Pacino di Bonaguida, Tree of Life, c. 1310, tempera and gold leaf on panel. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence
The Tree of Life by Pacino di Bonaguida is a complex painting, even for those familiar with Christian art and its iconography (or visual themes). The painting was originally housed in a convent of Clarissa nuns but now hangs in the Galleria dell'Accademia, overshadowed by Michelangelo’s David (check out my first entry ever, which was on David’s penis). The scenes depicted in roundels hanging from “branches” of the tree are perfect for the Advent season, that is, those weeks leading up to Christmas. Amidst what appears to be a pretty straightforward series of events are some strange WTF details. Take a look.
Pacino di Bonaguida, The Ascension of Christ, c. 1340
The miniature’s artist, Pacino di Bonaguida, was well known in Florence for his devotional paintings. Here he has focused attention on the figure of Jesus, who is isolated at the center of the image. Christ’s robes of brilliant yellow and white, however, make him less substantial than the figures below and at the same time, more radiant, absorbed into the brightness of the gold surrounding him, as he ascends to heaven.
This is a detail from Pacino di Bonaguida’s The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy (ca. 1340), an illuminated manuscript from a book of songs commissioned by one of the oldest fraternities of tradesmen in Florence. It’s part of the Laudario of Sant'Agnese (roughly translated as the ‘hymns of praise of Sant'Agnese’), a book created by Pacino and an unknown artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies.
Lucy is best known and most often portrayed as the saint who ripped out her own eyes because a man found her attractive. (As was typical of Catholic non-male saints, she dedicated her virginity to god.) Pacino’s depiction of her comes from earlier in her story, when the governor of Sicily (up there on the balcony) orders his men to take Lucy to a brothel because Lucy wouldn’t lay with her fiance. Jesus, seen at the top left, intervenes and protects her, making her so heavy as to be immovable.
Her exhibition argues for the existence of a link between manuscript painting and panel painting, two practices that scholars have long considered as unrelated disciplines. It also argues for a significant re-evaluation of Pacino, a little-studied near-contemporary of Giotto. (Giotto is represented in the exhibition with an astonishing seven paintings.) Sciacca also edited the exhibition’s terrific, richly illustrated and readable catalogue. The exhibition was included on MAN’s 2012 top ten list. The Getty’s Iris blog has a super lineup of posts on the show.
There are only a few subjects in art history that always grab my attention, no matter who created the object or when it was created or what museum, collection, or gallery I happen to be visiting. One such subject is the homunculus, a Latin word meaning “little man/human." Often the homunculus is shown in moments of Mary’s annunciation by the angel Gabriel: in place of the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, a small image of baby Jesus flies from Heaven towards the Virgin. Take a look at one example below.
Pacino di Bonaguida, Tree of Life (detail), 1310, tempera on panel. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence
Pacino di Bonaguida, Saint John on Patmos, Madonna and Child Enthroned, and Death of the Virgin; The Crucifixion, early 14th century
“The left wing of this diptych shows Saint John the Evanglist on the island of Patmos, the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Paul and Francis, and the Death of the Virgin. On the right wing is the Crucifixion, with Saint John the Baptist, the Virgin, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint John the Evangelist, and a bishop saint.
Pacino was a leading illuminator in Florence, and the pale colors and elegantly patterned textiles in this diptych reflect that activity. This very fine diptych dates from about 1320–25. Although Pacino has clearly studied the work of Giotto, he was a more conservative artist and his figures never aspire to convey a quality of grave majesty.” (x)
The exhibition argues for the existence of a link between manuscript painting and panel painting, two practices that scholars have long considered as unrelated disciplines. It also argues for a significant re-evaluation of Pacino di Bonaguida, a little-studied near-contemporary of Giotto. (Giotto is represented in the exhibition with an astonishing seven paintings.) Sciacca also edited the exhibition’s terrific, richly illustrated and readable catalogue. The exhibition was included on MAN’s 2012 top ten list. The Getty’s Iris blog has a super lineup of posts on the show.
This is a detail from a Pacino illuminated manuscript at The British Library. Note the painting of what may be the night sky at the bottom of the page and compare it to this Pacino Crucifixion I posted yesterday. On this week’s show, Sciacca and I discussed whether this was another Pacino ‘night scene.’