Quaratesi polyptych | Gentile da Fabriano | 1425
With today’s work, we start the category Gothic, although, strictly, the work of Gentile da Fabriano corresponds to the phase known as international gothic. This period was major in northern Italy and France during the 14th and 15th centuries, which is even before the Renaissance.
Regarding the artist, little we know about him or his work. The causes of this are, somehow, obvious: we have to think that the artist died in 1427, that is, near three quarters of century before the discovery of America by Columbus. Let us imagine that, in that time, people still thought that the earth was flat; and, of course, it wasn’t a custom to keep any kind of biographical information on anyone. If we add to this, that most of the work of the artist was destroyed, we cannot be surprised that his name is practically unknown.
However, something survived. Like this polyptych (a fancy way to say “a slide divided in several parts”), commissioned to the artist by the Quaratesi family. Here, we see the representation of 4 saints: from left to right, Mary Magdalene, Nicholas of Bari, John the Baptist and Saint George. Above each one of them, we find a little portrait of the Annunciation Angel, Saint Francis, Saint Dominic and the Annunciation Virgin.
Each of them is characterized in a very special way. Mary Magdalene holds a reliquary (although I couldn’t determine what was in it); Nicholas of Bari, with his weird clothes in which he is often represented; John the Baptist with his rustic clothing and features; and, at the end, St. George with his armor and the design of his shield, which later is going to become the English flag.
Da Fabriano uses vibrant colors, different textures and characters with their eyes slightly closed, which are granted a dreamy look. The ornamentation is made with gold leaves, which gives the work a special brightness and a solemn feel.
The work by da Fabriano is going to influence several future renaissance artists, especially Fra Angelico.