Key to Umbria: Amelia

Pier Matteo d' Amelia (ca. 1445-1509)

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Detail of Dormition of the Virgin (1466-9) by Filippo Lippi, Duomo, Spoleto

This is thought to be a portrait of Pier Matteo d’ Amelia, who was in Lippi’s workshop

The important artist, Pier Matteo Lauro de' Manfredi came from a relatively prominent family in Amelia.  He was first documented in 1467, when he was working as a "garzone" (apprentice) of Filippo Lippi on the frescoes of the Duomo, Spoleto.  Scholars believe that he must have trained in Florence and that this work in Spoleto was one of his first professional assignments. 

Pier Matteo d’ Amelia seems to have been close to the Geraldini family of Amelia.  Pope Sixtus IV stayed with Angelo Geraldini at Palazzo Geraldini del Borgo for 20 days in 1476, and it was probably as a result that Pier Matteo was called to Rome to decorate the ceiling of the newly-rebuilt Sistine Chapel.  A drawing (16th century) of the ceiling, which is now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, shows that the frescoes depicted a starry sky and records them as the work of Pier Matteo d’ Amelia.  It also records that Michelangelo subsequently replaced them, which is a reference to the celebrated repainting of the ceiling in 1508-12.  Pier Matteo’s frescoes must have been executed shortly before work on the decoration of the walls of the chapel began in 1481.

Pier Matteo d’ Amelia was documented in both Narni and Orvieto in 1480-2.  The Opera del Duomo of Orvieto recalled him later in 1482 to work on the frescoes of the Cappella Nuova there, but he seems never to have begun this commission (which subsequently passed to  Luca Signorelli).  He was subsequently documented in Rome 1485-92, working for Pope Innocent VIII.  (He was documented as an associate of Antoniazzo Romano in Rome in 1485).  He was employed by Pope Alexander VI in 1498-1503.

This relatively well-documented artist had few works attributed to him until 1953, when Federico Zeri (referenced below) suggested that he was responsible for (inter alia):

  1. a panel of the Annunciation (see below) in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, which Roberto Longhi (referenced below) had cited as the autograph work of the unknown Master of the Gardner Annunciation in 1927; and 

  2. the  Pala dei Francescani (see below) from San Francesco, Terni, which Umberto Gnoli (referenced below) had also attributed to him in 1924.

The fact that the same artist painted both works was universally accepted but the identity of this artist remained open to speculation until 1985, when the contract commissioning Pier Matteo d’ Amelia to paint the Pala dei Francescani was discovered.  Pier Matteo d’ Amelia therefore emerged as among the most important Umbrian artists of the late 15th century.


St Antony Abbot Enthroned (1474-5)

This panel was documented in the Observant Franciscans’ Convento di San Giovanni Battista in 1872.  Umberto Gnoli attributed it to Pier Matteo d’ Amelia in 1924 and Federico Zeri included it in the proposed corpus of this artist that he assembled in 1953. 

In 1992, Travaglini and Virili (referenced below) published a document from the archives of Terni that related to payments made in 1474 for an altarpiece for an altar in San Giovanni Battista that was dedicated to St Antony Abbot, and this is usually taken to relate to this panel.

The panel, which was restored in 1966, is now in the Pinacoteca.  St Antony is depicted in the panel with his usual attributes, including a pilgrim’s staff and a pig at his feet.  He holds an open book in his left hand and his right hand is raised in blessing.  

There is a close link between this panel and a polychrome wooden statue (1475) of St Antony Abbot enthroned by Lorenzo di Pietro, il Vecchietta, which is now in the Duomo, Narni.

Annunciation (ca. 1475)

This altarpiece was documented in the Convento della Santissima Annunziata, outside Amelia in 1872.  It was photographed on the outside wall of the Portiuncula at Santa Maria degli Angeli (outside Assisi) in 1875 but subsequently sold.  It is illustrated on the website of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, which acquired it from an English collector in the early 20th century, with an attribution to Fiorenzo di Lorenzo

The altarpiece survives in its original frame, with a predella with small tondi of the Pietà and SS Peter and Paul.  In the main scene, the figures of the Annunciation kneel in a cloister as the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.  The precise date of the work is unknown: the date of ca. 1475 given above is that proposed by the museum.

At the time that the altarpiece entered the museum, it was assumed to have been painted for Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi.  More details about its actual provenance slowly emerged:

  1. In 1927, Roberto Longhi cited the altarpiece as the autograph work of the unknown but important Master of the Gardner Annunciation, and he gave the central panel of a polyptych (1481) in Berlin (see below) to this artist. 

  2. In 1953, Federico Zeri proposed that this artist was in fact Pier Matteo d’ Amelia, and that he was also responsible for the Pala dei Francescani (see below).  The fact that the same artist painted both works was subsequently universally accepted.  However, the identity of this artist remained a matter of speculation.

  3. In 1978, Fr. Luciano Canonici published an article based on documents relating the Gardner Annunciation that he found in the archives of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  The salient new facts were as follows:

  4. The altarpiece was indeed commissioned for SS Annunziata, which had belonged to the Clareni  in the 15th century.  The fact that this community would not have wished to commission an expensive work of art (even if it could have afforded to do so) argued for the attribution to the local artist, Pier Matteo d’ Amelia.

  5. The altarpiece was moved to Santa Maria degli Angeli in the 19th century and hung on the outside wall of the Portiuncula there.

  6. Fra Bernardino Trionfetti (who had been Minister General of the Franciscans in 1856-62 and who later lived at Santa Maria degli Angeli) sought papal permission to sell the altarpiece.  He declared that it was his personal property and that it was in a ruinous condition and therefore useless.  Permission was granted on behalf of Pope Leo XIII in 1880.

  7. The altarpiece was restored before the sale, and the restorer attributed it to Fiorenzo di Lorenzo.

  8. It was finally sold, “insanamente” (insanely), in 1906 for 32,000 lire to an English collector who resold it to an American collector for 1,500,000 lire.

  9. Aldo Ricci published two documents in 1987 that proved that Pier Matteo d’ Amelia had painted the Pala dei Francescani.   This ended any speculation about the identity of the Master of the Gardner Annunciation.

The English collector in question was Otto Gutekunst (in fact, a naturalised German), who joined the Colnaghi Company of London in 1894.  He had a professional relationship with the renowned Bernard Berenson, and together, they began to form Mrs Isabella Stewart Gardner's collection.  This was obviously a very profitable undertaking: one can only sympathise with the sentiment expressed in another document that Fra Canonici found in the archives of Santa Maria degli Angeli: “Triste ricordo dell’ incomprensione, dell’ ignoranza ... che dominava allora gli animi dei superiori della Provincia di San Francesco” (A sad record of the incomprehension, of the ignorance… that then dominated the minds of the superiors of the Province of San Francesco).


A document published in 1996 relates to a loan that Pier Matteo d’ Amelia negotiated in Narni in 1482.

Madonna and Child with Saints (1482)

This fresco, which is dated by inscription, is in Sant’ Agostino (in an aedicule on the counter-façade to the right of the main door). 
  1. The main fresco depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Lucy (with her eyes on a plate) and Apollonia.

  2. The fresco in in the arch over the aedicule depicts God the Father.  

The fresco was first attributed to Pier Matteo in 1933, and Federico Zeri included it in the proposed corpus of this artist that he assembled in 1953.  The publication of the document noted above provided strong collaboration for this attribution.

Fresco fragment (ca. 1482) 

This fragment of a fresco in the sacristy of Sant’ Agostino, which depicts St Sebastian and flagellants, is attributed to Pier Matteo d' Amelia, who (as noted above) was documented in Narni in 1482.  The subject of this fragment suggests that the present sacristy was used in the late 15th century by the Confraternita di San Sebastiano, who presumably commissioned the work.

This fragment is illustrated in the page “I Luoghi di Piermatteo” in the website of the Province of Terni (click on the link there).


Sant’ Agostino Polyptych (1481)

Panels from this polyptych include the following:

  1. The central panel, which is dated by inscription, is now in the Gemaeldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.  It depicts the Madonna and Child: the baby Jesus holds a pomegranate and offers a seed from it to His Mother. 

  2. Two side panels, which depict SS Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist, are now in the Staatliches Lindenau Museum, Altenburg, Germany. 

  3. A side panel of St Nicholas of Tolentino is now in the Johnson Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1927, Roberto Longhi attributed the dated panel in Berlin to the Master of the Gardner Annunciation.  Federico Zeri’s accepted this attribution in 1953, when he identified this artist as Pier Matteo d' Amelia.  He subsequently found a fifth panel from the polyptych, which depicted St Augustine trampling on two prostrate Arians, in the Watney Collection, Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire.  It was sold in 1967, after which all trace was lost.

The presence of SS Augustine and Nicholas of Tolentino  suggested that the polyptych came from an Augustinian church.  In 1980, Filippo Todini discovered that the four side panels had all belonged to the collection of Agostino Mariotti in Rome in the 18th century.  Since this collection contained mostly works from Orvieto, he suggested that the polyptych had been commissioned for Sant’ Agostino.

In 1992, Laura Andreani published documents that she had discovered in the archives of Orvieto:

  1. two recorded the friars’ decision to sell property in 1478 in order to finance the commission of a new altarpiece for the high altar;

  2. a third documented a further sale in 1479 and part payment to Pier Matteo d’ Amelia, who was then at work on the commission; and

  3. a fourth recorded the satisfactory delivery of the work in 1481.

The aged Pietro di Nicola Baroni provided the valuation of the work on completion.

Pietà and St Gregory (ca. 1480)

Federico Zeri published this fresco in the Duomo (on the pilaster at the junction of the arch of the apse with the right transept) in 1985, with an attribution to Pier Matteo d' Amelia.  The Opera del Duomo made a series of relatively minor payments to this artist in 1480-1, but these seem unlikely to relate to this fresco.  It may well have been a private commission that was executed in the same period. 

The fresco was painted so that light from the rose window in the transept would illuminate the flesh of the dead Christ.  St Gregory is depicted to the right.  This is a reference to a legend first recorded in the 15th century in which Pope Gregory I had a vision of the dead Christ and the instruments of the Passion while saying Mass.  This vision was taken to illustrate the dogma of transubstantiation.

Commission for Cappella Nuova (1482)

As noted above, the Opera del Duomo made a series of payments to Pier Matteo d' Amelia in 1480-1 for what seem to have been fairly minor individual commissions.   He did however prove his abilities during his stay in Orvieto with the Sant’ Agostino Polyptych (1481).  In February 1482, the Opera del Duomo urged him to start work on the the Cappella Nuova in the Duomo as soon as possible, in line with a previously-agreed contract.  He is documented as buying materials in Rome for the account of the Opera del Duomo in 1489-90, but he seems never to have started work on the project.


Pala dei Francescani (1483-5)

The inscription at the bottom of the central panel of this  triptych records that Father Dionisio di Giovanni, the Procurator for the friars of San Francesco, Terni, commissioned the work and gives the date as 1485.  The triptych survived in its original frame on the high altar of the church even after the suppression of the convent, but was removed in 1896.   It was restored in 1996, is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Terni.

Umberto Gnoli attributed the altarpiece to Pier Matteo d’ Amelia in 1924 and Federico Zeri included it in the proposed corpus of this artist that he assembled in 1953.  However, the attribution remained disputed until 1987, when Aldo Ricci published two documents that had been found in 1985 in the archives of Terni:

  1. a contract dated 1483 between Dionisio di Giovanni and Pier Matteo d' Amelia for an altarpiece; and

  2. a record of the satisfactory delivery of the work in 1485. 

The main panels of the triptych depict:

  1. the Madonna and Child enthroned;

  2. SS Bonaventure and John the Baptist on the left; and

  3. SS Francis and Louis of Toulouse on the right. 

SS Bonaventure and Louis of Toulouse each wears the Franciscan habit under his bishop’s clothes.  St Bonaventure had been canonised in 1482, only a year before the triptych was commissioned.

The pilasters depict:

  1. SS Antony of Padua, Valentine and Margherita of Cortona (who had not been canonised at the time that the work was commissioned) on the left; and

  2. SS Bernardino of Sienna, Sebastian and Clare on the right.

The lunette depicts God the Father with angels and the predella contains scenes from the life of Christ:

  1. the Nativity;

  2. the Adoration of the Magi;

  3. the Crucifixion;

  4. the Resurrection; and

  5. Christ’s descent into limbo to resurrect the saved. 

U. Gnoli, “Piermatteo d'Amelia”, Bollettino d’ Arte, 9 (1924) pp. 391-415
R. Longhi. "In Favore di Antoniazzo Romano", Vita Artistica 2 (1927), pp. 226–33 
F. Zeri, “Il Maestro dell' Annunciazione Gardner”, Bollettino d' Arte, 2 (1953) pp. 125-39 and 3 (1953) pp. 233-49 
L. Canonici, “L' Annunciazione Gardner alla Porziuncola”,  71 (1978) 459-62
F. Todini, “Agostino Mariotti: un Collezionista nella Roma Settecentesca”, Antologia di Belle Arti, 4 (1980) pp. 27-37 
F. Zeri, “Postilla al Maestro dell'Annunciazione Gardner”, Paragone, 36 (1985) pp. 3-6
A. Ricci , “Pier Matteo d' Amelia e la Pala dei Francescani: un documento notarile per identificare l'autore dell'opera”, in M. Castrichini (Ed.), “Arte Sacra in Umbria e Dipinti Restaurati nei Secoli XIII-XX”, Todi (1987)
F. Travaglini and C. Virili, “Pier Matteo d' Amelia: Nuove Acquisizione”, Passaggi, 3 (1992) pp. 125-36. 
L. Andreani, “Nuovi documenti per Pier Matteo d' Amelia”, Studi di Storia dell' Arte (Revista), 3 (1992) pp. 237-50. 
F. Baldelli (Ed.), “Piermatteo d'Amelia: Pittura in Umbria Meridionale fra '300 e '500”, Assisi (1997), which includes the complete catalogue of attributed work
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