By Sara Ellis
Master’s Thesis, Queen’s University, 2010
Abstract: Francesco di Marco Datini (c. 1335-1410) left his native city of Prato, near Florence, in about 1350 to become a successful merchant in Avignon, France. He returned three decades later to decorate his newly built private residence in the historic center of Prato. Under his patronage, frescoes of sacred and secular subject matter were executed in the residence from 1389-95.
The artists that have been concretely identified, or suggested, as working in the Palazzo Datini include: Arrigo di Niccolò, from Prato; minor painters Dino di Puccio, Jacopo d’Agnolo, and Agnolo; Florentine artists Tommaso del Mazza, Bartolomeo di Bertozzo, and Pagolino d’Ugolino; and the master artists Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and Agnolo Gaddi.
Many of the original frescoes were uncovered during renovations of the 1950s. Those in the entry hall and ground floor rooms survive in varied condition. This recovery is significant because the survival of large scale private works of this kind in Italy is rare. Datini’s legacy also comprises hundreds of ledgers, account books, and thousands of personal and business letters dating from 1363 to 1410. These are now contained in the Archivio Storico di Prato.
Using the surviving visual and written material as a reference point, this thesis examines the contexts behind Datini’s choices as patron. In particular, the influence of predominant values in merchant culture will be considered. The frescoes are explored in comparison with the interior decoration in the palaces of contemporaries. Precedence is given to residences in Florence and other urban centers in Tuscany. Related paintings from Avignon are also considered, as Datini lived there for many years. Visual parallels can also be drawn between the Datini frescoes and manuscript illuminations, among other sources. The murals were influenced by Datini’s own interests, larger cultural values, and the painters, who derived from the Florentine tradition. This thesis seeks to examine the cultural and artistic environment in late Trecento Prato, Datini’s contact with the artists, the subject matter and style of the frescoes, and their reception.