Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Saint Bridget of Sweden Receiving the Rule of Her Order

Agostino d'Antonio di Duccio (Italian, 1418–after 1481)
Italian, Perugia
Overall (confirmed): 16 3/4 × 25 1/8 × 2 3/4 in., 57 lb. (42.5 × 63.8 × 7 cm, 25.9 kg)
Credit Line:
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1914
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 500
When this relief was exhibited in Paris in 1878, the German scholar Wilhelm von Bode attributed it to Agostino di Duccio.[1] His identification was accepted by all major scholars; the subject, on the other hand, puzzled many.[2] Eugène Piot referred to it as a scene from the life of Saint Catherine, and he was followed by Émile Bertaux, who connected it with the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, but with considerable hesitation.[3] Others, such as Enrico Brunelli, who doubted the relief’s authenticity, recognized in it the Virgin Taking Leave of Her Son before the Passion.[4] Bode called it The Return of Christ from the Temple, and his interpretation was followed into the 1960s, when John Shearman identified the subject as Christ Returning to the Virgin from the Dispute in the Temple.[5]

A document that would confirm what is now accepted as the true subject of the relief had already been published in 1875 by Adamo Rossi, but the connection between the document and the relief was not drawn for many years. Rossi transcribed an account of an altar in the church of San Domenico in Perugia that had a relief representing an episode in the life of Saint Bridget.[6] In 1961, without knowledge of the Museum’s relief, Francesco Santi published a reconstruction of the altar in the church,[7] and since he described the altar as in terracotta, curators at the Metropolitan decided that the Museum’s marble relief could not have been part of the ensemble.[8]

Finally, in 1995, Paola Mercurelli Salari systematically reviewed known documents and published additional ones that convincingly answer long-standing questions surrounding the relief. The story that emerged is as follows. On January 10, 1459, the heirs of Lorenzo di Giovanni di Petruccio, including his sister Brigida, signed a notarized document commissioning Agostino di Duccio to execute an altar that would be dedicated to Saint Bridget.[9] With the exception of the predella, the altar was completed and accepted nine months later, and at that time Agostino di Duccio was paid an additional ten florins specifically for the predella.[10] This must mean, Mercurelli Salari points out, that Agostino was paid a bonus to create a better relief for the predella, that is to say, in marble. She further notes that the Museum’s scene can be interpreted as the moment in the life of Saint Bridget, as related in her Revelations, when Christ brought her the rule of her new order: "Rule of the Holy Savior which has been given divinely from the mouth of Jesus Christ to his devoted spouse Saint Bridget of the Kingdom of Sweden."[11] In the relief, the second figure from the left must be the young Christ, to whom, as a nun, Saint Bridget was mystically married. He carries a rolled document in one hand, representing the Bridgettine rule, while the sibylline saint, garbed in the veil and mantle of her order, holds his other hand. Only twenty-three years after the relief was installed, Piergentile di Lorenzo de’ Belli stated that his Aunt Brigida had bequeathed 300 florins to renovate the family chapel in San Domenico. The altar was dismantled, and the remnants were left to the friars of the church to be remounted in an altar dedicated to the Rosary.[12]

The Museum has long accepted Mercurelli Salari’s identification of the scene on their relief, which was rarely represented in fifteenth-century sculpture. The highborn widow Bridget Gudmarsson (ca. 1303–1373) founded the Order of the Holy Savior in Sweden in 1346 and moved to Rome, where she lived from 1349 until her death, to seek confirmation of her order, which was duly granted by Pope Urban V. Revered for her good works and visions, she was canonized in 1391. Clearly she was admired by the di Petruccio family, who named a child after her and created an altar in her honor.

After carving marble reliefs for the interior of the Tempio Malatesta in Rimini, between 1449 and 1456, Agostino d’Antonio di Duccio moved to Perugia, where his first important commission was for the facade of the Oratorio of San Bernardino. The gothicizing line and highly decorative patterning evident in his Rimini sculptures still governed the style of the angels flying on either side of the San Bernardino door and the image of the saint above. His figure of Patience on the facade holds bunched pleats of drapery with one hand, just as do the figures in the Saint Bridget relief.[13] The wreath supported by angels that creates the sacred space for Saint Bridget and the young Christ, a device seen on medieval ivories, is a sign of Agostino’s interest in Gothic forms. The hallmarks of his style—heavily lidded eyes, decoratively swirling hair and drapery—are unmistakable. Flattened forms, such as the saint’s body splayed across the surface of the marble relief and her angular arms, are more consistent with Agostino’s work in the 1450s (for example, the relief figure of Saint Bernardino in the center of the facade of the Oratorio di San Bernardino, Perugia of 1457–61) than they are with the more substantial figures of his Virgin and Child with Angels in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, of about 1463, or his Virgin and Child in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., of a decade later.[14] A recent biographer of Agostino, Pier Giorgio Pasini, dated the Museum’s relief to the sculptor’s last years, after he returned to Perugia in 1473, but judging from its style—and taking into account the documentary evidence described above—it must have been executed much earlier.[15] Behind the figures, cosmic forces—the sun, the moon, a wind god—as well as the towers of a townscape, perhaps Perugia, set the stage for this saint who brought her intense spirituality to communities from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 3, pp. 16–19.]


[1] Wilhelm von Bode. "L’Exposition Rétrospective au Trocadéro." Revue archéologique, n.s., 37 (February 1879), pp. 94-103. [Originally published in Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, August 29 and September 5, 1878.], p. 101.

[2] Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "Renaissance Sculptures." MMAB 9, no. 6 (June 1914), pp. 142-45; John Pope-Hennessy. Italian Renaissance Sculpture. Vol. 2 of An Introduction to Italian Sculpture. London, 1958, p. 325.

[3] Eugène Piot. "La Sculpture à l’Exposition Rétrospective du Trocadéro." In L’art ancient à l’exposition de 1878, edited by Louis Gonse, pp. 130-88. Paris, 1879, p.142; Émile Bertaux. "Trois Chefs-d’oeuvre italiens de la collection Aynard." Revue de l’art ancient et modern 19 (February 1906), pp. 81–96, p. 93.

[4] Enrico Brunelli. "Ancora del bassorilievo attribuito ad Agostino di Duccio nella collezione Aynard." L’arte 9 (1906), pp. 454–55; Carlo Gamba. "Agostino di Duccio." In Enciclopaedia italiana, vol. 1, pp. 928–30. Rome, 1929., p. 930.

[5] John Shearman. Andrea del Sarto. 2 vols. Oxford, 1965, vol. 1, p. 48, n. 2. Shearman noted that the sphinx at the feet of the woman in the chair, whom he identified as the Virgin, probably characterized her as Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom), an idea that Agostino would have borrowed from Donatello’s Virgin and Child Enthroned (1446–50, high altar of the church of San Antonio, Padua).

[6] Adamo Rossi. "Prospetto cronologico della vita e delle opere di Agostino d’Antonio, scultore fiorentino con la storia e i documenti di quelle da lui fatte a Perugia." Pt. 2, "Altare di S. Lorenzo in S. Domenico." Giornale di erudizione artistica 4 (1875), pp. 76–83. See also Anna Zanoli. Perugia: Oratorio di San Bernardino. Tesori d’arte Cristiana, vol. 4, no. 67. Bologna, 1967.

[7] Francesco Santi. "L’altare di Agostino di Duccio in S. Domenico di Perugia." Bolletino d’arte, ser. 4, 46 (1961), pp. 162–73.

[8] Notes in the curatorial files of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum.

[9] Adamo Rossi. "Prospetto cronologico della vita e delle opere di Agostino d’Antonio, scultore fiorentino con la storia e i documenti di quelle da lui fatte a Perugia." Pt. 2, "Altare di S. Lorenzo in S. Domenico." Giornale di erudizione artistica 4 (1875), pp. 76–83, pp. 76–77, publishing records in the Archivio di Stato, Perugia, Notarile, Tobaldo di Paolo, protocollo, no. 153, c. 119v. See also Paola Mercurelli Salari. "L’altare di Agostino di Duccio in San Domenico a Perugia: Una proposta di integrazione." Commentari d’arte 1, no. 2 (September–December 1995), pp. 41–46, pp. 41–42, 44, n. 4.

[10] Annibale Mariotti. Lettere pittoriche perugine; o, Sia ragguaglio di alcune memorie istoriche risguardanti le arti del disegno in Perugia al Signor Baldassare Orsini… Perugia, 1788. [Reprint ed., Bologna, 1976.], pp. 98–99, and n.4.

11. "Regula Sanctis Salvatoris data divinitus ab ore Jesu Christi devotae Sponsae Sanctae Brigittae de Regno Svetiae"; quoted in Igino Cecchetti. "Brigida di Svezia. II. La vita." In Bibliotheca Sanctorum, vol. 3, cols. 439–504. Rome, 1963, col. 470. See also Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Bride and Her Book: Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations. Edited by Julia Bolton Holloway. New ed. Library of Medieval Women. Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2000.

12. Mercurelli Salari 1995, p. 42.

13. See Gustavo Cuccini. Agostino di Duccio: Itinerari di un esilio. Perugia, 1990, fig. 31.

14. Louis Courajod. "La Madone d’Auvillers." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 8, no. 2 (August 1, 1892), pp. 129–37, p. 133, relates the two angels flanking the Madonna in the Louvre relief to those in the New York relief, but they are quite different in style.

15. Pier Giorgio Pasini. "Agostino (di Antonio) di Duccio." In The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane Turner, vol. 1, pp. 455–57. New York, 1996 , p. 456.
Louis Châtel , Lyons (in 1879) ; Édouard Aynard , Lyons (until 1913; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, December 4, 1913, no. 267, for 28,000 Fr, to Canessa); [ Canessa , New York, 1913–14; sold to MMA ]
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