Church of St. Maria degli Angeli (or of the “Osservanza”)
Madonna and child on a throne between three angels and four saints
It’s placed at the center of the apsis, it’s signed and dated, as shown in the scroll in the lower part “Marchus Palmezanus Foroliviensis faciebat MCCCCCXX” (Marco Palmezzano from Forlì made this in 1520). The painting is still in its original frame decorated and carved, according to some experts, from a sketch of the Palmezzano himself. The predella has been lost, two lateral panels are still in their place, showing the Archangel Gabriel (left) and the Annunciation (right).
The plan of the painting, depicting a “Sacred Conversation”, is based on a a skilful bilateral simmetry, with at its center the Virgin Mary, holding in adoration the blessing Child. She is seated on a throne, her mantle draping gracefully down to the step where she rests her feet. The basement of the throne is decorated with grotesque polychrome figures painted on a gold background. Palmezzano, working in Rome at the end of the 15th century, for sure did see the recently excavated remains of Emperor Nero’s palace (the Domus Aurea), frescoes with bizarre creatures, strange animals, chimeras, sirens, flowers and vegetables, called “grotesque”; he, like other artists of that time, incorporated these motifs in many of his works.
At both sides of the Virgin, two angels lift the curtains of a canopy, as a symbol of regality. The saints are simmetricaly placed around the Madonna, represented into their daily routine and listening to the music of a cherub, sitting on the step of the throne.
On the left side St.Francis, recognisable by his stigmatas, is reading a book, kept open in front of him: it’s the Rule of his Order, approved by the Pope. Behind him, abbot St. Anthony, with his ever-present little pig, leaning on t-shaped stick, prophecy of the Holy Cross.
On the right side, St. Jerome, wearing a purple cloak enhancing his cardinal’s status, is beating his chest with a stone. The character of a warrior with a shiny armour – a medallion on a chain pending from his neck and with a purple cloack clasped on his right shoulder – is quite controversial. It was believed it depicted St. Valerian, protector of Forlì, who can be found in another painting of Palmezzano, nearly the same of this Madonna, but here he is not carrying his usual flag, but a long spear. He could be then St. George, who killed the dragon with its spear, an implied reference to the Naldi family of Brisighella, that a few years before (1514) had given the Palmezzano a commission for another painting, The Adoration of the Wise Men. And the Naldi were Soldiers of fortune, coming from S. Giorgio in Vezzano and Captains of the Brisighelli troops, soldiers with a long spear.
In this lunette God the Father, a blessing old man with a candid beard, is surrounded by many cherubs; with his outstretched arms he takes a sort of triangular shape reminding us of the Trinity, suggested also by the blessing hand with three raised fingers.
COLLEGIATA OF ST. MICHAEL ARCHANGEL
ADORATION OF THE WISE MEN
tempera on seven panels carved out of a single black poplar
Since 2000 this work is located in the first chapel of the church, on the right side of the entrance, and it was originally housed in the parish church of Rontana (now closed), a few kilometers from Brisighella. The Naldi family, the famous Soldiers of Fortune, commissioned this artwork to Palmezzano for one hundred golden ducats; their coat of arms, an hand grasping a branch of vetch, clearly points to their origin, the village of St. George in Vecciano (now Villa Vezzano), where this cultivation flourished. A putto holding the Naldi’s arm of coats can be seen at the top of the painting, on the left.
Almost in the centre of the painting, in a frontal position, there’s the Blessed Virgin sitting on a stone, holding the Holy Child on her lap; at his feet, in a kneeling position, one of the Wise Men, with white hair and a flowing beard: he is Kaspar, kissing the foot of the Child, while offering his gift, a golden casket, on a cartouche there is the name of the painter and a date (1514) “Marchus Palmizanus pictor foroliviensis faciebat MCCCCCXIIII”. The Holy Child lovingly gazes at the other two Wise Men, ‘Melchiorre’ and ‘Baldassare’, who, against the tradition, is not a blackman. On the left, St. Joseph can be spotted, old and slightly stooping, leaning on his staff. Behind these figures one can see the marble columns of a rich building, while on the background a cavalcade advances amongst hills, castles, peaks and valleys, together with soldiers, knights and caravans.
This artwork is distinguished by its balance and harmony, the elegance of the standing of the figures, the accuracy of the details, the decorative richness.According to some experts the figure of the king on the right represents an historical personage ‘Giovanni VIII Paleologo’, penultimate emperor of Costantinople, who in 1438 traveled to the West to seek help against the Turks.The opulence of the imperial court was impressive and many artists depicted the emperor in their paintings, such as Benozzo Bozzoli in “The journey of the Wise Men” (Florence, Palazzo Medici) or Piero della Francesca in “The Flagellation” (Urbino). Many years after, Palmezzano also wanted to remember this emperor in his painting, even though the eastern Empire was long time gone.
JESUS DISCUSSING AMONGST THE DOCTORS
Above this lunette there is a lunette showing Jesus discussing with the doctors. The infant Jesus dominates the composition, high in the centre with outstretched arms, wearing a red garment and a green mantle, while the doctors flank him.
This painting has been recently restored by Mrs Marisa Caparra from Bologna. With a four years work she fully repaired the damages of time, humidity, xylophagous bugs and previous poor restoration works, bringing it back to the original beauty.