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Saint Clare

Lippo Memmi (Filippo di Memmo) (Italian, Sienese, active by 1317–died 1356)

ca. 1330
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Overall, with shaped top and engaged (modern) frame, 19 x 8 in. (48.3 x 20.3 cm); painted surface 15 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (39.4 x 19.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Irma N. Straus, 1964
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    The saint wears the habit of the Poor Clares, founded by Saints Francis and Clare between 1212 and 1214. Her emblem is a flaming lamp. The picture, which has been reframed, is a pinnacle of the same altarpiece to which the Saint Paul, exhibited nearby, belonged. The altarpiece was painted around 1325–30 for the church of San Francesco in San Gimignano. For a reconstruction of the altarpiece, see metmuseum.org/collections.

  • Catalogue Entry

    The brother-in-law as well as sometime partner and collaborator of Simone Martini (in 1324 he married Simone’s sister), Lippo Memmi is one of the outstanding painters of fourteenth-century Siena. His father was a painter and he established a family enterprise with his brother, Federico (or Tederico) Memmi and Simone Martini’s brother Donato. The closeness of the styles of these artists makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish their respective contributions to collaborative works or, indeed, to make definitive attributions of independent paintings. It is therefore not uncommon to find works ascribed to the "famiglia Memmi" or "bottega dei Memmi" (that is, the Memmi circle or workshop). Further confusion arises because of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s attribution in his Commentari of a distinguished cycle of frescoes in the Collegiata of San Gimignano to "Barna"—a name that occurs in no contemporary documents. Fourteenth-century graffiti would, instead, assign these outstanding frescoes to Lippo, underscoring both his stature and his activity in San Gimignano, where he also left a fresco in the Palazzo del Popolo dated 1317. The elaborate altarpiece to which two panels in the MMA belonged seems to have decorated the high altar of the church of San Francesco in San Gimignano. The small panel of Saint Clare catalogued here formed a pinnacle, and the Saint Paul (88.3.99) is from the main tier of the altarpiece.

    The reconstruction of the altarpiece has taken place in stages. From an early date (Van Marle 1920) it was recognized that the Saint Paul and a Saint Peter in the Louvre were from the same polyptych, as well as, less certainly, a Madonna and Child in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (the top of which has been cropped and then reconstructed: see Boskovits 1987). Zeri (1952) added a Saint John the Evangelist in the Yale University Art Gallery and a Saint John the Baptist in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Coor (1961) completed the main tier by adding two saints in the Pinacoteca, Siena: Louis of Toulouse and Francis. Coor also associated two smaller panels as pinnacles and since one of these shows a saint of the Vallombrosan order, she identified the altarpiece with one mentioned by Vasari in the church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno in Pisa. Although her reconstruction and identification were accepted by many scholars, it has now been shown that those two pinnacles belong to another altarpiece (for which, see Parenti 2008) and it is that work—not the polyptych to which the MMA saint belonged—that came from the Pisan church. The inclusion of the two saints of the Franciscan order clearly associates the MMA-related altarpiece with a Franciscan rather than a Vallombrosan establishment. A definitive step in completing the reconstruction of the altarpiece and establishing its provenance was made by Mallory (1974). He identified as pinnacles two panels in the Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh, showing Saints Anthony of Padua and Agnes, a panel of Saint Mary Magdalen (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence), the Saint Clare in the MMA, a Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan), and a then unidentified male saint, later thought by Lonjon (2006) to be San Gimignano but more probably Augustine (Boskovits 2009), with, probably, a Blessing Christ above the center panel of the Madonna and Child. Anthony of Padua, Clare, and Elizabeth of Hungary are all Franciscans and Mallory identified the polyptych as one painted for the church of San Francesco at Colle di Val d'Elsa, from which the two panels in Siena are known to have come (Torriti 1977). A final contribution to the reconstruction of the altarpiece and its provenance was made by Bagnoli (1999), who has demonstrated that the altarpiece was moved to Colle di Val d’Elsa in 1782, following suppression of the convent of San Francesco in San Gimignano; it is for the latter convent that the altarpiece was painted, probably for the high altar. Recognizing the issues of attribution that pertain to virtually all the constituent parts of this important altarpiece, he reasonably ascribed the altarpiece to Lippo, Federico Memmi, and collaborators, dating it to about 1323–25. Boskovits (2009) prefers a date closer to 1330—when Lippo Memmi draws closest to Simone Martini. Whether the Madonna and Child in Berlin can be identified as the center panel has been disputed—its tooling differs somewhat—and it remains the most hypothetical element.

    The most convincing order of the panels is as follows (left to right, main tier): Saints Louis of Toulouse, John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, Berlin Madonna and Child (?), Saints Peter, Paul, and Francis; (pinnacles): Elizabeth of Hungary, Augustine, Mary Magdalen, Blessing Christ(?), Agnes, Anthony of Padua, Clare (see Images).

    Lonjon (2006) has made the interesting suggestion that the iconography of the altarpiece reflects the ideals of the extreme branch of the Franciscan order known as the Spirituals and that because of their association with Charles, Duke of Calabria (1298–1328), he may have commissioned the work. Like Florence, San Gimignano accepted the duke as Seigneur in 1326.


  • Provenance

    ?church of San Francesco, San Gimignano; [Achille De Clemente, Florence, in about 1915]; Jesse Isidor Straus, New York (by 1932–d. 1936); Mrs. Jesse Isidor (Irma N.) Straus, New York (1936–64)

  • Exhibition History

    Hartford. Wadsworth Atheneum. "An Exhibition of Italian Panels & Manuscripts from the Thirteenth & Fourteenth Centuries in Honor of Richard Offner," April 9–June 6, 1965, no. 27 (lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Irma N. Straus).

  • References

    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 588, as "Female Saint with Lamp and Book," in the Jesse I. Straus collection; attributes it to Lippo Vanni.

    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 506.

    Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. An Exhibition of Italian Panels & Manuscripts from the Thirteenth & Fourteenth Centuries in Honor of Richard Offner. Exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Hartford, 1965, p. 25, no. 27, attributes it to Memmi; states that Federico Zeri has identified this work and five others as components of what may have been a small portable altarpiece: Saints Dorothy (also called Margaret and Elizabeth of Hungary; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan), Mary Magdalen (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence), Anthony of Padua and Agnes (both Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh), and an unidentified male saint (location unknown); adds that the seventh, central, panel is missing.

    Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 442–43, lists it as possibly by Lippo Vanni, and calls it the companion of the panels of Saints Agnes, Anthony of Padua, Mary Magdalen, and Dorothy identified by Zeri [see Ref. Wagstaff 1965].

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 141, 388, 609.

    Miklòs Boskovits. "A Dismembered Polyptych, Lippo Vanni and Simone Martini." Burlington Magazine 116 (July 1974), p. 371 n. 20, rejects Berenson's attribution to Lippo Vanni [see Refs. 1932 and 1968], calling it "Simonesque, near to Lippo Memmi".

    Michael Mallory. "An Altarpiece by Lippo Memmi Reconsidered." Metropolitan Museum Journal 9 (1974), pp. 194, 197–99, 201, fig. 18, attributes it to Memmi's workshop; proposes that this panel and the other five identified by Zeri [see Ref. Wagstaff 1965] were the pinnacles of an altarpiece of about 1330 to which the MMA Saint Paul (88.3.99) also belonged; believes that the missing center pinnacle was probably a Blessing Christ; suggests the church of San Francesco at Colle di Val d'Elsa as the provenance of the altarpiece.

    Walter Read Hovey. Treasures of the Frick Art Museum. Pittsburgh, 1975, p. 48.

    Cristina De Benedictis. "Il polittico della Passione di Simone Martini e una proposta per Donato." Antichità viva 15 (November–December 1976), p. 7, calls the series of Saints Dorothy, Mary Magdalen, Anthony, Agnes, and Clare, and the unidentified male saint, panels from a portable altarpiece with a lost Madonna at the center; attributes them to the Master of the Straus Madonna, tentatively identifying this artist as Simone Martini's brother Donato.

    Michel Laclotte in Retables italiens du XIIIe au XVe siècle. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1978, pp. 19–20, under no. 8, accepts the reconstruction and provenance proposed by Mallory [see Ref. 1974]; dates the altarpiece about 1330.

    Cristina De Benedictis. La pittura senese, 1330–1370. Florence, 1979, p. 91, lists it, and the five other panels from the series, as by the Master of the Straus Madonna, whom she tentatively identifies as Donato Martini.

    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. 53–54, pl. 14, attribute this panel, as well as the Saint Mary Magdalen and the Saint Dorothy, to Lippo Memmi, and suggest a date of about 1330; tentatively support the reconstruction proposed by Mallory [see Ref. 1974].

    Keith Christiansen. "Fourteenth-Century Italian Altarpieces." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 40 (Summer 1982), pp. 25–27, figs. 24 (color), 25 (reconstruction), accepts the reconstruction proposed by Mallory [see Ref. 1974], but notes that the order of the pinnacles cannot be determined; identifies the Milan saint as Dorothy; dates the altarpiece about 1330 and believes that it was probably commissioned for the church of San Francesco.

    Mauro Natale. Museo Poldi Pezzoli: dipinti. Milan, 1982, pp. 145–46, under no. 179, identifies the Milan saint as Margaret; accepts Mallory's [see Ref. 1974] reconstruction of the altarpiece, except for his proposal for the predella; dates the altarpiece about 1330, attributing the Milan panel to Memmi himself and the altarpiece as a whole to his workshop.

    Monica Leoncini in La pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1986, vol. 2, p. 608, attributes this picture, along with the Saints Dorothy, Anthony, Agnes, and Mary Magdalen, to the Master of the Straus Madonna-Donato Martini.

    Cristina De Benedictis. "Per Mario Salmi collezionista." Studi di storia dell'arte sul medioevo e il rinascimento nel centenario della nascita di Mario Salmi. 1, Florence, 1992, pp. 127–29, fig. 7 (reconstruction), publishes a panel formerly in the collection of Mario Salmi (current location unknown), identifying it as Saint Augustine, attributing it to Donato Martini, and including it as a pinnacle of the altarpiece.

    Joanna Cannon. "The Creation, Meaning, and Audience of the Early Sienese Polyptych: Evidence from the Friars." Italian Altarpieces, 1250–1550: Function and Design. Oxford, 1994, p. 60.

    Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, pp. 118, 205, 298, 321, 444, classifies the punch marks appearing in this painting.

    Alessandro Bagnoli. La Maestà di Simone Martini. [Milan], 1999, pp. 142, 151 n. 184, attributes the altarpiece to Lippo and Federico Memmi and collaborators, and dates it about 1323–25; rejects the provenance of the church of San Francesco at Colle di Val d'Elsa, stating that the work was made for the Franciscan church of San Gimignano, all of whose furnishings were transferred to San Francesco at Colle de Val d'Elsa in 1782; also rejects the Berlin Madonna as part of this altarpiece.

    Marianne Lonjon. "Précisions sur la provenance du retable dit 'de Colle di Val d'Elsa' de Lippo Memmi." Revue des musées de France: Revue du Louvre 56 (April 2006), pp. 34, 36, 38 n. 1, p. 39 n. 13, figs. 5–7 (reconstructions), identifies the panel published by De Benedictis [see Ref. 1992] as Saint Gimignano, not Saint Augustine, and argues that the altarpiece was made for the church of San Francesco at San Gimignano, as proposed by Bagnoli [see Ref. 1999]; rejects the Berlin Madonna and Child as the central panel; suggests that the iconography of the altarpiece reflects the ideals of the Franciscan branch of the Spirituals, which was linked to Charles, Duke of Calabria (1298–1328), who may have commissioned the altarpiece in 1327–28.

    Miklós Boskovits in La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, pp. 147, 149, fig. 2 (reconstruction), discusses the altarpiece in connection with the pinnacle panel formerly in the Salmi collection, now in the Salini collection, which he identifies as Saint Augustine, not Saint Gimignano; reconstructs the altarpiece with the seven main panels in the following order, from left to right: Saints Louis of Toulouse, John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, Berlin Madonna and Child, Saints Peter, Paul, and Francis.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History