Fragments of Gold-Adorned, 14th-Century Triptych Reunited After Decades

An exhibition at the Getty in Los Angeles brings together panels from a stunning altarpiece by Venetian painter Paolo Veneziano

The Crucifixion
Paolo Veneziano, The Crucifixion, about 1340-1345 National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1939.1.143

In the mid-14th century, just before the Black Death besieged Venice, master painter Paolo Veneziano created a series of delicately rendered, gold-adorned artworks, including monumental altarpieces and small devotional paintings commissioned by wealthy patrons seeking protection from earthly plights.

Now, reports J.S. Marcus for the Art Newspaper, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is exhibiting a selection of these masterpieces, shedding light on the relatively unheralded Italian artist and demonstrating how his “extravagant use of color” influenced later Venetian masters. Per a statement, “Paolo Veneziano: Art & Devotion in 14th-Century Venice” also unites fragments of one of the artist’s medieval triptychs for the first time in centuries.

“Exhibitions of his work don’t come up often in the United States, which makes this one [a] must-see,” writes critic Christopher Knight for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s small but choice—six individual panels plus the two private altars, each about 2 feet square. An exquisite carved ivory, some sumptuous textile fragments and a dazzling manuscript illumination provide fascinating bits of context.”

Among the exhibition’s highlights are the reunited sections of Veneziano’s Worcester triptych, which are normally divided between the Getty, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. Crucially, notes the Art Newspaper, curators argue in the show’s catalog that a proposed centerpiece of the three-panel artwork—a painting of the Madonna and child housed at the Musée du Petit Palais in Avignon, France—actually belongs to “a similar, somewhat bigger [later] work.” (For now, at least, the triptych is being shown without its central panel.)

Paolo and Giovanni Veneziano, <em>The Coronation of the Virgin</em>, 1358
Paolo and Giovanni Veneziano, The Coronation of the Virgin, 1358 The Frick Collection, New York, Purchase, 1930 EX.2021.3.14

According to the statement, restorers used a specially crafted metal armature to reassemble the panels. In addition to the Worcester triptych, the show features an intact triptych on loan from the Galleria Nazionale di Parma in Italy and scenes from the lives of Jesus and other biblical figures.

“It is fairly commonplace for museums around the world to own fragments of what were once larger ensembles, dismantled in later centuries for sa­­­le on the art market,” says the Getty’s director, Timothy Potts, in the statement. “[This exhibition] presents a rare exception: a completely intact triptych for personal devotion, on loan from … Parma, Italy. The appearance of this triptych was the basis for the reconstruction of an almost identical triptych, the so-called Worcester triptych, reassembled for the first time [here].”

Another major work in the exhibition is the Coronation of the Virgin (1358), which Veneziano created with his son Giovanni. Owned by the Frick Collection in New York, the work shows the Virgin Mary bowing her head slightly as her son, Jesus, places a golden crown atop her head. Other artists—from Diego Velázquez to Gentile da Fabriano—have depicted this moment, but Veneziano’s use of gold, coral red and royal blue make this iteration of the scene stand out.

“Paolo’s oeuvre is often characterized as straddling the painterly traditions of the eastern and western territories, where Byzantine cadences find harmony with the recent developments of painting on the Italian peninsula,” says Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty, in the statement. “This exhibition contextualizes Paolo’s work in relation to the transformative and cosmopolitan cultural landscape in Venice during the artist’s lifetime.”

Paolo Veneziano, <em>The Annunciation</em>, about 1340–1345
Paolo Veneziano, The Annunciation, about 1340–1345 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 87.PB.117

Born in Italy around 1295, Veneziano was one of the first “distinctive” Venetian painters, according to the Getty. He belonged to a family of craftspeople and collaborated with his sons—Giovanni, Luca and Marco—on some of his most well-known works. As the Art Newspaper notes, Veneziano incorporated Byzantine, Italian and northern European influences in his art, which went on to inspire later Venetian masters like Giovanni Bellini and Jacopo Tintoretto.

Though Veneziano had a profound impact on the trajectory of European art history, his work is seldom discussed outside of Italy. While the Covid-19 pandemic curbed the exhibition’s scale and travel plans, the show’s catalog—published by the Frick—represents a significant contribution to his legacy, placing the artist’s work in the context of 14th-century manuscript illumination, ivory carving, textile production and metalwork, per the statement.

“[Veneziano’s] extant body of work reveals an artist who reached new heights in the art of painting in Venice through a profound engagement with the rich cultural tapestry of his native city,” write authors Laura Llewellyn and John Witty in the catalog’s introduction.

Paolo Veneziano: Art and Devotion in 14th-Century Venice” is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles through October 3.

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