The moody, unfiltered emotions of Saints Matthew and Francis showcase Giovanni di Paolo’s interest in depicting strongly expressive figures. The artist found inspiration for his implacable saints in the sculpture of his great compatriot Jacopo della Quercia. These two figures are from a major altarpiece. A scene from the base (predella) is also in the Museum and shows the Presentation in the Temple. Giovanni’s experimentation with foreshortening can be seen here in the lettering on the haloes, which changes size in accordance with the tilt of the figures’ heads. 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:Saints Matthew and Francis
Artist:Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Medium:Tempera on wood, gold ground
Dimensions:Overall, with added strips, 54 5/8 x 34 3/4 in. (138.7 x 88.3 cm); painted surface 52 7/8 x 33 1/2 in. (134.3 x 85.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Coudert Brothers, 1888
The Picture and Its Companion Panels: This panel showing Saints Matthew and Francis is from the right-hand portion of a highly important altarpiece that had at its center a Madonna and Child (fragmentary, 84.5 x 56.7 cm; Monte dei Paschi di Siena) and, on the left, a panel with Saints Catherine of Alexandria(?) and John the Baptist (also fragmentary, 104.5 x 44.5 cm; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). The altarpiece would have been completed with a base (predella) showing narrative scenes, pinnacles, and supporting pilasters possibly decorated with small images of saints. Beyond the fact that the above panels are all from the same altarpiece, nothing certain can be said about its further reconstruction, its original destination, or precise date, though there has long existed a consensus that the panels must date from the 1430s.
Reconstructing the Altarpiece: In his early monograph of 1937 and again in 1988, Pope-Hennessy proposed that the three panels in Houston-Siena-New York formed part of a Gothic altarpiece known to have decorated the chapel of the Fondi or Tondi family in the church of San Francesco, Siena. According to early sources, that altarpiece dated to 1436, was dedicated to Saint James, and showed the Madonna and saints in the main panels and had a predella with scenes of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Crucifixion separated by borders of fruit and flowers (see Bossio 1575, Chigi 1625–26, and Ugurgieri Azzolini 1649). Pope-Hennessy thought that the apostle James could have been included as a pinnacle panel and he further conjectured that a fire recorded to have swept through the church in 1655 could explain the cut-down state of the panels in Houston and Siena. His view was contested by Brandi (1941)—the other major scholar writing about Giovanni di Paolo at the time. Brandi agreed that the Houston-Siena-New York panels belonged to a single altarpiece but rejected an association with the Fondi or Tondi chapel, for which he proposed a fragmentary panel of Saint James together with three predella panels showing the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion, and the Flight into Egypt that, in fact, have borders with flowers (all in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena). Although both Pope-Hennessy’s and Brandi’s proposals have found support, current opinion favors associating the three predella panels in Siena not with the Fondi or Tondi polyptych but with a much earlier altarpiece painted in 1427, the main panel of which is in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena (see, for example, De Marchi 2012, p. 101). It should be pointed out that the redating of the predella panels in Siena to an earlier moment is part of a general reconsideration of Giovanni di Paolo’s chronology.
A further step toward reconstructing the Houston-Siena-New York altarpiece was made by De Marchi (1992), who proposed identifying the predella with a series of panels showing the Annunciation (painted surface 38.7 x 44.7 cm; National Gallery of Art, Washington), the Nativity (38.7 x 44.3 cm; Pinacoteca Vaticana), the Crucifixion (39 x 53.8 cm; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), the Adoration of the Magi (39.3 x 44.2 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art), and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (The Met, 41.100.4). This reconstruction required redating the series of predella panels, which had previously been dated by most scholars to the 1440s. De Marchi’s reconstruction was followed by Boskovits (2003) and Sallay (2010), whose detailed reconstruction is adopted here (see images above, fig. 1). Notable to Sallay’s reconstruction is the inclusion of a grille or tabernacle below the fragmentary panel of the Madonna and Child. This came from the realization that the composition of what was once a Madonna of Humility, seated on the ground, could not be imagined as filling the requisite space and that there must have been another element to the altarpiece. There are analogies for this, though they are rare. The tabernacle would have been for the Eucharist, while a grille could have been for viewing a relic or, alternatively, for cloistered nuns to receive communion, imagining the altarpiece placed up against a dividing wall or screen. This reconstruction has been accepted by De Marchi (2012) and Zappasodi (2014). Initially, De Marchi considered identifying the reconstructed altarpiece with that mentioned by sources in the Fondi (or Tondi) chapel in San Francesco. Boskovits had left the matter open, but Sallay has argued persuasively against the identification and has further noted that the altarpiece need not have come from a Franciscan church, despite the presence of Saint Francis.
Regardless of its original destination, this must have been one of Giovanni di Paolo's most impressive altarpieces. The two saints in The Met's panel are modeled in a way that emphasizes formal structure, and the haloes are notable for the attempt at foreshortening, with the classical lettering increasing in size in accordance with the projection of the halo. The Madonna and Child composition in Siena derives from Gentile da Fabriano's Quaratesi Altarpiece (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), and three of the predella scenes are based on the predella of Gentile's Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi, Florence). Giovanni must have made a trip to Florence around 1430 and recorded compositions that particularly impressed him in an album.
Keith Christiansen 2014; revised 2018
Inscription: Inscribed (on halos): SANCTVS MACTEVS APOSTOLVS; SANCTVS F[RANCISCV]S SERA[F]RIC[VS] (Saint Matthew the Apostle; Saint Francis the Seraphic)
?Fondi chapel, church of San Francesco, Siena (1436–?1655); Mme d'Oliviera, Florence (until 1887)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Temporary Exhibition," April 1906, no. 43 (as "Part of an Altarpiece," by Giovanni di Paolo).
Wooster, Ohio. Josephine Long Wishart Museum of Art. "Exhibition of Paintings of French, Italian, Dutch, Flemish and German Masters, lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 20–December 15, 1944, unnumbered cat. (p. 7).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giovanni di Paolo: Paintings," August 14–October 8, 1973, no. 1.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500," December 20, 1988–March 19, 1989, no. 28.
F. Bossio. "Sante visite." Memoriale della visita pastorale. no. 21, 1575, f. 664 [Archivio Arcivescovile, Siena; see Refs. Pope-Hennessy 1937 and Strehlke 1988], mentions the altarpiece of the Madonna and Child in the Fondi chapel of the church of San Francesco in Siena, and adds that the altar is dedicated to Saint James the Greater [this picture possibly originally formed the right section of the altarpiece].
Fabio Chigi. List of paintings, sculpture, and architecture in Siena. 1625–26, c. 218 v. [Biblioteca apostolica vaticana; published in Pèleo Bacci, "L'elenco delle pitture, sculture e architetture di Siena compilato nel 1625–26 da mons. Fabio Chigi poi Alessandro VII," Bullettino senese di storia patria, n.s., 10 (1939), p. 318], under the church of San Francesco, lists a work "di casa Tondi [not Fondi] di Giovanni di Pavolo 1436," referring to the altarpiece of which this panel may originally have formed the right section.
Isidoro Ugurgieri Azzolini. Le pompe sanesi, o vero relazione delli huomini e donne illustri di Siena, e suo stato. Vol. 2, Sanesi pittori, scultori, architetti, ed altri artefici famosi. Pistoia, 1649, p. 346 [see Refs. Della Valle 1786 and Strehlke 1988], discusses a picture by Giovanni di Paolo of 1436 in the church of San Francesco in Siena, of a Madonna and saints, and a predella with scenes of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Crucifixion [this panel may have formed the right section of that work].
Guglielmo Della Valle. Lettere sanesi. Vol. 3, Rome, 1786, p. 50, quotes Ugurgieri [see Ref. 1649].
Roger Fry. Letters. January–March 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 173, p. 251], mentions that he found this picture among others put away in a storeroom.
Roger Fry. Letter to his wife, Helen Fry. December 5, 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 210, p. 276].
Bernhard Berenson. The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York, 1909, p. 178, lists it as "Saint Francis and Another Saint," an early work by Giovanni di Paolo.
Joseph Breck. "Some Paintings by Giovanni di Paolo: I." Art in America 2 (April 1914), pp. 177, 180, 185, fig. 2.
[Curt H.] Weigelt inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Fred C. Willis. Vol. 14, Leipzig, 1921, p. 134.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, p. 404, fig. 260, as from the D'Oliviera collection, Florence; believes they must originally have formed part of a polyptych similar to the one in the Uffizi, Florence.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 246.
Marialuisa Gengaro. "Eclettismo e arte nel Quattrocento senese." La Diana 7 (1932), p. 31.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 212.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo, 1403–1483. London, 1937, pp. 12–13, 19, 47 n. 24, p. 172, pl. V, recognizes it as belonging to the same altarpiece as the Madonna and Child in a tabernacle in the via delle Terme, Siena [now Monte dei Paschi, Siena], and Saints Ursula and John the Baptist in the Kelekian collection, Paris [now Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the female saint is now identified as Catherine], and suggests identifying this altarpiece with the one painted in 1436 for the Fondi family chapel in the church of San Francesco in Siena, injured by fire in 1655.
F. Mason Perkins. Letter. March 24, 1938, notes that he had attributed it to Giovanni di Paolo in a letter to the curator in 1905.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 87–88, ill., concurs with Pope-Hennessy [see Ref. 1937] that this work and the two saints then in the Kelekian collection [now Museum of Fine Arts, Houston] and the Madonna and Child in Siena all come from the same altarpiece, and tentatively accepts his identification of this altarpiece as the one painted for the Fondi chapel in the church of San Francesco, Siena, in 1436.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo." Le arti 3 (April–May 1941), pp. 241–43, 246, accepts Pope-Hennessy's [see Ref. 1937] reconstruction but rejects the connection with the Fondi altarpiece.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo, II." Le arti 3 (June–July 1941), p. 327 n. 67, dates it about 1440.
Cesare Brandi. Giovanni di Paolo. Florence, 1947, pp. 18–19, 21–22, 26, 83 n. 67, p. 120 [same text as Refs. Brandi 1941].
Cesare Brandi. Quattrocentisti senesi. Milan, 1949, pp. 259–60.
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.
Enzo Carli. "Dipinti senesi nel museo di Houston." Antichità viva 2 (April 1963), p. 20.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 177–78, 181, as companion to the panels in Houston and Siena.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 90, 365, 397, 432, 605.
Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 251 n. 9 to letter no. 173 (February 18, 1906), p. 276 n. 1 to letter no. 210 (December 5, 1906).
Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, p. 306.
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. 19–20, pl. 38, tentatively date it to the late 1430s, but are not convinced by Pope-Hennessy's [see Ref. 1937] identification of the altarpiece to which it originally belonged with the Fondi altarpiece, painted in 1436.
J. Patrice Marandel inThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: A Guide to the Collection. Houston, 1981, p. 25, under no. 45.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 46 (Fall 1988), p. 8, 10–11, fig. 7 (color), mentions the influence of Jacopo della Quercia on the figure of Saint Matthew.
Carl Brandon Strehlke inPainting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 172, 176–78, no. 28, ill., finds the evidence that it and its companions formed the Fondi altarpiece inconclusive; dates it to the mid-1430s; notes that the figure type of Saint Francis derives from the corresponding figure in Sassetta's "Madonna of the Snow" altarpiece (Contini-Bonacossi Bequest, Florence).
Luciano Cateni inLa sede storica del Monte dei Paschi di Siena. Ed. Francesco Gurrieri et al. Siena, 1988, pp. 308, 312, ill. p. 310.
Elina Taselaar inThe Early Sienese Paintings in Holland. Ed. H. W. van Os et al. Florence, 1989, p. 70, disagrees with Pope-Hennessy's [see Ref. 1937] identification of the panels [including this one] making up the Fondi altarpiece, and with his dating; further claims that the chapel in question was that of the Tondi, not Fondi, family.
Andrea De Marchi. Gentile da Fabriano: Un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico. Milan, 1992, p. 211 n. 34, proposes as the predella the Annunciation (National Gallery of Art, Washington), the Nativity (Pinacoteca Vaticana), the Crucifixion (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), the Adoration of the Magi (Cleveland Museum of Art), and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (MMA 41.100.4), noting that three of these subjects are mentioned by Ugurgieri Azzolini [see Ref. 1649] as forming part of the Fondi altarpiece.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 53, ill. p. 52.
Eliot W. Rowlands. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300–1800. Kansas City, Mo., 1996, p. 99.
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. 422–25, 430 nn. 24, 25, 28, 29, p. 432 n. 40, fig. 9.
Frank Dabell inGold Backs, 1250–1480. Exh. cat., Matthiesen Fine Art. London, 1996, p. 116.
Janneke Johanna Anje Panders. "The Underdrawing of Giovanni di Paolo: Characteristics and Development." PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 1997, p. 38 n. 86, p. 52 n. 104.
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, 262, classifies the punch marks appearing in this painting.
Miklós Boskovits inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 328, 331 nn. 35, 38, fig. 1 (reconstruction), independent of Ref. De Marchi 1992, proposes that a set of predella panels in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Cleveland Museum of Art, and MMA (41.100.4), belongs to the altarpiece of which this panel is a part; dates the entire assembly about 1435 and reserves judgment as to its original destination.
Dóra Sallay inDa Jacopo della Quercia a Donatello: le arti a Siena nel primo rinascimento. Ed. Max Seidel. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala et al., Siena. Milan, 2010, pp. 214, 216, under no. C.14, ill. (reconstruction).
Andrea De Marchi. La pala d'altare dal polittico alla pala quadra. Florence, 2012, pp. 101–2, accepts Sallay's reconstruction, suggesting that rather than a relic, a grill occupied a space beneath the Virgin and Child in the center panel.
Emanuele Zappasodi. "Ambrogio Lorenzetti 'huomo di grande ingegno': un polittico fuori canone e due tavole dimenticate." Nuovi studi 19 (2013), pp. 10, 19 nn. 42–43, pl. 16 (altarpiece reconstruction), accepts the reconstruction of Sallay.
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