Heretics 1: The Simone Martini Cover-up.
This fresco is situated below the Guidoriccio and is variously attributed, but convincingly argued to be the real Guidoriccio by Simone.
There is evidence of marks around the face and figure, consistent with damage caused by the throwing of pallets. When the fresco was uncovered, the figure was hidden by a cover of blue paint. Guidoriccio was a mercenary soldier, who changed sides in 1333 and fought for the opposition. It appears far more convincing that the citizens of Sienna would show their disapproval in this way, rather than celebrating a portrait in their town hall of a person who had become their enemy and a traitor to them. The grooves are left by the rotation of the Carte Topa grafica installed in the 15th Century.(CO's Note based on subsequent conversations with MG)
At the turn of the century, in a foot note to his volume on fourteenth century Siena, Adolfo Venturi stated that the figure on horse back was not a Simone Martini but was added as a figure to go with the map on the wall below - there are various iconographical disparities which substantiate his claim. Venturi attributed the mappammondo to Abbrogio Lorenzetti. This important observation was not repeated in any subsequent art historical literature GM: "It's one thing to have something published, it's another to have it discussed by future scholars I missed it myself. In 1977 I could have been accused of plagiarism: He saw the same thing." [Editors note based on CO's transcript]
Gordan Moran graduated from Yale University in Art History, Specialising in Sienese Art. He became a stock broker and returned to the art world to follow his investigations into the authenticity of the Guidoriccio which has become almost a full time occupation.
Michael Mallory is Head of Art History at City University, New York.
In the first of an occasional series (see also article on Rembrandt) everything talks to contentious figures within the art world: Gordan Moran (GM:) has been campaigning with his colleague Michael Mallory, since the late seventies, for the reassessment of the Guidorccio da Fogliano fresco in the Plazzo Publico in
Siena. He has contested its attribution to Simone Martini (c1284-1344 )
on many fronts. Despite what appears to be conclusive evidence the art
establishment and government of Siena maintain the accepted attribution and
have employed many techniques to discredit the findings of Gordon Moran
(not stopping at the manipulation of evidence to make their case appear in
a better light.) This controversy has added importance because it is
holding up the possible discovery of other frescos, in the same room, that
would be of the greatest artistic and art historical value. Clive O'Mahoney
(CO:) helps unravel the detective story .....
CO: Could you give us a brief list of anachronisms which serve to prove the mistaken authorship of this fresco?
GM: They mainly concern the heraldic elements. The horse and rider, the
dark dots that cover the trappings of the horse and the uniform of the
rider. Experts in genealogy and heraldry have stated that this doesn't make
sense as an heraldic item .There were no dots, or poker dots in the
heraldry of the fourteenth century. Neither, apparently, was it part of any
contemporaneous textile design. The only explanation that these experts
can come up with is that the dots were a colour code to represent a gold
background, but this colour code dates from the sixteenth century or so.
It looks to me as if, when they tried to make the figure into the
Guidoriccio, they got a pen and ink drawing and when the artist saw it he
didn't understand the colour codes and painted in those dots as part of the
CO: Do you have an idea when the fresco was painted and who might have painted it?
GM: Our first hypothesis was that the horse and rider was painted in 1352 and that the rest of the painting was 1330, as we were all taught and conditioned to believe. Now, with all these anachronisms and with the additional technical evidence, we feel that there was a horse and rider, painted as a symbolic figure, over the map of the Sienese Republic in 1424. So we have a fifteenth century horse and rider. Then around 1700 this was converted into a scene to represent the siege of Montemassi with a landscape essentially as a monochrome, chiaroscuro, and the upper right triangular part, which is different in colour, the landscape, sky and encampment &c . That's what remains visible from that time from 1680 to before 1730. Then, most of the surface, that we now see, would be from 1834 when there was major work done on the fresco; that's when we think the encampment was put in , the battefolli; the boarder in it's current form and most of the landscape were also added at that time. Perhaps, also at that time the horse and rider was changed around. This was done to make a colour engraving for a book by Litta called Celebre Famiglia Italiana, a multi-volume book on genealogy and heraldry of all the major families in Italy.
CO: Would this be common practice for frescos by the so called primitive painters to be adapted and covered over in this way?
GM: Probably in Siena, the whole fresco cycle, of at least seven castles, maybe as many as twenty, would have been covered over, in one way or another, after 1355, with the fall of the Government of Nine. There was no History of art, there was no idea of artistic genius, these painters were known as craftsmen, although some were famous in literature to a degree, through Petrarch, Dante and so on.
CO: So if this painting was completed in 1834, how did Simone Martini become associated with it?
GM: That's a very interesting question because the very early sources don't refer to the painting at all. Ghiberti, Vasari, &c talked about other works by Simone but not this one. There is a reference in an addition to one of the volumes of Tizio, in his History of Siena (written in Latin in the sixteenth century) saying that the figure is Guidorccio. He mentions that it's above the Map, which implies that there were some discussion as to who the figure was. A little more than a century later Macchi, who was the archivist for Siena, wrote that the figure was Giovanni d' Asso Ulbaldini, who died at the end of the fourteenth century. In 1625, there was an unfinished text by Tomassi, of the history of Siena, and somebody added to the text when it was published that Guidoriccio died in 1352, and that before he was buried, he was honoured with an equestrian portrait in the Pallazzo Publico. Then, in a chronicle it was written that Montemassi and Sassoforte were painted by Simone di Lorenzo. Various Seines scholars, when describing the painting later, for instance Pecci, around 1720, writes that it was by Simone di Lorenzo. There are actually some guide books that say Simone di Lorenzo. Around 1780, Della Valle, writes something like "I'll tell you something about that painting: that's the only painting we have left by Simone Martini in Siena". That was one of the first guide books that said Simone Martini and via the guide books it stuck into art histor literature as a documented Simone Martini and was accepted without question, we all got fooled. It certainly wasn't based on stylistic analysis. Then once the observation was made that it wasn't a Simone Martini there was a violent counter-reaction leading to the emperors new clothes syndrome. I don't think anything like this has ever happened before.
CO: What do you think lies behind the fresco?
GM: There were some spot checks made on that wall and the adjacent wall: ultrasonic, thermal vision, various types of checks. They found that in the area where the encampment is, on the lower right, there are four levels of plaster. Where the horse and rider are, there are three. On the side wall over one of the arches in the area where the Battle of Valdichiana is painted, there's another fresco underneath. This test was done in the late seventies or early eighties. In the conference on Simone Martini in 1985 the Sopritendente Terrti said there is absolutely no trace of another painting underneath. He sited the tests in the conference. He sited the tests but didn't say that in the area of the encampment there were four levels. The same man was a member of a five man commission, nominated by the Mayor of Siena, to study the fresco discovered in 1980 and it's relationship to the Guidoriccio fresco, that study was written up in "Provspetiva" [authorised Sienes Art History Journal from the university]. Two members wrote the article: Siedlel, now the head of the German Institute and Bellosi from the University of Siena. This is the official report of that commission that contradicts the findings of the investigation, ignoring those findings: an absolute contradiction. Not only under Guidoriccio, but under the side frescos, there might be five or ten more masterpieces like the one uncovered in 1980. It's easy to track a fresco off the wall without damaging it. You can take them off and put back whichever you want. In fact by detaching the frescos and putting them back on a new support, it prolongs the life of the frescos for centuries. There is one theory that all frescos will be taken off eventually, whether the Seines want it or not.
CO: Why are the art historians in Siena so reluctant to even explore the possibility of the existence of other frescos ?
GM: I don't go into motives to say why or why not. I know that when, in 1979, they give a press conference, and Torriti and Tintori said that the fresco underneath the Guidoriccio would be completely uncovered they say, see we told you so, you shouldn't have uncovered it. Now the debate about Guidorccio has intensified; if you uncover the other frescos no one will believe anymore that it is by Simone; that might be possibility.
CO: If there are more frescos of the Simone Martini Cycle in the Sala of the Mappamondo it would be a treasure to compare with the Giotto's in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
GM: It would be better, I think, because we would have these frescos in their purest stylistic form. The Scrovegni chapel is heavily repainted with very few figures left that are completely by Giotto. We would really know what fourteenth century fresco painting was like. I think that it's inevitable that thay'll make attempts to see what's underneath, just the curiosity of the Sienese themselves will eventually ensure this. I don't like to speculate though on peoples motives. I just like to document what they do, what they've said and how they've contradicted themselves, other people can judge. It wouldn't cost anything to uncover these frescos. The rewards for it, the amount of money that would come into Sienese Government, through the increase in tourism would be tremendous, affecting every aspect of the economy of Siena. So it's not the money that's holding them up.
CO: Can pressure not be brought to bear from outside Siena? I didn't know of the possible existence of these frescos, it seems a most exciting development.
GM: Here again is an example of an absolute contradiction. Hayden Maginnis wrote an article on the Guidoriccio, a summery of the documentary evidence. He said that the technical reports issued by the official side are so contradictory that they are useless as evidence. How is that possible? The only real scientific aspect of art history is the restoration and the scientific analysis, conservation reports, based on chemistry, on various technological investigations. Instead of looking at a painting and saying: I see Duccio, I see Simone Martini we get this subjective thing which contradicts any scientific analasis. If people falsify, plagiarise, contradict... If they have power, they can get away with it. If they want to find a certain solution when they make an investigation, they can find it, they have the pressure on the press to publish it as that, and it's difficult to get beyond that. The truth will eventually come out. But while the means for the dissemination of information are controlled by these people it's hard to get things done.