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Gentile da Fabriano

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Italian painter ; b. probably about 1378 in the District of the Marches; d. probably 1427. The history of this artist has for a long time been involved in mystery, and even Vasari's statements concerning him have to be accepted with caution. Of his early life we still know nothing, but thanks to the investigations of Milanesi, Amico Ricci, and later on of Venturi and Corrado Ricci, we have a few definite facts concerning him. The earliest mention of him is concerned with the decoration of the large council hall in the doges' palace at Venice, which, it seems clear, must have been carried out between 1411 and 1414, probably in the former year, as the theory set up by Wickhoff, placing the work at a much later date, has now been proved to be untenable. In 1408, however, Gentile is known to have painted a large altar-piece in Venice for Francesco Amadi, and this date implies that he must have been resident in the city for some years previously, because it was not possible for an artist, who had not been born in Venice, to be accepted as a member of its school or guild, unless resident in the city for some considerable time before he made his application. Between April, 1414, and September, 1419, we know that he was painting in Brescia, decorating a chapel for Pandolfo Malatesta, and it was on the occasion of the visit which Pope Martin V made to Malatesta, when he was received at Chiari, that the pope invited Gentile to pay him a visit in Rome. We have evidence of the date on which he set out, because on the 18 September, 1419, he applied for a safe-conduct. There were serious difficulties, however, connected with the early days of the pontificate of Martin V, and Gentile only got as far as Florence, and could not proceed to Rome.

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Of Gentile's residence in Florence we have evidence from the two applications he made, dated 23 March, and 6 April, 1420, that he might be relieved from the payment of tribute, inasmuch as he was only temporarily sojourning in Florence, and was on his way to his native city; but he could not have remained very long in Fabriano, because on 21 November, 1422, he figures in the deeds of matriculation connected with the doctors and painters of Florence, and in the following year he signs and dates his picture executed to the order of Palla Strozzi for the church of Santa Trinitè in that city. The evidence that he continued in Florence in 1423 is found in some deeds relating to a curious quarrel which took place between one of Gentile's pupils and a certain Bernardo, who threw some stones into the courtyard of the house where Gentile was, breaking some small pieces of sculpture which happened to be of great value to the artist.

Gentile's work in Siena has usually been assigned to the year 1426, but closer investigation shows that it was carried out in 1425, and a lease of a house in Siena taken for a month by the artist in that year is still in existence, and proves the date of the residence of Gentile in Siena, and the time that he took to paint the picture. It is dated 22 July, and at the end of August of the same year Gentile was in Orvieto, painting in the Duomo, as the archives of the cathedral prove. That work completed, he was at length able to leave for Rome, and in 1427 was at work in the church of San Giovanni in Laterano, and the records of his engagement and stipend have been printed. By 22 November, 1428, he was dead, because on that day, according to the evidence of the commune of Fabriano, his niece Maddalena took possession of the property of her uncle, who was declared to have died in Rome intestate. Further evidence of this date is given by a deed dated October, 1427, in which the master is spoken of as deceased, and these documents prove the inaccuracy of the statements of Vasari both as regards the date of Gentile's decease and the place where Vasari says he died, Città di Castello. Amico Ricci and Milanesi were inaccurate in stating that Gentile died after 1450, as they were misled by a phrase "autore requisito" which occurs in a document representing the visit of Roger van der Weyden to Rome, when he visited San Giovanni in Laterano, and saw the paintings of Gentile. He expressed the greatest admiration for the work, and according to Ricci and Milanesi called the author of the paintings before him. Inasmuch as the visit took place in 1450, these two authors placed Gentile's decease after that date, but the phrase refers to the author having died, and this is proved by the two documents just cited.

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These few facts practically embrace all that we definitely know respecting this artist. He is said to have learned his art under Allegretto Nuzzi. His family name is by some writers given as Maso or Massi, and his burial is said to have taken place in Santa Francesca Romana in the Campo Vaccino, but all these statements are for the present matters of conjecture. He was probably born at Fabriano in the believed to have died when Gentile was fifteen years old, and therefore he could have derived very little instruction from Nuzzi. Two of his pictures are dated, the "Adoration of the Kings" in the Academy at Florence, 1423; and the group of saints in San Nicolò in the same city, 1425. His best work in Rome and Venice has perished, but he is well represented in the Brera Gallery in Milan, the galleries of Perugia, Paris, and Berlin ; and important pictures in the Heugel collection in Paris and the Stroganoff collection in St. Petersburg are now accepted as being from his hand. Of his work in Rome there is a representation of the miracle of St. Nicholas to be seen in the Vatican Gallery, and part of his work in Orvieto still remains. A picture in the royal collection at Buckingham Palace is attributed to him, with considerable evidence in its favour; and his paintings are also to be seen at Settignano, in the municipal gallery at Pisa, and in the Jarves collection at Newhaven in the United States but his most important work is the large picture in the Academy in Florence, a painting of remarkable excellence and extraordinary beauty. In his birthplace there is one picture representing St. Francis, which is probably a genuine work. His paintings are distinguished by great magnificence of colour and marked by his peculiar method of high relief in gesso work, and by the remarkable use he made of small portions of the most brilliant colour, applied in conjunction with masses of gold. He may be accepted as one of the greatest masters of his period, and as a man exceedingly skilful in composition, and full of grand ideas as regards colouring and effect, for in the combination of rich colour with gold he has seldom if ever been equalled amongst decorative painters.

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