15th cent. Florentine pax of the Virgin and Child, museum provenance

Image of 15th cent. Florentine pax of the Virgin and Child, museum provenance

Pax of the Virgin and Child with Adoring Angels
Ambit of Maso di Bartolomeo
Florence, Italy; second-half of the 15th cent.

Approximate size: 17 x 11 cm

Provenance: Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium (deaccessioned 26 October 1983)

The present pax is comprised of three figural appliques of the Virgin and Child and two attendant angels of 15th century origin.

The finest example of the Virgin and Child applique is found on a later pax dated 1518 (Kollenburg Antiquairs), providing a terminus ante quem for its invention. Other examples of the independent relief, of varying quality and context, are known in private and public collections, with a total census of twenty-one identified examples known, inclusive of our pax.

A contemporary example of the Virgin and Child group, still within its original frame, is at the National Gallery of Art (NGA). Our pax borrows elements from this pax, inclusive of the main figure group, appliques of the two attendant angels, the columns, base and two hovering angels above, which on the NGA pax, flank a central applique of God the Father in its triangular pediment. Our pax differs, however, with the feature of an arched-top lined with silhouetted crockets rather than the more classically-inspired triangular pediment of the NGA pax.

While the features of our pax indicate they are aftercast components, they evidently derive from models descendent from a single workshop and are quite possibly a production made by a workshop or assistant who inherited a master’s models.

The NGA pax is considered Florentine, ca. 1540s-50s and we have argued it possibly derives from the workshop of Maso di Bartolomeo, probably between 1444-50, while Maso was active as the leading bronze worker in Florence and also participating on projects with Luca della Robbia, to whose influence is due the Virgin and Child composition of this pax. The very specific style of the angels reflect Maso's ivory putto on his Reliquary of the Girdle of the Virgin for Prato Cathedral and those also featured on a pastiglia casket, attributed to Maso, which bears the Orsini coat-of-arms (Tomasso Brothers). The standing posture of the angels also recall the top-left panel of the bronze doors for the New Sacristy of Florence Cathedral, attributed to Maso and overall executed in collaboration between Maso, Luca and Michelozzo.

Being a later cast, the present pax probably has an origin with a descendant of Maso's workshop, or perhaps someone connected to his brother, Giovanni di Bartolomeo, who adopted several of Maso's projects after his death in 1457. The handle of this pax as well as the manner of its tympanum, however, might suggest it could have an origin in southeastern France, possibly in or around the papal city of Avignon, appropriating an earlier Italian motif in a later frame suitable to the region and decade to which it belongs.

A housemark is engraved on the reverse of the backplate, indicative of either the workshop responsible for producing it or the church in whose possession it once belonged.

Condition: Gilding and surface rubbed due to wear and use. The upper portion of the handle has become disconnected from the backplate, being slightly loose but still stable. A corner rivet for the arched tympanum is missing and this piece is modestly loose but still stable. All components are original.