This multi-panel altarpiece (polyptych) was painted to decorate a chapel in a church belonging to the Augustinian order, possibly in Cortona. Saint Nicholas of Tolentino was canonized in 1446 and wears the Augustinian habit. The altarpiece would have been completed with five pinnacles showing the evangelists and Christ, a base (predella) showing the history of Saint John the Baptist, and pilasters with small figures of saints. The archaizing style, with highly stylized figures on a gold background, is indicative of Giovanni di Paolo's preference for the work of his great fourteenth-century forebears. For more information about this painting, including a reconstruction of the altarpiece, visit metmuseum.org.
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Fig. 1. Altarpiece reconstruction
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Title:Madonna and Child with Saints
Artist:Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Medium:Tempera on wood, gold ground
Dimensions:Central panel 82 3/4 x 25 7/8 in. (210.2 x 65.7 cm); left panels 70 7/8 x 16 7/8 in. (180 x 42.9 cm), 70 7/8 x 16 3/4 in. (180 x 42.5 cm); right panels 70 7/8 x 16 7/8 in. (180 x 42.9 cm), 70 7/8 x 16 3/4 in. (180 x 42.5 cm)
Credit Line:The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
These five panels are from a major altarpiece signed by Giovanni di Paolo and dated 1454. In the event that two of the saints—Augustine and Nicholas of Tolentino—are shown wearing the black, leather-belted habit of the Augustinian order (Augustine also wears a bishop's cope to signify his status as Bishop of Hippo, and next to him stands a figure probably intended to be his mother, Saint Monica), the altarpiece must have been painted for an Augustinian church. Giovanni di Paolo frequently worked for this order. Two suggested possibilities are the church of Sant'Agostino, Siena, or Sant'Agostino, Cortona. The latter possibility is based on the fact that The Met's altarpiece is documented as coming from the collection of Count Luigi Tommasi-Aleotti (modern spelling Aliotti) in Cortona. The Tommasi were prominent merchants in fifteenth-century Cortona, and they are known to have built a chapel in Sant'Agostino. One of them was named Niccolò, which could explain the inclusion of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, who was canonized in 1446. However, we also know that in 1450 another merchant from Cortona, Zaccaria degli Bencivenni, endowed a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the same church. Saint John the Baptist is prominent in the altarpiece and Bencivenni is another candidate for the patron (Gordon 2003).
The altarpiece is not complete: it would have had pinnacles, a predella, and flanking piers, probably decorated with saints. The pinnacles have been identified with a series of the four evangelists and a figure of the blessing Christ (formerly Chiaramonte Bordonaro, Palermo, now in the Salini collection near Siena; see Christiansen 1982). An earlier proposal associating two panels with miracles of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Philadelphia Museum of Art and Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna) with the predella (Zeri and Gardner 1980) has now been discarded. Far more likely is the suggestion that the predella consisted of four scenes illustrating the life of Saint John the Baptist (National Gallery, London; for a full discussion and reconstruction of the altarpiece, see Gordon 2003, Fahy 2009, and fig. 1 above). That the predella illustrated the life of Saint John the Baptist indicates that the altar was, indeed, dedicated to that saint, hence the interest of the Bencivenni-endowed chapel. The predella series is among the finest achievements of the artist, and the altarpiece as a whole was an important one.
Keith Christiansen 2011
Inscription: Signed and dated (on front of pavement at bottom of central panel): OPVS IOHANNIS MCCCCLIIII
?Luigi and Girolamo Tommasi, Cortona (in 1858; inv., 1858, no. 176); conte Tommasi-Aleotti, Arezzo (by 1905–at least 1907); [Elia Volpi, Florence, until 1916]; [Duveen, New York, 1916–19; sold to Kleinberger]; [Kleinberger, New York, 1919–22; sold to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1922–d. 1931)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giovanni di Paolo: Paintings," August 14–October 8, 1973, no. 11.
Inventory of the possessions of Luigi and Girolamo Tommasi. March 20, 1858, no. 176 [Tommasi archives; see Ref. Gordon 2003], as "Un quadro antico in Tavola del fare del Pollajolo esprimante la Madonna col Bambino Gesu, due Angeli ai piedi e quattro santi ai lati. Trittico con fondo dorato," probably this work.
F. Mason Perkins. "Ancora dei dipinti sconosciuti della scuola senese." Rassegna d'arte senese 3, nos. 3/4 (1907), p. 82, as by Giovanni di Paolo, in the collection of conte Tommasi-Aleotti, Arezzo; dates it to the artist's middle period; identifes the four saints as Clare, Augustine(?), John the Baptist, and Bernardino.
Emil Jacobsen. Das Quattrocento in Siena: Studien in der Gemäldegalerie der Akademie. Strasbourg, 1908, p. 50 n. 1.
[Curt H.] Weigelt inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Fred C. Willis. Vol. 14, Leipzig, 1921, p. 136, dates it to the artist's middle period; identifies the four saints as Clare, Augustine(?), John the Baptist, and "Bernardin".
F[abio]. B[argagli]. P[etrucci]. "Una grande tavola di Giovanni di Paolo emigrata in America." Rassegna d'arte senese 13? (1921), pp. 138–39, identifies the four saints as Clare, Augustine, John the Baptist, and Bernardino.
"A Great Polyptych Here." American Art News 19 (March 5, 1921), p. 1, ill., as at Kleinberger, New York; identifies the four saints as Catherine of Siena, Peter, John the Baptist, and Anthony of Padua.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, p. 452 n. 2, erroneously as still with Kleinberger, New York.
Luitpold Dussler. "Some Unpublished Works by Giovanni di Paolo." Burlington Magazine 50 (1927), pp. 35–36, pl. I, notes the influence of Sano di Pietro and suggests that there may originally have been half-length saints in the pinnacles above these panels.
Bernard Berenson in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], pp. 96–97 [partial text published in Ref. Berenson 1974], does not identify the female saint, but names the male saints as Augustine, John the Baptist, and Nicholas of Tolentino; mentions a variant of the figure of Nicholas in the church of Sant'Agostino in Montepulciano; relates the figure of John the Baptist to that in Sassetta's polyptych of "Saint Francis in Glory" (Villa I Tatti, Florence); tentatively proposes that a "Nativity" (now Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.) and a "Saint Nicholas of Bari Saving a Ship" (now Philadelphia Museum of Art) may have formed part of the predella.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CXXXIV.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 246.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 33, no. 52, identify the four saints as Mary Magdalen or Clare, Augustine, John the Baptist, and Bernardino.
"Friedsam Bequest to be Exhibited Next November." Art News 30 (January 2, 1932), p. 13, prints Bryson Burroughs's survey of the Friedsam paintings.
Marialuisa Gengaro. "Eclettismo e arte nel Quattrocento senese." La Diana 7 (1932), p. 30.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 163, calls it a late work, saying that he has not seen the date of 1454 mentioned by others as being inscribed on the work [but also calls it close in style to a polyptych of Saint Nicholas in Siena, dated 1453]; identifies the four saints as Mary Magdalen, Saint Nicholas, John the Baptist, and Bernardino.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 212.
Edward S. King. "Notes on the Paintings by Giovanni di Paolo in the Walters Collection." Art Bulletin 18 (June 1936), p. 233 n. 35, p. 239, observes that the same female saint appears in Giovanni di Paolo's altarpiece in the cathedral at Pienza, and that this type derives from the figure of Saint Giulitta in Lippo Memmi's altarpiece of 1333 in the Uffizi; identifies the last saint on the right as Bernardino.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo, 1403–1483. London, 1937, pp. 61–62, 66, 71, 104 n. 11, p. 172, pl. XIV.
F. Mason Perkins. Letter. March 24, 1938, notes that he had recognized it as a Giovanni di Paolo in 1905 when it was in the Aleotti collection, Arezzo.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 90–91, ill.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo, II." Le arti 3 (June–July 1941), pp. 316, 332.
Pèleo Bacci. "Ricordi della vita e dell'attività artistica del pittore senese Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia detto Boccanera (1399 circa–1482)." Le arti 4 (October–November 1941), p. 25, pl. V, fig. 2, pl. VI, figs. 3, 4 (details), identifies the female saint as Giuditta.
Millard Meiss. "A Documented Altarpiece by Piero della Francesca." Art Bulletin 23 (March 1941), p. 55 n. 26, p. 66 n. 66 [reprinted in "The Painter's Choice," New York, 1976, p. 100 n. 26], states that the female saint represented next to Saint Augustine is probably his mother, Monica.
Cesare Brandi. Giovanni di Paolo. Florence, 1947, pp. 34, 53, 111, 120 [same text as Ref. Brandi 1941].
Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. London, 1951, p. 191, proposes that four panels depicting the story of Saint John the Baptist (National Gallery, London; nos. 5451–54) could have belonged to the predella of the MMA altarpiece, but notes that the measurements appear not to fit.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 42.
Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1961, pp. 244–45 n. 3.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 178; vol. 2, pl. 615, tentatively identifes the female saint as Monica.
Margherita Lenzini Moriondo inArte in Valdichiana dal XIII al XVIII secolo. Exh. cat., Fortezza del Girifalco. Cortona, 1970, p. 23.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 90, 333, 375, 413, 434, 436, 607.
Bernard Berenson. Looking at Pictures with Bernard Berenson. Ed. Hanna Kiel. New York, 1974, pp. 96–97, ill.
Michel Laclotte and Elisabeth Mognetti. Peinture italienne. Paris, 1976, unpaginated, under no. 89.
André Chastel. "Two Roman Statues: Saints Peter and Paul." Collaboration in Italian Renaissance Art. Ed. Wendy Stedman Sheard and John T. Paoletti. New Haven, 1978, pp. 60, 63 n. 7 [indicated as n. 8 in the text], fig. 4.8 (detail), identifies Saints Peter and Paul as the two figures visible at the top of the dalmatic worn by Saint Augustine.
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. 22–23, pls. 40, 41 (detail), tentatively identify the female saint as Monica; remark that two panels illustrating posthumous miracles of Saint Nicholas (John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna) are contemporary to this work and could have formed part of its predella, except that their vertical format makes this unlikely.
Keith Christiansen. "Fourteenth-Century Italian Altarpieces." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 40 (Summer 1982), pp. 3–5, fig. 1, identifies the female saint as Monica; notes that various parts of the frame are modern and that the altarpiece would have had a predella, piers, and pinnacles, the last possibly identifiable with a series of the four evangelists and Christ Blessing in the Chiaramonte Bordonaro collection, Palermo; doubts that the two panels showing miracles of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Philadelphia Museum of Art and Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna) come from the predella of this altarpiece [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1980].
Michel Laclotte and Elisabeth Mognetti. Avignon, musée du Petit Palais: Peinture italienne. 3rd ed. Paris, 1987, p. 109, under no. 89.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 46 (Fall 1988), pp. 17–19, fig. 20 (color), tentatively identifies the female saint as Monica; believes the altarpiece may have been painted for the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena; definitely identifies the five panels in Palermo [see Ref. Christiansen 1982] as the pinnacles of the altarpiece, and believes that despite the discrepancies in measurements, the four panels depicting the story of John the Baptist (National Gallery, London) probably formed the predella, with the missing fifth panel representing either the Baptist Preaching before Herod or the Execution of the Baptist.
Carl Brandon Strehlke inPainting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, p. 218, states that the scenes of the life of the Baptist in the National Gallery, London, seem to have formed the predella of this altarpiece, which he mistakenly says is dated 1453.
Henk van Os. Sienese Altarpieces, 1215–1460: Form, Content, Function. Vol. 2, 1344–1460. Groningen, 1990, pp. 48–50, 53, 216 nn. 32, 34, figs. 23 (obverse), 24 (reverse), doubts that the female saint is Monica.
Jill Dunkerton et al. Giotto to Durer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery. New Haven, 1991, p. 278, fig. 25a, state that it is not possible to securely identify the altarpiece to which their four scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist originally belonged, but add that the MMA work has been suggested.
Andrew Ladis. "Sources and Resources: The Lost Sketchbooks of Giovanni di Paolo." The Craft of Art: Originality and Industry in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Workshop. Ed. Andrew Ladis and Carolyn Wood. Athens, Ga., 1995, pp. 75, 78, fig. 31.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 53, ill.
Eliot W. Rowlands. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300–1800. Kansas City, Mo., 1996, p. 105, states that the figure of the Madonna recurs in two other works by Giovanni di Paolo: in the "Madonna and Child Between Saints Jerome and Augustine" in the Nelson-Atkins, and as the figure of Saint Ursula at the far right of a triptych of the Madonna and Child in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.
Carolyn C. Wilson. "Structure and Iconography in Giovanni di Paolo's Altarpieces: The Case of the Houston Panels." Arte cristiana 84 (November–December 1996), p. 434 n. 77, wonders if the London panels really formed part of the predella of this altarpiece because the Baptist stands to the left of the Madonna in the main register of the polyptych rather than to her right as is usual but not always the case when the predella depicts multiple scenes of the life of one saint.
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, pp. 118, 222, 368, classifies the punch marks appearing in this painting.
Dillian Gordon. The Fifteenth Century: Italian Paintings. Vol. 1, London, 2003, pp. 95–97, 100–101 nn. 7, 9, 11, 14, 15, p. 102 nn. 23, 31–33, p. 103 n. 52, fig. 21 (color), believes that the four predella panels in London probably formed part of this altarpiece; proposes that the altarpiece was made for the church of Sant'Agostino, Cortona, since it was later in the Tommasi-Aleotti collection, Cortona, and suggests that it may have been intended for a Tommasi chapel documented in this church or even more probably for a chapel commissioned by Zaccaria di Matteo Cenni degli Bencivenni and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist; adds that Zaccaria's daughter and heir was named Lucy and suggests that the female saint in the altarpiece may be Saint Lucy; suggests that the altarpiece may have entered the Tommasi collection when the convent of Sant'Agostino was suppressed in 1808/10 and calls it "almost certainly identifiable with" a work included in a Tommasi inventory of 1858 [see Ref.].
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 445.
Carl Brandon Strehlke. Italian Paintings 1250–1450 in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2004, pp. 178, 182 n. 7, mentions it as an example of Giovanni di Paolo's numerous commissions for Augustinian houses.
Annamaria Bernacchioni inSan Nicola da Tolentino nell'arte: corpus iconografico. Ed. Valentino Pace and Roberto Tollo. Vol. 1, Dalle origini al Concilio di Trento. Tolentino, 2005, pp. 273–74, no. 81, colorpl. XVIII, ill. pp. 155 (color detail) and 272.
Michel Laclotte and Esther Moench. Peinture italienne: musée du Petit Palais Avignon. new ed. Paris, 2005, p. 111, under no. 102, p. 112, under no. 103, mention the similarity in pose between the figures of Saint John the Baptist in this work and in a panel in Avignon.
Dóra Sallay inAllgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. Vol. 55, Munich, 2007, pp. 57–58, believes that the altarpiece may have been made for Sant'Agostino, Cortona, and that it probably included the four predella panels in London.
Dóra Sallay. "Early Sienese Paintings in Hungarian Collections, 1420–1520." PhD diss., Central European University, Budapest, 2008, pp. 88, 102, 104 n. 208, p. 116 n. 247, p. 124 n. 261.
Luciano Bellosi, ed. La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, p. 305.
Everett Fahy inLa collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Ed. Luciano Bellosi. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, pp. 314–15, fig. 5 (reconstruction, color), discusses it in connection with the five pinnacles formerly in the Chiaramonte Bordonaro collection, now in the Salini collection, which he agrees [see Ref. Christiansen 1982] formed part of this altarpiece; finds problematic the inclusion of the four Saint John the Baptist panels in the National Gallery, London.
Chiara Moser inAntonio e Piero del Pollaiolo: "Nell'argento e nell'oro, in pittura e nel bronzo . . . ". Ed. Andrea Di Lorenzo and Aldo Galli. Exh. cat., Museo Poldi Pezzoli. Milan, 2014, p. 143, fig. 4 (color, detail), under no. 1 [English ed., "Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo: 'Silver and Gold, Painting and Bronze . . . '"], notes that the figure of Saint Monica is based on a figure in a "pax" depicting the Coronation of the Virgin by Maso Finiguerra of 1452 (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence).
The altarpiece lacks its pinnacles (probably of half-length figures of the Evangelists), flanking piers, and predella of small, narrative scenes. The colonettes and capitals (save the second from the left) are modern replacements, but the base molding and decorated spandrels above the figures are original.
The inscription on the engaged frame is a much later repetition of the original signature and date appearing at the bottom of the central panel. On the frame the signature "JOHANNIS" has been mistranscribed as "JOHANNES".
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