bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Binding Lorenzetti

Posted in Art, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 26 July, 2010

I have been silent for some while but with, I hope you will agree, a good excuse: there was both a wedding and a honeymoon I had to attend. So, for my first post as a married man, allow me the indulgence of a couple of holiday snaps.

The first stop on the honeymoon was Avignon, where we went to pay homage to the Babylonian captivity of the popes, and stayed to walk in awe through the excellent collection of the Petit Palais. Its riches owe much to what could be described as a nineteenth-century morality tale: the wealth, collecting and precipitous fall from grace of the Marchese Gianpietro Campana, convicted fraudster. The captions in the museum itself do not make clear which pieces come from him and which had been in the city for longer: all I can say is that the Palais is particularly strong in fourteenth-century art, especially of Siena. And it is one of those pieces which I show you today.

Lorenzetti Brothers, The Crucifixion (Avignon, Petit Palais)

It is a panel of The Crucifixion by the Lorenzetti brothers, but it is not to the image itself, fine though it is, that I want to draw your attention. What I found notable was the back of the panel, which was covered in leather, stamped with geometrical patterns in a style which is more often seen on Italian bindings of books. (Good examples of such bindings can be found on the excellent on-line catalogue of the Riccardiana library in Florence).

Verso of Lorenzetti Crucifixion (Avignon, Petit Palais)

Presumably, this panel was once part of a larger piece — a diptych or, perhaps more probably, a triptych (I could not detect the hinges on the wood of the panel). If those sides were also covered in similar leather, the first impression when opening the artwork would have been that it was like opening a book, a Gospel perhaps. Or was it rather that when the owner of a piece like this approached a book, their immediate sensation was that it was like opening their devotional image? Books were more plentiful, certainly, but was it that the experience of the structure in which The Crucifixion was depicted conditioned the user’s response to holding a book, or was it vice versa? I leave you to ponder that as I get back to normal life — or, rather, get back to creating my new normality.

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