H. W. Kruft, Domenico Gaggini und seine Werkstatt, Kulturhistorisches Institut Florenz, Italienische Forschungen, Folge 3, Band 6 (F. Bruckmann, München, 1972)
J. Pope-Hennessy, Italian Renaissance Sculpture (Phaidon, London and New York, 1971), pp. 314-317
M. G. De Dal Pogetto (ed.), La Bottega di Giuliano e Benedetto da Maiano nel Rinascimento Fiorentino (Octavo, Firenze, 1994), pp. 32-35
G. Gentilini, I Della Robbia: La Scultura Invetriata nel Rinacimento (Cantini & C., Milano, 1992), Vol.1, pp. 18 (fig. 3), 59, 80, 95
This exquisite standing angel holds in both hands a candlestick-shaped column, two fingers of her right hand also supporting a familial coat of arms still adorned with traces of original gilding. Square-necked with loops of fabric encircling the shoulders, her long flowing garments fall to the floor covering all but the toes of both slippers. Her charming round face with small delicate mouth and nose is turned to the right looking out over one shoulder, her long hair held in place with a twisted headband.
The coat of arms supported by the angel depicts two rampant lions holding a loaf of bread in their paws, the arms of the highly important ancient noble Roman family, the Frangipane. Frangipane (or 'Frangipani'), from the Latin ‘frangere panem’, means ‘bread breakers’, a reference to the distribution by the family’s early ancestors of bread to the poor during great famine. First appearing in records of 1014, the Frangipane family became a very powerful Roman patrician clan during the Middle Ages remaining influential until after the Renaissance. In the early 13th century the Colosseum was fortified by the Frangipane who used it as a fortress. The family owned several palaces, towers and lands, both inside the city and in the surroundings. Mario Frangipane (1506 – 1569) served as a conservatore of Rome several times as well as a chancellor. Fabio Mirto Frangipane was papal nuncio in France (1568 – 1572 and 1586 – 1587) and Ottavio Mirto Frangipane was papal nuncio in Flanders (1596 – 1606). The Frangipane Chapel, with frescos by Taddeo Zuccari, is in the church of San Marcello al Corso in Rome. One branch of the family gave rise to the powerful Croatian family of the Frankopan. The Kingdom of Naples, where the present work was likely produced, was home to other branches.
The subtlety of the sculpture reflects the influence of the Swiss born master Domenico Gaggini (alternatively spelt ‘Gagini’) (c. 1425-1426 – 1492 Palermo), a member of the successful Gaggini dynasty of sculptors and painters working during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. First recorded in Genoa in the early 15th century were Domenico’s grandfather Beltrame Gaggini and his three sons Pietro, Giovanni and Pace. The son of Pietro, Domenico was the first sculptor of the family to achieve international fame.
Born in Bissone, in the Ticino (now part of Switzerland), Domenico is reputed to have studied in Florence under Brunelleschi, it seems from 1444 to 1446. It is not surprising therefore that the treatment of the heavy drapery of the present work is characteristic of the first Italian Renaissance and, especially, the Florentine school. Stylistic similarities with the works of the Florentine master Benedetto da Maiano (1444 – 1498), such as his Madonna and the Angel of the Annunciation in the Cathedral of Faenza created in 1470, are discernible. So too with the workshops of della Robbia: compare, for example, the hairstyle and twisted headband seen in the Adoration of the Child in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the circular form of the drapery above and behind the shoulder found in the Tabernacle del Sacramento in the church of Santa Maria a Peretola created in 1442 and the form of the angel presenting a shield bearing the arms of the Medici and Speziali in an early work of 1420 found in the collection Temple Leader in Castello di Vincigliata also in Florence. It is noteworthy that the subject of the candlestick-bearing angel was inaugurated in the work of Luca della Robbia in 1448 in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, well before the celebrated kneeling example by the young Michelangelo found in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Bologna created between 1494 and 1495 as a pendant to the already existing angel carved by the recently deceased Niccolò dell’Arca.
The stylistic hallmarks of the present work indicate that it was created by those from amongst the closest circle of Domenico Gaggini after 1470 and before 1500. Domenico received his first major commission for the chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa, which he adorned with sculptures in the years 1447 – 1456. In 1457 – 1458 he is recorded as working in Naples together with other sculptors under the direction of architect Francesco Laurana on the triumphal arch of Alfonso V of Aragon, the Kingdom of Aragon in north eastern Spain with its capital at Zaragoza having taken control in 1442 of Naples and Sicily. In 1459 Domenico arrived in Palermo, Sicily where he, and later his family including Antonello and Antonio, influenced the decorative architecture of the island in works of both decorative and figure sculpture. His commissions included the decoration of the choir of Saint Christina in the Cathedral of Palermo consisting of a combination of life size figures within relief panels, plus a large number of small free standing figures, and the tomb of the knight Antonio Speciale in the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Palermo. On his death there in 1492, the by then very successful workshop was taken over by his sons (Antonello Gaggini (1478 – 1536) rising to particular fame) and grandsons and their descendants. It continued until around 1750 acquiring a near monopoly on the island. Domenico Gaggini is buried in the church of San Francesco d’Assisi in Palermo.
Beautifully proportioned and in superb original condition, this enchanting work was almost certainly commissioned by the Frangipane family and most likely incorporated within a funeral monument or tabernacle in a chapel, probably private.
We are grateful to Dr. Charles Avery, former Deputy Keeper of the Department of Sculpture, Victoria and Albert Museum, London and former Director of the Department of European Sculpture, Christie’s, London, and to Prof. Giancarlo Gentilini, Faculty of Humanities, University of Perugia, for confirming the attribution to the circle of Domenico Gaggini based on first hand examination of the work.