Together with two other female saints, these panels were originally stacked in two groups of three, one above the other, to form the piers flanking the main panels of an altarpiece. By this date Giovanni di Paolo’s work must have begun to seem out of step with the naturalism of Renaissance style. For more information about these four paintings, including the other panels of the altarpiece, visit metmuseum.org.
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Fig. 1. Altarpiece reconstruction
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Title:Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Agatha, and Margaret
Artist:Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Medium:Tempera on wood, gold ground
Dimensions:(a) overall 18 3/4 x 6 in. (47.6 x 15.2 cm), painted surface 18 1/4 x 5 1/2 in. (46.4 x 14 cm); (b) overall 18 3/4 x 6 in. (47.6 x 15.2 cm), painted surface 18 3/8 x 5 5/8 in. (46.7 x 14.3 cm); (c) overall 18 3/4 x 6 in. (47.6 x 15.2 cm), painted surface 18 3/8 x 5 3/8 in. (46.7 x 13.7 cm); (d) overall 18 3/4 x 6 in. (47.6 x 15.2 cm), painted surface 18 1/4 x 5 5/8 in. (46.4 x 14.3 cm)
Credit Line:The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Saint Catherine of Alexandria (32.100.83a) holds a book and a broken wheel; Saint Barbara (32.100.83b) holds a tower; Saint Agatha (32.100.83c) holds shears and a plate with her breasts on it; and Saint Margaret (32.100.83d) holds flowers and stands on a dragon.
The four female saints together with two others—a Saint Mary Magdalen and a Saint Agnes (both Salini collection, near Siena)—were stacked in two groups of three, one above the other, to form the piers of an altarpiece. That altarpiece has been identified with a triptych originally formed by a Nativity in the Kersztény Múzeum, Esztergom, and side panels in the Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, showing Saint Vittorino or Savinus, a patron saint of Siena, and Saint Ansanus, another patron saint of the city (see fig. 1 above). What church the altarpiece was painted for is unknown. The work is dated to around 1470. A late work by the artist, it shows a rather crude realism that is Giovanni's attempt to keep pace with Renaissance taste toward the end of his long career.
Keith Christiansen 2010
Alphonse Kann, Paris (in 1914); [Duveen, New York]; [Kleinberger, New York, until 1919]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1919–d. 1931)
New York. church of the Ascension. "Annual Exhibition of Religious Art," April 22–May 6, 1956, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giovanni di Paolo: Paintings," August 14–October 8, 1973, no. 14.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Saints and Their Legends," March 1–September 3, 1974, exh. brochure.
F. Mason Perkins. "Dipinti senesi sconosciuti o inediti." Rassegna d'arte 14 (1914), p. 165 n. 1 [first], as Saints Catherine, Barbara, Agatha, and another saint, by Giovanni di Paolo; as in the Alphonse Kann collection, Paris.
[Curt H.] Weigelt inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Fred C. Willis. Vol. 14, Leipzig, 1921, p. 136, erroneously as still in the Alphonse Kann collection, Paris; does not identify the fourth saint.
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 in the Kann collection; does not identify the fourth saint.
Luitpold Dussler. "Some Unpublished Works by Giovanni di Paolo." Burlington Magazine 50 (1927), p. 36, pl. IIA, notes the influence of Sassetta and suggests that the panels may be fragments of a large altarpiece dating from the 1430s.
Bernard Berenson in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], pp. 97a–97b, identifies the saints as Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Lucy, and Dorothy; dates the works to the middle of the artist's career and states that they must have formed part of the same polyptych.
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. 34, no. 53, identify the fourth saint as Dorothy; state that the four panels must originally have formed part of the framework of a polyptych.
Marialuisa Gengaro. "Eclettismo e arte nel Quattrocento senese." La Diana 7 (1932), p. 30.
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. 237, includes them in a list of works that he tentatively attributes to Giovanni di Paolo's workshop or imitators.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo, 1403–1483. London, 1937, pp. 93, 112 n. 87, p. 172, dates them before 1450; identifies the fourth saint as Dorothy.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 88, ill.
Cesare Brandi. Giovanni di Paolo. Florence, 1947, p. 120, identifies the fourth saint as Dorothy.
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.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 178, calls them the pilasters of a polyptych.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 90, 367, 376, 383, 392, 607.
Michel Laclotte and Elisabeth Mognetti. Peinture italienne. Paris, 1976, unpaginated, under no. 90, mention Zeri's hypothesis connecting these four panels with the Avignon triptych [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1980]; add that Saints Barbara and Catherine would have appeared on the left and Saints Agatha and Dorothy [Margaret] on the right; date the Avignon triptych to after 1470.
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. 23–24, pls. 42, 43, identify the fourth saint as Margaret; date the panels to the artist's late period; tentatively associate them with a triptych of the Nativity now in the Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, where they would have formed two vertical pilasters, with one saint on top of another, on either side of the central panels; cite two other intact altarpieces with the same configuration of panels: one in the church of San Pietro Apostolo at Trequanda, and one in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.
Michel Laclotte and Elisabeth Mognetti. Avignon, musée du Petit Palais: Peinture italienne. 3rd ed. Paris, 1987, p. 110, under no. 90.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 46 (Fall 1988), p. 39, figs. 48–51 (color), mentions and illustrates two additional panels from the series, depicting Saints Mary Magdalen and Agnes (private collection); believes that these six panels formed the left and right pilasters of an altarpiece, with Saints Barbara and Agatha at the top, Saints Catherine and Margaret in the middle, and Saints Mary Magdalen and Agnes at the bottom; suggests a Nativity in the Keresztény Múseum, Esztergom, Hungary, as the central panel of this altarpiece, based on the similarity of the haloes; associates the two panels of male saints in Avignon with the Esztergom Nativity rather than with the Avignon Nativity they currently flank [see Ref. Laclotte and Mognetti 1976].
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 56, ill., as "Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Agatha, and Margaret".
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 445.
Michel Laclotte and Esther Moench. Peinture italienne: musée du Petit Palais Avignon. new ed. Paris, 2005, p. 113, under no. 106, ill. pp. 113 and 237 (reconstruction), reconstruct the altarpiece with the Esztergom Nativity in the center, the two male saints in Avignon as the wings, and the four MMA saints forming the outer vertical pilasters.
Dóra Sallay. "Early Sienese Paintings in Hungarian Collections, 1420–1520." PhD diss., Central European University, Budapest, 2008, pp. 107–9, figs. 11/14 (color, with Saints Mary Magdalen and and Agnes), 11/17 (reconstruction), favors identifying the fourth saint as Martha; locates the panels depicting Saints Mary Magdalen and Agnes in the Salini collection, Siena; supports the association of the two Avignon panels and the six panels depicting female saints with the Nativity in Esztergom.
Carl Brandon Strehlke inLa collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Ed. Luciano Bellosi. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, pp. 306, 309, ill. p. 308 (reconstruction, color), discusses them in connection with the two companion panels depicting Saints Mary Magdalen and Agnes in the Salini collection; reconstructs the altarpiece with the Esztergom Nativity in the center, flanked by the two male saints (identified as Savino or Vittorino and Ansano) in Avignon.
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