Pere Lembrí (active Castellon 1399-1421)
Property of a Gentleman
Pere Lembrí (active Castellon 1399-1421)

The Coronation of the Virgin

Pere Lembrí (active Castellon 1399-1421)
The Coronation of the Virgin
on gold ground panel, in an integral frame
41 ¾ x 31 7/8 in. (106.1 x 81 cm.)
Dalmau collection (probably Josep Dalmau 1867-1937), Barcelona, by 1911.
Acquired by the mother of the present owner in 1969.
J. Gudiol and S. Alcolea i Blanch, Pintura Gòtica Catalana, Barcelona, 1986, p. 110, under no. 322.
A. José i Pitarch, Una memoria concreta, Pere Lembrí: Pintor de Morella y Tortosa (1399-1421), exhibition catalogue, Morella, 2004, pp. 222-229, as whereabouts unknown.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This gold ground panel of the Coronation of the Virgin, which would originally have formed part of a monumental altarpiece, is a remarkable example of early-fifteenth century Spanish painting and a rare surviving work by the Catalan master Pere Lembrí. The artist’s oeuvre was long recognised as representing the work of a distinct and important artistic personality in early-fifteenth century Spain. Originally, the painter’s work had been assembled by Post in his seminal History of Spanish Painting under the sobriquet of The Master of Albocàsser. Later, scholars attempted to link this group of surviving panels with a known painter working in the region around Tortosa, situated between Tarragona and Valencia. Initially, the anonymous master was identified as the well-documented Tortosan painter Domingo Valls (active in and around the city between circa 1366 and 1398). However, further research made this identification increasingly unlikely, since Valls lived and worked a generation before the Master of Albocàsser’s known works were dated. It was not until 2004 that Antoni José Pitarch (op. cit., p. 61) suggested that the master might be identifiable with a similarly well documented painter, Pere Lembrí (see Gudiol and Alcolea, op. cit., p. 109). Little is known about Lembrí’s early career, although he is traditionally believed to have trained in the workshop of Lluís Borrassà (c. 1360-c. 1426), a leading Catalan painter during the late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth centuries. From 1399, Lembrí is consistently documented as working in the Maestrazgo region (between Barcelona and Valencia), mostly in the towns of Morella and Tortosa where he was a prolific and highly-paid painter of large-scale retables (N. Herman, in S. Nash, ed., Late Medieval Panel Paintings II, London, 2015, pp. 15-16). Unfortunately, none of the commissions awarded him known through archival documents survive.

In 2004, Pitarch proposed a reconstruction of the large retable, likely consisting of 28 individual scenes (including the banco or predella), which the present Coronation of the Virgin would originally have formed part, dedicated to the Virgin and executed between circa 1400 and 1410 (fig. 1; op. cit.). The central panel of this clearly significant altarpiece is believed to be the large painting, depicting the Enthroned Virgin and Child, attended by angels, now in the Museum Aargau (Lenzburg). Further smaller scenes depicting important moments from the Life of the Virgin would have been arranged around this central image. Pitarch suggested that the Annunciation and Pentecost panels both in the Hispanic Society, New York, which are surmounted by depictions of prophets, would have formed the tops of two of the five calle lateral of the retable (specifically the first and the fourth). It is possible that the Coronation, may have been placed directly above the large central panel of the Virgin and Child. Equally likely, however, it could have occupied the final calle, at the far right of the altarpiece, since the event depicted came at the end of the Virgin’s life and thus the iconography followed the usual chronological format for multi-scened retables. Remarkably, the two other panels which appear to have accompanied the Coronation in this section have also survived. While the surmounting panel and prophet are lost, the Dormition of the Virgin (fig. 2; Castellón, Museo de Bellas Artes), followed by the Burial of the Virgin (Reus, Museu d’Art i Història), would have been placed directly above the Coronation, which would thus have formed the final scene in the retable’s representation of Her life.

This panel shows the moment following the Virgin’s Assumption, when She was received as Queen of Heaven. Unusually for depictions of this subject, Mary is shown being crowned with a papal tiara, which was typically reserved for depictions of God the Father. The inclusion of a papal tiara may in fact be significant, since it appears to be the convenient way, within the limited space of the picture frame, of depicting three crowns in one. The Coronation of the Virgin with three crowns emerged as a much discussed doctrine during the Middle Ages, especially in Spain. An important text in elucidating these ideas was the Vita Christi written by Sor Isabel de Villena, abbess of the Clarissan Real Monasterio de la Trinidad in Valencia between 1490 and 1497. While Isabel de Villena was writing much later than the present panel was painted, the ideas she discussed had long been expressed in devotional texts and much of what Sor Isabel wrote was adapted from the Arbor by the Franciscan friar Ubertino da Casale (1259-c. 1329) and the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony (c. 1295-1378), both of whose works were widely known in Spain. Isabel described how the Virgin was given three crowns by each member of the Trinity: the first, made of gold, was awarded by God the Father in honour of the Virgin’s role in the salvation of mankind; the second crown was given by Christ and described as being decorated with myrtle leaves in reference to the trials of the Virgin’s life; and the final crown was given by the Holy Spirit and represented how the Virgin became his bride in Heaven (see L.K. Twomey, The Fabric of Marian Devotion in Isabel de Villena’s Vita Christi, Woodbridge, 2013, pp. 189-94). The iconography was clearly one which was favoured in the Iberian Peninsula. Rogier van der Weyden’s Miraflores Triptych, donated to the royal charterhouse of Santa Maria de Miraflores outside Burgos in 1445 by Juan II of Castile, depicted the Virgin at three distinct stages of her life, with each scene surmounted by an angel carrying an ornate crown: awarded for her purity at the Nativity; her faith at the Lamentation; and her constancy after the Resurrection (L. Campbell in, Rogier van der Weyden and the Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2015, p. 88). The triple Coronation of the Virgin was, in fact, also represented in a Spanish retable, painted shortly before the present work by Jaume Serra (active 1358-1389/1395) for the royal monastery of Santa María de Sigena in Villanueva de Sigena. Here again, the Virgin was similarly shown being crowned with a papal tiara by Christ after her Assumption (Barcelona, Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya).

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