The Polyptych by Lorenzo d’Alessandro

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The Polyptych by Lorenzo d’Alessandro in the Church of Saint Francis in Serrapetrona

Previously attributed to Niccolò Alunno, from Foligno, the polyptych Serrapetronais identified as a work of Lorenzo d’Alessandro, known as Il Severinate, only in the early 1900’s, thanks to the research carried out by Raul Paciaroni, who finds a document related to the payment of the contract, dated 1496, executed between magistrum Laurentium and Mariano di Gentile di Serrapetrona.  The certain date of this work finally endorses the theory asserted by Berenson, Perkins and successive critics. This magnificent altarpiece still sits on the high altar of the church of Saint Francis witnessing the loyalty of the local community to the Church through the figure of Saint Francis, celebrated as an example of Christian and apostolic life and as a model of spirituality and devotion. This sumptuous two-tier polyptych is enriched by a late gothic frame commissioned to Domenico Indivini, a carver and inlayer from San Severino, in 1477. The frame is inspired by the magnificent Venetian retables made by the Vivarini brothers. The moulding of the wood was time-consuming due to the complex carpentry and carving work required, as well as to the decoration phase. This often made the frame much more expensive than the painting itself, which may to some extent explain the long lapse of time between the making of the structure and the painting, before its final delivery (1477-1496). In the first tier, the central panel portrays the Virgin adoring the Child resting on her lap, while at her sides two musician angels play a timbrel and a rudimentary harp;  these instruments were familiar to the painter, well-known as an expert in music and as a lute player. The imago pietatis on the main panel is depicted with great autonomy of expression, although it shows the influence of the Venetian art of Vivarini, Bellini and Crivelli. The contrast between the suffering martyred body of Christ with his serene expression, and the harsh contrition of the angels that support him, is remarkable.In the first tier, on a colour-changing multi-shaded marble floor, range the full-length figures of Saints: Peter and James (to the right of the Virgin), Francis and Sebastian (to the left of the Virgin). In the second tier, right of the cymatium, appear Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, while on the left are Saint John the Baptist and Saint Bonaventure.In the predella, the Christological and evangelic subject is underlined by the figures of the twelve apostles between Saint Catherine and Saint Apollonia, opposite Saint Lucy and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. At the centre, a rose window between two series of mullioned windows. The importance and elegance of this frame is derived from the little twisted columns under the arches supported by elegant capitals with leaves of acanthus. A hexagonal clerestory juts out at the centre of the wooden structure. At its apex the half-length figure of God the Father giving his blessing dominates. The sides are enriched by finely engraved cusps, spires and pinnacles.The bright colours and the floating light of this polyptych allow us to identify it as an early work of the master, presumably requested by the Franciscan Fathers of Serrapetrona to make the fresco of Virgin and Child betweenSerrapetrona Saints John the Baptist and Sebastian. Lorenzo, raised in the local cultural climate, is not attracted by the example of his fellow citizens Bartolomeo Frinisco or Cristoforo di Giovanni, but  prefers to examine other artists, such as Girolamo di Giovanni, from Camerino, Niccolò Alunno, from Umbria, and Carlo Crivelli, from Veneto. From their works he learns Piero della Francesca’s teachings on the use of light, how to use a fairytale-like narration, a preciously enamelled painting, a nervous anatomy and the use of ample draping, without having a critical approach to his models. The collaboration between the two great masters of the Adriatic style, engraver Domenico and painter Lorenzo d’Alessandro, gives the polyptych of Serrapetrona its typical Renaissance plasticity.