Upon gazing at the Lorenzetti icon at the Ferens tonight, I am struck by the thought of all those others, who have done so before me. The painted panel ‘Christ between Saints Paul and Peter’ by Sienese master Pietro Lorenzetti is a devotional piece, it has in times past, been the focus of devout prayer. Do these icons still have similar appeal, beyond that of being treasures to be put on display?
It is widely accepted that this triptych work is ‘probably‘ part of a larger panel of similarly painted religious scenes. Housed in the newly refurbished Ferens in Gallery One, the icon fragment glows under glass, in a space with other religious works, that lend insight into the Sienese tradition. The Lorenzetti icon is considered important because it originates from the time of the birth of the Renaissance, a period in history of great intellectual and societal change in Europe, between the 14th and 16th centuries.
I look upon the Christ figure with Saints Paul and Peter on either side and ponder the symbolism of the sword and key each is holding, in front of him. More questions are prompted upon reading the descriptor, referencing the devotional qualities of religious icons. Firstly, who owned the pieces? A little research tells me the Lorenzetti panel, is part of a predella – a painted step – to an altarpiece, but who owned it, the Catholic Church? And did the devout make a special pilgrimage to worship at the altar, like a rite of passage during a lifetime? Was it just there for any of the local congregation to offer up prayer as they saw fit, or was it just for those of high status?
What could those prayers have been that poured out from the faithful? Hopes for riches and wealth; forgiveness and salvation; deliverance from pestilence and plague? Or something more precious than gold something simpler, a prayer for a good harvest, with plentiful food for all perhaps?
The latest and potentially most important acquisition, to the Ferens Art Gallery, is worth a cool 1.6 million pounds. How has that price come about? The market dictates the price, the buyers dictate the market, so a desirable object, is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it? In terms of revenue, the icon in the newly refurbished gallery could attract many more times that, from visitors spending money in the city.
The Ferens exhibition curating team and Hull2017, will both be praying that the Lorenzetti will encourage fresh pilgrimages, with the gold painted panel as the fountainhead, for wider exploration and appreciation of the city’s cultural offer.
Exhibition details and related events can be found here: Pietro Lorenzetti
Ferens Art Gallery’s film on Hull’s purchase of a 700 year old masterpiece by Sienese artist, Pietro Lorenzetti.