baptistery in a matter of minutes, Uccello might have recalled how one of his distant ancestors had worked there, how he himself had been commissioned to paint a tabernacle for it in the early 1450s (which if it was completed is lost), and how his son and daughter were baptised there. Uccello might then have stepped into his workshop situated on the piazza to examine the small paintings of the Virgin and Child that were probably being produced by an assistant to his designs in this period. Then entering the soaring space of the Cathedral he could not have failed to see his enormous mural painting of the Equestrian Monument for Sir John Hawkwood on the wall of the left aisle, and on the inner façade, the enormous Clockface with Four Male Heads (Evangelists?). At this point Uccello might have recalled his dealings over many years with the rich and powerful Operai of the Wool Guild. Finally, approaching Brunelleschi’s cupola, he would have seen far above his head the three large stained glass windows he designed for its drum: the Annunciation, Nativity, and Resurrection.
Dr Hugh Hudson, Honorary Fellow, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne.
Oltre a riportare i links dove trovare questi articoli : ho pero' anche trascritto sul mio sito questi articoli per evitare che il link possa nel tempo divenire irreperibile
Alcune fonti importanti
Articolo di Ivo Becattini : II territorio di San Giovenale ed il Trittico di Masaccio Ricerche ed ipotesi : http://www.carnesecchi.eu/maggiore21.doc
Articolo dei dr Cecilia Frosinini e Roberto Bellucci: Il trittico Carnesecchi in Santa Maria Maggiore a Firenze : La ricostruzione http://www.carnesecchi.eu/maggiore22.doc
Un articolo importante : la primogenitura di una tesi
Articolo dei dr Cecilia Frosinini e Roberto Bellucci : La Cappella Carnesecchi in Santa Maria Maggiore a Firenze :
Un problema di collaborazione tra Paolo Uccello , Masolino e Masaccio :http://www.carnesecchi.eu/maggiore23.doc
Articolo della dottoressa Valentina Cimarri : Famiglie fiorentine e loro possessi a Cascia nel 1422 :http://www.carnesecchi.eu/maggiore25.doc
AUTHOR STREHLKE, CARL B AND CECILIA FROSININI.
THE PANEL PAINTINGS OF MASOLINO AND MASACCIO. THE ROLE OF TECHNIQUE. TURIN, 2002.
272pp, with 255 b/w and colour ills.
THE PANEL PAINTINGS OF MASOLINO AND MASACCIO THE ROLE OF TECHNIQUE. MILAN 2002.
pp 272, 154 ill. a colori e 129 b/n.
THE PANEL PAINTINGS OF MASOLINO ANDMASACCIO - THE ROLE OF TECHNIQUE. 5 CONTINENTS, 2002
Scegli la pagina …………………VAI ALL'INDICE GENERALE
ing. Pierluigi Carnesecchi La Spezia anno 2003