This Madonna and Child is from an important altarpiece painted for a church of the Silvestrine order (a branch of the Benedictines founded in 1231). The figures above are Christ flanked by Saints Paul and Peter. Segna’s figures are notable for their somewhat austere, regal bearing—so different from the delicately nuanced, affectively human world Duccio explored. He also retained the Byzantine web of gold striations on draperies to enhance their status as sacred icons. For more information about this painting, including a reconstruction of the altarpiece, visit metmuseum.org.
In 1924 the Metropolitan Museum acquired a triptych signed by Segna di Buonaventura, Duccio’s nephew and among his most faithful and prominent followers in Siena. Subsequent research (Wehle 1940 and Zeri 1958) has established that, in fact, the three panels comprised the center and end sections of a dismembered pentaptych (five-paneled altarpiece), along with a fourth panel in the Metropolitan Museum and a fifth in Assisi (see Additional Images, fig. 1). In its original configuration the altarpiece would have shown, left to right, Saint Benedict (with, above, an angel and an apostle; MMA 24.78c), Saint John the Baptist (Perkins Collection, Sacro Convento di San Francesco, Assisi), the Madonna and Child (with, above, Saint Paul, Christ, and Saint Peter; MMA 24.78a), Saint John the Evangelist (MMA 41.100.22), and Saint Silvester Gozzolini (with, above, an apostle and an angel; MMA 24.78b). The panels of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist—both of which belonged to the art historian-dealer Herbert Horne in Florence prior to 1920—would, like the other three components of the altarpiece, also have been crowned with pairs of half-length figures, two of which have been tentatively identified by Gaudenz Freuler (1997) with a King David (location unknown) and a Jeremiah (Keresztény Múseum, Esztergom, Hungary). The constituent panels of the altarpiece are unevenly preserved, Saint John the Baptist having suffered the most and the Saint John the Evangelist the least. This variation in condition may have been one of the factors leading to the dismemberment of the polyptych, obviously motivated by the art market. In the 1980s the three MMA panels forming what was a false triptych were separated; however, some of the framing elements on these three panels are original, as are the inscriptions identifying the two monastic saints, and these have been preserved. The panels of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist are in modern frames.
This must have been an important commission: when intact, the altarpiece would have resembled Duccio’s polyptych in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (the so-called polyptych 47). Its form, with simple, rounded arches and a molding running, box-like, around the bottom and sides of the altarpiece, became old-fashioned after Simone Martini established the template for the fully articulated Gothic polyptych in his altarpiece for San Domenico in Pisa in 1319 (Museo di San Matteo, Pisa). This new type incorporated tracery, pinnacles, pilasters, and a predella. It also introduced the use of elaborate motif punches. The haloes and borders of Segna’s altarpiece are inscribed free-hand, in the tradition of Duccio. Taken together, these factors suggest that the altarpiece cannot date much after 1320.
The pairing of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist—the forerunner of Christ and the beloved disciple—to either side of the Madonna and Child is not uncommon and may relate either to the dedication of the chapel or to the name of the patron. On the other hand, the presence of Saints Benedict (ca. 480–543) and Silvester Gozzolini (1177–1267) virtually assures that the altarpiece was painted for a monastery of the Silvestrine order, which was founded by Silvester in 1231 and followed the rule of Saint Benedict. This fact has raised the possibility that the altarpiece was painted for the Sienese church of Santo Spirito (Zeri and Gardner 1980). Founded in 1311, a document assures us that in 1317 the church and convent belonged to the Silvestrines from Montefano, near Fabriano—the mother hermitage of the order. In 1430 the convent was turned over to the Vallombrosans, then, in 1437, to the Black Friars and, finally, to the Dominicans (see Alfredo Liberati, "Chiese monasteri oratori . . . sensi," Bollettino senesi di storia patria 9 , pp. 136–37). This hypothetical provenance is not attested by any document, and given the history of the church, it is just as likely that the altarpiece was painted for another Tuscan city. Segna was much active outside Siena. In 1319 he was living in Arezzo, where he painted a crucifix for the Benedictine abbey of Sante Flora e Lucilla. For Castiglione Fiorentino, near Cortona, he painted a large crucifix and a Maestà. Silvestrine establishments were particularly associated with Umbria, Tuscany, and the Marches and it is possible that the Metropolitan’s altarpiece was for a Silvestrine establishment in the vicinity of Cortona or Perugia. Carli (1972) has noted that Meo da Siena repeats Segna’s composition of the Madonna and Child in an altarpiece painted for a hermitage north of Perugia (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Perugia), and this, too, might be thought to indicate its origin from a church in that area.
Segna’s art is dependent on the early work of Duccio, and his figures have a regal, hieratic formality that removes them from the delicately nuanced, affectively human world Duccio explored in his mature paintings. Segna’s ascetic, harshly featured saints consciously evoke a more archaic art, and he notably retained the Byzantine use of gold striations on draperies—emblematic of the sacred world of icons. Yet this austere grandeur did not preclude a courtly elegance and a search for new solutions to express the relationship of mother to child by constantly varying the pose of the infant Christ. In this Segna must have been inspired by the example of Simone Martini (Cateni 2003), whose influence is beautifully exemplified in the complex pose and gesture of the Christ Child in the Metropolitan’s panel.
[Keith Christiansen 2013]
Inscription: Signed and inscribed (on frame): [HOC O]PVS PI[NXIT S]EGNA SE[NENSIS]
Duchess of Norfolk, Arundel Castle, Sussex; [Steinmeyer, Lucerne]; [Reinhardt & Co., New York, until 1924; sold to MMA]
H[arry]. B. W[ehle]. "An Altarpiece by Segna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19 (August 1924), pp. 191–93, ill. on cover, states that "it constitutes the main portions, or possibly all, of a large dismembered altarpiece" and is "one of the three signed works of Segna now known"; suggests that it may have been painted for a Silvestrine church.
Raimond van Marle. "Dipinti sconosciuti della Scuola di Duccio." Rassegna d'arte senese 19 (1926), p. 5, fig. 8, as "Madonna col bambino fra due monaci".
Curt H. Weigelt. Sienese Painting of the Trecento. Florence, 1930, pp. 17, 71, mentions it as one of four signed pictures by the artist; assigns it to Segna's early period, along with the Maestà in the Collegiata, Castiglion Fiorentino, which he dates a few years after Duccio's Maestà of 1311.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 524.
Raimond van Marle. Le scuole della pittura italiana. Vol. 2, La scuola senese del XIV secolo. The Hague, 1934, p. 133, assigns it to an intermediate period Segna's career, between his early Ducciesque works and his later, more evolved style.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 450.
[F. Mason] Perkins inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 30, Leipzig, 1936, p. 449, calls it an important work of the artist's middle period.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 72–73, ill., identifies the three panels as the central and end sections of a dismembered polyptych; states that the fragmentary signature was probably originally the same as the one on the artist's Maestà in Castiglion Fiorentino.
Pèleo Bacci. Fonti e commenti per la storia dell'arte senese. Siena, 1944, p. 17, pl. 5.
Cesare Brandi. Duccio. Florence, 1951, p. 152 n. 32, dates it about 1317.
George Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence, 1952, cols. 145, 940, fig. 1051 (detail), identifies the figure to the right of the Madonna and Child as Saint Silvester Gozzolini.
Federico Zeri. "Un polittico di Segna di Bonaventura." Paragone no. 103 (1958), pp. 63–66, pl. 45, identifies two more panels—the figure of an apostle (Saint John the Evangelist; MMA, 41.100.22) and Saint John the Baptist (Perkins collection, Assisi)—as parts of the same altarpiece as these three; dates the work to Segna's late period and discusses the influence of Ugolino.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 392–93; vol. 2, pl. 48, lists it as companion to the two panels depicting Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
Luciano Bellosi inArte in Valdichiana dal XIII al XVIII secolo. Exh. cat., Fortezza del Girifalco. Cortona, 1970, p. 5.
James H. Stubblebine. "The Role of Segna di Buonaventura in the Shop of Duccio." Pantheon 4 (July–August, 1972), pp. 272, 274–77, fig. 2, accepts Zeri's reconstruction of the altarpiece [see Ref. 1958]; considers it contemporary with the Castiglion Madonna, dating both works to the last decade of the painter's life.
Enzo Carli. "Nuovi studi nell'orbita di Duccio di Buoninsegna." Antichità viva 11, no. 6 (1972), pp. 6–8, 11, dates it 1315–16; accepts Zeri's reconstruction [see Ref. 1958]; notes that the Madonna was imitated by Meo da Siena in a polyptych in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 186, 313, 355, 378, 438, 442, 450, 459, 606.
Giuseppe Palumbo. Collezione Federico Mason Perkins, Sacro Convento di S. Francesco, Assisi. Rome, 1973, p. 65, under no. 55, accepts Zeri's reconstruction [see Ref. 1958].
Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, p. 69, under no. 40, discusses the dating of some of the artist's works.
James H. Stubblebine. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. August 14, 1978, writes that in his forthcoming book [see Ref. 1979], he dates this picture to the 1320s.
James H. Stubblebine. Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School. Princeton, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 15, 130, 135–38, 143; vol. 2, figs. 325, 326 (detail), dates it to the 1320s, contemporary with the Castiglion Maestà; states that it must have been made for a Silvestrine Benedictine monastery; dates a pinnacle depicting Jeremiah (Keresztény Múseum, Esztergom, Hungary) to the same period [see Ref. Freuler 1997]; erroneously states that it was included in the Paolini sale of 1924; identifies Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist as the end panels, with Saints Benedict and Silvester Gozzolini flanking the Madonna and Child.
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. 88–89, pl. 1, date it to the 1320s; state that it must have been painted for the high altar of a Silvestrine church, suggesting Santo Spirito, begun in 1311, as a possibility.
Cristina De Benedictis and Monica Leoncini inLa pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. Milan, 1986, vol. 1, p. 333; vol. 2, p. 657.
Federico Zeri. La collezione Federico Mason Perkins. Turin, 1988, pp. 42, 45, fig. 1, under no. 12.
Michèle Heng. "Une œuvre inédite du peintre siennois Segna di Bonaventura." De la création à la restauration: travaux d'histoire de l'art offerts à Marcel Durliat pour son 75e anniversaire. Toulouse, 1992, pp. 507–9, 512–13 n. 35.
H[ayden]. B. J. Maginnis inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 28, New York, 1996, pp. 365–66.
Gaudenz Freuler. Letter to Keith Christiansen. October 23, 1997, writes that he has recently seen a pinnacle depicting King David which he attributes to Segna and which he believes may originally have formed part of this polyptych; suggests that a pinnacle depicting Jeremiah (Keresztény Múseum, Esztergom, Hungary) may also come from this work [see Ref. Stubblebine 1979].
Luciano Cateni inDuccio: alle origini della pittura senese. Ed. Alessandro Bagnoli et al. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala, Siena. Milan, 2003, pp. 314–15, 324.
Carl Brandon Strehlke. Italian Paintings 1250–1450 in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2004, pp. 219, 223 n. 18, mentions it as by Segna di Buonaventura's son Niccolò di Segna (active 1331–48), but dates it to the 1320s, so the attribution is apparently an error.
Luciano Bellosi, ed. La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, p. 75, dates the polyptych about 1319–20.
Dillian Gordon. The Italian Paintings Before 1400. London, 2011, p. 414.