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Church of Santo Stefano - Poggio alla Malva

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It was originally a sixteenth-century oratory dedicated to St. Sebastian, converted and extended around 1742-1748, when there was transferred the seat of the ancient Church of St. Stephen “Alle Buche”, located just over the Arno banks.
The inside of the church houses fifteenth and sixteenth-century works.
The ecclesia S. Stephani de Bruscianese, subject to the principal church of Artimino, is registered in the lists of tithes since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The name changes two centuries later: ecclesia S. Stephani delle Busche and also ecclesia S. Stephani de Brucianesi alias de Callerotto. Since 1741, once abandoned the ancient church close to river Arno and thus, subjected to floods, the parish was moved to an oratory already existing in Poggio alla Malva, next to which the royal state property gave the permission to build the rectory.  The pre-existent oratory was extended and dedicated to St. Sebastian  and the tower bell was erected in sandstone with a cell equipped with parapet and balustrades. The choir with organ, supported by Tuscan columns in pietra serena (grey stone) is inside the church on the counter-fašade. Above it, we can find two paintings by Crivelli, perhaps dating back to the Fifties of the twentieth century and representing the Saints Anthony and John the Baptist. Crivelli realised also the Via Crucis in the presbytery. The chamber is covered by brass roof; the presbytery, with a triumphal arch supported by Tuscan columns with entablature, has got a barrel vault. On the side wall of the church, we can find an incomplete fresco representing the Flagellation, recovered from the church of St. Stephen  alle Busche together with other two scenes present in the church: the Kiss of Judas and the Adoration of the Shepherds, works by two painters influenced by Spinello and Gerini. The altar on the right side of the late seventeenth century has got pilaster strips with fluting and a broken pediment and it frames a beautiful canvas by the studio of Domenico Landini, representing the Stoning of Saint Stephen,  dating back to ca. 1650. The altar facing it, crowned by a broken pediment houses an exquisite canvas with a golden background by Neri di Bicci, coming from the Church of the Busche: it is about the Madonna with Child with the Saints Sylvester, Stephen, Bartholomew and Lawrence, dating back to 1475 and 1480. The presbytery, closed by a stone balustrade, has got a main altar with aedicule surrounded by ionic pilaster strips in the background. The exhibited Crucifix is clearly inspired to Baccio from Montelupo.

Madonna with Child on a Throne  with the Saints Sylvester, Stephen, Bartholomew and Lawrence attributed to Neri di Bicci datable between 1475 and 1480

The canvas is rectangular and horizontally oriented according to one of the most widespread typology of Florentine painting of the second half of the fifteenth century. The painting has a very simple compositional structure, based on a central symmetric axis. The Madonna is seated in the centre of the painting on a marble throne provided with a step, the child is standing on her knees trying to climb up his mother’s face. On the left, Saint Stephen, Deacon, Saint Sylvester, Pope, on the right Saint Bartholomew with a knife in his hand - iconographic symbol of his martyrdom- and Saint Lawrence are attending the scene. The name of the Saints and the invocation to Mary are signed along the length of the step serving as a platform to the sacred scene. Carocci, functionary of the Superintendence, suggesting the attribution of the canvas to Neri di Bicci, already in 1897, registered that at that time the work was located on the altar on the right, covered by a canvas leaving Madonna with child only partially on display, according to tradition, when it was used to leaving parts of works considered archaic on display.
The language of the painting is simple  and it makes it belong to the works by Neri di Bicci, humble but suggestive populariser of the highest Florentine model of the fifteenth century. Son of Bicci di Lorenzo, painter as well, after working with him, inherited his studio, welcoming the originalities of Filippo Lippi, L’Angelico and Domenico Veneziano. Unfortunately,  the work of Poggio alla Malva does not appear in the “Ricordanze” by Neri di Bicci, published by Bruno Santi, but there is no doubt about its paternity. The countenances of the Saints and the Virgin are peculiar and unmistakable as well as the composition and shape of the throne with the usage of the golden background. The stylistic combination and the fact that it was not cited in the “Ricordanze”, allow us to date it shortly after April 24, 1475.

 

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