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Saint John the Evangelist

Segna di Buonaventura (Italian, active Siena by 1298–died 1326/31)

ca. 1320
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Overall, with engaged (largely modern) frame, 35 x 22 in. (88.9 x 55.9 cm); painted surface 27 1/4 x 16 1/2 in. (69.2 x 41.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This is the best preserved panel of a signed altarpiece by Segna of which three other panels are also in the Metropolitan Museum (for other panels from the altarpiece, see metmuseum.org/collections). Although Segna’s art is dependent on the work of Duccio, his figures have a regal, hieratic formality. His 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.

  • Catalogue Entry

    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. In its original configuration the altarpiece would have shown, left to right, Saint Benedict (with, above, an angel and an apostle; MMA 24.78b), 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 24.78c). 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 [1958], 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.


  • Provenance

    ?Herbert P. Horne, Florence; George Blumenthal, New York (by 1920–41; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XVII, as "An Apostle," by an anonymous artist near Ugolino da Siena)

  • References

    F. Mason Perkins. "Some Sienese Paintings in American Collections: Part One." Art in America 8 (August 1920), p. 200, ill. p. 201, as an apostle; attributes it to the school of Ugolino; as in the Blumenthal collection.

    Raimond van Marle. "The Sienese School of the 14th Century." The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 2, The Hague, 1924, p. 111, attributes it to a close disciple of Ugolino.

    Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. "Paintings—Early Schools." Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. 1, Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. XVII, calls it "An Apostle" and attributes it to an anonymous artist very near Ugolino da Siena; states that a Saint John the Baptist in the collection of F. Mason Perkins (now Sacro Convento di S. Francesco, Assisi) comes from the same altarpiece.

    Raimond van Marle. "La scuola senese del XIV secolo." Le scuole della pittura italiana. 2, The Hague, 1934, p. 116.

    Federico Zeri. Letter. September 6, 1957, attributes it to Segna and identifies it as part of the same polyptych as the Madonna and Child and Saints Benedict and Silvester Gozzolini (MMA, 24.78a–c).

    Federico Zeri. "Un polittico di Segna di Bonaventura." Paragone no. 103 (1958), pp. 63–66, pl. 44b, attributes it to Segna and identifies it as part of the same altarpiece as the MMA Madonna and Child and Saints Benedict and Silvester Gozzolini and the Perkins Saint John the Baptist; 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, lists it as by Segna, and as companion to the other MMA panels and to the Perkins Saint John the Baptist.

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 186, 459, 608, call the figure an anonymous male saint.

    James H. Stubblebine. "The Role of Segna di Buonaventura in the Shop of Duccio." Pantheon 4 (July–August, 1972), pp. 272, 274–77, fig. 3, accepts Zeri's reconstruction of the altarpiece [see Ref. 1958]; dates it to the last decade of the painter's life.

    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].

    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; vol. 2, fig. 328, dates it to the 1320s and 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]; identifies this panel and the Perkins Saint John the Baptist as the end panels, with Saints Benedict and Silvester Gozzolini flanking the Madonna and Child [see Notes].

    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. 88–90, pl. 2, date the polyptych 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.

    Federico Zeri. La collezione Federico Mason Perkins. Turin, 1988, pp. 42, 45, fig. 2, under no. 12.

    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. 44 n. 17.

    H[ayden]. B. J. Maginnis in The Dictionary of Art. 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 in Duccio: alle origini della pittura senese. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala, Siena. Milan, 2003, pp. 314–15.

    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.

  • See also