Tavoletta di Biccherna: The Camarlingo Niccolò di Leonardo della Gazaia, His Scrivener and Three taxpayers
- Place of origin:
Fei, Paolo di Giovanni (painters (artists))
- Materials and Techniques:
Tempera on panel, with tooled gilding and silver
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 6
This Biccherna panel, so named after the chief financial office of Siena, was initially created as a cover for official documents dating to 1402 when Siena was under the domination of Gian Galeazzo Visconti duke of Milan. Previously catalogued as by an unknown painter, it was recognized as being associated with the workshop of Paolo di Giovanni Fei in 2002. Fei (c. 1344–1411) was one of the leading Sienese painters of his time and held several prestigious civic offices. Between 1395-1410 he was working at Siena Cathedral. Works such as the Birth of the Virgin (Siena, Pin. N.) and the Assumption of the Virgin (Washington, DC, N.G.A.) reveal his indebtedness to the Lorenzetti brothers, Bartolo di Fredi and to Simone Martini. Fei delighted in colour and incidental detail rather than rational spatial illusionism. The scene at the top of 414-1892 takes place in the office of the Biccherna, located on the ground floor of the Sienese Palazzo Pubblico. The camarlingo behind the counter at right, and the scrivener at left process the finances of the three men opposite them. Three strongboxes are visible on the counter, bench and floor. At the top centre is the balzana or heraldic crest of Siena and below the scene are six escutcheons of the families involved with this biccherna.The documents once protected by the V&A’s book cover are now lost, but similar parchment sheets can be seen in the State Archive in Siena. The manuscript leaves preceding the account papers within the tavolette were beautifully illuminated with elaborate initials and borders.
Two men stand behind the desk in the Biccherna office in Siena; the Camerlingo in red receives the taxes paid by the three men in the foreground while his colleague records the transaction. Above them is the Balazana or coat of arms of the city of Siena, beneath them are six coat of arms and below, a long inscription on a white ground
Place of Origin
Fei, Paolo di Giovanni (painters (artists))
Materials and Techniques
Tempera on panel, with tooled gilding and silver
Marks and inscriptions
'QUESTO. EILIBRO. DE LENTRATA. EDELVSCITA. DE/LLA. GIENERAL BICHERNA. DEL COMVNO. DISIENA. ALTEMPO. DE./SAUII. HVOMINI. NICHOLO. DI LONARDO. DELA GAÇAIA. CAMARLENGO /E. DI. GIACOPO. DI. TOMASSO. PETRUCCI. EDI. BENUCCIO. DI. LUCA./DI.PALMIER. SPADAIO. EDI. IACOMO. DANBRVOGIO. BRIÇII. LANAIV/OLO. DI. TATO. DI. FRANCIESHO. TALOMEI. CAMARLENGHO. E./QVATRO. DELLA. DETTA. BICHERNA. CALENDE. GIENAIO. M/CCCC. I. SIMO. ADVLTIMO. DIGIVGNO. M.CCCC. II. E/NANNI. DI. RICCHO. VBE[R]TINI. LORO. SCRITTORE'
Roughly translates as:
'this is the book of the Entrata (revenues) and Uscita (expenditures) of the office of the Biccherna of the Commune of Siena during the tenure of the wise men Niccholo di Lonardo de l'Agacaia the Camarlingo and Giacoppo di Tommasso Petrucci and Benuccio di Luca di Palmier Spadaio (sword maker) and Iacomo D'Anbruogio Bricii Lanaiuolo (wool worker), Tato di Franciesho Talomei the Camarlingo and four of the said Biccherna of the calends of January 1401 until the end of June 1402 and of Nanni Riccho Ubetini their scrivener'
Inscribed below shields.
This is the correct version of the inscription as transcribed by Bichi (see References) .
'QUESTO. EILIBRO. DE LENTRATA. EDELVSCITA. DE/LLA. GIENARAL BICHERNA. DEL COMVNO. DISIENA. ALTENPO. DE./SAUII. HVOMINI. NICHOLO. DI LONARDO. DELA GAZAIA. CAMARLENGO /E. DI. GIACOPO. DI. TOMASSO. PETRUCCI. EDI. BENUCCIO. DI. LUCA./DI.PALMIER. SPADAIO. EDI. IACOMO. DANBRVOGIO. BRIZII. LANAIV/OLO. DI. TATO. DI. FRANCIESHO. IALOMEI. CAMARLENGHO. E./QVATRO. DELLA. DETTA. BICHERNA. DALENDE. GIENAIO. M/CCCC. I. INSIMO. ADVLTIMO. DIGIVGONO. M.CCCC. IL. E/DI. MIS.DI RICCHO. VBETINI. LORO. SCRITTORE'
Inscribed below shields.
This is the version of the inscription after the restoration probably executed by Ramboux.
Height: 44 cm, Width: 32.4 cm, Depth: 4 cm
Object history note
This book-cover is one of a group that belonged to the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, Office of the Biccherna. It was recorded in the collection of Johann Anton Ramboux (1790-1866) in 1862, a painter and restorer who became later curator at the museum of Köln [see: Katalog der Gemälde alter Italienischer Meister (1221-1640) in der Sammlung des Conservator J.A. Ramboux, Köln 1862, no. 359]. The panel was sold at the sale after his death (Katalog der nachgelassenen…, 1867). Ramboux owned 32 similar book covers, all from the city of Siena; of these, six are now lost.
The V&A Museum bought 414-1892 for 12.15£ (it was acquired with 415-1892 for the total of 25£) from Messrs. Ellis and Elvey (29 New Bond street, London), who had previously bought it from Heberle, the agent in charge of the sale of Ramboux’s estate.
The dispersal of these book covers from the Biccherna office of Siena began in the 18th century when the Sienese families began to take possession of some of these panels with the claim that they were evidence of their family history: for them their value was historical and heraldic rather than artistic. When the Napoleonic troops invaded Siena at the beginning of the 19th century, the Biccherna archive was moved to Paris; it was sent back to Siena after the Restoration. On its way back to Italy, one of the caravans fell in the Rhone river and all its content was therefore lost. Furthermore, when the rest of the archive returned to Italy, officials who were working in the Palazzo Pubblico sold some of these tavolette on the market; it was probably at that time that 414-1892 was sold.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the head of the Public Library of Siena managed to rescue many of these tavolette and to reassemble them. Some were returned to the Sienese authorities by the same families who had claimed them previously (see Le Biccherne di Siena, 2002 pp. 70-88). The book-covers were transferred to the Sienese Academy first, and later they were deposited at the State Archive. Others that had in the meantime entered private collections outside Siena, are now to be found in public and private collections all around the world, but the majority are still held in Siena.
Historical significance: This Biccherna panel, so named after the chief financial office of Siena, was initially created as a cover for official documents dating to 1402 when Siena was under the domination of Gian Galeazzo Visconti duke of Milan. Previously catalogued as by an unknown painter, it was recognized in 2002 as being associated with the workshop of Paolo di Giovanni Fei. Fei (c. 1344–1411) was one of the leading Sienese painters of his time and held several prestigious civic offices. Between 1395-1410 he was working at Siena Cathedral. Works such as the Birth of the Virgin (Siena, Pin. N.) and the Assumption of the Virgin (Washington, DC, N.G.A.) reveal his indebtedness to the Lorenzetti brothers, Bartolo di Fredi and to Simone Martini. Fei delighted in colour and incidental detail rather than rational spatial illusionism. Although this work may not be by the master himself, the tooling pattern, as indicated by E. Kerr (paintings conservator at the V&A), was likely to have been executed by an artisan working in Fei’s workshop (Kerr reports that the tooling is similar to : No.18, 1357 January – June; No. 20, 1388 July – December; No.22, 1394 January - June). Fei was particularly familiar with the biccherna system as he served as Provveditore in 1380.
The scene at the top of 414-1892 takes place in the office of the Biccherna, located on the ground floor of the Sienese Palazzo Pubblico located, in a room facing the market square. The room still exists today, and its appearance is also recorded in a similar biccherna dated 1394 (no.22, see Le Biccherne di Siena 2002, p. 175). The camarlingo behind the counter at right, and the scrivener at left process the finances of the three men (taxpayers?). Three strongboxes are visible on the counter, bench and floor. On the counter there is various writing paraphernalia including ink stands and quills, knives for cutting paper, a punctorium for tracing lines on the paper and a bowl (into which the camarlingo places his hand) which contained sponges used to blot the documents. Above the scene is the balzana or heraldic crest of Siena and below the scene are six escutcheons of the families involved with this biccherna.
These are identifiable thanks to a manuscript in the State Archive of Siena (Bichi 1724, c.263, no. 26. From left to right are the arms of the Petrucci, Palmerini, Agazzari, Tolomei, Brizzi, Ricchi (formerly Ubertini) families. Most importantly, the manuscript indicates that the escutcheon at the far left of the tavoletta was altered during a restoration that has affected the left edge of the biccherna. The manuscript also includes a transcription of the inscription on the tavoletta which has also been altered (or misunderstood), probably during a restoration and has now been corrected.
Lightbown (1963) has suggested that the restoration at the left edge might have occurred as early as the 1720’s. But E. Kerr (see condition report) believes that restoration might have instead been executed by Ramboux, the former owner, who was himself a painter and restorer. Ramboux trained in the studio of Jacques-Louis David in Paris, later making several trips to Italy where he drew and studied 14th- and 15th-century Italian works of art, which continued to inspire his work after his return to Trier. In Italy he made over 2000 drawings (now at the Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum) and watercolours (Frankfurt am Main, Städel) of religious works of art. In 1843 he became curator of the Wallraf collection in Cologne, a position he held until his death. He was also involved in the restoration and preservation of historical monuments.
The documents once protected by the V&A’s book cover are now lost, but similar parchment sheets can be seen in the State Archive in Siena. The manuscript leaves preceding the account papers within the tavolette were beautifully illuminated with elaborate initials and borders.
Historical context note
Biccherna is the Italian term used to describe small painted panels such as this, so named after the chief financial office of Siena, which were initially created as covers for official documents between the 13th and 17th centuries. The term is also generally used to describe painted covers and small panels associated with other Sienese civic offices and institutions, such as the tax office (Gabella), the hospital of S Maria della Scala, the Opera del Duomo and various lay confraternities.
The officials of the Biccherna comprised a camarlingo, charged with expenditure on behalf of the Comune, and four provveditori, responsible for revenues and approving disbursements. All officials were appointed for six-month terms, at the end of which the working accounts were transferred to parchment registers to be presented to the Consiglio Generale of Siena for inspection. Initially these were prepared as two distinct volumes: the Entrata of the Provveditori, showing revenues received, and the Uscita of the Camarlingo showing expenditures. Each volume then received a painted wooden cover for the official presentation to the council. During the 13th century the Uscita cover bore an image of the camarlingo at his task and the Entrata cover had the names and escutcheons of the four provveditori,. The panel was generally divided in two sections: a painted scene at the top and an inscription with the coat of arms at the bottom, in the middle a leather strap tied the cover and the parchment pages together: the marks of where the strap would have been placed are often still visible.
The earliest surviving biccherna dates from the second term of 1258 and followed this tradition. Such representations continued until the mid-15th century, but the subject-matter became increasingly varied including: an Allegory of the Plague (1437; Berlin, Schloss Köpenick), attributed to Giovanni di Paolo, and the Coronation of Pope Pius II (1460; Siena, Pal. Piccolomini, Archivio di Stato) with a view of Siena, attributed to il Vecchietta.
These carefully decorated objects were evidently a matter of civic pride for a merchant society such as the Sienese and soon became a symbol of the city itself, explaining in part the predominance of the crests and the armorial bearings featured on the panel.
Partially as a result of damage done to the covers because of their frequent use, the practice of attaching panels to the financial registers was replaced by the creation of panels to be hung on the walls of the Biccherna, and as the dimensions were no longer limited to the size of the registers, the biccherne grew in size. The last surviving example is dated 1682.
The authority of the Biccherna office began to decline in the 16th century when Siena was subjected to Medici rule (after 1557) and the office was suppressed in 1786.
Up until 1257, the camarlingo was a layman, after which time it was decided that he should be chosen from within the religious community as an assurance of loyal, uncorrupted public service. The camarlingo was subsequently chosen among the Cistercians of the powerful abbey of San Galgano, known for their training in mathematics, or among the friars of the Order of the Umiliati. This tradition continued until 1350 when laymen were elected, until 1452 when clerics were again favoured.
The provveditori were always laymen, two from the working class, one a judge or notary, and the fourth a nobleman.
(Lightbown 1963, pp. II-III).
Tempera on panel, 'Tavoletta di Biccherna: with the Camarlingo Niccolò di Leonardo della Gazaia, his Scrivener and three taxpayers', cover of a Sienese account-book, Sienese School, 1402
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
G.Bichi, Copia dell'Arme Gentilizie e dell'iscrizioni che sono espresse nelle tavolette che gia' servirono per coperte de' libri del Magistrato della Magnifica Biccherna di Siena..., 1724, Ms. D. 10, Archivio di Stato, Siena
A. Lisini, Le tavolette dipinte di Biccherna e di Gabella del Regio Archivio di Stato in Siena, 1901, p. xli
V. & A. Museum, A picture-book of book bindings, London : Published under the authority of the Board of Education, 1927, pl.5.
R. Eisler and G. Cecchini, 'Una tavoletta di biccherna nuovamente scoperte' in Bullettino senese di storia patria, lv, iii, 1948, p. 120.
E. Carli, Le tavolette di biccherna e di altri uffici dello Stato di Siena, Florence: Electa Editrice, 1950, p. 49
Lightbown, Ronald W. "The tavolette di Biccherna of Siena," Journal of the Society of Archivists, v.2, no.7, 1963, p. viii
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 264, cat. no. 327.
Alessandro Tomei. Le Biccherne di Siena : arte e finanza all'alba dell'economia moderna (Roma : Retablo ; Azzano San Paolo, Bergamo : Bolis, c2002), pp. 168-171, esp. p. 171 no. 20
Katalog der Gemälde alter Italienischer Meister (1221-1640), in der Sammlung der Conservator, J.A. Ramboux, Cologne: 1862, no. 359.
E. Carli, Le tavolette di biccherna e di altri uffici dello Stato di Siena, Florence: Electa Editrice, 1950, pp. 132-133
Katalog der nachgelassenen Kunstsammlungen des Herrn Johann Anton Ramboux. Versteigerung zu Koln am 23 Mai 1867, durch J.M.Heberle, Koln 1867.
Johann Anton Ramboux, Maler und Konservator 1790-1866 : Gedachtnisausstellung im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum zu Köln, 28. Dezember 1966-26. Februrar 1967. Exh. Cat. Cologne : Das Museum, 1966.
L. Borgia et al...Le Biccherne : tavole dipinte delle magistrature senesi (secoli XIII-XVIII) Roma : Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, Roma, (1984), p. 132-133.
In 2002 Francesca Manzari noted that this work was similar in design and execution a another Biccherna cover attributed to Paolo di Giovanni Fei (See References, Exh. Cat. no. 20). When the V&A panel was restored in 2007, conservator E. Kerr also observed that the tooling pattern also matched that used by artists working in Fei’s workshop.
Crests; Money; Taxes
Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection