- Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423
On Wednesday 15th May scholars gathered to hear Geoff Nuttall present Paolo Guinigi and Palla Strozzi: Lucchese Influence in Early Renaissance Florence. Nuttall has just completed his PhD on the artistic patronage of Lucca, and this presentation focused on the relationship between Paolo Guinigi, the lord of Lucca in the early Quattrocento, and the Florentine banking merchant Palla Strozzi. Guinigi was a great patron of the arts with a good knowledge of the process of artistic production, and an enormous familiarity with aristocratic tastes. This was due in part to Lucca’s strong access to international markets and its supply of Lucchese silk and luxury goods to the Northern courts.
However, Nuttall explained that the city of Lucca and its artistic legacy has been largely overlooked in the history of art, due in part to the omission of Lucchese artists in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, a historiographical delineation of the major painters, sculptors and architects of Renaissance Italy. For as a major manufacturing city, Lucca was marginalised by Vasari in favour of cities that produced his main interests of painting and sculpture. Although not much of this was produced in Lucca, and very little was brought in, Nuttall made clear that Lucca was an artistic periphery in itself. Nevertheless, without the stimulus for artistic rivalry and competition of Florentine politics, the window of Lucchese artistic prosperity was fairly small. Furthermore, when Guinigi was exiled in 1430 and the Medici of Florence besieged the city, Lucca lost its monopoly on its trade of silk. Nuttall thus made clear his aspirations for a reconsidering of the legacy of Lucchese art, in reference to his own research and insight.
Accordingly, Nuttall outlined how the wealthy Florentine Palla Strozzi began to take an interest in Lucca. Strozzi was in fact related to two important Lucchese families, and in the decoration of his chapel at Santa Trinita in Florence, Strozzi employed several artists who had previously been in Guinigi’s employment. Strozzi may have even used Guinigi as an adviser for style and artistic choice. Strozzi commissioned Gentile da Fabriano to paint an altarpiece for his chapel and it is here that we see the strongest influence of Lucchese art. There is such quality and complexity in the silk clothing of Gentile’s figures in The Adoration of the Magi, and a style reminiscent of the decoration of Lucchese manuscripts.
Nuttall concluded by outlining that the Lucchese mercantile networks and the knowledge of the courts, as well as the influence of Guinigi as a patron were all very important to Strozzi’s own commissions in Florence. Moreover, the merchants of Lucca were not only manufacturers but purveyors of luxury goods and their trade was far greater than history has concluded. Nuttall gave an insightful and thoroughly fascinating lecture, and it is now evident that the Lucchese influence should be explored further in the art and patronage of Quattrocento Florence.