The Galleria dell’Accademia is hosting the first monographic event ever dedicated to the painter Giovanni dal Ponte (1385–1437/8). Curated by Angelo Tartuferi and Lorenzo Sbaraglio, the exhibit showcases around 50 artworks.
Dal Ponte’s style betrayed an acute awareness of the work being done by the most important artists active in Florence in the first three decades of the 15th century – artists such as Gherardo Starnina, Lorenzo Monaco and Lorenzo Ghiberti, or Masaccio, Masolino da Panicale and Fra Angelico.
The most important work to have survived from his earliest period is a triptych originally painted for the church of Sant’Andrea in Brozzi, currently in the Museo di San Donnino in Campi Bisenzio. For a long time the painting was attributed to a hypothetical “Master of the Brozzi Annunciation.” However, it is now considered to be an example of Giovanni dal Ponte’s early work, dated circa 1410, containing clear references to the work of Gherardo Starnina.
The Galleria dell’Accademia’s large triptych entitled The Coronation of the Virgin with Four Saints has been restored for this exhibition – as have other paintings on display – pointing to the quality of Giovanni’s draughtsmanship and the intensity of his palette. The carpet on which the sacred figures stand has shed its former darkness to once again reveal its brilliant green decorated with rich gilded tendrils. The cleaning of the bottom step, which had been concealed by dirt and repainting through the centuries, was another huge surprise, showing the care that the artist had lavished on this detail too: showing, in fact, how he deliberately used the step to demonstrate his skill in handling painterly naturalism.
The exhibition also marks the museum’s acquisition of another work by Giovanni dal Ponte, a tender and luminous Madonna and Child Enthroned from the church of the Badia Fiorentina in the heart of the city, but stored for many years at the Certosa del Galluzzo – it, too, has been restored for the occasion. In this picture the artist offers us a highly original take on the manner of Masolino da Panicale, Masaccio’s partner in art.
Giovanni’s final phase is documented in the show by a series of dated works testifying to the development of his personal style characterised by ample, solemn forms that appear to conjugate the great tradition of 14th century Florentine painting. It is worth pointing here to his luminous “neo-14th century” triptych for the abbey church at Rosano depicting the Annunciation with Four Saints, an altarpiece commissioned by Abbess Caterina da Castiglionchio in 1434; or to the grandiose altarpiece from the church of San Salvatore al Monte in Florence (after 1434) portraying the Madonna and Child with Six Saints and a Donor.
Giovanni dal Ponte also painted frescoes, the fragments of which were recovered in the Chapel of the Judgement in Pistoia cathedral partly reflecting his style. He is known for certain to have frescoed the Chapel of St. Peter in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence around 1430, a cycle now lost for the most part, and also known to have frescoed the Scali Chapel in the same church with Stories of St. Bartholomew between September 1434 and October 1435.
Giovanni’s last will and testament, drafted on November 19, 1437, reveals that he had begun to enjoy considerable prosperity, although he was to die shortly thereafter.
The layout of the exhibition, designed by the architect Piero Guicciardini with the Guicciardini-Magni practice, evokes the architecture of Florence in the age of Giovanni dal Ponte, by emphasizing the lighting of the gold-ground paintings to create a magical atmospheric.
Dal Ponte’s exquisite Coronation of the Virgin with Four Saints has been especially restored for the occasion. Cecilie Hollberg, the Galleria dell’Accademia’s director, was eager to graft significant innovations onto this tradition in terms of the conception of the layout, with its huge scenographic impact underscoring and emphasising this Florentine painter’s artistic career, while at the same time innovating the catalogue with a new editorial line designed to offer an interdisciplinary approach involving art history, organology and restoration.
The exhibition marks the first true moment of fertile interaction between two realities: the one forged over decades of experience in temporary exhibitions in Florence, and the one spawned by the dictates enshrined in the recent ministerial reform, of which the Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the primary examples.