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Yale Ph.D. Identifies Unknown Renaissance Masterpiece

May 17, 2019

There’s more to Italian Renaissance art than Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Just ask Christopher Platts, who completed his Ph.D. in Art History at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in December.

There are incredible, talented artists from different cities in Italy during the Renaissance who just aren’t as well-known because they haven’t produced a Mona Lisa,” Platts said. “But they’re deeply important for understanding the development of Renaissance painting.”

Paolo Veneziano, "The Capture of Christ," Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; Photo: Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Recently, Platts played a major part in the kind of discovery most scholars only dream of. Curators preparing the exhibition “Old Masters in a New Light: Rediscovering the European Collection” at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive found a painting in storage created by an unknown artist. They contacted Platts for assistance in identifying the artist, and from the moment he saw the photograph of the painting, Platts was certain it was the work of Paolo Veneziano, the leading painter in fourteenth-century Venice.

The style of the figures in the painting, and the way the gold background was tooled suggested to me that it was, indeed, by Paolo and not by one of his students or another artist. The Berkeley Art Museum generously flew me to Berkeley where I was able to confirm in person that Paolo Veneziano was definitely the artist.”

Chris gained valuable experience dealing with early Italian paintings first as a curatorial intern at the Yale University Art Gallery, working with its chief curator Laurence Kanter, and then at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and as a Fellow at the Fondazione Roberto Longhi in Florence.  Thus his ‘eye’ is well trained, and it is not surprising that he has been able to attribute the Berkeley panel to Paolo Veneziano, Venice's most important fourteenth-century painter,” said Professor Robert Nelson, the Robert Lehman Professor in the History of Art and acting Chair of the Department of the History of Art.  “I expect that more discoveries will be forthcoming as he begins to publish his dissertation research.”

Looking forward to his career, Platts is eager to combine his passion for teaching and curation. Currently, he is Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History as well as Curator and Director of the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus. This unique position allows him to utilize gallery visits in his teaching, and gives him the chance to encourage other departments to use the gallery as much as possible.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, "Saint Martin of Tours Dividing His Cloak with a Beggar," Yale University Art Gallery; Photo: Yale University Art Gallery Naturally, Platts has recommendations for what to see at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Check out the gold-ground paintings of the early Renaissance, specifically a brilliant composition of Saint Martin on horseback, cutting his cloak in half in order to share it with a beggar. The work is by a contemporary of Paolo Veneziano’s from Siena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The fourteenth century is a transitional period in art history where you see artists coming up with pictorial and technical solutions to various problems in the art of painting: how do I depict bodies in space, how do I show action? It’s a vital step in the development of the later, High Renaissance painting we might be more familiar with and like better.”

Sean Blink, Website and Social Media Fellow