FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO MARTINI
(b. 1439, Siena, d. 1502, Siena)
Wood, 198 x 104 cm
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena
The Nativity with two angels, Sts Bernard and Thomas of Aquino is the only signed work of the Sienese master. (It is signed 'Francisc. Georgii insit' at left bottom.)
Francesco di Giorgio's interpretation of the Nativity is more closely related to depictions of the Adoration of the Child by the Virgin. Unlike those by Leonardo, Filippino Lippi, and Botticelli, this interpretation includes two saints on the left, in addition to the Holy Family accompanied by two angels. The event is set in an open landscape, with a particularly elaborate distant view in the upper left background of this lunette shaped panel. Behind the angels, a very simplified shed constructed out of a handful of wooden beams extends from an outcropping of rock.
In the short time between the Coronation and the Nativity, more properly an Adoration of the Child, commissioned in 1475 and presumably finished a year later, we see a shift that may signal a new phase in Francesco's development. But the number of paintings that can be attributed to him is so small that his evolution as a painter is virtually impossible to define. The Nativity is a more confident and less crowded composition than the Coronation. The radically twisted St Joseph in the centre, with his active movement, is an ambitious restatement of the Christ from the earlier picture. The sacred figures, including St Bernard and St Thomas (not Sts Bernardine and Ambrose, as their embossed inscriptions added in the nineteenth century would have it) with Joseph and Mary, form a flattened arc in space around an alert, open-eyed Child who rests His head on a pillow, which is formally related to the picture plane.
Francesco's treatment of the drapery gives the impression of having been based on careful studies, particularly noticeable in the figure of St Bernard. The figures, all on the same plane, are preceded by a bit of bare terrain. Directly behind the manger, a simple lean-to is attached to an outcropping of rock, with a segment of a classical building in a decaying state. Still farther in the distance is a well-articulated landscape with a local Sienese flavour. The two angels standing casually on the right are tall, weightless images enrapt in their own dreams.