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Alcune considerazioni sul Trittico Corsini di Fra Angelico

Victor M. Schmidt


The first part of this paper is an iconographic analysis of the central panel of the triptych by Fra Angelico in Palazzo Corsini, Rome. It represents the Last Judgement and is a somewhat reduced version of a composition first seen in the panel from the monastic church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. The saints represented to the left of Christ are Peter and his brother Andrew, and those to the right Paul and John the Evangelist. Behind the latter are represented Sts. Benedict and Francis, and a holy pope, often identified as Sixtus on the basis of a similar pope represented on the wing of a triptych painted by Fra Angelico for the Dominican cardinal Juan de Torquemada. The pope in the Corsini Triptych does not carry an attribute, and may also represent another saintly pope such as Gregory the Great. The saints in the second and third rows to the left of Christ are Stephen, Dominic, and a mitred monk identified in a previous contribution to this journal as Basil the Great. The presence of the latter among the heavenly host has an interesting parallel in a passage in the Chronicon of St Antoninus, in which he explains that the founders of the religious orders such as Basil, Augustine, Benedict, Dominic, and Francis (all of whom, with the exception of Augustine, are depicted in the panel) are surely present in the seraphic order of the heavens. There is some technical and documentary evidence to suggest that the three panels of the Corsini Triptych did belong together originally. However, the two wings, representing the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, present some slight anomalies: the number of apostles is reduced, and the figural types of Sts. Peter, Andrew, and John do not correspond to those in the central panel. Although these inconsistencies remain difficult to explain, they do not constitute decisive arguments for the hypothesis that the triptych in its current form is an assemblage of two different works. The combination of the three subjects is unique for a triptych, but not anomalous: the Ascension and the subsequent Descent of the Holy Spirit signal the beginning of the Church, the Last Judgement its fulfilment. In the final part the issue of cryptoportraits is addressed. It has been proposed that St Sixtus and the similar pope in the Corsini Triptych are in fact portraits of Eugene IV, the pope who had created Torquemada cardinal-priest of San Sisto, the implication being that the cardinal also ordered the Corsini Triptych from Fra Angelico. The similarities with the documented portraits of the pope are minimal, however. It is still quite possible that the cardinal commissioned the triptych, but this cannot be demonstrated on the basis of iconography.