In 1406, with the conquest of the city of Pisa, an ancient “Marinar Republic“, Florence secured an important seaport that allowed him a further commercial development. Among the new and more intense contacts Florence undertook an exchange that was also culturally with Flanders. In the first half of the 15th century we witness the gradual settling of Tuscan merchants in Flanders. Families like the Medici, the Arnolfini, the Portinari, the Cavalcanti, the Baroncelli, the Tornabuoni open their representative offices in the cities of Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp. This gradual settling of Tuscan merchants in Flanders allowed the discovery of Tuscany and Italy’s by as many artists and Flemish merchants.
In the 15th century in England and Flanders develops in the arts, in parallel but with attention and different results with each other, a research on the representation of reality. Reality was captured in the reproduction of detail objects or figure paintings. This painstaking depiction of reality could be realized thanks to the technique of oil painting (already known) that made it possible to achieve a significant level of detail description. In the paintings of the fifteenth century Flemish masters such as Jan Van Eyck and Hugo Van der Goes, the figures are placed spatially unconstrained by hierarchical relationships of proportions. For example, the figure of an Angel is represented on a smaller scale than the main figures of Christ or of Mary. A different discourse needs to be done to Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516).
What goes up there in the 15th century in Florence is a conception that art is an essential part of humanistic thought. The various aspects of reality are classified and sorted through a rational system. The rational representation of the space surrounding the man is through the rule of perspective. Giulio Carlo Argan in a famous essay analyzes the process that led to the great Italian renewal spotting. The two main factors in the discovery of the ancient and the invention of perspective thanks to Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and its theorization by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).
The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441) of 1434 is the first important testimony of the bond that went through the channel between Tuscany and Flanders. In this work the patrons are the subject of the portrait and are depicted in a domestic environment around a multitude of objects that refer to hidden meanings. In this painting, which many believe Van Eyck’s masterpiece, the pursuit of particular representation is carried out with crystalline clarity with the realization, on the back wall, of a mirror which reflect the two spouses, seen from behind.
Another important contact regarding the arts took place on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1450 when the Flemish painter Rogier Van der Weyden (1400-1464) undertook a journey in Italy who introduced him to various courts and Lordships such as Milan, Mantua, Ferrara, Florence, Naples and Rome.
Crucial testimony of Flemish painting in Florence is undoubtedly the triptych of the adoration of the shepherds, better known as the Portinari Triptych. This work, painted on wood by Hugo Van der Goes (1440-1482), was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari representative of the Medici Bank in Bruges. From documents found by the historic Hatfield Strens was commissioned by regarding the transport of the work trip from Bruges in Florence, you can determine the date of the execution on 1478. The painting was transported by ship to Pisa stopping in Sicily. Arrived at the port of Pisa the triptych still continued on up the Arno River boats up to Florence arriving on May 28, 1483, when it was placed on the altar of the Church of Sant’Egidio, at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, patronage of the Portinari family.
In Florence, where there were already some works of the Flemish school, the triptych by Hugo Van der Goes is imposed for its size arousing the interest of many Florentine artists. In the central panel is painted the “Adoration of the Child” depicted lying on the ground with bright rays, and then in the type of child, light of the world. Around the main stage there are figures of angels and shepherds in a landscape garden. Side tables Hugo Van der Goes displays in smaller family Portinari, which commissioned the work. The left panel is dedicated to the men and we see the portrait commissioned by Tommaso Portinari together with his sons Antonio and ” Pigello” kneeling, in homage to householders and eldest son are portrayed St. Thomas and St. Anthony Abbot. The right panel is dedicated to the women of the Portinari family with Thomas’s wife, Maria di Francesco Baroncelli and daughter Margaret, in their tribute you see St. Mary Magdalene and St. Margaret. The triptych presents itself as a typical Nordic altarpiece with sidewall closable panels depicting, enclosed within the niches the figures of an Annunciation and the dove of the Holy Spirit in the left panel and the angel that is about to fall on their knees in the right panel.
1 – Hugo Van der Goes, Annunciazione, 1478, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze. Adorazione dei pastori (Trittico Portinari), con le ante laterali chiuse.
2 -Hugo Van der Goes Adorazione dei pastori (Trittico Portinari) 1478, con le ante laterali aperte, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze