Miracle in Avenza: village parish gets its 1438 triptych after more than five hundred years


The parish of St. Peter in Avenza regains the Ringli triptych, a work by the Master of St. Ivo from 1438, after nearly 500 years of absence.

An extraordinary fact is what will happen in Avenza di Carrara on December 1, 2019: the parish church of St. Peter Avenza will in fact get back, after more than five hundred years, a precious triptych from 1438 that had been made for the house of worship but had not been in its place for centuries. We had summarized the matter with an article in our online magazine and an in-depth article in issue 3 of our print magazine: the precious painting, attributed to the Master of St. Ivo and depicting Saints Peter, Anthony Abbot and Mary Magdalene (the former being the titular of the parish, the latter two being the titular of two ancient hospitals linked to it), had been commissioned for the church of Avenza in 1438 by the mercenary captain Peter von Johanns Ringli, who served in the fortress of Avenza between 1437 and 1441, when Francesco Sforza was commander of the militia of the Florentine Republic and Ringli was his lieutenant in the Apuan lands.

We do not know how he left the church in Avenza: the work probably arrived in Genoa as early as the mid-15th century, as Carrara was under the rule of Genoa at the time. In the Ligurian capital it is in fact found in the late 19th century, attested in the collections of the Banca Popolare and Cassa di Risparmio di Genova, which sold it at auction in 1895. In order to put it up for sale and facilitate its purchase, the triptych was dismembered, because more income would be gained from the sale of the three detached figures, and it would be easier to place them. It was a German collector who acquired all three parts, then moved to America, except to return, with his collection, to Germany in 1956. In 1996 the triptych, which passed to another German family, was auctioned again, at Sothebys in New York. Finally the reappearance on the market in London, at Christie’s, where the work was bought, in July 2018, by Matteo Salamon of the Salamon Gallery in Milan, who brought the Ringli triptych back to Italy.

Salamon was able to track down the work’s provenance, and he got in touch with the parish priest of Avenza, Don Marino Navalesi, who, having learned of the work’s history, chose Easter Sunday to announce to the faithful the idea of bringing the triptych home as the protector of the place. The cost of the undertaking, despite the favorable price proposed by the Salamon Gallery (160 thousand euros), made it prohibitive and there were few who believed that Don Marino would succeed: however, the village pride, the generosity of donors (everyone gave what they could, from a few pennies up to hundreds of euros) and the companies that financed the work, made it possible to reach the threshold and, as a result, the undertaking could finally be accomplished. “To find a work of this level and to be able to bring it back to exactly the place for which it was conceived more than 500 years ago,” says Matteo Salamon, “is the dream of an entire career. It is a piece of Italian and Florentine art history that can finally, return to its home.”

It’s not every day that a small provincial church manages to regain possession, after more than five hundred years, of one of its 15th-century works: this time, however, the miracle has happened. “The little of many will do much and the right of others will do the rest,” Don Marino was convinced: and he was right. Because, drop by drop, what seemed an unattainable dream has turned into a reality. And of course the entire art world paid great attention to the event, because we are talking about a work of great importance, studied by top experts in the field, from Federico Zeri (to whom we owe the attribution to the Master of Sant’Ivo) to Angelo Tartuferi. On the occasion of its purchase by Matteo Salamon, the work moreover was reassembled and restored by Loredana Gallo. A painting that, in addition, is also rare: no more than fifty paintings, found in museums around the world, are attributed to the Master of Sant’Ivo (so known for the authorship of the panel dedicated to the saint now in the Accademia Gallery in Florence). Lopera avenzina is certainly among his most important works and can be ascribed to the Maestro’s mature age. “A profound and engaging work,” Don Marino describes it, “that speaks to you of beauty, art and devotion and civilization.”

As mentioned, the work will be relocated to St. Peter’s (obviously equipped with adequate security) on Dec. 1, but the festivities will open on Nov. 30 at 6 p.m., with the opening mass celebrated by the bishop of Massa, Carrara and Pontremoli, Giovanni Santucci. This will be followed, at 9 p.m., by the conference History of a Miracle, with the participation of Angelo Tartuferi (expert in medieval art history, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence between 2013 and 2015), Matteo Salamon (Salamon Gallery), Valentino Anselmi (Superintendence of Lucca, Massa and Carrara), Pietro Di Pierro (historian), and Don Luca Franceschini (head of cultural heritage of the diocese of Massa, Carrara and Pontremoli). Sunday at 4 p.m. there will be a solemn pontifical mass celebrated by Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, archbishop of Palermo, with the participation of Bishops Giovanni Santucci, Eugenio Binini, Guglielmo Borghetti, Alberto Silvani, clergy, associations, and civil and military authorities. Finale with party for all at Casa Pellini, with panigacci from Podenzana, cotton candy for the children and rich refreshments for everyone else. There will also be the lighting of Christmas lights for the occasion, with accompaniment by the “Giuseppe Verdi” Philharmonic of Carrara.

The event is sponsored by the Region of Tuscany, Province of Massa Carrara, Municipality of Carrara, Municipality of Massa, City of Zurich, Italian Institute of Culture, Stadt Zrich Kultur, ANSPI circle “Piergiorgio Frassati” of Avenza, and Pro Loco Avenza sulla Francigena.

Pictured: Master of SantIvo, St. Peter Enthroned between St. Anthony Abbot and Mary Magdalene also known as the Ringli Triptych (1438; tempera on panel with gold background of half, 133.8 x 149.2 cm)

Miracle in Avenza: village parish gets its 1438 triptych after more than five hundred years
Miracle in Avenza: village parish gets its 1438 triptych after more than five hundred years