Little-known today, Gentile da Fabriano was the most famous artist in Italy during the early 15th century

Gentile da Fabriano
Forerunner to the Renaissance

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Gentile di Niccolò di Giovanni di Massio was born circa 1370 in or near Fabriano, in the Marche. The most sought-after and famous artist in Italy during the first quarter of the 15th century, he carried out important commissions in several major Italian art centres and was recognized as one of the foremost artists of his day. Sadly, most of the work on which his great contemporary reputation was based has been destroyed, which may be why he is not more widely known today.
Along with Ghiberti, Gentile da Fabriano was Italy's outstanding representative of the International Gothic style. He also contributed to the advanced art that foreshadowed the birth of the Renaissance. Gentile's paintings feature deep, vibrant colors, richly patterned surfaces, and people with soft, full faces, heavy-lidded eyes, and dreamy expressions. His lyrical atmosphere, elegant refinement, and attention to detail in rendering landscapes, animals, and costume typify the International Gothic style, originally developed in French and Burgundian courts and used especially in illuminated manuscripts.
Gentile's most famous surviving works were made during a short but influential stay in Florence in the 1420s, where he probably encountered the austere realism of his younger contemporary Masaccio. His altarpiece depicting the Adoration of the Magi (1423), now in the Uffizi, is regarded as one of the masterpieces of International Gothic style. Its delicate linearity and vibrant colours enhance the effect of rich exoticism. It is remarkable not only for its exquisite decorative beauty but also for the naturalistic treatment of light in the predella, where there is a night scene with three different light sources. The painting's graceful figures are clothed in velvets and rich brocades, and the Magi are attended by Oriental retainers, who look after such exotic animals as lions and camels.
Adoration of the Magi

Gentile also produced a number of Madonnas, such as the altarpiece known as the Quaratesi Polyptych (1425), which shows the Mother and Child, regally clad, sitting on the ground in a garden. It is an outstanding example of the artist's brilliant use of elegant and luxurious materials, painted with such extraordinary naturalness that they seem real, as well as the splendid gold and the silver the artist often modelled onto the surface of his paintings.

Unlike Masaccio, who launched his art straight into the Renaissance, Gentile straddled the threshold between Gothic and Renaissance. How he loved to tell a story! The Quaratesi Polyptych is a perfect example of this. Its many panels depict the salient moments in the life of St. Nicholas, bringing faraway legends to life for the illiterate masses who had no other way to learn the stories.

Quaratesi Polyptych,
St. Nicholas Bringing
Three Young Men
Back to Life

The decorativeness of Gentile's elegant, courtly style continued to influence Florentine artists throughout the century and rivaled the austere realism introduced by Masaccio. Gentile's other contributions to Renaissance art were: abandoning abstract backgrounds for real skies, introducing a light source into the picture, depicting cast shadows, and making the earliest known drawings after the antique.

Gentile da Fabriano had widespread influence, notably on Fra Angelico, who was his greatest heir. Michelangelo said that his works resembled his name, meaning "noble," or "refined." They are full of a quiet and serene joyfulness, brightened by a naïve and innocent delight in splendor and gold ornaments, but never overdecorated.

Gentile da Fabriano died in 1427 while working on frescoes (since destroyed) in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, the Pope's parish church in Rome. He is commonly said to have been buried in the church now called S. Francesca Romana in Florence, but his tomb vanished; there is evidence, however, that he may be buried in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome.

Click on the pictures below to see them enlarged.

Uffizi Galleries, Florence


Adoration of
the Magi

Adoration of
the Magi

Adoration of
the Magi

Quaratesi Polyptych, St. Nicholas Bringing Three Young Men Back to Life

Villa I Tatti, Settignano (Florence)

Madonna With Child

Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa

Madonna dell'Umiltà

Duomo, Orvieto

Madonna With Child

Vatican Museums, Rome


Quaratesi Polyptych, St. Nicholas Saving a Ship from the Storm

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Polyptych of
Valle Romita

Polyptych of
Valle Romita

Polyptych of Valle Romita, St. Jerome
and Mary Magdalen

Polyptych of Valle Romita, St. Peter
of Verona Killed
by a Non-Believer

Palazzo Rosso, Genoa

This portrait of a young man was attributed
to Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, Pisanello and
Giambono before being recognized as Gentile's

Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Virgin and Child with
Sts. Nicholas and Catherine

Musée du Louvre, Paris

Pala Strozzi (detail)

Frick Collection, New York

Madonna and Child with
Sts. Lawrence and Julian

J.P. Getty Museum, Los Angeles



Here is a list of places where you can see works by Gentile da Fabriano:

Ferrara, Pinocateca Nazionale
Florence, Uffizi Galleries
Mamiano di Traversetolo, Fondazione Magnani-Rocca
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera
Pavia, Pinacoteca Malaspina
Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo
Orvieto, Duomo
Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria
Rome, Vatican Museums
Settignano (Florence), Villa I Tatti

Vienna, Kuntshistorisches Museum

Paris, Musée du Louvre


Hampton Court, The Royal Collection
London, National Gallery

Los Angeles, J.P. Getty Museum
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery
New York, The Frick Collection
Tulsa, Philbrook Art Center
Washington DC, National Gallery of Art

[Regions of Italy]