The Miraculous Communion of Saint Catherine of Siena
Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Tempera and gold on wood
11 3/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.9 x 22.2 cm)
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 625
These three panels belong to a series from the base (predella) of a large altarpiece and constituted the first extensive narrative cycle of Catherine of Siena, a Sienese mystic as well as minister to the poor and plague-stricken. They were commissioned after her canonization in 1460 and are based on the biography written by her confessor, Raymond of Capua. Among the most notable features is the way space is manipulated to enhance the mystic character of their subject. Two further scenes are in the Metropolitan (Robert Lehman Collection). For more detailed descriptions of the stories, see metmuseum.org/collections.
Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena about 1347, died in 1380, and was canonized in 1461. She was a member of the Dominican order, a mystic, and minister to the poor and plague-stricken. This picture illustrates Saint Catherine miraculously receiving Holy Communion. The miracle is recounted by her confessor and biographer, Raymond of Capua (book II, chap. XII, pp. 318–23). Catherine had been ill and unable to go to church. Her confessor Raymond of Capua proceeded to church by himself, and as he broke the consecrated Host, a piece went missing. Catherine had managed to come to church where, in another chapel, she received the missing piece from Christ himself. Rather than create a unified space, Giovanni di Paolo imaginatively collides two parts of the church together, using a column to effect the division.
This panel is from a series of ten scenes illustrating events from Catherine’s life. The Museum owns four additional panels from the series: The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena (1997.117.2), Saint Catherine of Siena Exchanging Her Heart with Christ (1997.117.3), Saint Catherine of Siena Beseeching Christ to Resuscitate Her Mother (1975.1.33), and Saint Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata (1975.1.34). The other five panels are: Saint Catherine Invested with the Dominican Habit, Saint Catherine and the Beggar (both Cleveland Museum of Art), Saint Catherine Dictating Her Dialogues to Raymond of Capua (Detroit Institute of Arts), Saint Catherine before the Pope at Avignon (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), and Death of Saint Catherine (private collection, formerly Minneapolis Institute of Arts). This is the first extensive illustration of her life, and the panels are thus of exceptional interest both for their remarkable invention and ingenuity and for their presentation of the saint. The events illustrated derive from a biography of Saint Catherine, the Leggenda maior, written in 1385 by Raymond of Capua. In the papal bull canonizing her, as well as in a sermon and laudatory hymn, Pope Pius II (himself a Sienese) mentioned many of the incidents illustrated by Giovanni di Paolo.
This series is usually associated with an altarpiece commissioned from Giovanni di Paolo by the guild of the Pizzicaiuoli (purveyors of dry goods) in 1447 for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena. The altarpiece was described in detail by Giovan Girolamo Carli in the eighteenth century (Strehlke 1988). When the account was written the altarpiece was dismantled and the smaller panels separated. Carli identified the main panel of the altarpiece with a Purification of the Virgin, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (as Presentation of Christ in the Temple). A Crucifixion (Rijksmuseum Het Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, on deposit at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), then at a carpenter’s, would have constituted the center element to the predella, while figures from the pilasters represent Saint Galganus, Blessed Peter of Siena(?) (both Aartsbisschoppelijk Museum, Utrecht), Blessed Andrea Gallerani (MMA 1975.1.55), and Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni (MMA 1975.1.56). According to Os (1971), the main panel would have been flanked by two large standing saints, as was traditional in Sienese altarpieces, but of these there is no record. All of the small panels were subsequently purchased in Siena by the German painter and collector, J. A. Ramboux, in 1838 (Merzenich 1995).
Scholars disagree on the relationship between the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece and the series of ten panels depicting scenes from the life of Saint Catherine. Their arguments fall into three broad categories: 1) the panels were part of the original commission for the altarpiece and were thus painted between 1447 and 1449 (Brandi 1941, Coor-Achenbach 1959, and Os 1971); 2) they were added to the altarpiece after Catherine's canonization in 1461 (Pope-Hennessy 1947 and Gore 1965); 3) they are not related to the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece at all, but either originally surrounded an image of Saint Catherine (Pope-Hennessy 1937 and Zeri and Gardner 1980) or constitute a predella for another altarpiece (Boskovits 1990 and exh. cat. Cologne 1998).
In principle it is highly unlikely that such an extensive series illustrating the life of the saint would have been commissioned in 1447, prior to her canonization. Moreover, the style of the pictures is consistent with a date in the 1460s, not the 1440s. Thus, the panels are unlikely to have been part of the original commission. But this does not mean that they could not have been added to the altarpiece to celebrate the elevation to sainthood of this much loved Sienese mystic, possibly replacing an earlier predella (for a discussion of the various possibilities, see Strehlke 1988). Just as controversial is the sequence of the scenes, which seem not to follow a chronological narrative. All of the scenes relating to Saint Catherine were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum in 1989, at which time further technical observations were made that bear on their hypothetical arrangement (Christiansen 1990).
[Keith Christiansen 2012]
church of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, Siena (by at least 1482); altar of Santa Cristina in the cemetery of the hospital; rector's rooms of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala (until shortly before 1800); Johann Anton Ramboux, Cologne (by 1838?–d. 1866; cat., 1862, no. 116; his estate sale, J. M. Heberle [H. Lempertz], Cologne, May 23, 1867, no. 116); Karl Anton, Prinz von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Sigmaringen (1867–at least 1883; cat., 1871, no. 186–4; cat., 1883, no. 186–4); ?[Kleinberger, New York]; Michael Friedsam, New York (by 1927–d. 1931)
Cologne. Kaufhaussaale Gürzenich. "Altdeutscher und altitalienischer Gemälde," 1854, no. 264d (lent by J. A. Ramboux).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giovanni di Paolo: Paintings," August 14–October 8, 1973, no. 9.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Saints and Their Legends," March 1–June 6, 1974, exh. brochure.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500," December 20, 1988–March 19, 1989, no. 38g.
F. Bossio. "Sante visite." Memoriale della visita pastorale. no. 21, 1575, c. 114 [Archivio Arcivescovile, Siena; see Refs. Brandi 1933 and Strehlke 1988], mentions the predella of the altarpiece depicting the Presentation [sic, for Purification] of the Virgin, which was located in the Pizzicaiuoli chapel (at that time dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel) in the church of Santa Maria della Scala.
Giovan Girolamo Carli. Notizie di belle arti. no. C.VII.20, [ca. 1750–74], f. 86 v. [Biblioteca Comunale, Siena; see Refs. Brandi 1941 and Strehlke 1988], describes a dismantled altarpiece composed of the following panels: ten very small scenes from the life of Saint Catherine, a Crucifixion then at the carpenter's, six small panels of saints (Saints Galgano, Bernardino, and Catherine, Blessed Andrea Gallerani, Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni, and a Franciscan martyr), and the central panel of the Purification of the Virgin; dates it to the middle of the fifteenth century, and suggests that it is by the painter of works in the sacristy of Sant'Andrea [Giovanni di Paolo's Coronation of the Virgin of 1445]; states that before being dismantled the altarpiece had been on the altar of Santa Cristina in the cemetery, and that the various panels were to be distributed in various locations within the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.
Catalog für die Ausstellung altdeutscher und altitalienischer Gemälde auf dem Kaufhaussaale Gürzenich zu Köln. Exh. cat., Kaufhaussaale Gürzenich. Cologne, 1854, p. 19, no. 264d, as in the collection of J. A. Ramboux; calls the nine panels in Ramboux's collection a predella by Giovanni di Paolo dating from about 1461.
J[ohann]. A[nton]. Ramboux. Katalog der Gemälde alter italienischer Meister (1221–1640) in der Sammlung des Conservator J. A. Ramboux. Cologne, 1862, pp. 21–22, no. 116, states that the nine panels in his collection formed the predella of an altarpiece formerly in the Hospital della Scala, and that the central panel, a Presentation in the Temple, is now in the Siena museum; dates it about 1342.
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Fourteenth Century. Vol. 3, London, 1866, p. 80.
F. A. Lehner. Fürstlich Hohenzollern'sches Museum zu Sigmaringen: Verzeichniss der Gemälde. Sigmaringen, 1871, pp. 53–55, no. 186-4, states that the nine panels were acquired from Ramboux through Prof. A. Müller, Düsseldorf.
F. A. von Lehner. Fürstlich Hohenzollern'sches Museum zu Sigmaringen: Verzeichniss der Gemälde. 2nd ed. Sigmaringen, 1883, pp. 58–60, no. 186-4.
Fritz Harck. "Quadri italiani nelle Gallerie private di Germania." Archivio storico dell'arte 6 (1893), p. 388, as one of the nine panels in the Sigmaringen museum.
Luitpold Dussler. "Some Unpublished Works by Giovanni di Paolo." Burlington Magazine 50 (1927), p. 36, pl. IIB, as in the Friedsam collection, New York; connects it with three panels from the Stoclet collection which were included in an exhibition of Italian primitives in Brussels in 1922; tentatively dates it to the 1430s, and not later than 1440.
Bernard Berenson in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], pp. 97c–97d, connects it with seven panels in the Stoclet collection, one in the Lehman collection, and one in the Jarves collection, New Haven [this scene actually represents Saint Clare and is part of another series]; believes that these panels were more likely to have been part of a shrine than a predella; tentatively dates them between 1445 and 1455.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 246.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), pp. 34–35, no. 54, ill.
Marialuisa Gengaro. "Eclettismo e arte nel Quattrocento senese." La Diana 7 (1932), p. 30.
Cesare Brandi. La regia pinacoteca di Siena. Rome, 1933, p. 96, under no. 211, quotes Ref. Bossio 1575.
Exposition de l'art italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Petit Palais. Paris, 1935, pp. 92–93, under nos. 202–4, states that it is not certain that the group of panels belonged to a single predella, and that it is not known how they were originally grouped.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 212.
Edward S. King. "Notes on the Paintings by Giovanni di Paolo in the Walters Collection." Art Bulletin 18 (June 1936), p. 237.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo, 1403–1483. London, 1937, pp. 130–33, 172, rejects Ramboux's [see Ref. 1862] association of the panels with the 1447 Presentation (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), proposing that they post-date Saint Catherine's canonization in 1461; does not believe they would have formed a predella, and suggests that they may instead have been grouped around an image of Saint Catherine like the one in the Fogg Museum, Cambridge.
Robert Langton Douglas. "Review of Pope-Hennessy 1937." Burlington Magazine 72 (1938), p. 44, considers Pope-Hennessy's dating of the panels too late.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 88–89, ill.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo, II." Le arti 3 (June–July 1941), pp. 319–24 n. 60, pp. 325, 327, 331, fig. 33, publishes Carli's [see Ref. 1750–74] description of the various panels of the altarpiece, noting that the Stigmatization is missing; identifies the Crucifixion with that in Utrecht, and two of the six saints with those in the Lehman collection; illustrates a diagram of his proposal for the organization of the panels of the altarpiece; dates the panels 1447–49.
Margaretta Salinger. "A New Panel in Giovanni di Paolo's Saint Catherine Series." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 1 (Summer 1942), pp. 21–28, ill., publishes the panel of the stigmatization of Saint Catherine (then in the H. H. M. Lyle collection, New York, now in the Robert Lehman Collection, MMA, 1975.1.34).
Cesare Brandi. Giovanni di Paolo. Florence, 1947, pp. 36–44, 47, 51, pp. 79–81 n. 60, p. 120, fig. 45 [same text as Ref. Brandi 1941].
John Pope-Hennessy. "Review of Brandi 1947." Burlington Magazine 89 (May 1947), pp. 138–39, accepts the association of the panels with the 1447 Presentation in the Siena museum, but suggests that they were added after 1461, citing the parallel with Andrea Vanni's altarpiece in Santo Stefano in Siena, to which Giovanni di Paolo added a predella of scenes from the life of Saint Bernardino painted after his canonization to replace the former predella.
Cesare Brandi. "Letters." Burlington Magazine 89 (July 1947), p. 196.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Letters." Burlington Magazine 89 (July 1947), p. 196.
Cesare Brandi. Quattrocentisti senesi. Milan, 1949, pp. 99–100, 201–6 n. 67, p. 261, pl. 140.
George Kaftal. St Catherine in Tuscan Painting. Oxford, 1949, pp. 9–10, 37, 115, fig. XXXI.
George Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence, 1952, col. 244, fig. 274.
Enzo Carli. La pittura senese. Milan, 1955, p. 224, states that the panels originally surrounded ["circondata"] the Siena Presentation in the Temple, apparently agreeing with Brandi's [see Ref. 1941] reconstruction of the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece.
Charles Sterling, ed. Exposition de la collection Lehman de New York. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Orangerie. Paris, 1957, pp. 16–17, under no. 21, accepts Brandi's [see Ref. 1941] reconstruction of the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, with the ten scenes at the sides and bottom of the central panel of the Presentation in the Temple.
Gertrude Coor. "Quattrocento-Gemälde aus der Sammlung Ramboux." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 21 (1959), pp. 82–85, fig. 33, identifies two more pilaster panels, Saint Galgano and the Franciscan martyr, possibly Pietro da Siena, formerly in the Ramboux collection and now in the Aartbischoppelijk Museum, Utrecht; believes that the panels were part of the original commission and formed a predella for the Presentation now in the Siena museum.
St. John Gore. The Art of Painting in Florence & Siena from 1250 to 1500. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. London, 1965, pp. 55–56, under no. 98, accepts Pope-Hennessy's dating of the panels [see Ref. 1947].
Elizabeth Ourusoff de Fernandez-Gimenez. "The Life of St. Catherine of Siena." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 54 (1967), pp. 103–10.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 178, 180.
Hans-Joachim Ziemke. "Ramboux und die sienesische Kunst." Städel-Jahrbuch, n.s., 2 (1969), pp. 280, 298 n. 289.
Marjan Reinders et al. inSienese Paintings in Holland. Exh. cat., Museum voor Stad en Lande. Groningen, 1969, unpaginated, under nos. 8 and 33–34, reject the Utrecht Crucifixion as part of the predella of the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, but tentatively accept the two Utrecht panels of Saint Galganus and the Blessed Peter of Siena(?) as part of that altarpiece, suggesting an attribution to Pellegrino di Mariano.
Rudolf J. Heinemann inSammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza. Castagnola, Switzerland, 1971, p. 144, under no. 107.
H. W. van Os. "Giovanni di Paolo's Pizzicaiuolo Altarpiece." Art Bulletin 53 (September 1971), pp. 289–302, fig. 7, accepts Brandi's dating of the panels [see Ref. 1941]; suggests a reconstruction of the altarpiece in which the central panel was flanked by two figures of standing saints, one of which would have been Saint Catherine, with the six small pilaster panels in turn flanking those two saints, and the ten scenes from the story of Saint Catherine's life forming the predella, with the Utrecht Crucifixion in the center.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 90, 387, 607.
Elizabeth Ourusoff De Fernandez-Gimenez in "European Paintings Before 1500." The Cleveland Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. Part 1, Cleveland, 1974, pp. 105, 109–10.
George Szabó. The Robert Lehman Collection. New York, 1975, pp. 13–14.
Hayden B. J. Maginnis. "Letter to the editor." Art Bulletin 57 (December 1975), p. 608, mistakenly states that the panel depicting the death of Saint Catherine formerly in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is not the same one that was earlier in the Stoclet collection in Brussels.
Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, p. 316.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sienese and Central Italian Schools. New York, 1980, pp. 24–27, pl. 44, reject the connection of the ten panels with the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, believing instead that they probably formed part of an unrelated altarpiece, where they would have surrounded a full-length central figure of Saint Catherine; consider it possible that the Saint Catherine in the Fogg Art Museum might be that central panel; state that such an altarpiece would have been commissioned and executed only after Saint Catherine's canonization in 1461, and date the panels to the first half of the 1460s.
Giulietta Chelazzi Dini inIl gotico a Siena: miniature pitture oreficerie oggetti d'arte. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Florence, 1982, pp. 358–59, considers the series part of the predella of the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, and calls Brandi's [see Ref. 1941] reconstruction the most convincing.
Daniela Gallavotti Cavallero. Lo spedale di Santa Maria della Scala in Siena. Siena, 1985, pp. 192, 196–97, 262 nn. 247, 270.
John Pope-Hennessy assisted by Laurence B. Kanter inThe Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. New York, 1987, pp. 128, 130–32, compares the panels stylistically with Giovanni di Paolo's Pienza altarpiece of 1463, and also calls it unlikely that a cycle of scenes from Catherine's life would be included in a major altarpiece before her canonization in 1461; therefore thinks that the panels were either a later addition to the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece or were made for a different work.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 46 (Fall 1988), pp. 23–24, 29, fig. 33 (color), dates the ten panels to 1461 or soon afterward.
Carl Brandon Strehlke inPainting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 218–24, 235, no. 38g, ill. p. 234, does not exclude the possibility that the series was not painted for the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, the history of which he discusses in detail; dates the ten panels after 1461.
Lidia Bianchi and Diega Giunta. Iconografia di S. Caterina da Siena. Rome, 1988, p. 255.
Lillian Blauwkuip inThe Early Sienese Paintings in Holland. Ed. H. W. van Os et al. Florence, 1989, pp. 73–74.
Miklós Boskovits and Serena Padovani. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Early Italian Painting, 1290–1470. London, 1990, pp. 106–13, fig. 6g, carefully review all the literature on the relationship of the ten panels to the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, including diagrams of four proposed reconstructions; date the panels to about 1461, and decide that they were probably not painted for the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece.
Keith Christiansen. "Notes on 'Painting in Renaissance Siena'." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), pp. 210–211, suggests an arrangement of the predella panels of the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, with this panel flanking the central Utrecht Crucifixion on the right; finds Van Os's suggestion of two figures of saints flanking the central panel of the Purification convincing.
Henk van Os. Sienese Altarpieces, 1215–1460: Form, Content, Function. Vol. 2, 1344–1460. Groningen, 1990, pp. 122, 124–25.
Gaudenz Freuler. "Künder der wunderbaren Ding": Frühe italienische Malerei aus Sammlungen in der Schweiz und in Liechtenstein. Exh. cat., Stiftung Thyssen-Bornemisza. Lugano, 1991, pp. 94, 96–98, under no. 31, ill.
Christoph Merzenich inLust und Verlust. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Vol. 1, "Kölner Sammler zwischen Trikolore und Preußenadler."Cologne, 1995, pp. 305, 311, illustrates (pl. 2, p. 307) an export application made by Ramboux dated November 28, 1838, which includes seven paintings showing scenes from the life of Saint Catherine of Siena (one of which was probably this one), a Crucifixion, and four saints, one of which was Galgano.
Alan Chong and Roland Krischel inLust und Verlust. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Vol. 1, "Kölner Sammler zwischen Trikolore und Preußenadler."Cologne, 1995, pp. 586–87, under nos. 202a–c.
Andrew Ladis. "Sources and Resources: The Lost Sketchbooks of Giovanni di Paolo." The Craft of Art: Originality and Industry in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Workshop. Ed. Andrew Ladis and Carolyn Wood. Athens, Ga., 1995, p. 85 n. 31, dates the ten panels to the 1460s.
Giovanna Damiani inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 12, New York, 1996, pp. 715–16, connects the Saint Catherine series with the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece, while noting that some scholars think that these panels were not added until later.
Janneke Johanna Anje Panders. "The Underdrawing of Giovanni di Paolo: Characteristics and Development." PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 1997, pp. 3, 59.
Lust und Verlust. Ed. Hiltrud Kier and Frank Günter Zehnder. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Vol. 2, "Corpus-Band zu Kölner Gemäldesammlungen 1800–1860."Cologne, 1998, pp. 537, 559–61, no. 116, ill., date the panels after 1461(?); call them predella panels, but do not accept with absolute certainty their connection with the Pizzicaiuoli altarpiece.
Miklós Boskovits inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, p. 324, refers to the Saint Catherine panels as a predella and dates them to the mid-fifteenth century.
Andrea De Marchi. La pala d'altare dal polittico alla pala quadra. Florence, 2012, p. 102, argues that the altarpiece, including the predella, was commissioned prior to the canonization of Saint Catherine in 1461 and dates it about 1447–49.