ANTONIO (DRAGONE) FROM MONTEREGALE

News about the artist to whom the paintings in the chapel have been attributed.

Practically nothing or very little is known about this painter.

Not even the surname is certain, but it is based only on suppositions.

Many researches have been made by the most illustrious scholars of art and local history, and here reported are the considerations and the summary of what could be found, thanks mainly to the research of Dr. Geronimo Raineri who has been able to analyze with patience painstaking data, texts and paintings drawing the following considerations.


I report below part of the article of the above mentioned scholar and art lover about studies concerning this artist :

The only bibliographical information so far known above this painter is reported in the text of Ferraironi which we report here in full:

«... Since that terrible seventeenth century that on the ancient monuments has passed as the infernal storm that never remains has raged also on our humble church of S. Bernardino.
And all his beautiful paintings disappeared one day under the mask of lime. It was the unhealthy taste of the times.
The bishops, in some way to give proof of their consideration for the sanctuaries under their jurisdiction, ordered from time to time (and perhaps even on the occasion of some epidemic) that the buildings intended for worship be given a coat of white paint.
And it is enough to consult the acts of the Sacred Visits of many dioceses to find almost on every page the all too often fatal phrase 'mandat dealbari' , that is it orders that (the church) is whitewashed.
It is still told, and the fact is handed down from generation to generation by old local priests, that when it was ordered from the bishop of Albenga to cover with white the aforesaid paintings, the order had to be valid also for those of the church said of Montata, near the Molini, where those beautiful paintings, still preserved in good condition, would also say of Canavesio if they did not prevent it and the date (1435) and the name (Antonius de Montis Regalis, i.e. of Mondovì) which can be read below.
But the order of the bishop met resistance from the most authoritative people of the Molini place, and then the Prelate who was in Sacra Visita, ordered that the boxes be raised immediately to whitewash the walls of the church; and he wanted to witness this operation in person.
Since he then had to leave suddenly for Albenga, those of Molini would have immediately demolished the scaffolding, and the work begun would no longer be continued.
And this is why, in the aforementioned church of Molini, the paintings of the apse would not have suffered the same fate of those that are still covered with a layer of white lime "
.

The fortunate circumstance of the Bishop's urgent call to Albenga allowed the work of the master Antonio da Mondovì to come down to us.
We must also recognize that the behavior of the inhabitants of Molini di Triora, given the mentality of the time, and the lack of sensitivity for gothic (barbaric) art, is even more deserving and worthy of praise.
And today we have to think that the great baroque altar in gilded wood, certainly eighteenth-century, which still hides from view the great painting, had been raised by citizens to defend the precious testimony from further dangers of destruction.
This is confirmed by the fact that Alizeri's careful research, in his book already mentioned in the note (22) of 1870, does not bear the name of Antonio.
The view of the wall behind the altar had also escaped two other attentive researchers: Edward and Margaret Berry (26) who in the their valuable guide, which in the English edition bears the date 1931, do not speak about it, but note instead the figures of the Evangelists and of the founders of religious orders in the medallions of the ogival vault of the Presbytery, which also now cannot be completely retracted because of a large cross planted in front of the altar..

The important news that we find in the Berry Guide is the following:
"Above a side altar on the left is a wooden painting, representing St. Anne, with the Virgin on her lap, and the Child in his mother's arms...".
Today we have to write "was" because we have no more news of this painting.
This iconography is important because we will find it at the church of the Madonnetta at Diano Castello and in the chapel of S. Bernardo delle Forche in Mondovì.
Only in 1918, as it results from a publication of 1927 "Molini di Triora and its Sanctuary" by Abbot Allaria, during the study of the medallions of the vault, they noticed the existence of the fresco on the wall, because the altar is far away from the altar about 90 centimeters.
The above mentioned article, after an enthusiastic description of the painting ends with these words:
«It was also found that the walls of the two sides down to the ground are covered with paint, although whitewashed. So are the arches of the church and the pediment above the apse of the high altar».

Few news is had on the church of the Madonna della Montata, which houses the paintings of master Antonio.
Today it has become a cemetery church, it stands on the hill that dominates the houses of Molini di Triora, and can be reached by walking through a steep stony road.
Despite the rehashes in later periods, it clearly shows its medieval origin.
The great cycle of frescoes covered all the walls of the presbytery, the triumphal arch, the naves and perhaps even the vault, if this one was not trussed like the one in S. Fiorenzo.
The side walls of the presbytery perhaps still hide the paintings under the shawl, but the aisles and the vault, modified, will hardly be able to return the complete cycle to us.

The presence at the bottom of the Argentina Valley, which is so important in the medieval art of Western Liguria, by Antonio da Monteregale, gives the figure of this artist charm and prestige.
The communication roads for the alpine passes closely connected the two regions: from Mondovì, for the ancient salt road, that through the Ellero Valley went up to the Saline Pass, reached Monesi and the hills of Garlenda, Garezzo and Collardente. we descended into the Ligurian valleys of the rivers Argentina and Nervia; or through the high Tanaro Valley, from Garessio we descended to Albenga or for Colle del S. Bernardo, Erli, Zuccarello, or for Ormea, Col di Nava, Pornassio, Pieve di Teco, Ranzo.
From Pieve di Teco through the hill of S. Bartolomeo you could go down to Imperia or the Argentina Valley through the hill of S. Bernardo del Conio, Carpasio and Montaldo.

Raineri wanted to briefly remember these itineraries because on these very streets and in these places there are still testimonials Gothic art of the xv century of our regions.
Returning to the importance of the Argentina Valley in the xv century, just remember the centers of Taggia with its Cathedral and the Dominican Convent; Badalucco with the church of S. Maria della Teglia; the old church of S. Giorgio in Montaldo, where according to Campini (18) would be born in 1443 the painter Ludovico Brea, who gave so much lustre to what was called "Ligurian-Nice Art", but that Raineri would include in the wider form of the "Art of the Maritime Alps"; Andagna and Triora where in the parish church you can admire the work of the Sienese Taddeo di Bartolo and where, much after Master Antonio, Canavesio will paint the Chapel of St. Bernardino.

The first observation that we can make spontaneously is the one that Antonio from Mondovì, to be called to paint the great cycle of frescoes in the church of La Montata, young as it was, must have already been an affirmed and valid artist in his land.
It is therefore true for this artist what will be read in Lobera's dissertation (27) about the painter Segurano Cigna, which will be very near to the manners of master Antonio: «... redolet artem Segurani Cigna pictoris Vicensis ea tempestate (1454) nominis nequaquam obscuri...».

We have no news, neither bibliographical nor historical on this artist, who we will call for brevity master Antonio, Raineri has tried to reconstruct some excerpts from his life or rather from his work, starting from the great wall of the church of Montà.

Since he dates and signs his work one day in November of 1435, his formation must have been realized in the first decades of 1400, and certainly in that "mondovì school", and of which he was perhaps one of the first and valid initiators.
At that time the powerful Diocese of Mondovì shows a luxuriant flowering of art, ranging from the miniature, executed in the Chartreuse and in the Convents (Casotto, Chiusa Pesio, Pogliola), to the wood engraving that we find with illustrative function in the flourishing art of printing.
For the existence of an artistic center in Mondovì in addition to the already mentioned names of Raimondo and Luigi d'Embruno, we find around in the middle of the xv century a discreet list of names that we have already reported in the list of painters: Giacomo and Angelo Vincenzo from Ceva, Frater Henricus, Segurano Cigna, Sirio from Sale Langhe, Giovanni de Aimo, and Giovanni Mazzucco.
Examining in this way the work of Master Antonio, we find it almost contemporary with Jaquerio, and therefore Raineri thinks both initially drew on the same sources and then developed them in a fairly similar way in different areas, the first one in the North and the second one in the South, adapting them to the environments and acquiring different manners, while following a single trend of inspirations and themes that we have already described in detail.

THE HYPOTHESIS ON THE SURNAME "DRAGONE" and THE SEARCH OF THE ATTRIBUTIONS OF THE BUILDINGS

In the exciting search to give a surname to master Antonio, Raineri has used an analogy found in the use that many artists had to sign their works in a cryptographic way, and that even Vacchetta remembers in his work on the fossil painter Sebastiano Fuseri (29).
An interesting example is the one reported in a Raineri publication (2) : the painter Antoninus Occellus de Ceva, in 1532 signed the frescoes in the chapel of the Castle of Monesiglio with name and surname, while in the chapel of S. Pietro a Mombarcaro he signs replacing the surname with the figure of a bird.

Examining the signature of the frescoes of master Antonio before the name, we see depicted a dragon.

This drawing finds no other explanation in the context of the writing than to conceal the author's surname: Draco, as the bird in Mombarcaro did with Occellus.
Antonius Draco and in Italian Antonio Dragone, surname that we still find very popular today in the Monregalese area, where there is still the place called DRAGONI in the territory of Frabosa Soprana, beyond the hamlet of Lanza Serro.
Other important element of identification is the figure of a dragon in the signature as in Campochiesa . and in the banners of the persecutors of Christ at S. Croce Mondovì , because in every other fresco of the same theme always appears the scorpion.
As last detail regarding the signatures Raineri wants to remember a detail of the cartouche of St. John the Baptist in the chapel of S. Nicolò di Farigliano . In the flap, almost in the shape of a frieze, or of interlaced letters used in the embroidery of the figures, read the letters A D M (Antonius Draco Montisregalis).
The type of painting and the letter r are further evidence of paternity of the fresco.

One of Raineri's hypothesis put forward in the work già cited on Antonio da Monteregale, is that of his return to his native land.
Therefore Raineri has tried, using the fresco of Molini di Triora as a term of comparison, to reconstruct the route of his return looking for the testimonies of his hand in the pictorial cycles that Raineri has already listed during the presentation of the fresco.

To realize this research, Raineri has determined some distinctive characteristic elements of his painting, which can be schematized as follows:


  •  1 )   Spatula-shaped muzzle, of horses, or other animals
  •  2 )   Face, anatomy and position of Christ on the Cross
  •  3 )   Group of the Sorrowful Virgin and the Pious Women: costumes
  •  4 )   Vases of the aromas brought by the pious Women or the Magi
  •  5 )   Hair on forehead with diadem ( S. Giorgio - S. Maurizio )
  •  6 )   Soldiers' armor and use of brocades in knights' costumes
  •  7 )   Shape and colors of thrones with pyramidal studs
  •  8 )   Vault friezes, design and colors of the rosettes
  •  9 )   Use in the lettering of the letter r in the shape of an Arabic 2 and the S of Saint always in red.
  • 10)   Linearism, drawing of figures and environments, drafting of colors
  • 11)   Presence of a dragon or symbols in the writing
  • 12)   Special iconographies
  • 13)   Angels with flame wings


In Diano Castello in the Church of the Madonnetta there is a representation of the Virgin, with the Child in her arms, sitting in S. Anna's lap.
Iconography equal to that cited by the Berry for the table of the church of Montata, and equal to that of the Chapel of St. Bernard of the Forks in Mondovì.
In the cemetery church of S. Giorgio in Campochiesa (Albenga) (30) in the wall of the altar is depicted a Great Last Judgment.
At the top the Christ Pantocrator with the naked body under the open mantle shows the plagues with open arms.
The same iconography is found in S. Croce a Mondovì.
Around the almond tree the hosts of the blessed and on the left among the saints the Madonna similar to that of S. Bernardo delle Forche.
In the middle S. Michele weighing souls with the scales: on the right he has the good ones, on the left the reprobates.
On the left the souls come out of purgatory depicted as open sepulchres and on the right hell with Dante, Virgil, Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggeri.
Under the figure of St. Michael there is an altar with a lamb on it, and under a sepulchre from which King Solomon comes out: Salomon, hodie salvus ero.
Below for lying in the white border a writing in semi-gothic characters similar to those of Montà
        mccccxxxxvi die xiii decembris ego fr. Antonius Caresia prior Sancti Georgi feci
        fieri hoc opus.
The inscription ends with the dragon.
The figures of sinners and demons, like the souls in purgatory, are similar to those of St. Fiorenzo of Bastia. and to those of the Madonna della Neve in S. Michele Mondovì.
Another cycle of frescos that proposes again themes and manners of master Antonio is that of the cemetery church of S. Maurizio in Castelnuovo di Ceva (5).
In the white border above the representation of S. Maurizio the writing is read:
        MCCCCLVIIII die x Octobris.
The richly dressed saint, with the blond hair divided by the tiara, rides a masterfully drawn horse.
In this fresco the use of the pebble-shaped frieze as a filler for the horse's coat and floor is evident.
Many are the elements of resemblance: the faces of the horses and the donkey of the Nativity ; the hair and the feathered tiara to Bardineto and to Cigliè ; the rose window of the vault and the figures of the Magi.
The frescoes in the Chapel of St. Nicholas in Bardineto could be dated 1450/52.
In the wall of the altar is depicted a polyptych already described in the spire shape.
In the central newsstand sitting on the throne is St. Nicholas in Episcopal dress. In the tympanum of the cusp a small Crucifixion with three characters.
The saints are: on the left S. Bernardo di Aosta, S. Giovanni Battista, on the right S. Antonio Abate and S. Lorenzo.
On the triumphal arch, with the border with black and white squares is represented the Annunciation and in the center we find as in Bastia Mondovì the red crenellated wall decorated with flowers.
In the iconography of St. George also the horse's snout and the trappings are similar, and the princess recalls that of Cigliè and St. Catherine of Alexandria that of St. Bernard of the Forks and that of Bastia Mondovì.
Between the representations of the Saints we find then that of the penitent Magdalene covered only by the long blonde hair; purely Provencal theme as the same devotion to this Saint.
Similar iconography is found at the chapel of St. Erige in Auron.
In 1461 he might have painted with Segurano Cigna in Cerisola in the church of S. Maria Maddalena, where the rose window presents the same colors and design (6) and the figures of the Maries at the tomb repeat the ways already seen.
From 1465 to 1475 he may have worked in Mondovì and surroundings: Wall of the Altar and Triumphal Arch in S. Fiorenzo of Bastia Mondovì; in the chapel of S. Nicolò at Farigliano and in that of S. Giorgio at Cigliè, in the Trinity of Chiusa Pesio (7) and finally in the chapel of S. Croce at Mondovì Piazza and in that one of S. Bernardo delle Forche at Mondovì Ferrone.

Summarizing in chronological order the stages of the return of master Antonio according to Raineri may have been:


Comparing the period of forty years with the activity of other painters of the time, it is possible, assuming he went to Molini di Triora at the age of 25/30 years.


As Geronimo Raineri rightly reports, all of these assignments have been conducted over a considerable number of rigorous comparisons and similarities, are not supported by more valid documentation, but must be considered as a subjective research, but sincere in the enthusiasm to offer a wider horizon to the art of the Maritime Alps.


(*)   ref. BIBLIOGRAPHY