The Ferruci Altarpiece
- Place of origin:
Florence, Italy (made)
Ferrucci, Andrea di Piero, born 1465 (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
White and red marble, carved in high relief, with traces of paint, partly gilt
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 50b, case WN
In 1493 Tita di Roberto Salviati commissioned Andrea Ferrucci to carve this marble altarpiece to be installed above her husband Girolamo Martini's tomb in the church of San Girolamo in Fiesole outside Florence. The altarpiece is made of red and white marble which has been gilded and painted. The central panel shows the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene on either side of the crucified Christ. St John the Evangelist is in a roundel above St Jerome, who stands in a niche to Christ's right. St Mark and St Anthony of Padua are in the same arrangement on Christ's left. The predella contains the family arms of the Martini and the Salviati, as well as scenes of miracles from the lives of St Jerome and St Anthony, with the Adoration of the Child at centre. Two angels on the cornice look up to the figure of the blessing Christ Child. This type of child was very popular in Florence after Desiderio da Settignano created one for the wall tabernacle of San Lorenzo, which was subsequently taken down and paraded through Florence on important feast days.
The altarpiece is divided into three sections by four richly carved pilasters. In the central panel, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene stand on either side of the crucified Christ. Two angels approach the crucifix on either side within the panel, and two angels bearing a crown of thorns are in the frieze directly above. The lateral niches contain figures of St Jerome (on Christ's right) and St Anthony of Padua (on Christ's left). A half figure of St John the Evangelist with his accompanying eagle is in the roundel above St Jerome, while St Mark with his lion peers out from a roundel above St Anthony of Padua. The predella contains the arms of the Martini family on Christ's right and those of the Salviati family on his left. The story of St Jerome with the lion is in the predella under the niche figure of St Jerome, the Adoration of the Child underneath the Crucifix, and the Miracle of the Ass of Rimini under St Anthony of Padua. The upper frieze contains shells flanked by wings. The cornice is surmounted by a half circle with the monogram of Jesus (IHS) made popular by St Bernardino of Siena. Two angels with their hands crossed over their chest approach the half circle on either side while gazing up at the figure of the blessing Christ child who crowns the top.
Place of Origin
Florence, Italy (made)
Ferrucci, Andrea di Piero, born 1465 (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
White and red marble, carved in high relief, with traces of paint, partly gilt
Marks and inscriptions
I[ESUS] N[AZARENUS] R[EX] I[UDAEORUM] Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews
Height: 365.8 cm, Width: 274.3 cm, Weight: 129 kg parts 4, 5, 6, 7, 22
Object history note
The altarpiece was purchased in Florence for £450 in 1859. It had formerly been in the church of San Girolamo in Fiesole outside Florence. Pople Clement IX suppressed the order in 1668. The church and many of its contents passed into the hands of the Bardi family who converted the monastery into a villa. In 1798 the Ricasoli family were in possession of the villa and it was restored. By 1854 the property was divided and the artwork was removed for sale, and the altarpiece was purchased from a sculptor's studio in Florence (Pope-Hennessy, 180).
Historical significance: This is a securely documented work by Andrea Ferrucci. When it was purchased in 1859 it was described as having come from the church of San Girolamo in Fiesole.
Giorgio Vasari described a "tavolina" or small panel in his 1550 and 1568 editions of Le Vite... in the “Life of Andrea da Fiesole” as “attached to the wall in the middle” of the church of San Girolamo. Most scholars assume this refers to the Ferrucci altarpiece. In the Seventeenth Century Stefano Rosselli described an altarpiece in the same location.
The altarpiece also provides an example of female patronage during the Renaissance. The coats of arms of the Martini and Salviati families on the predella led scholars to believe that the patron was Cornelia di Roberto Salviati, who commissioned the altarpiece after the death of her husband Giovanni Martini. (Pope-Hennessy, p.180, citing Brunori, p.118). However, it was actually Tita, Cornelia’s sister, who was the patron (Apfelstadt, 808). Tita married Giovanni Martini’s brother Girolamo who died in 1492. The Salviati family was Florentine, while Girolamo was a Venetian who became a Florentine citizen. Though Girolamo wavered between burial in San Girolamo in Fiesole and burial in Santa Maria delle Grazie in his native Venice (a church of the same order of Hieronymites (an order named after and dedicated to St Jerome), his final testament in 1490 declared that he should be buried in Fiesole. He added that he or Tita would spend 25 florins to build his tomb. He died two years later, and Tita started planning the tomb. She added 125 florins for a chapel and 180 florins for an altarpiece to the 25 florins left by her husband. It seems that this money came from a bequest Girolamo left for her to spend on charitable causes. Apfelstadt noted that in a 1507 document Tita claimed that Girolamo paid for the altarpiece (Apfelstadt, p.810-811). Even though she was the patron, the money for the commission came from Girolamo, which may be why she made this claim.
The testaments further reveal that “…the conception, commission and conclusion of the marble altarpiece” were entirely due to Tita. (Apfelstadt, 811). The documents also shed light on the planning of the altarpiece and the changes to its iconography. Tita’s first plan called for an altarpiece with the Virgin Mary, St Mary Magdalene and St Jerome at the base of a crucifix. The Magdalene was to embrace the crucifix. It is not clear from the documents whether Tita intended to have a painted or sculpted altarpiece, though Apfelstadt seems to infer that she was thinking of a sculpted altarpiece. (Partial transcriptions of the documents are published in Apfelstadt, Apppendix) as Girolamo had originally called for a relief of the Virgin Mary to be placed above his tomb.
It is not clear when the plan was changed, though the final altarpiece, as noted above, has a central panel with the Virgin and Mary Magdalene standing on either side of the Crucifixion, with St Jerome and St Anthony of Padua in niches to either side and St John the Evangelist and St Mark in roundels above them. Apfelstadt noted some of the reasons for the presence of these saints on the altarpiece, such as St Jerome reflecting Girolamo di Martini’s desire to be buried in a church “dedicated to St Jerome, whether in Florence or Venice.” (Apfelstadt, p.811) However, this is not completely correct as the church in Venice was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, though under the aegis of the same Hieronymite order of Fiesole. Apfelstadt also neglected to mention, perhaps because it was too obvious, that Girolamo is the Italian translation of Jerome and was his name saint. Apfelstadt commented on the presence of the Mary Magdalene as possibly indicating Tita’s desire to honour her mother who was named Lena. (Apfelstadt, 811). The location of St John the Evangelist in the niche above was explained as due to the “displacement” of the Evangelist by Mary Magdalene’s presence at the foot of the Crcifix. Since the gospel of St Mark also noted the women’s presence at the Crucifix and Girolamo was a member of the School of the St Mark in Venice (the city of St Mark), the two evangelists’ presence in the roundels above is fitting. (Apfelstadt, 812).
In his discussion of iconography Apfelstadt did not remark upon the presence of St Anthony of Padua, most likely because there is no apparent reason for this inclusion. Since Anthony’s presence on the altarpiece is equal to Jerome’s, he must have been an important saint for Tita. Since Tita, like her sister Cornelia had a classical name (Tita is the female equivalent of Titus) the saint does not reflect her name, but perhaps that of a relative still undiscovered in the archives.
Historical context note
The origins of altarpieces are unclear, but scholars generally agree that they derive from the early Christian practice of painting the walls behind side altars or above the main altar and the use of reliquary sculptures placed upon the altar. Altarpieces could be painted or sculpted. Sculpted altarpieces made of wood were more common in the North until the 15th century, while painted panels prevailed in Italy especially after the 1200s. Sculpted altarpieces in Italy tended to be made of marble or terracotta. In Florence sculpted altarpieces became more popular after 1461, when Desiderio da Settignano completed the sculpted wall tabernacle in the church of San Lorenzo. Their popularity seemed to increase in the 1470s-1500s with the glazed terracotta altarpieces produced by Andrea della Robbia and his workshop. A rise in the use of fixed tabernacles (structures which held the host) on the altar led to the creation of large sculpted tabernacles which were either framed by or incorporated into the wall. Very often such altars were dedicated to the Holy Sacrament (Kurz, 46).
This altarpiece is a fine example of Andrea Ferrucci’s skill in marble carving. He was born in Fiesole and initially trained by his cousin Francesco di Simone Ferrucci. Francesco was influenced by Desiderio da Settignano and may also have assisted Andrea del Verrocchio. According to Vasari, Andrea Ferrucci was subsequently trained by Michele Maiani da Fiesole, who had worked in Rome. Andrea then worked in Imola, Naples, Rome, Pistoia, Fiesole and Florence. By 1508 he was documented in Florence, though it is known that he traveled to Naples during that year. In 1512 he was elected the head of building works for the Florence cathedral, a position he held until he died in 1526.
Vasari praised his work though claimed Andrea accomplished it without the benefit of knowing “the principles of disegno” – a term that for Vasari meant both drawing and design. He also noted that Andrea began his career by carving leaves and foliage, which gave him a “resolute and quick hand.” This is amply demonstrated by the surface of the architectural elements of the altarpiece which are completely covered in carved garlands, grotesques, wings and shells.
All scholars have noted how the form of the altarpiece demonstrates Andrea Ferrucci’s familiarity with the works of Desiderio da Settignano, Andrea Sansovino, Antonio Rossellino, Benedetto da Maiano and Francesco Botticini. The entire altarpiece is very similar to Andrea Sansovino’s Corbinelli Chapel altarpiece (c.1485) at Santo Spirito in Florence. Both include a figure of the blessing Christ Child at the top based on the famous Christ Child that surmounted Desiderio da Settignano’s 1461 San Lorenzo tabernacle (which was later replaced by a figure by Baccio Bandinelli). Both have two angels on the upper cornice, with a central arched area flanked by lateral figures in niches surmounted by figures in roundels. The allusion to the Arch of Constantine developed by Andrea Sansovino was also retained by Ferrucci, though Ferrucci abandoned the split pediment of the temple form at the top, which gave Sansovino’s altarpiece the illusion of a church façade. Instead he added a simple half circle upon which the Christ Child was placed. Andrea Ferrucci also experimented with similar forms in 1492-93 for the tabernacle altarpiece commissioned by the Ospedale degli Innocenti from a bequest of Matteo di Simone di Gondi for the Duomo of Fiesole.
White and red marble altarpiece by Andrea Ferrucci, Italy (Florence), ca. 1493-1497
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Vasari, Giorgio, "Vita di Andrea da Fiesole," in Le vite dei più eccellenti scultori, architetti e pittori eds. R. Bettarini and P.Barocchi, Florence: 1976, vol. iv, pp. 255-261.
Borghini,R. Il Riposo di Raffaello Borghini, in cvi della pittvra, e della scultura si favella, de' piu' illustri pittori, e scultori, e delle piu famose opera loro si fa mentione; e le cose principali apartenenti à dette arti s'insegnano. Florence, 1584
Rosselli, S., Sepoltuario fiorentino ovvero Descrizione delle Chiese Cappelle, e Sepolture Loro armi, ed Iscrizioni che sono Nella Città di Firenze e suoi Contorni fatta da Stefano Rosselli nell'Anno 1657 MS Moreni 320 in Bibl. Riccardiana, Florence, pp.1078-79
Bandini, A.M., Lettere XII ad un amico nelle quai si ricerca, s e'illustra l'antica, e moderna situazione della città di Fiesole e suoi contorni , Florence, 1776, pp.84-87.
Moreni, Notizie istoriche dei contorni di Firenze, iii, Dalla Porta a San Gallo fino alla città di Fiesole, Florence, 1792, pp.84-87.
Robinson, J. C., Italian sculpture of the Middle Ages and the period of the revival of art: a descriptive catalogue of the works forming the above section of the South Kensington Museum, London, 1862, p.87-88.
Fabriczy, C., "Die Bilderhauerfamilie Ferrucci aus Fiesole," Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen,1908, Beiheft, pp.15-16, n.5.
Brunori, "Andrea Ferrucci da Fiesole ed un suo lavoro, oggi nel Museo Kensington, L'illustratore Fiorentino x, 1913, pp.115-20, p.117 illustration
Maclagan, E. and Longhurst, M., Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, London: Victoria and Albert, 1932,p.72-73
Kurz, Otto, "A group of Florentine drawings for an Altar," in The Decorative Arts of Europe and the Islamic East, idem, London: 1977, pp.33-53, p.53.
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume I: Text. Eighth to Fifteenth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, pp. 179-181
Avery, C., Fingerprints of the Artist. European Terra-Cotta from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, exh. cat. Washington, D.C., 1981, p.42, Cat. No. 7, fig. 4 Detail of St Jerome from altarpiece
Apfelstadt, E., "Andrea Ferrucci's 'Crucifixion' altar-piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum," Burlington Magazine, Dec. 1993, cxxxv, 1089, pp.807-817 Fig. 22, and details, Figs.31, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40.
Montagu, J. Gold, Silver and Bronze. Metal Sculpture of the Roman Baroque, Princeton: 1996, p. 219, note. 42 p. 28
Wainwright, C., "Shopping for South Kensington. Fortnum and Henry Cole in Florence 1858-1859," Journal of the History of Collections, 11, no.2, 1999, pp.181-82, fig. 12 on p.182
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1859. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 1
Raggio, Olga. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albertt Museum. Art Bulletin. Vol. L, 1968, p. pp
Carving; Gilding; High relief
Birds; Mary (Virgin Mary); Fruit; Lion; Angels; Crown; Angel; Mary Magdalene (Saint); John (Saint John the Evangelist); Escutcheons (coats of arms); Garlands; Jesus; Architectural elements; Wheat; Skull (skeleton component); Scallop shell; Jerome (Saint); Mark (Saint); Anthony of Padua (Saint); Lion, winged (symbol of Saint Mark); Eagle (symbol of St John the Evangelist); Mule (animal)
Sculpture; Religion; Christianity