About this piece
Fra Diamante (Florentine, ca. 1430–ca. 1490)
Two Saints, 1460s
Tempera on panel
24 3/8 x 18 1/16 inches (framed)
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; The Samuel H. Kress Study Collection
by Perri Lee Roberts
Like the Loeser Master’s St. Clare, Giusto de’ Menabuoi’s saints, and Paolo Schiavo’s Crucifixion, these two panels were not autonomous works but were originally intended to be seen within a larger ensemble of religious paintings. Because the Two Saints lack unique attributes, their identities are uncertain. The panels were part of a series of eighteen paintings of approximately the same size, arranged in three rows of three, that constituted the wings of a small armoire or reliquary-altarpiece. At one time all the panels were in the hands of the Irish collector Sir John Leslie (1822–1916), who acquired them in Florence. The series includes St. John the Evangelist (?) and St. Nicholas of Bari (?) (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge); St. Sebastian (?) and Three Male Saints (Honolulu Academy of Arts); St. Dominic, St. Peter, St. James the Lesser, and a Female Saint (Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London); St. Bernard of Clairvaux and a Male Saint (Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); St. Catherine of Alexandria and a Male Saint (Worcester Art Museum); and St. Ansanus (?) and a Male Saint (current whereabouts unknown). The original location of the ensemble is unknown, but it may have been painted for a Dominican foundation, given the inclusion of St. Dominic and the numerous books, reflecting the order’s emphasis on learning.
It was quite common in late medieval and Renaissance Italy for successful artists to have workshops where they would train young artists and work with assistants to complete commissions. In general, the head of the shop (the master) secured work, negotiated with patrons, and designed compositions. Assistants readied materials, handled preparatory work, and frequently helped with the execution of the painting, carefully following the design, style, and instructions of the master. In the case of the series of paintings described above, scholars agree that it was a product of the Florentine workshop of the second-generation Renaissance painter Fra Filippo Lippi (ca. 1406–1469) by at least three different assistants, including Fra Diamante. Born in Prato and raised in the Carmelite convent there, Fra Diamante was, like his master, both a painter and an active Carmelite friar, serving as a chaplain for a convent of nuns and as prior of a monastery. Trained as an apprentice in Lippi’s shop, he assisted and collaborated with the artist for well over twenty years.
The appearance of these solid figures reflects Diamante’s command of anatomical knowledge. Their postures, gestures, and foreshortened faces and limbs draw attention to the three-dimensionality of their bodies. The heavy folds of drapery that loop around their limbs and torsos and the artist’s consistent use of light-to-dark modeling further enhance the impression of volume. Both figures stand on a platform silhouetted in front of a niche, the surface of which is shaded in response to a light source at the upper left. Against this background, the saints resemble small sculptures in the round. The one archaic feature of these paintings is the halos of the saints, which are flat, gilded, and embossed. This element probably reflects the conservative taste of a patron who wished to maintain medieval iconographic traditions at a time when foreshortened haloes were more common in Renaissance painting.