The central section of this polyptych (multi-panel) altarpiece, which stands slightly higher than the others, represents the Virgin and Child with a donor monk kneeling at the Virgin’s feet. The scene above shows Christ on the cross, flanked by the Virgin and St John, and the image at the top is an “imago pietatis” (an image of the dead Christ showing his wounds). Three saints stand on each side of the Virgin: St Michael the Archangel, St Bernard and St John the Baptist to the left; St Luke, St Franca Visalta and St Benedict to the right. On either side of the Crucifixion in the middle of the second register are half-length portraits of three other saints: a holy bishop, St Stephen and St Peter the Apostle to the left; St Paul, St Lawrence and St Catherine to the right. Eight small figures in quatrefoils on the predella (base) represent the four Doctors of the Church and the four Evangelists, unwinding their phylacteries (parchment scrolls): from left to right, St Ambrose, St Gregory, St Luke, St Mark, St Matthew, St John, St Augustine and St Jerome. At the ends of the predella are half-length portraits of St Anthony the Abbot (on the left) and St Christopher (on the right). The Latin inscription on the predella – ISTAM TABVLAM FECIT FIERI DO(M)INVS LVCAS DE CODDIS DE MARANO, MONACVS MONASTERII DE COLVMBA ET CAPELANVS MONASTERII SANCTE FRANCHE ANNO DOMINI MCCCLXXXVIII ANT. DE CAIRO PINXI – records the origin, author and date of this remarkable altarpiece. By a twist of fate, the predella panels entered the museum in the early twentieth century, but were detached from the altarpiece itself and arrived in a mixed-up order; their connection with the other parts of the altarpiece was not established until around 1975, by Francoise Linckelmann-Piérès, who thus brought to light a previously unknown painter. The altarpiece was commissioned by a monk, Lucas de Coddis de Marano, for the Cistercian convent of Santa Franca in Pittolo, near Piacenza; the painter, Antonio de Carro, was a leading exponent of the International Gothic style in Piacenza in the Trecento (fourteenth century); this altarpiece, which shows a Venetian influence, is the only work attributed to him with any certainty. This discovery led to the determination of other stylistic groupings. The composition of the altarpiece testifies to the design of a polyptych in the late fourteenth century; complete altarpieces are rarely found intact outside their place of origin.
Françoise Linckelmann-Piérès, “Un peintre du Trecento identifié, le retable d’Antonio de Carro,” Revue du Louvre, no. 3, 1977, pp. 131-136.
“Retables italiens du XIIIe au XVe siècle,” exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1978
Laura Gorni, “Antonius de Caro pinxit: documenti e proposte per la pittura tardogotica piacentina,” Arte Cristiana, LXXXIII, fasc. 771, 1995, pp. 415-423.
Monique Blanc, Retables. La collection du Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1997.