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Maso di Banco

A Florentine painter, active in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. He is documented only between 1341 (when some of his property was seized against an uncompleted commission) and 1346 (when he was a member of the Arte de’ Medici e Speziali). Lorenzo Ghiberti and other early writers say that he was a pupil of Giotto and painted frescoes in the church of Santo Spirito, a tabernacle in the Piazza of Santo Spirito, and a cycle of the Life of St Sylvester in the church of Santa Croce. The St Sylvester cycle survives as his only securely attributed work. A handful of panel paintings have been associated with him on the strength of stylistic comparisons.

Vasari mistakenly thought that Maso di Banco was the same person as Tommaso di Stefano, called Giottino, who painted the famous San Remigio Lamentation (Uffizi). The confusion of the two painters persisted into the twentieth century.

Berlin. Gemäldegalerie.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 82 x 49.
The centre panel of a five-part polyptych. Three other panels were also formerly in the Berlin museum. Two, representing St Anthony Abbot and St John the Baptist, were destroyed in 1945. The other, representing St Anthony of Padua, was sold in 1926 and is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. All four panels were acquired by the Prussian Government in 1821 with the Solly collection. The Madonna and Child was ascribed soon afterwards to the School of Giotto and later to Bernardo Daddi, while the St Anthony Abbot and St John the Baptist were lent to the Schloss Museum at Königsberg as works of Gherardo Starnina and the St Anthony of Padua was consigned to the storerooms of the Berlin museum as a work of Giotto’s School. The polyptych was reconstructed and attributed to Maso di Banco in 1929 by Richard Offner in an article in the Burlington Magazine.
Assumption of the Virgin. Wood, 52 x 23.
The kneeling St Thomas reaches up to receive the sacred girdle that the ascending Virgin, in a mandorla supported by four angels, is holding in her right hand. This small vertical panel (trimmed on all sides) is thought to have formed part of a Marian complex that also included the Coronation of the Virgin at Budapest and Death of the Virgin at Chantilly. That complex may have been a triptych with the Assumption (which is only half the width of the other two panels) in the centre. There have also been attributions to Giotto’s workshop and an anonymous ‘Maestro di Chantilly’. The attribution to Maso was published by Bernard Berenson in his 1932 Lists. It was Cesare Brandi (in a 1938 article in L’Arte) who recognised that the Berlin, Budapest and Chantilly panels came from the same structure. The Assumption was given to the Berlin museum in 1904 by Count Tiele-Winckler. (Its earlier history is obscure; but it is tempting to suppose that the panel is the ‘Virgin dropping her girdle to St Thomas’ included (with an attribution to Giotto) in the Warner Ottley sale of 1847 – a sale that also featured the Budapest Coronation.)

Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 51 x 52.
At the sides of the throne are serried ranks of angels and at the front eight kneeling angels playing musical instruments. Part of a Marian complex, which also included the Assumption of the Virgin at Berlin and Death of the Virgin at Chantilly. The panel is first recorded in the collection of William Young Ottley, who acquired many ‘Italian primitives’ in Rome during the Napoleonic upheavals of the 1790s, and was among the pictures sold by his brother, Warner Ottley, in London in 1847. Donated to the Budapest museum in 1940 by Viscount Rothermere (who had hopes of occupying the vacant throne of Hungary).

Chantilly. Musée Condé.
Death of the Virgin. Wood, 44 x 48.
The composition is quite like that of the large panel by Giotto (and/or his workshop) at Berlin. A companion to the Assumption of the Virgin at Berlin and the Coronation of the Virgin at Budapest. Acquired by Frédéric Reiset in 1841, it passed into the Duc d’Aumale’s collection in 1879 with an attribution to Giotto. The panel is abraded and parts (eg. the heads of the Virgin’s soul and some of the angels) have been restored.

Florence. Santa Croce. Bardi di Vernio Chapel. 5th left of high altar.
Life of St Sylvester. Frescoes.
The chapel was built in 1310 by a branch of the powerful Bardi banking family. The frescoes illustrate (unhistorical) stories told in the Golden Legend about the fourth-century pope Sylvester, who converted the Emperor Constantine to Christianity.
The cycle begins on the left wall. In the lunette above the two tombs, Constantine is confronted by wailing woman as he rides in his chariot. The women are mothers whose children are about to be slaughtered so that the Emperor could cure his leprosy by bathing in their blood. In the next scene, above the smaller tomb to the right, St Peter and St Paul appear to Constantine in a dream. They tell the Emperor that his leprosy would be cured if he were baptised as a Christian.
The sequence then continued along the top of the end wall with two scenes around the apex of the Gothic window. Both scenes have been so thoroughly destroyed that their subjects can only be guessed at.
The cycle also covers the whole right wall. In the left half of the lunette, Sylvester shows Constantine pictures of St Peter and St Paul to convince the Emperor that the apostles had really appeared to him. In the right half, Sylvester baptises the Emperor. In the large scene below, Constantine sits in judgement over a dispute between Sylvester and the Jews. A Jew had killed a bull, claiming that he had whispered the name of God into its ear. Sylvester insisted that God does not take life but gives it, and revived the bull with a prayer. The most famous scene is the lowest on the wall. Set among the crumbling ruins of the Roman Forum, it shows Sylvester reviving two magicians who had been overcome by a dragon’s poisonous breath. On the left, the saint descends into the dragon’s pit and ties up and seals its mouth. In the centre, he revives the two men, who are shown both lying stricken on their backs and then kneeling in thanksgiving. On the right, the Emperor Constantine and his retinue look on in amazement.
The frescoes are close in style to Giotto’s late cycles in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels of Santa Croce. The facial types are similar, and the figures are, if anything, even more massive than Giotto’s. Maso’s cycle is usually dated around 1335-40 – either shortly before or shortly after Giotto’s death. (The presence of the Bardi di Vernio coat-of-arms suggests a date after 1335, when the Bardi took possession of the castle at Vernio. On the other hand, the frescoes are unlikely to have been commissioned much later than 1339, when the Bardi’s financial and political fortunes started to decline.)
Described in 1866 as ‘all very damaged’, the frescoes were restored in 1911 and again in 1937, when they were severely repainted. Much of the repainting was removed during a thorough new restoration in 1994-98.
On the left wall of the chapel are two tombs of the Bardi family, each consisting of a marble sarcophagus in a niche with a fresco on the back wall. The fresco on the larger tomb on the left is attributed to Maso; that on the other tomb is attributed to Taddeo Gaddi (or his workshop). Maso’s fresco represents the Last Judgement. It shows Christ, surrounded by six angels with trumpets and instruments of the Passion, appearing as judge to an unidentified kneeling male donor, who appears to be rising out of his marble sarcophagus.
The stained glass windows in the chapel have been attributed either to Maso or to Taddeo Gaddi.
Museo dell’Opera. Coronation of the Virgin. Detached fresco, 150 x 390.
A fragment: only the upper part survives. The profiles of St Francis and a donor appear among the angels on the right. The frescoed lunette was located above a door, leading to the cloister, in the right aisle. It was opposite Taddeo Gaddi’s Lamentation (now equally fragmentary and also in the museum). The lower part was destroyed during Vasari’s redecoration of the church (1566-84) and what remained was subsequently covered up. The fragment was discovered in 1911-12 and detached in 1930. It was heavily restored in 1937, when three of the five heads on the border were added. Sixteenth-century writers ascribed the lunette to Giotto (Albertini and the Anonimo Magliabecchiano) or to Taddeo Gaddi (Vasari). The attribution to Maso was made in 1929 by Richard Offner.

Florence. Santo Spirito. Vettori Chapel. Apse.
Madonna and Child with Four Saints. Wood, 141 x 235.
Five half-length panels. The Child holds a goldfinch. The saints are Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment), Andrew (with cross and Gospel), Julian (with a sword in its scabbard) and Catherine of Alexandria (with spiked wheel and martyr's palm). The frame is lost; only the central pinnacle, representing the crucified Christ, survives. The polyptych is not mentioned by early writers, though Ghiberti says that Maso painted frescoes in the church (rebuilt by Brunelleschi in the fifteenth century). Previously ascribed to Giotto (in 1677), to Agnolo Gaddi (by Crowe and Cavalcaselle) or simply to Giotto’s School, it was one of a number of panel paintings attributed to Maso by Richard Offner in an article in the May 1929 Burlington Magazine.

New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Saint Anthony of Padua. Wood, 74 x 41.
A right-hand panel of a five-part polyptych. The centre panel is in Berlin. Two of the other side panels were destroyed in the War and one is untraced. Previously at the Berlin museum, where it was catalogued (1837-1921) as St Francis by Giotto’s School. Sold in 1926 to the English travel writer Edward Hutton. Acquired the same year by Maitland F. Griggs of New York, who bequeathed his collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 1943. Much damaged and restored.

New York. Brooklyn Museum.
Babbott Triptych’. Central panel, 77 x 30; wings, 45 x 13.
Centre panel: Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints with the Redeemer Blessing in the pinnacle; left wing: Nativity with the Annunciation to the Shepherds above and Angel Annunciate at the top; and right wing: Crucifixion with Virgin Annunciate at the top. The portable triptych is still in its original frame. It was published in 1917 (by Osvald Sirén) as an early work of Taddeo Gaddi and reattributed to Maso by Berenson in his 1932 Lists. It belonged to the New York jute merchant and philanthropist Frank Lusk Babbott, whose three children donated it to the museum in 1934.

Paris. Louvre.
Two Saints or Allegorical Figures with Swords.
 Tinted paper, 21 x 19.
The two figures are seated on a bench facing each other. The one on the left, with an unsheathed sword, is usually identified as St Paul (though he does not have that saint's usual high forehead and incipient baldness). The figure on the right, pointing to his heart and with his sword still in its scabbard, is sometimes called Julian the Hospitaller (a legendary saint who killed both his parents because he mistook them for his wife and a lover in bed). The drawing, executed in brown wash and white highlighting over silverpoint, probably dates from around the middle of the fourteenth century and is one of the earliest surviving preliminary studies by a Florentine artist. It is recorded in the collection of the seventeenth-century art historian Filippo Baldinucci and was acquired by the Louvre in 1806. The drawing has been attributed in the past to Gentile Bellini, Spinello Aretino and Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, but, more recently, the favoured candidates have been Maso di Banco and Giotto. The figure on the right bears some resemblance to the St Julian in Maso's polyptych at Santo Spirito. The drawing is reproduced as a work of Maso in Frederick Hartt's textbook History of Italian Renaissance Art (1969-87).