Waldemar H. de Boer, A note on two paintings by Giambattista Zelotti and Francesco Maffei in Vicenza

Published in Paragone/Arte 54 (2003), pp. 62-67

Giambattista Zelotti
Since 1998, the Palazzo Vescovile in Vicenza has in deposit an unpublished altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with the Saints Romuald of Camaldoli, Lucy, Apollonia, George and a Patron by Giambattista Zelotti (1526-1578), which was in the Church of the Araceli in Vicenza until 1979 and will be a part of the soon to open Museo Diocesano in the same city.(1) It is signed and dated at the backside of the altarpiece: Zelotti Veronese / aurea(?) / 1560. It is not known if the signature is authentic. If this appears to be genuine, the altarpiece is the only one signed and dated by Zelotti. If not, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the painting as it seems a perfect and typical example of Zelotti’s work. Style and composition are comparable with those of his Assumption of the Virgin in the Abbey of Santa Maria in Praglia, which Brugnolo Meloncelli dated c. 1559.(2)
It has not been observed that Marco Boschini described the same painting in the parish church of Santi Vito e Lucia in Vicenza in 1676: ’La Tavola dell'Altar maggiore contiene la B.V. con il Bambino in aria, con Cherubini, & à basso s. Romualdo, e santa Lucia, e sant'Apolonia, con altri santi, e sante: opera rara anzi esquisita di Alessandro Maganza’.(3) Boschini did not mention St George and the patron, but did indicate ’altri santi, e sante’. He was mistaken in the attribution, as were some other authors after him. Buffetti considered the altarpiece in the Santi Vito e Lucia in 1779 to be painted in the style of Felicio ’Brusasorzi’ (1539 / 1540-1605).(4) Trissino was the last to mention it in the church circa 1812. He attributed it to Alessandro Maganza.(5)
The parish of Santi Vito e Lucia was transferred to the Church of the Araceli in 1813 and the painting of Zelotti undoubtedly was transported to the same location. Pasqualigo described it there in 1817-1818: ’Nella Chiesa Sussidiaria di Santa Lucia a sinistra entrando presso l’Altare Maggiore una Palla rappresentante San Romualdo, Santa Lucia etc: d’Autore incerto, ma in qualche estimazione’.(6) Magrini mentioned a painting of the Saints Lucy, Romuald, George, Apollonia and Others in the collection of Clemente Barbieri in 1851, attributing it to Giovanni Antonio Fasolo (1529 / 1530-1572).(7) It was probably temporarily transferred from the Araceli to the Barbieri residence. Arslan noticed it again in the Araceli in 1956 and thought it to be by an author working in the Veronese tradition.(8)
It seems quite evident that the altarpiece in Palazzo Vescovile originated from the Church of Santi Vito e Lucia, but it is remarkable that in none of the sources it was credited to Zelotti. Probably this was because his painting style has an affinity with the manner of some contemporaries, like his pupil Giovanni Antonio Fasolo (1529 / 1530-1572), who was active in Vicenza and its surroundings when the altarpiece of the Santi Vito e Lucia was executed. Alessandro Maganza (1547 / 1548-1632) was a pupil of Fasolo and was trained in the tradition of Paolo Veronese and Giambattista Zelotti. Mistaking a Zelotti for a Maganza was not exceptional in the seventeenth century. Ridolfi attributed the Christ consigns the Keys to St Peter of the Church of San Pietro in Vicenza to Maganza in 1648, which Boschini ascribed to Zelotti.(9) As Brugnolo Meloncelli observes, this painting is largely executed by the workshop of Zelotti.(10)
The iconography of the altarpiece confirms the provenance. The Church of Santi Vito e Lucia was founded in 1314 by the order of the Camaldolese, which explains the choice of St Romuald in the painting, who founded the order in 1012. St Romuald and the patron in the painting are wearing the traditional Camaldolese white tunic and scapular. The choice of St Lucy is also evident, as she was one of the patron saints of the church. St Apollonia and St George could well have been name saints of the patron and a member of his family.

Francesco Maffei
The Museo Civico of Vicenza purchased a square painting of The Annunciation by Francesco Maffei from the art dealer Calligaris in 1954. Before that, it was property of Eugenio Colbacchini, who acquired it from the Da Porto family in Vicenza.(11) It is, without doubt, one of the earliest works by Francesco Maffei (1604 / 1605-1660), fairly close to the St Nicolas of Tolentino and an Angel in the Oratory of San Nicola di Tolentino in Vicenza, the first signed painting by Maffei, dated 1626, a commission by Giambattista da Schio who was a candidate for chairman of the Confraternita di San Nicola di Tolentino in 1625 and in 1626.(12) The Annunciation bears the inscription ’BERNARDINI PERGVLAE / VOTVM’. Bernardino Pergola appears also to have been a member of the Confraternita di San Nicola di Tolentino, according to documents of the Confraternita in the Archivio di Stato of Vicenza. His name was registered for the first time in these documents, when he was a candidate for chairman on 29 April 1612.(13) He was last mentioned as a member in 1645.(14)
There is reason to assume The Annunciation by Maffei was part of a group of paintings described by Boschini in the Church of San Michele in Vicenza in 1676: ’Segue entro una nicchia la imagine del Glorioso San Nicola de Tolentino, dintorno al quale vi sono sette quadri, nel primo di sopra si vede rappresentata l'Annonciazione della B.V. e gli altri sei sono tutti miracoli appertenenti al Glorioso santo: opere di Francesco Maffei’.(15) Buffetti was the last to mention the paintings in 1779, before they disappeared.(16) Like many other paintings in Vicenza they were probably sold by auction during the French or Austrian regime, after the demolition and desecration of the Church of San Michele in 1810-1814.(17)
Pope Eugenius IV canonized St Nicolas of Tolentino on 1 February 1447.(18) According to Barbarano the family Fioccardo erected an altar dedicated to him in the Church of San Michele in Vicenza before 1487, which was from then on yearly visited during a city procession on the feast day of the Saint.(19) This was probably the altar, according to Boschini, located next to the niche with the paintings by Maffei, which had an altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with the Saints August and Nicolas by Bartolomeo Montagna (c. 1449-1523) or one of his pupils.(20) The city processions on the feast day of the Saint were continued well into the seventeenth century, as appears from a document of the Confraternita di San Nicola of 1645, in which a procession to the altar of St Nicolas in the Church of San Michele is described.(21)
In view of the subjects, the paintings by Maffei in the San Michele were almost certainly commissioned by the Confraternita di San Nicola, which was established in this Church in 1499 and which erected a neighbouring oratory in 1505.(22) A former inscription in the Church of San Michele, written somewhere near the Fioccardo altar and mentioned by Faccioli in 1776, confirms this idea: ’PRISCAE FAMILIAE PERGULAE A BERNARDINO BONIFACII F. COLLECTAE ANNO MDCXXIV’ (collected by Bernardino and Bonifacio of the honorable family Pergola in 1624).(23) Bonifacio Pergola was also a member of the Confaternita di San Nicola, as a document of the Confraternita of 16 April 1629 proves.(24) As the inscription on The Annunciation states the name of Bernardino Pergola, it seems plausible that the painting was a result of the mentioned collection in 1624. The Miracles of St Nicolas, surrounding the niche of St Nicolas, must have been commissioned by the other members of the Confraternita. These paintings were probably ex-voto’s, just like The Annunciation. There exist other paintings of The Annunciation by Francesco Maffei, such as one in a private collection,(25) but in view of its inscription and its style there remains little reason to doubt the provenance of the canvas in the Museo Civico in Vicenza.
The Annunciation was possibly made in or shortly after 1624, when the mentioned collection took place. The painting is, at least for the moment, the earliest datable work by Maffei, as it was probably executed two years before the St Nicolas of Tolentino and an Angel of 1626. This was not the only commission by the Confraternita to Maffei. He made several paintings for their oratory in 1655-1657. It is possible that Maffei received these early assignments with the help of Gerolamo Maganza (1586-1630 / 1631), who was a member of the Confraternita and supervised the restoration and decoration activities in the oratory from 1617 onwards.(26) Gerolamo was a son of Alessandro Maganza, Maffei’s teacher.


1. Oil on canvas, 209 x 120 cms; According to a letter in the archives of the Soprintentendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici del Veneto (Vicenza, Chiesa dell’Araceli, n. 73270167) the painting was stolen from the Church of the Araceli in 1979 and was recovered in 1998.
2. K. Brugnolo Meloncelli, Battista Zelotti, 1526-1578, Milan 1992, pp. 91-92, fig. 55.
3. M. Boschini, I gioieli pittoreschi, virtuoso ornamento della città di Vicenza, Venice 1676, p. 81; The painting was probably already mentioned by Ridolfi in 1648, but his description is to summon to be certain of this: ’Ne’ Monachi Bianchi di Santa Lucia dipinse il Maganza la tavola con Nostra Signora, e due figure à piedi molto stimata’. (C. Ridolfi (1648), ed. D. von Hadeln (1914-1924), Le maraviglie dell'arte; ovvero le vite degli illustri pittori veneti e dello stato, Rome 1965, II, p. 234)
4. E. Arnaldi, P. Baldarini, L. Buffetti, O. Vecchia, Descrizione delle Architetture, Pitture e Scolture di Vicenza, con alcune osservazioni, Vicenza 1779, II, p. 59: ’La Tavola dell’ultimo Altare, che contiene la B.V. in aria, e abbasso S. Lucia, S. Apolonia, S. Romualdo, e altri Santi, è della bella maniera di Felice Riccio Veronese, detto Brusasorzi.’
5. L. Trissino, Indicazione delle cose più osservabili nella città di Vicenza, BBVi Ms. 3159, fasc. II, c. 1812-1830, c. 37v: ’Quella dell’altare passato il maggiore con M.V. in alto, e al piano santa Lucia, Sant’Appolonia, ed altri Santi è di Alessandro Maganza, bella, ma così trascurata che perisce.’ This manuscript of Trissino is written in a period ranging from 1812 (c. 39r) to 1830 (c. 31v). The description of the altarpiece in the Church of Santi Vito e Lucia seems to have been made in 1812, at the same time as the comments on c. 39r.
6. G. Mantese, Memorie storiche della chiesa vicentina, dal 1700 al 1866, Vicenza 1982, V, 1, p. 270; M. Pasqualigo (1817-1818) in: M. Saccardo, Notizie d'arte e di artisti vicentini, Vicenza 1981, p. 656
7. A. Magrini, Cenni storici e critici su G.A. Fasolo, Vicenza 1851, p. 57
8. W. Arslan, Catalogo delle cose d'arte e di antichità d'Italia. Vicenza le Chiese, Rome 1956, p. 4: ’La Vergine sulle nubi entro un alone giallo è tutta avvolta in un manto celeste, e tiene il Bambino sul ginocchio destro. Sotto, da sinistra, sono un santo abate in bianco che presenta un monaco, pure in bianco, inginocchiato; Santa Apollonia con la tenaglia e la palma nella sinistra, in verde e giallo; Santa Lucia che offre il piatto con gli occhi, in manto argenteo; e un santo soldato di profilo, con lorica lilla, gonnellino rosa, manto verde grigio. Stato di conservazione: sembra tutto ritoccato (forse nel secolo XIX) nella parte inferiore. Opera di pittore della cerchia veronesiana, di qualche pregio.’
9. C. Ridolfi, op. cit., II, p. 232; M. Boschini, op. cit., pp. 76-77; Chiesa di San Pietro in Vicenza. Storia Fede Arte, with entries by Francesco Barbieri, Luciano Bordignon, Antonio Morsoletto a.o., Vicenza 1997, fig. 31
10. Brugnolo Meloncelli, op. cit., pp. 137-138
11. Inv. n. A-745, oil on canvas, 138 x 138 cms; F. Barbieri, Il Museo Civico di Vicenza, dipinti e sculpture dal XVI al XVII secolo, Venice 1962, pp. 128-129, fig. A-745
12. Oil on canvas, 193 x 123 cms, inscription at the bottom: ’F. MAPHEI / P.’; ’GIO BATTA SCHIO FECE FARE L'ANNO 1626’; ASVi, Corporazioni Religiose Soppresse, Oratorio di San Nicola, parti, cit. 3523, c. 44; in L. Puppi, ’Revisione e divagazioni archivistiche sul rinnovamento di San Nicola in Vicenza’, Rivista dell'Istituto Nazionale d'Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte XV (1968), pp. 131-133; P. Rossi, Francesco Maffei, Milan 1991, fig. I
13. ASVi, Corporazioni Religiose Soppresse, Oratorio di San Nicola, parti, cit. 3523, c. 18v
14. Idem, c. 80r
15. M. Boschini, op.cit., p. 45
16. E. Arnaldi, P. Baldarini, L. Buffetti, O. Vecchia, op. cit., I, p. 88: ’Segue entro una nicchia l’immagine di S. Nicola di Tolentino, intorno alla quale vi sono sette quadri; nel primo di sopra, si vede l’Annunciazion della B.V., e negli altri sei varj miracoli di detto Santo; opere rare di Francesco Maffei.’
17. Da Schio, Cronaca di Vicenza secolo XVIII-XIX, BBVi Ms. 3381, cc. 41-43; in A. Miotti, Chiesa e conventi di Vicenza. La dispersione del patromino pittorico nel periodo napoleonico, thesis for the University of Padua 1980-1981, p. 174.
Many churches and convents in Vicenza were suppressed during the French regime in 1805-1813. A decree of Napoleon of 15 June 1806 stated that the assets of these suppressed edifices were regarded as properties of the state. (ASV, Demanio, 1806-1813, Fasc. I 1/9; in A. Zorzi, Venezia Scomparsa, I, Venice 1972, p. 106) An inventory list of 1817 shows that several paintings in the churches of Vicenza were sold by auction, among others of the Church of Corpus Domini and the Church of San Marco. (ASV, Statistica Demaniale, 1815-1830, Provincia di Vicenza, Stato di Mobili, 4 september 1817, reg. 50, c. 36v; reg. 51, 127v) Although there exists no inventory list of the paintings of the San Michele, it is assumable these had the same destiny as many others works of art in Vicenza. Generally only the mediocre works were sold. Some of the better paintings of Vicenza were transported to the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. Some works of the Church of San Michele are conserved in the Pinacoteca de Brera in Milan (a.o. the Virgin with Child and Saints by Bartolomeo Montagna, inv. Nap. 658, Reg. Cron. 166, inv. 1980 n. 165) and the Museo Civico of Vicenza (a.o. the St August and the Pest Patients by Giacomo Tintoretto, inv. n. A-74).
18. G. Mantese, Memorie storiche della chiesa vicentina, dal 1404 al 1563, Vicenza 1964, III, p. 990
19. F. Barbarano, Historia ecclesiastica della città, territorio e diocesi di Vicenza (1656), Vicenza ed. 1761, V, p. 214
20. M. Boschini, op.cit., p. 45: ’Continua il secondo Altare, ove pure è rappresentata la B.V. col Bambino, sedente maestosa, e di sopra nelle nubi, il Redentore: e dalle parti s. Agostino, e s. Nicola: opera di Bartolomeo Maganza del 1525.’ As Ridolfi (op. cit., I, p. 110) and Buffetti (op. cit., I, p. 88) both attributed this painting to Bartolomeo Montagna, it is assumable ’Maganza’ was a misprint in Boschini’s publication. The altarpiece was probably not by Bartolomeo, as he died in 1523, but by one of his pupils who worked in a similar style, like his son Benedetto Montagna (c. 1480-1555 / 1558) or Giovanni Speranza (c. 1470-after 1536). 21. ASVi, Corporazioni Religiose Soppresse, Oratorio di San Nicola, parti, cit. 3523, cc. 79v-80r
22. F. Barbarano, op. cit., V, p. 217
23. J.T. Faccioli, Musaeum Lapidarium Vicentinum collectum ed editum, Vicenza 1776, I, p. 139
24. ASVi, Corporazioni Religiose Soppresse, Oratorio di San Nicola, parti, cit. 3523, c. 51v
25. Oil on canvas, 74,3 x 97,5 cms; P. Rossi, op. cit., fig. 178
26. ASVi, CRS, Oratorio di S. Nicola, parti, cit. 3523, cc. 24v-53v; in L. Puppi, op. cit., pp. 125-159