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Fabriano stakes its claim to Renaissance fame

by Marco Bona Castellotti

The exhibit “From Giotto to Gentile da Fabriano” sets out to prove that the Marche region had produced its own artistic style in the 13th and 14th centuries, before being swept by the gothic influence of Giotto, born in 1267 and considered the first great artist of the Renaissance.

It tries to refute the idea that the art produced in the region at that time was just a product of the confluences of the Rimini and Florence schools. Gentile da Fabriano was born in the Marche region around 1370, and painted in a gothic style that was similar to Giotto’s.

On display works such as a wooden crucifix by Matelica that, for reasons of chronology or style, preceded the Giotto era.

The show focuses on Maestro di Campodonico, an anonymous genius who painted in Fabriano in the 1300s. His work is represented by a series of frescos of extraordinary impact: the Annunciation from the ancient Maddalena church in the town of Fabriano, the Crucifixion, the Annunciation and the Flagellation at San Biagio Abbey in the nearby town of Caprile, and Saint Catherine of Alessandria at Castel Rubello.

The exhibit also includes a visit to three churches in Fabriano. They have fragmented yet restored frescos of San Venanzio, San Domenico and Sant’Agostino. Thanks to a wooden ladder, it is possible to get a closer look of the frescos in the presbytery and the sacristy.

In the portraits of San Domenico and San Venanzio, the hand of Allegretto Nuzi is recognizable, a very refined painter who is thought to be a native of Florence.

Less certain is the attribution to the master with the first name and last name on the decorative mantle in the Sant’Agostino chapel, done by someone clearly inspired by Giotto. Yet it precisely the work of this anonymous painter that lends credibility to the idea of an indigenous style, called Fabrianese, which either preceded Giotto or managed to resist the wave of the painter’s influence that swept the Marche in the early 1300s.

Influences from the Rimini school are spotted in the masterly fresco of the Madonna and of the saints at the Sant’Emiliano e Congiuntoli Abbey.

(“From Giotti to Gentile da Fabriano,” until Nov. 30 at the Bruno Molajoli museum in Fabriano, in the Marche)