Frick Publication Provides New Insights on Innovative Fourteenth-Century Venetian Artist

Book Cover

New York (August 18, 2021) Traditionally thought of as the father of Venetian painting, Paolo Veneziano (ca. 1295–1362) established the city’s reputation for excellence in this medium, and his achievements have long been celebrated by scholars. Nonetheless, Paolo’s work has received little attention outside of Italy. The publication Paolo Veneziano: Art & Devotion in 14th-Century Venice examines the long-dispersed panels of two of Paolo’s rare surviving altarpieces, along with other works by the artist and contemporaneous pieces in various media. Considered together, they offer new insights into Paolo’s practice and achievements. The authors also examine how the artist’s innovative and intricate work both reflected and engaged with advances in manuscript illumination, ivory carving, textile production, and metalwork. The lead authors are Laura Llewellyn (Associate Curator of Renaissance Painting at the National Gallery, London, and former Assistant Curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum) and John Witty (former Anne L. Poulet Fellow at The Frick Collection). This book accompanies an exhibition of the same name on view in Los Angeles at the Getty Museum (July 13–October 3, 2021)—the first in the United States dedicated to this important artist.

One of Europe’s largest urban centers in the mid-fourteenth century, Venice was a hub for a vast maritime empire that dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Paolo’s career coincided with this prosperous period in the city’s history, as it continued to gain political, military, and devotional power. Receiving prestigious commissions from civic and religious entities in Venice and the surrounding regions, his workshop produced a range of objects, including monumental complexes for public display and small portable objects for personal use. His style was inventive rather than imitative, reflecting and engaging with the city’s rich culture. Using materials and techniques from his native city, as well as Byzantium, Africa, and Asia, Paolo’s work is characterized by elaborate gold surfaces, rich color schemes, intricate carved frames, and compositional complexity not seen before.

The book and exhibition were inspired by the opportunity to study a completely intact triptych by Paolo, now in the collection of the Galleria Nazionale, Parma, Italy. This led to a reconstruction of a similar work for the first time, the so-called Worcester triptych, a small portable object for personal devotion. It is comprised of Getty panels depicting The Assumption, which form the cusps of the wings, as well as several elements from the Worcester Art Museum and one from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The reconstructed triptych is a rare example of small-scale paintings intended for personal devotion. Also part of the study is the Frick’s Coronation of the Virgin, which is the last known dated work by the artist. It was the centerpiece of a large-scale altarpiece executed for the Dominican church in the Italian town of San Severino, Marche, in central Italy. The inclusion of this masterpiece in the project helped curators and conservators understand Paolo’s range of work for various types of clients in Venice and beyond, as well as his contributions to material cultural in the city. Paolo created new ways of thinking about sacred objects and engaged with artists in various media including painters, carpenters, carvers, and gilders. The Frick work and other contemporaneous objects are examined in this publication, exploring the artist’s relationships with varied fields of production. In addition to essays by Llewellyn and Witty, the volume includes an essay presenting the findings of a technical examination that deployed cutting-edge techniques to elucidate the question of how the panels comprising the Worcester triptych may once have been configured. The authors are Painting Conservator Joanna Dunn, Senior Imaging Scientist John K. Delaney, and Imaging Scientist Kathryn A. Dooley at the National Gallery of Art; Associate Scientist Catherine M. Schmidt Patterson at the Getty Conservation Institute; Senior Conservator of Paintings Ulrich Birkmaier at the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Rita Piccione Albertson, George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Term Chair in Conservation at the Worcester Art Museum.

Paolo Veneziano: Art & Devotion in 14th-Century Venice is published by The Frick Collection in association with Paul Holberton Publishing. The hardcover volume of 168 pages has 112 color illustrations ($60.00, member price $48.00). It is sold online through the Museum Shop at frick.org/shop or by emailing sales@frick.org.

This publication is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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