Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius

Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi) (Italian, Florence 1444/45–1510 Florence)
Tempera on wood
26 1/2 x 59 1/4 in. (67.3 x 150.5 cm)
Credit Line:
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1911
Accession Number:
Not on view
The picture dates about 1500 and is painted in the somewhat harsh style Botticelli evolved during the years Florence was under the sway of the reforming preacher Savonarola. It belongs to a series of four panels illustrating the life of the fifth-century bishop of Florence, all of which are notable for their architectural settings. At left, Zenobius meets a funeral procession and restores a dead youth to life. At center, he raises a man who was killed while bringing relics (in the casket) from Saint Ambrose. At right, Saint Eugenius receives water and salt blessed by Zenobius and then hastens across the square to revive a dead relative. For more information about this painting, including the possible function and patron, visit
This is the third in a series of four panels depicting the life and miracles of Saint Zenobius, the fourth-century bishop of Florence and one of the city's patron saints. The first two panels of the series are in the National Gallery, London; the fourth is in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. Like the two London panels, in the nineteenth century the MMA picture formed part of the collection of the marchese Rondinelli, who lived on Via della Stufa, Florence. It has been suggested that the four panels decorated a room in a palace above a wainscoting or day bed (spalliera panels; Horne 1915) and it has further been proposed that the patron was Francesco di Zanobi Girolami (1441–1515), who is presumed to have commissioned them to decorate a marriage chamber for one of his sons: possibly Zanobi (1478–1519), who married Maria di Salvi Borgherini in 1500, or Raffaello (1472–1532), who married Alessandra di Francesco de’Nerli in 1497. Raffaello di Francesco Girolami was the dedicatee of a Latin play inspired by the life of Saint Zenobius as well as a life of the saint in Italian (Callmann 1984, Cecchi 2005). The Girolami traced their descent to the saint and were the custodians of his bishop’s ring. They celebrated his annual feast day and their chapel in the Florentine church of Santo Stefano was dedicated to him, as was their other chapel in the suburban church of San Gallo. Despite this strong evidence, Eclercy (2009) proposes they were for a religious organization.

Each panel shows a number of episodes from the saint’s life, drawn from the life of the saint written by the priest Clemente Mazzo in 1475 for Filippo di Zanobi Girolami (the brother of Francesco—the probable patron). Mazzo’s work was printed in Florence in 1487 and reprinted in 1496. The narrative scenes follow Mazzo’s chapter organization.

The first panel concerns the saint’s youth, his baptism by Bishop Theodorus of Florence, and his consecration to the episcopate by the Pope Damasus I. The second panel contains three stories relating to miracles performed by the saint: he exorcizes two children possessed by a demon, he raises to life the son of a Christian mother, and he restores sight to a blind man.

The Museum’s panel shows three further miracles (Mazzo, chapters XVIII–XXIV). At the left Saint Zenobius encounters a funeral procession of a dead youth and restores the boy to life. In the center Zenobius comes upon his companions weeping over the corpse of a porter who was killed crossing the Apennines while transporting the relics of four saints (shown as skeletons in a casket). He restores the porter to life by invoking the relics. In a room in the palace in the right background Zenobius blesses a glass of water and salt for his subdeacon Eugenius, who is shown a second time walking across the square and, in the foreground, is shown a third time restoring to life his relative, who had died without receiving the sacraments.

In the fourth panel is shown the death and subsequent raising to life of a youth (in three episodes) and the death of the saint.

Throughout the panels Botticelli paid close attention to the architecture, which encompasses a variety of contemporary styles in Florence. Initially he had intended to show the left-hand palace of the MMA panel with an arched façade: the arches were incised into the gesso preparation. The rich pilasters and entablature establish a contrast with the simplicity of the palace and church façade in the right background. Typical of his work at this moment of his career is the exiguous figures with their agitated, frenetic movement and the tunneling vistas provided by the buildings.

As long ago as 1908, the pre-eminent scholar on Botticelli, Herbert Horne (Sandro Botticelli Painter of Florence, London, 1908, p. 309) remarked on "the differences of drawing and colouring" among the various panels. Cecchi (2005) suggested that Botticelli employed assistants. However, as Horne realized, these perceived differences reflect the different condition of the panels. The Dresden panel is coated with a thick layer of yellowed varnish; the London ones are well preserved and have been cleaned. The MMA panel is the least well preserved, having been strongly cleaned in the past and its colors now appear leached. In 1946 the skeletons, previously concealed by overpainting, were revealed.

[Keith Christiansen 2011]
marchese Rondinelli, Florence; [Giuseppe Baslini, Milan; sold to Abdy]; Sir William Neville Abdy, 2nd Baronet, London and Dorking (by 1885–d. 1910; his estate sale, Christie's, London, May 5, 1911, no. 87, as "A Scene from the Life of Saint Zenobius," by Botticelli, for £11,340 to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London, 1911; sold to MMA]
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Tableaux, statues et objets d'art au profit de l'œuvre des orphelins d'Alsace-Lorraine," 1885, no. 37 (as "Coffre de mariage. Les œuvres de miséricorde," by Botticelli, lent by Sir William Abdy).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

Rome. Scuderie Papali al Quirinale. "Sandro Botticelli: pittore della Divina Commedia," September 20–December 3, 2000, no. 1.2.

Frankfurt. Städel Museum. "Botticelli: Likeness, Myth, Devotion," November 13, 2009–February 28, 2010, no. 64.

Catalogue of the Collection of Highly Important Pictures by Old Masters of Sir William Neville Abdy, Bart. Christie's, London. May 5, 1911, p. 16, no. 87, ill. opp. p. 16, calls it "A Scene from the Life of Saint Zenobius," by Botticelli, and tentatively connects it with the two panels in the National Gallery, London, and the one in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden [see Notes].

B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius by Botticelli." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (October 1911), pp. 185–90, ill. (overall and details), calls it part of a series with the London and Dresden panels; tentatively dates the works about 1490–95, attributes them to Botticelli, and suggests that they were painted as furniture decoration; gives provenance information.

Louise M. Richter. "Ein längst verschollener und wiedergefundener Botticelli." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 24 (1913), pp. 94, 96, fig. 1, attributes the panels to Botticelli and calls them early works.

Paul Schubring. Cassoni: Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Frührenaissance. Leipzig, 1915, text vol., pp. 119, 290, no. 308; plate vol., pl. LXXIV, attributes the four panels to Botticelli and dates them about 1480; believes that they decorated the walls or closet doors of the archbishop's palace in Florence.

J[ean]. P[aul]. Richter. "Botticelli's Picture of the Miracles of St. Zenobius in The Metropolitan Museum." Art in America 3 (June 1915), pp. 192–95, calls the panels early works by Botticelli and suggests that the series included a fifth panel showing the death of the saint; erroneously connects the series with two paintings depicting miracles of Saint Zenobius mentioned in accounts of the Compagnia di San Zanobi by Migliore (1634) and Richa (1757).

Herbert P. Horne. "Botticelli's Picture of the Miracles of St. Zenobius in The Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (November 1915), pp. 238–39, suggests that the four panels were painted as decorations for a private home; adds to the provenance; rejects Richter's connection of the series with the two pictures mentioned by Migliore and Richa [see Ref. Richter 1915].

G[iovanni]. P[oggi]. "Appunti d'archivio." Rivista d'arte 9 (1916–18), pp. 62–65, attributes the series to Botticelli and concurs with Horne's date of about 1505 for the two London panels [see Herbert P. Horne, "Alessandro Filipepi, Commonly Called Sandro Botticelli, Painter of Florence," London, 1908, pp. 308–14]; rejects Richter's identification of the series with the two pictures mentioned by Migliore and Richa [see Ref. Richter 1915].

Roger Fry. "Letter to the editor." Burlington Magazine 44 (June 1924), p. 312.

Yukio Yashiro. Sandro Botticelli. London, 1925, vol. 1, pp. 196, 214, 230; vol. 3, pl. CCXLII, dates the series 1498 and attributes it to Botticelli.

Adolfo Venturi. Botticelli. Paris, 1926, p. 76, pl. CLXXXI, calls the series a late work.

Wilhelm von Bode. Botticelli: des Meisters Werke. Berlin, 1926, ill. p. 99, dates it about 1493–1500; attributes the series (specifically the Dresden and London panels) to students of Botticelli working from designs he made for mosaics, and believes that the panels were made to be inserted in wainscoting.

Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCI.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 12, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation. The Hague, 1931, pp. 188–89, fig. 111, attributes the series to Botticelli and suggests dating it slightly later than 1500.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 104, lists it as a late work by Botticelli.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 259, attributes the series to Botticelli and dates it about 1505.

Richard Offner. Lecture. March 9, 1935, rejects the attribution to Botticelli.

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 90, mistakenly lists it as an early work.

Carlo Gamba. Botticelli. Milan, [1936], pp. 195–97, fig. 181 [French ed., (1937), pp. 205–8, fig. 181], states that Botticelli painted the series for the Compagnia di San Zanobi and tentatively connects contributions made by Botticelli from 1503 to 1505 to the Compagnia di San Luca in Florence with his payment for the series.

Lionello Venturi. Botticelli. New York, 1937, pp. 13, 24–25, ill. p. 15, dates the series after 1500.

Jacques Mesnil. Botticelli. Paris, 1938, pp. 183–85, 190, 215 n. 207, 225, pl. CV, dates the series to Botticelli's late period and suggests that the four panels were made to decorate a large clothing chest for a church or religious company.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 48–49, ill., dates the series to the artist's later years, and tentatively agrees [see Ref. Bode 1926] that it is connected with the commission he received from Lorenzo de' Medici in 1491 to design mosaics for the chapel of Saint Zenobius in the Duomo, Florence.

Sergio Bettini. Botticelli. Bergamo, 1942, pp. 40, 45, pl. 143b, attributes the series to Botticelli and states that it was perhaps completed in 1505, agreeing with Gamba [see Ref. 1937] that Botticelli may have used his payment to make his contributions to the Compagnia di San Luca from 1503 to 1505.

"Botticelli." Art News 45 (November 1946), p. 34, ill. (details; after cleaning, x-ray, and before cleaning), reports the discovery during cleaning of the two skeletons in the casket in the center of the painting.

Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. London, 1951, p. 84, under no. 3918, attributes the series to Botticelli and rejects Richter's [see Ref. 1915] early dating; notes that the series may be incomplete, since it lacks the well-known miracle of the withered tree bursting into leaf when touched by Saint Zenobius's bier; states that the original provenance is unknown, but that the panels do not come from the Compagnia di San Zanobi attached to the Duomo, and that they probably decorated the walls of a room in a church or religious community in Florence.

George Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence, 1952, cols. 1036, 1040–41, fig. 1166.

Walter Paatz and Elisabeth Paatz. Die Kirchen von Florenz. Vol. 3, SS. Maccabei–S. Maria Novella. Frankfurt am Main, 1952, pp. 424–25, 612 n. 746, accept the idea that the series came from the Compagnia di San Zanobi and date the panels about 1503–4, attributing them to Botticelli and calling them possibly part of a chest.

Eugenio Pucci. Botticelli nelle opere e nella vita del suo tempo. Milan, 1955, pp. 343–48, ill., attributes the series to Botticelli, dates it 1503–5, and states that it was made for the Compagnia di San Zanobi.

Giulio Carlo Argan. Botticelli. New York, 1957, p. 130, ill. pp. 132, 134 (color, overall and detail), attributes the panels to Botticelli and dates them after 1500.

Roberto Salvini. Tutta la pittura del Botticelli. Milan, 1958, vol. 2, pp. 34, 67–68, pls. 124, 126 (overall and detail) [English ed., "All the Paintings of Botticelli," New York, 1965, vol. 3, pp. 119–20; vol. 4, pp. 168–69, pls. 124, 126 (overall and detail)], attributes the series to Botticelli, and accepts a date of about 1500–1505.

Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1961, p. 109, under no. 3919.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 34, 36–37; vol. 2, pl. 1090 (detail).

Gabriele Mandel in The Complete Paintings of Botticelli. New York, 1967, pp. 107–8, no. 142C, ill., attributes the series to Botticelli, dates it 1495–1500, and states that the panels formed part of a backrest, probably in a Florentine confraternity.

Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 169 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 162–64, ill., state that "it is known that [the four panels] were still together in the nineteenth century in the Rondinelli collection in Florence" and date them "possibly towards the beginning of the 1500's".

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 34, 454, 606.

Roberta Jeanne Marie Olson. "Studies in the Later Works of Sandro Botticelli." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1975, pp. 27, 41 n. 54, pp. 65, 68–69, 121–23, 308–10, 365–66 n. 75, fig. 95, attributes the series to Botticelli and assistants; suggests a theatrical source for the composition, and a possible connection with Ghiberti's Zenobius cycle, commissioned in 1491, in the chapel of Saint Zenobius in the Duomo; believes the panels were probably made as wall decorations.

Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 28, ill. (details, before and after cleaning).

Yoshiro Masui. Botticelli. Tokyo, 1976, p. 121, ill.

Martin Kemp. "Botticelli's Glasgow 'Annunciation': Patterns of Instability." Burlington Magazine 119 (March 1977), p. 183, lists the series among works painted by Botticelli in the late 1490s and early 1500s.

L. D. Ettlinger and Helen S. Ettlinger. Botticelli. New York, 1977, pp. 105–7, pl. 72, call them perhaps the latest works by Botticelli known to us; state that they were painted for the Compagnia di San Zanobi, and that they likely served as furniture decorations.

Ronald Lightbown. Sandro Botticelli. Berkeley, 1978, vol. 1, pp. 141–42, 145–46, pl. 59; vol. 2, pp. 106, 108–9, no. B95, notes that the scenes follow the life of the saint written by the Florentine priest Clemente Mazza in 1475 and not that by Tolosani, which was written in 1544; considers the four panels to be a complete series and includes them among Botticelli's latest surviving large paintings; finds it highly unlikely that the series was made for the Compagnia di San Zanobi, believing instead that it was made as decoration for a room in a palace; suggests that the background landscape is meant to represent the Apennines.

Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XIV: Agent for the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 416, fig. 13.

Ellen Callmann. "Botticelli's 'Life of Saint Zenobius'." Art Bulletin 66 (September 1984), pp. 492–96, fig. 3, proposes that the panels were commissioned by the Girolami family, who claimed descent from Zenobius's father, Lucianus, and for one of which Mazza wrote his life of the saint; believes that the series was made to be set into the walls of a nuptial chamber, probably that of Zanobi Girolami, who married in 1500.

Nicoletta Pons. Botticelli: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 92, no. 134C, ill., dates the four panels 1500 and calls them "spalliera" paintings; finds convincing Callmann's [see Ref. 1984] argument that they were commissioned by the Girolami family for a nuptial chamber.

Caterina Caneva. Botticelli: catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1990, pp. 137, 139–40, ill., accepts a date for the series of 1500–1505; finds the MMA painting the weakest of the four and suggests the collaboration of assistants; calls the four panels almost certainly "spalliera" paintings, but adds that it is not known whether they were made for a confraternity such as the Compagnia di San Zanobi or for a private family such as the Girolami.

Anne B. Barriault. "Spalliera" Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. 83, 96–97 n. 5, p. 153, no. 12.3, ill., finds Callmann's [see Ref. 1984] argument convincing, and concurs that the series was probably commissioned by Francesco di Zanobi Girolami in honor of the marriage of his son Zanobi in 1500.

Charles Dempsey in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 4, New York, 1996, p. 496.

Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, pp. 48, 170, 223, 232, mistakenly states that the series comprises five, rather than four, panels.

Carmen C. Bambach in Sandro Botticelli: pittore della Divina Commedia. Exh. cat., Scuderie Papali al Quirinale. Rome, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 54, 60–63, no. 1.2, ill. (color, overall and details), dates the series about 1495–1500; finds Callmann's [see Ref. 1984] argument convincing.

Sally J. Cornelison. "A French King and a Magic Ring: The Girolami and a Relic of St. Zenobius in Renaissance Florence." Renaissance Quarterly 55 (Summer 2002), p. 447.

Miklós Boskovits in Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, p. 146.

Alessandro Cecchi. Botticelli. Milan, 2005, pp. 335, 340, 365 n. 126, ill. p. 338 (color), assigns the execution of the New York panel largely to Botticelli's workshop, seeing partial involvement by the master in the two London panels and the decisive participation of an assistant in the Dresden panel; believes the series was probably made for the nuptial chamber of Raffaello Girolami, who married in 1497.

Frank Zöllner. Sandro Botticelli. Munich, 2005, pp. 102, 175, 269–71, no. 88c, ill. (color), dates the series about 1500–1505 and states that "all the panels are now more or less unanimously ascribed to Botticelli himself, with some probable workshop involvement in places".

Jill Dunkerton in Il tondo di Botticelli a Piacenza. Ed. Davide Gasparotto and Antonella Gigli. Milan, 2006, p. 73.

Hans Körner. Botticelli. Cologne, 2006, pp. 378–80, fig. 315, ill. p. 203 (color).

Bastian Eclercy in Botticelli: Likeness, Myth, Devotion. Ed. Andreas Schumacher. Exh. cat., Städel Museum. Frankfurt, 2009, pp. 308, 317–21, 334, no. 64, ill. pp. 313–14 (color), finds the iconography of the panels unsuited to a nuptial chamber [see Ref. Callmann 1984] and thinks it is more likely that they were made for some religious institution.

Lionello Venturi. Botticelli. London, 2016, pp. 23–24, 36–37, 45, 177, colorpl. 108.

C. F. von Rumohr (Italienische Forschungen, vol. 2, Berlin, 1827, p. 273) mistakenly states that the Dresden panel came from the Compagnia di San Zanobi in Florence.