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The Master of Charles III of Durazzo: Francesco di Michele? (active Florence by c. 1382)
TUSCAN RENAISSANCE CASSONE PANELS FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION (LOTS 12-19)
The Master of Charles III of Durazzo: Francesco di Michele? (active Florence by c. 1382)

The Story of Diana and Actaeon, with Saint Jerome: a cassone panel

Details
The Master of Charles III of Durazzo: Francesco di Michele? (active Florence by c. 1382)
The Story of Diana and Actaeon, with Saint Jerome: a cassone panel
tempera and gold on panel
18 7/8 x 49 ¾ in. (48 x 126.4 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Bonhams, London, 8 December 2010, lot 9, as ‘Attributed to The Master of the Hercules Cassone’.
Exhibited
Florence, Museo Stibbert, Le Opere e I Giorni, exempla virtutis favole antiche e vita quotidiana nel racconto dei cassoni rinascimentali, 26 September 2015–6 January 2016, no. 1.3.

Lot Essay

This panel was recognised as the work of the Master of Charles III of Durazzo by Mattia Vinco. It may originally have formed a pair with a front of the Hunt of Diana, related to, but distinct from, that in the Museo Stibbert, Florence (exhibited in 2015-6, op. cit., inv. no. 1.2). The artist, who developed in parallel with his contemporaries Mariotto di Nardo and Agnolo Gaddi, is named after the cassone front of the Conquest of Naples by the Master of Charles III of Durazzo in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 1; inv. no. 07.120.1). The fullest account of the artist is that of Everett Fahy (‘Florence and Naples: a Cassone Panel in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’, Hommages à Michel Laclotte, Milan, 1994, pp. 231-43). He plausibly argues that the New York panel was ordered soon after September 1382, when Charles III, who had entered Naples on 28 June 1381, claimed the crown of Hungary: that panel is thus the earliest surviving datable cassone front. As King of Naples, Charles quickly formed an alliance with Florence, which may explain his employment of a Florentine painter. Miklós Boskovits, who initially assigned a small group of panels including that in New York to his Master of Cracow, subsequently named the master after the New York picture, associating with it a number of other secular works. To this group Fahy added other cassone panels and a casket of 1389 in the church of San Martino a Mensola, near Florence, as well as the altarpiece of 1391 in the same church, the name-piece of the Master of San Martino a Mensola, who, on the basis of documentary evidence, was identified by Luciano Bellosi in 1985 as Francesco di Michele (L. Bellosi, ‘Francesco di Michele, il Maestro di San Martino a Mensola’, Paragone, 1985, XXXVI, pp. 57-63). Fahy correctly noted that the inclusion in the San Martino altarpiece of Saint Henry of Hungary may reflect an interest on the donor’s part to the house of Durazzo, which had inherited the Anjevin claim to Naples. His recognition that the two groups of pictures were by the same hand establishes that Francesco di Michele was a versatile artist, painting both religious works and what must be recognised as a pioneering group of cassone panels.

The artist’s visual range is implied both by the figures and by the animals, some of which may derive from earlier manuscripts. In the compartment on the left Diana - who wears a crown with a fleur-de-lis motif which may imply an Anjevin context - and her nymphs are observed as they bathe in a raised pool by Actaeon; in the central scene Actaeon, now transformed into a stag is pursued by four of his own hounds, the contour of a hill separating him from Saint Jerome who holds open his book, the moustached Turk beside whom was presumably intended to allude to the saint’s withdrawal to the desert of Calchis, south of Aleppo; in the final compartment, his dogs attack Actaeon who is confronted by his former attendants below the two jagged mountains, which are seen from a greater distance in the central section.

Lorenzo Sbaraglio fairly states that this is the best preserved cassone front of its date (‘tra le fronti di cassone di fine Trecento in miglior stato di conservazione’; op. cit., exhibition catalogue). The preservation of the painted compartments is matched by that of the framing round these that is so characteristic of the artist.

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