Nicola da Guardiagrele: le firme e le opere

Author: Stefano Riccioni

Nicola da Guardiagrele: signatures and artworks

This contribution focuses on signatures in Nicola da Guardiagrele’s artworks, highlighting the difference between two graphic models and two distinct textual formulas, always in Latin, chosen by the goldsmith in subsequent periods of his career. Artworks realized in the early period of his activity are signed – except the Atessa ostensory – using the gothic minuscule, more precisely the epigraphic version of the north european textura quadrata, following some relevant examples of Abruzzo sculpture (tomb Caldora in Badia Morronese near Sulmona, signed by Gualtierus de Alemania, and Camponeschi’s Monument, in S. Giuseppe Artigiano, L’Aquila, also attributed to Gualtierus) and the artworks of Antonio Baboccio in Naples. The textual formula is structured on a fixed scheme providing master’s name, patronymic, origin, verb (conjugated in first or third person), object/determinative or demonstrative or personal pronoun, dating. It is a formula widely attested throughout the Middle Ages, even in Abruzzo.
The signatures of artworks realized during the mature period of Nicola’s career are completely different. They are written in an elegant gothic capital and the texts employ the formula with Opus plus the artist’s name in the genitive, with provenance and dating, but do not show the patronymic (except in the cross from the church of S. Massimo, L’Aquila).
This change in the signature’s formula coincides with the mature production of Nicola and it is on the ground of this strong evidence that is possible to confirm his period of residence in Florence between 1423 and 1430. In Florence he had a chance to study the artworks of Ghiberti who had previously adopted the Opus plus genitive signature, following the example of Giot­to (and a tradition heading back to Anti­quity). The adoption of the ‘Opus plus genitive’ formula clearly shows Nicola’s willingness to upgrade his art to the most modern artistic practices. Moreover, the presence of this formula in the painting representing Madonna and Child (Uffizi), together with the examination of graphical evi­dences, confirm that this panel painting can be certainly attributed to Nicola da Guardia­grele and dated between 1423 and 1425.
Finally, the exposure of the artist’s name close to the image that mostly claims an emotional involvement, shows a devotional practice linked to meditation and prayer.