Lorenzetti, Mantegna, Bellini: Fragment or Part?

Ambrogio Lorenzetti: ‘Group of Four Poor Clares’, c 1320-25

The aesthetic appeal of the fragment is well known, and though it tends to arise accidentally in older work it’s not so rare to wonder whether the whole would really have been much better. I was reminded of this when coming across Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s ‘Group of Four Poor Clares’, c 1320-25, at the National Gallery. Not only are they removed from context, two of them are only partial glimpses, making it doubly fragmented. The Poor Clares are members of a contemplative Order of Catholic nuns (officially the Ordo sanctae Clarae), founded by Saints Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi in 1212. But the lack of narrative explanation frees things up from what may well have been a more more male-driven narrative, and teasingly suggests that that the same unfortunate Clare may be repeated quarce here. That set me wondering whether nearby paintings might  also provide good fragments, should it come to that.

Andrea Mantegna’s ‘The Virgin and Child with Saints’, c 1490-1505, is a good candidate on account of the details of drapery and flowers. Moreover, Mantegna will soon share a show with his brother-in-law, Giovanni Bellini, at the gallery (1 October – 27 January). So here’s a snip from the ‘Madonna of the Meadow’ c 1500-05. Both excerpted works are masterpieces, but whether bits and pieces or the whole thing, the double exhibition ought to be good…

Detail from: Andrea Mantegna: ‘The Virgin and Child with Saints’,  1490-1505
Detail from Giovanni Bellini: ‘Madonna of the Meadow’ c 1500-05

Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based in Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, The Art Newspaper, Art Critical, ArtLyst... and, of course, FAD - when I'm on the train to and from my job in London as a health and social care financial policy analyst.