The ornamental design of this panel is closely related to the altar frontal in the church of San Giorgio in Ferrara, signed by Girolamo de'Barbieri and dated 1694 (see G. Manni, I Maestri della Scagliola in Emilia Romagna e Marche, Modena, 1997, p. 292). The two scagliola panels appear ostensibly derived from the same design, with the only exception being the figural design of the central cartouche of the Ferrara altar frontal, which features the Madonna with Child flanked by the figures of the patrons. In our case the central cartouche is occupied by a noble coat of arms in which the diamond-shaped red and white background pattern invokes the unidentified representative of the Grimaldi family referenced in the course of the 17th century not only in the reign of Naples and in Genoa but also in Emilia-Romagna. This last branch gave birth to well-known Romagnans such as the physicist Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1645-1717) and the painter Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi (Bologna 1606-Rome 1680); another well-known representative of the Naples branch of the family, the Cardinal Nicola Grimaldi (1645-1717) was the papal ambassador in Bologna and his coat of arms appears in the hall of the Cardinal college of San Carlo of Modena (D. Colli, A. Garuti and R. Pelloni, La Scagliola Carpigiana e l'Illusione Barocca, Modena, 1990, p. 30).
The same coat of arms of our piece, that ties the Grimaldi coat of arms to that of another unidentified family, appears inserted in the angular decorations of a pair of opulent scagliola panels dated to 1702 and signed by Mannelli, an artist of little note, but of notable talent, to judge from the two tables completed by him (see Manni p. cit.,, pp. 294-295, and A. M. Massinelli, Scagliola L'Arte della Pietra di Luna, Rome,1997, pp. 160-161).
Girolamo Barbieri, the scagliolista to whom the present panel can be attributed, has little known biographical information, however the ornamental lexicon of the only other work known by him , the Ferrara altar frontal, places his activity within the field of Romagnan artistic production at the end of the 17th century, whereas the Romagnan artists emphasize opulence of colour and design, Barbieri interprets this style with classical and elegant simplicity.
Anna Maria Massinelli, Florence, September 2008