Well, come on, let’s face it, he’s not terribly good, is he? What did Federigo see in him? This is the ruler, the courtyard of whose palace creates a deep feeling of inner peace amid the summer heat and crowds, the ruler who liked Piero della Francesca‘s calm, remote, contemplative, technically skilled paintings with their mastery of perspective, on which Piero was proud to be an expert.
So why go for Justus when there were loads of good painters around? Paolo Uccello painted the predella (The Miracle of the Desecrated Host, actually a bit weird and very unpleasant to modern taste) of the picture above, and Alessandro Sforza of Pesaro commissioned the Pesaro Altarpiece (The Coronation of the Virgin) from Giovanni Bellini in the 1470s. Cardinal Girolamo della Rovere commissioned Melozzo da Forli (whom Giovanni Santi admired) and Luca Signorelli to paint frescoes in the great new church at Loreto, also in the 1470s when Federigo was still alive.
There are various dates for the Communion of the Apostles, but it could certainly have been painted when the above artists were active in the Marches. Even dear old Mr Santi was a lot better than Justus, though that wouldn’t be difficult. Vespasiano da Bisticci, Federigo’s biographer, writes that he chose Justus because he (Justus) knew how to colorire in oils. Really? If you look Justus up on the Web, you will find his Adoration of the Magi (painted before he went to Italy) at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and this is what they say:” The gouache-like medium [distemper] applied to a relatively porous support [canvas] accounts for the picture’s subdued tonality and matte surface.” In other words, the paint has soaked into the canvas. How could Vespasiano and Federigo think Justus knew how to colorire? This altarpiece was actually commissioned by Federigo for the confraternity of “Corpus Domini”. Perhaps he thought it was good enough for them. According to Alison Cole’s Art of the Italian Renaissance Courts (Weidenfeld, 1995 ), “Santi was asked to find a painter to complete an altarpiece [Uccello had already done the predella] for the … confraternity … in the event, Justus of Ghent painted the main panel …”. Santi had originally invited Piero in the hope that he would paint the main panel. Was Santi a bit desperate, or is Lina right and am I being unfair?