The cover is decorated with the chancellor, the clerk, and a purveyor doing their accounts. Inscribed: "Book of the income and expenses of the Biccherna of the commune of Siena from the first of July to the first of January, 1343", followed by the names of the committee members and of its clerk.
As the inscription states (see Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings), this panel was painted in 1343 as the cover of an account book of the Biccherna, the chief financial office of the comune of Siena. The Biccherna was a committee of five individuals—four provveditori (purveyors) and one camarlingo (secretary)—who served for six months. Two account books were issued each year. Over one hundred of the surviving covers, also known as biccherne, are in the Museo delle Tavolette di Biccherna, Archivio di Stato, Siena, the earliest dating from 1258 and the latest from the early eighteenth century. Early biccherne often displayed only the arms or portraits of the provveditori. Later they were more elaborate, usually depicting secular scenes although allegorical and religious subjects also became popular.
In this example, from the latter six-month period of the year 1343, three figures appear behind a long counter. At left the camarlingo, identified as Don Simone di Ser Vanni in the inscription, in the white robe of a Cistercian monk, counts money; a strongbox sits behind him. At this time the camarlinghi were usually monks, often from the nearby Cistercian abbey of San Galgano as here, but this practice stopped shortly afterwards. The other two figures, one writing in an account book and the other studying the records, are presumably the clerk, Ambrogio Casini, and one of the provveditori. Above the figures are four shields that originally bore the coats-of-arms of the four provveditori, now indecipherable.
On its entrance into The Met’s collection, Breck (1911) linked the panel to the school of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Carli (1984) found it close to Niccolò di Segna, and Boskovits (1985) included it in a group of works he attributed to an artist he called the Master of 1346, who he stated was probably trained in the workshop of Niccolò di Segna. Other works that Boskovits gave to this artist include a dismembered polyptych dated 1346 (panels in the Museo d’Arte Sacra, Montalcino, and a private collection), a Madonna and Child in the same museum and another in S. Maria Assunta, Staggia, and a frescoed polyptych in Sant’Agnese, Montepulciano. Although payments to artists for some of the surviving covers exist, none for this one do. As noted by Maginnis (H. B. J. Maginnis. "Biccherna." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 2, 2016, http://0-www.oxfordartonline.com.library.metmuseum.org/subscriber/article/grove/art/T008755.), most of the biccherne were by minor artists, but it has been possible to attribute some to painters of the stature of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Bartolomeo Bulgarini, Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Neroccio de’ Landi, and Domenico Beccafumi.
The inscription has in a few instances been repainted incorrectly. "CAMARLENGNJ" should read "CAMARLENGHO" and "SENTORE" should read "SCRITORE". The unfamiliar name "ACHENGI" may also be the result of incorrect repainting.
[Gretchen Wold 2016]
Inscription: Inscribed: LIBRO : DELENTRATE : EDELESCITE : DELABI / CHERNA : DELCOMUNE : DISIENA : DACALE / NDE : LUGLO : DICALENDE : GIENAIO : ANN : MCCCXLIII / DONSIMONE : DISVANNI : MONACHO : DISANGALGANO / NICOLO : DIMES : CERETANO : DECERETANI / MINUCCIO : DIMES : BINO : ACHENGI / ANDREA : FRANCESSCHO : PICOLIUOMINI / NOTTO : DIMES : BRETACONE : SALIBENI : / CAMARLENGNJ : EQUATTRO : ALDETOTOTEMPO / AMBRUOGIO : CASINI : SENTORE : LORO : (Book of the income and expenses of the biccherna [financial administrators] of the commune of Siena from the first of July to the first of January, 1343. Don Simone di Ser Vanni, monk of San Galgano; Nicolo di Messer Cerretano de' Cerretani; Minuccio di Messer Bino Achengi; Andrea Francesco Piccolomini; Notto di Messer Bretacone Salimbeni; secretary and four [purveyors]; at the said time Ambrogio Casini being their clerk)
[R. Langton Douglas, London, until 1910; sold to MMA]
New York. The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages," March 28–June 3, 1975, no. 161.
J[oseph]. B[reck]. "A Sienese Book Cover." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (February 1911), pp. 40–41, ill. (detail), calls the painter "evidently of the school of Ambrogio Lorenzetti".
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 75–76, ill., as by an unknown Sienese painter of the mid-fourteenth century.
Introduction by Timothy B. Husband and Jane Hayward inThe Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages. Exh. cat., The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1975, p. 142, no. 161, ill.
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. 100–101, pl. 22, as by an unknown Sienese painter of the mid-fourteenth century.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 219, 228, fig. 391 (color).
Enzo Carli inLe Biccherne: tavole dipinte delle magistrature senesi (secoli XIII–XVIII). Rome, 1984, p. 23, notes that this is the earliest account book cover of the Biccherna to show, in addition to the camarlingo, the clerk, and also, exceptionally, a third figure; finds that, judging from a photograph, the work appears to be close to Niccolò di Segna.
Maria Assunta Ceppari et al. inLe Biccherne: tavole dipinte delle magistrature senesi (secoli XIII–XVIII). Rome, 1984, pp. 94–95, no. 27, ill. (color), discuss its place in the development of the scenes depicted on the book covers; provide no attribution.
Miklós Boskovits. "Iniziali miniate e tavolette di Biccherna: studi recenti sul 'dipingere in miniatura'." Arte cristiana 73 (September–October 1985), p. 337 n. 13, fig. 8 (detail), recognizes it as by the same hand responsible for a dispersed altarpiece of 1346 (of which panels are in the Museo d'Arte Sacra, Montalcino, and in a private collection) and other works; calls this artist the Master of 1346 and states that he was probably trained in the workshop of Niccolò di Segna.
Alessandra Ghidoli et al. inLe biccherne di Siena: arte e finanza all'alba dell'economia moderna. Ed. Alessandro Tomei. Exh. cat., Palazzo del Quirinale. Rome, 2002, pp. 54, 56, 59, 67, 69, 152, 168, 171.