After graduating with a Double First Class degree in English from Clare College, Cambridge, Imogen Tedbury gained her MA in History of Art with distinction at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she studied ‘Making and Meaning in the Art of the Middle Ages’ with Professor John Lowden. She is now in the second year of her AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD at the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute, supervised by Professor Joanna Cannon and Dr Caroline Campbell. The working title of her doctoral thesis is ‘Collecting, reception & display of trecento & quattrocento Sienese paintings in Britain, 1850-1950’.
Re/Constructing the medieval fresco: the ottocento afterlives of the Lorenzetti San Francesco fragments
Scholastic interest in Siena’s San Francesco has long privileged its early material history, specifically the frescoes attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti that are so effusively described by Lorenzo Ghiberti in his Commentarii. When the remains of this legendary but long presumed lost cycle were unexpectedly uncovered in the 1850s, the larger frescoes were removed, restored, relocated and ultimately reintegrated into the walls of the basilica of San Francesco. Smaller fragments were dispersed, acquiring new significances in their afterlives beyond the convent.
This paper takes the Lorenzetti chapter house fresco fragments as a case study for exploring post-medieval attitudes to the viewing of medieval frescoes in the contrasting environments of church and museum. The larger fragments’ regeneration within the church’s fabric will be placed in the context of contemporary Tuscan restoration culture and Giuseppe Partini’s controversial restoration programme at San Francesco, where Lorenzetti’s frescoes partially inspired the attempt to return the church to a medieval ‘primitive form’. Smaller, dispersed fresco fragments such as the National Gallery’s Heads of Four Nuns, acquired at great expense after lengthy negotiations, will be used to examine the purpose of fresco fragments within the nineteenth-century museum, and their value as cyphers for the frescoes that remained in Siena. The paper will conclude by questioning the extent to which the ottocento afterlives of these frescoes could continue to inform the interpretation of these frescoes today.