Gentile da Fabriano (ca. 1370-1427) was the leading Italian painter of the International Gothic style.
Gentile da Fabriano, whose real name was Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio, came from Fabriano in the Marches. According to tradition, his family was an old one and moderately prosperous. His father, who was said to have been a scholar, mathematician, and astrologer, became an Olivetan monk when a monastery of that order was established in Fabriano in 1397. Gentile's brother, Ludovico, was a monk of the same order in Fabriano, and Gentile himself was living in the Olivetan monastery of S. Maria Nuova in Rome at the time of his death. A document of Oct. 14, 1427, speaks of him as dead.
Gentile's art indicates that he was probably trained in Lombardy, perhaps in Milan. He worked in the then current International Gothic style, to which he brought his own personal quality. His earliest works display the decorative rhythmic drapery patterns preferred by the International Gothic masters, which Gentile tempered and ultimately abandoned after his contact with Florentine art.
In a document of 1408 Gentile is recorded in Venice, where he painted an altarpiece (now lost) for Francesco Amadi. Testifying to his high reputation was his commission in 1409 for frescoes in the Doges' Palace in Venice (painted over in 1479). Pandolfo Malatesta commissioned Gentile to decorate a chapel (destroyed) in Brescia in 1414. The artist is last recorded in Brescia on Sept. 18, 1419, when he departed for Rome to answer the summons of Pope Martin V. Gentile's name first appeared on the roll of painters in Florence in 1421. He was in Siena in 1420 and 1424-1425 and in Orvieto late in 1425. From 1426 until the time of his death he was in Rome.
Typical of Gentile's early style is the polyptych (ca. 1400) from the convent of Valle Romita in Fabriano, in which Gentile displays the International Gothic love for naturalistic detail in the floral turf beneath the feet of the graceful, slender saints whose figures are swathed in rhythmic, linear drapery. The central panel, the Coronation of the Virgin, shows the love for calligraphic drapery so characteristic of Gentile's early style. Other noteworthy early works include the much damaged Madonna in Perugia and the Madonna with Saints and Donor in Berlin.
The altarpiece Adoration of the Magi, signed and dated 1423, was Gentile's major work in Florence. In remarkably good condition, with its original frame still intact, it shows Gentile's Gothicism now tempered by his contact with the more austere art of Florence. The rich display of gold leaf and brilliant colors were favorite International Gothic traits, but in the interest in perspective and foreshortening and especially in the exquisite predella panels Gentile shows the influence of the Florentines.
The altarpiece for the Quaratesi family, signed and dated 1425, also demonstrates the composite quality of Gentile's art. The fresco Madonna Enthroned in Orvieto Cathedral of late 1425 has few traces of the International Gothic style and displays a corporeality and fullness in keeping with his evolution after Florence. His last works, the frescoes in St. John Lateran in Rome depicting the life of John the Baptist and grisaille portraits of saints, were destroyed in 1647, when Francesco Borromini reconstructed the interior.
Further Reading on Gentile da Fabriano
The best work in English on Gentile is the chapter on the artist in Raimond van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. 8 (1927). Luigi Grassi, ed., Tutta la pittura di Gentile da Fabriano (1953), in Italian, is useful for its illustrations.
Additional Biography Sources
Christiansen, Keith, Gentile da Fabriano, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982.