Giovanni Da Rimini

Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints

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Anna Koopstra
  • New Haven, CT: 
    Yale University Press
    , October
     64 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Giovanni da Rimini: Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints is a publication that accompanies an exhibition held by the National Gallery in 2017, after the 2015 acquisition of the titular rare Italian panel painting from the late medieval period.

The author, Anna Koopstra, guides the reader in identifying the style, iconography, and probable patronage of this painting. In the first chapter, she reveals the importance of Rimini as a cultural and artistic center at the beginning of the 14th century. Koopstra demonstrates the strong trade links that this city had with Byzantium, and by quoting documents and presenting Byzantine works, she persuasively proves the relation of Giovanni da Rimini’s oeuvre to Byzantine art.

The second chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the panel scenes, which are unevenly distributed and focus on different narratives from the lives of the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Francis, and Saint John the Baptist. This unusual distribution of saints’ life scenes makes this medieval panel quite original, and worthy of a deep study like this one. With a careful examination of space composition and colors, Koopstra brilliantly explains the meaning of the work and suggests connections that might tie together the otherwise disconnected scenes.

An interesting discussion in the central chapter deals with the rarely depicted apotheosis of Saint John the Evangelist, portrayed in the upper left scene of the panel. Koopstra challenges the misconception that Saint John the Evangelist is Saint Augustine. She mentions that the evangelist has been frequently misrecognized as the elderly bishop Saint Augustine, and she definitively proves why this assumption is incorrect. Additionally, Koopstra makes a significant parallel between the depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin and the apotheosis of Saint John, placed next to each other in Giovanni da Rimini’s work. She then undertakes a comprehensive description of the materials of the painting and the techniques. In doing so, she also refers to a similar painting by Giovanni da Rimini now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome. At the end of this same chapter Koopstra discusses the concerns of the patrons who commissioned this painting, and suggests where it could have been originally placed. In a very skillful way, she approaches this discussion by using the iconography of Giovanni’s work as an analytic tool, drawing parallels with other 14th-century panel paintings.

Finally, the last chapter is dedicated to the examination of material evidence for the widely accepted understanding of Giovanni da Rimini’s London and Rome panels as a diptych. Koopstra questions this assumption, asserting that the fact that both the National Gallery and Rome panels were probably owned by Barberini does not clarify whether they originally belonged together as a diptych. Koopstra argues that there is no evidence of hinges on the original frames, and the pictures show a differently carved profile. She again discusses the iconography, and demonstrates the ways in which the two panels are not complementary: there are no visual features that link them beyond their pictorial style. In Koopstra’s opinion, however, it is highly likely that the London and Rome panels were made for the same patron. 

This work is clear, well-organized, and easy to read. It is an invitation to explore not only the history and iconography of this rare medieval panel, but of Riminese artists more broadly. It also offers the reader many useful visual resources through rich color illustrations.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Patrizia Granziera is Professor on the Faculty of Arts at the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Date of Review: 
October 4, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anna Koopstra is the Simon Sainsbury Curatorial Assistant of Paintings before 1500 at the National Gallery, London. She is also the associate Caroline Villers research fellow for 2016–17 at the Courtauld Institute of Art.


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