Niccolò di Pietro Gerini (1368-1415)
The Trinity with the Virgin and Four Kneeling Angels
tempera on panel
35 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (90.3 x 49.5 cm.)
panel with engaged frame
38 3/16 x 21 7/8 in. (96.8 x 55.6 cm.)
William Graham, London, acquired before 1882
[Christie’s, London, 2-8 April 1886, lot 311, as Taddeo Gaddi]
Robert and Evelyn Benson, Buckhurst (Sussex) and London, by 1887
[Heinemann Gallery, Munich]
Private Collection, Switzerland
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters (1887), p. 44, no.185 (as Taddeo Gaddi)
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters (1896), p. 35, (as early Florentine School)
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Loan Exhibition of the Benson Collection of Old Italian Masters (1927), no. 70 (as Jacopo di Cione)
Graham, William. Catalogue of Pictures, Ancient and Modern, (1882), p. 23, no. 403 (as Taddeo Gaddi)
Catalogue of Italian Painting… Collected by Robert and Evelyn Benson, (privately printed by the Chiswick Press, London 1914), p. 27, no. 15 (as Jacopo di Cione)
Offner, Richard and Klara Steinweg, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting: Giovanni del Biondo, Part II, Vol. V, New York, 1969, p. 179 (as School of Gerini)
Miklos Boskavits, Pittura Florentina alla vigilía del Rinascimento, Florence, 1975, p. 144 (as Niccolò di Pietro Gerini).
Niccolò di Pietro Gerini was among the most sought-after painters in Florence in the last quarter of the Trecento. Probably a pupil of Taddeo Gaddi, his early work a Coronation of the Virgin painted c. 1373 for the officers of the Florentine mint, sees him collaborating with Jacopo di Cione, whose Giottesque compositions provided Gerini with a model he would employ throughout his career.
In 1380, Gerini was commissioned to paint a crucifix for the Castellani Chapel in Santa Croce and in 1383 he was working once more with Jacopo di Cione painting an Annunciation for the Palazzo de Priori in Volterra. During this period Niccolò develops a formal Giottesque style which was a natural progression from his association with Jacopo di Cione. And if the prototype was Giotto, the unblinking severity of his figures in trappings of exquisitely wrought finery were distinct features of late Trecento Florentine painting. Boskavits writing of Gerini notes, “His detached manner and his ability to articulate themes with clarity and elegance made him practically the official decorator of the city, the artist of choice for grand mural paintings and especially those of civic or political interest.”
Throughout the 1380’s and 1390’s, Gerini’s career continued to flourish and he was only able to meet the demand through the coordinated efforts of a highly organized workshop whose members included known painters such as Pietro Nelli and Lorenzo di Niccolò. His commissions included works for major Florentine churches such a Santa Felicità, Orsanmichele and Santa Croce as well as designs for the beautiful stain glass windows of the Certosa del Galluzzo.
Among his finest frescoes, however, were those painted outside Florence for the church of San Francesco in Prato. Commissioned by Francesco di Marco Datini – Iris Orgio’s Merchant of Prato – this noble cycle of frescoes witnessed Gerini’s return to a more monumental Giottesque style, with a narrative force and expressiveness absent in the more Orcagnesque images of the 1380’s.
Our panel, possibly the central section of a small polyptich has been dated by Boskavits to the late 1380’s, and may be compared to a Coronation of the Virgin by Niccolò Gerini in the Museum of Fine Arts Montreal of identical size dated to the mid-1380’s. The Coronation of the Virgin was an especially popular subject with Gerini and his workshop allowing him full freedom to employ his love for courtly elegance. As with the Coronation, the Benson Trinity perfectly exemplifies the brilliant chromatic range and richly tooled orange, blue and gold embroideries which were such a feature of Gerini’s smaller panels.
This painting, in quite outstanding state of preservation, is as sophisticated in theme as it is in handling and both its quality and its unusual iconography suggest that this was a commission from a wealthy and erudite patron, possibly with Dominican affiliations, who was sure to have secured the services of Niccolò Gerini himself.
The panel depicts the Holy Trinity represented here by God the Father seated uppermost from whom the Holy Spirit, represented by the dove flows towards God the Son. Christ, seated on the Throne of Grace opens the gospel towards the Virgin Mary. Below are four angels, perhaps the four Archangels, two of whom wear the priest’s stole. They kneel, adoring the Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary, two proffering vases of lilies. The Bible is open at a page in the New Testament of particular interest to the veneration of the Trinity, that in St. John 14.6. where Christ says to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (Ego sum Via e Veritatis e Vita). The passage continues with one of the most explicit reflections in the bible on the nature of the Trinity…”No man cometh to the Father, but by me…I am in the Father and the Father in me” and later in the same chapter “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Gerini painted several devotional images representing the Holy Trinity, however in all his surviving examples Christ is depicted crucified. This rare depiction visually addresses the paradox of God the Father and Son as being one yet separate by showing the both with attributes of majesty (one the orb and the other the scepter) and physiologically identical. This may have been intended to illustrate the mystery of the Trinity in terms of acceptable church dogma at a time which saw the growth of Trinitarian cults some of which, bordering on Tritheism, were to become branded as heresies. The pose of God the Father recalls Byzantine images of the Pantacrator and shows how artists in the late fourteenth century sought their inspiration not only in Giotto, but in the still more archaic culture of the Dugento.