The Triptych of the Virgin of Montserrat of Bartolomé Bermejo
Point of interest 7
Listen to the audio guide
You are now entering the Chapter house or “Canonical sacristy”, pulsing heart of the Cathedral,
whose fulfilment is thanks to the Bishop Giovanni Battista Roero’s initiative, who furnished it with precious wooden furniture, wardrobes and benches finely inlaid by the master craftsman Silvestro de Silvestri around 1734.
Over the altar, the stunning masterpiece the Triptych of the Virgin of Montserrat stands out, and in the same room you can admire the altarpiece with “Saint Guido and the four Doctors of the Church”, and the large canvas with the “Annunciation”, attributed to the Genoese artist Valerio Castello dating from 1645.
Now stop to admire the beauty of the Triptych of the Virgin of Montserrat, a valuable testimony of a particularly prosperous historic period for Acqui.
The painting was commissioned by an Acquese merchant, Francesco Della Chiesa in the last years of the fifteenth century to Bartolomé Bermejo, who is considered the most important Spanish painter of that period.
This opera should have been placed in a church in Valencia, a city where Francesco moved to for his trade, and only later arrived in the Cathedral in Acqui at his death around the year 1510, by a bound testamentary clause with the request of being placed in the family’s chapel, as stated in a notarial document which was only found during restoration works to the Triptych in 1987.
It is painted with the technique of oil paint, innovative for that time, when in Spain and in Europe they used to paint mainly with tempera painting, and very few were capable of using the new method like the Flemish masters, Jan Van Eyck, Van Der Weiden and Memling. Original interpreters of this new style of art in Italy were Antonello da Messina, Piero della Francesca, Bellini and Botticelli, whereas in Spain only Bermejo was able of entirely utilizing this new painting technique.
His style of art was strongly influenced by the Flemish painting for the extreme care in detail, the minute representation of objects and for the chromatic return, in particular that of metals.
With the panels closed it displays a monochrome Annunciation, in grisaille,
but just like a precious treasure box, when opened up, it unfolds a blinding, radiant beauty with its rich colours.
Now close your eyes, and keep them closed. The guide will know what to do….. count to five, and open them! Here we are! Now the Triptych appears to you in all its fine beauty, and in front of this “coups de theatre” you will be completely fascinated, spellbound!
Once open, the central panel glows and portrays a pleasant figure of the Virgin with the Baby, sat on a carpenter’s saw, planted in the ground. This original seat is a clear mention to the Sanctuary present in the background, that of the Monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia. The word Montserrat in fact means “jagged mountain”, because in the far distance, the profile of the mountains that surround the monastery appear as such.
The donator Francesco Della Chiesa is represented at the Virgin’s feet, wearing a black cloak with a velvet collar, holding a book with a prayer in his hands of the Salve Regina.
In fact the Virgin is portrayed as a queen, with a beautiful face surrounded by a transparent veil, and on her head she’s wearing a splendid crown, rich in pearls and precious stones.
If you look closer at the painting, you can recognize the innovative characteristics of the Flemish oil painting, visible in the perfect representations and details of gold, fabric and embroidery, capable of minute portrayals of reality.
The Baby is holding a piece of string tied to a goldfinch.
Other than the pleasantness of a child’s game, you can seize the symbol of martyrdom of Jesus; the goldfinch has the stain of the red blood of Christ that symbolises having come to close to Him on the cross.
It is also possible to recognise in this image, the symbol of the soul that survives death. The dramatic tension of the scene seems to resolve in Maria’s gaze, full of grace that looks benevolent at the donor who is addressing her in prayer.
The natural background is exceptional for the painting of that time, and demonstrates Bermejo’s extraordinary talent of bringing to life every minimum particular: from the flowers to the constructions,
to the seascape and the merchants’ ships.
The lateral panels are attributed to the Valencian painters Rodrigo and Francisco Osona, entrusted by Francesco Della Chiesa to complete the opera. The left panel portrays the Birth of the Virgin and San Francesco receiving the stigmata,
whereas on the right you can admire the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and Saint Sebastiano.
Point of interest 6
The right transept, the apsidal right chapel and the sacristy
Point of interest 8
The central apse with the main altar and dome