Martyred for her attempt to convert the fourth-century pagan emperor Maximinus Daia, Saint Catherine of Alexandria is identified by her crown and regal attire. The panel belonged to an elaborate, two-tiered altarpiece. The figure combines the bulk and three-dimensionality of a work by Giotto or the sculptor Giovanni Pisano with the decorative brilliance for which Sienese painting is famous. The inscription at the top indicates that it was surmounted by a figure of Saint John the Evangelist. For more information about this painting, visit metmuseum.org.
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Fig. 1. Altarpiece Reconstruction. Main register (from left to right): a bishop saint (Noailles collection, Paris), Saint Margaret (Perkins collection, Sacro Convento, Assisi), Madonna and Child (Loeser bequest, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), Saint Catherine (The Met), Saint James (Lia collection, La Spezia); pinnacles (left, right): a martyr saint, Saint Anthony Abbot (both, National Gallery, Prague).
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Title:Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Artist:Pietro Lorenzetti (Italian, active Siena 1320–44)
Date:shortly after 1342
Medium:Tempera on wood, gold ground
Dimensions:Overall 26 x 16 1/4 in. (66 x 41.3 cm); painted surface 24 1/2 x 16 1/4 in. (62.2 x 41.3 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1913
The Picture: This austerely beautiful panel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is from an altarpiece, the main panels of which all survive (see below). The legend of Saint Catherine, as told in the Golden Legend, was enormously popular in medieval and Renaissance painting and representations of her were extremely popular. She is said to have been the daughter of the fourth-century Queen of Egypt and of King Costis, the half-brother of Constantine the Great. She had a liberal arts education and upon being converted to Christianity used her eloquence to attempt to win over to the faith the pagan emperor Maximinus Daia. This led to her torture and imprisonment and, eventually, to her martyrdom by beheading. In the picture she is identified by her crown and regal attire. Although she lacks her usual attribute, the bladed wheel on which she was to be cut to pieces (instead, an angel fragmented the wheel, the flying pieces of which killed her pagan tormentors), she holds a palm of martyrdom.
The Altarpiece: As noted above, this is the lateral panel of an altarpiece, the main register of which can be reconstructed as follows (Zeri and Gardner 1980; see fig. 1 above): a bishop saint (Noailles collection, Paris), Saint Margaret (Perkins collection, Sacro Convento, Assisi), Madonna and Child (Loeser bequest, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), Saint Catherine (The Met), Saint James (Lia collection, La Spezia). Two pinnacles have also been identified (Maginnis 1974): a Saint Anthony Abbot and a martyr (both, National Gallery, Prague). The inscription that appears above the saint on The Met’s panel indicates that an image of Saint John the Evangelist—not one of Saint Agnes, as has sometimes been thought—stood above the Saint Catherine. On grounds of style the altarpiece is generally dated to the 1340s. However, the polyptych, with its rounded rather than pointed arches and pinnacles with a simple triangular shape, is of a type associated with the early fourteenth century. Already by 1328 Pietro had embraced a more elaborate form employing the vocabulary of Gothic architecture that already characterized Simone Martini’s polyptych of 1321/22 for the convent of San Domenico in Orvieto. Whether the archaic form of the polyptych is a reflection of a provincial commission or a conscious revival of a revered Duccesque form cannot be said with certainty. However, in the 1340s Pietro revived the network of gold filigree—christography—used to emphasize the sacred status of figures in medieval painting, and the idea of retrieving the sacred realm of an earlier generation is not inconceivable following the bold experimentation of the first three decades of the century.
The Attribution: The attribution of the picture to Pietro, accepted by virtually all the leading Italian scholars, has been questioned by a number of Anglo-American authorities. It was, for example, accepted as by Pietro by the leading Italian authority on the artist, Carlo Volpe (1989), and ascribed to a follower by the American specialist Hayden Maginnis (1980). The motif punches have been analyzed by Skaug (1994) and Frinta (1998), both of whom note a number of punches not found in the core body of Pietro’s work. They believe the altarpiece was the product of a pupil/follower. This disagreement reflects a long-standing division between Italian and Anglo-American scholars in their interpretation of the late phase of Pietro's work. What needs to be emphasized is the exceptionally high quality of The Met’s picture: its sculptural rendering of the figure, with the foreshortened right hand elegantly holding the palm and the articulation of the left hand grasping the drapery. These are typical of Pietro’s work. Moreover, the most innovative painters of the fourteenth century—from Giotto to Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti—can now be seen to have a far less narrowly restricted style than was assumed a half century ago. Like his brother Ambrogio, Pietro was a painter of remarkable expressive power and pictorial invention. He was among the first to respond to the spatial and figurative innovations of Giotto and closely studied the expressive sculpture of Giovanni Pisano, who was active in Siena. He had a refined taste and was a master at depicting rich fabrics and elaborately tooled, gilded surfaces. On that score it should be noted that the gold background of The Met's panel was once set off by the use of silver in the projecting spandrels, though that silver has now blackened through oxidation.
Keith Christiansen 2018
Inscription: Inscribed (above arch): S IOhES (Saint John)
G. F. Reber, Barmen [Wuppertal] (until 1913?, as by Ambrogio Lorenzetti); [Böhler & Steinmeyer, Lucerne, 1913; sold to The Met]
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "A Painting by Lorenzetti." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (April 1914), pp. 99–100, ill. on cover, attributes it to Pietro Lorenzetti, based on the opinion of Berenson; states that the saint depicted is most probably Catherine.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 5, The Hague, 1925, p. 456, calls it an early work by Pietro Lorenzetti; tentatively identifies the saint as Catherine.
Ernest T. DeWald. "Pietro Lorenzetti." Art Studies 7 (1929), pp. 148, 165–66, fig. 36, dates it 1332–40, and relates it to the Saint Margaret in the Perkins collection.
Giulia Sinibaldi inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Vol. 23, Leipzig, 1929, p. 387.
Emilio Cecchi. Pietro Lorenzetti. Milan, 1930, p. 28.
E[rnest]. T. DeWald. Pietro Lorenzetti. Cambridge, Mass., 1930, pp. 20, 37–38, fig. 36 [same text as Ref. DeWald 1929].
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. LXV, dates it about 1332.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 293.
George Harold Edgell. A History of Sienese Painting. New York, 1932, pp. 116–17, fig. 125.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 81.
Giulia Sinibaldi. I Lorenzetti. Florence, 1933, pp. 177–78, 180, pl. XXV, illustrates it as by "Pietro Lorenzetti?" and notes that this work and the one in the Perkins collection are similar to paintings attributed to the so-called Master of the Dijon Triptych.
Raimond van Marle. Le scuole della pittura italiana. Vol. 2, La scuola senese del XIV secolo. The Hague, 1934, p. 393 n. 2.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 252.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 74–75, ill., identifies a Saint Lucy (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore) as probably from the same altarpiece.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 61.
Gertrude Coor. "A Painting of St. Lucy in the Walters Art Gallery and Some Closely Related Representations." Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 18 (1955), p. 81 n. 4, rejects Wehle's [see Ref. 1940] proposal relating the MMA panel and the Saint Lucy in Baltimore, which she attributes to Niccolò di Segna; instead connects the MMA work with the Perkins Saint Margaret and a Madonna and Child in the Loeser collection, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
Carlo Volpe. "Mostre: Sulla mostra dei dipinti senesi del contado e della Maremma." Paragone 7 (January 1956), p. 53, dates it 1330–40, and considers it part of a polyptych to which the Perkins Saint Margaret and the Loeser Madonna and Child also belonged.
Brigitte Klesse. Seidenstoffe in der italienischen Malerei des 14. Jahrhunderts. Bern, 1967, pp. 64, 280, no. 181, reproduces a scheme of the pattern of the robe, and from the textile, dates the painting to the 1330s.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 218–19, calls it a companion of the Perkins Saint Margaret.
Federico Zeri. "Un 'San Giovanni Evangelista' di Pietro Lorenzetti." Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf. Berlin, 1968, text vol., 42–44; plate vol., pl. XXVI, fig. 2, to a reconstruction of the polyptych including the MMA, Perkins, and Loeser panels, adds a fourth work: a picture in the Lia collection, La Spezia, which he identifies as Saint John the Evangelist; dates the panels to the artist's late period.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 109, 381, 606.
Giuseppe Palumbo. Collezione Federico Mason Perkins, Sacro Convento di S. Francesco, Assisi. Rome, 1973, p. 52, under no. 40, to the four panels of the polyptych already identified, adds the figure of a saint found by Michel Laclotte [see Ref. 1976; Palumbo erroneously refers to it as a pinnacle, in a provincial museum in France] and two pinnacles found by Hayden Maginnis [see Ref. 1974].
Hayden B. J. Maginnis. "Lorenzettian Panels in Prague." Burlington Magazine 116 (February 1974), pp. 98, 101, fig. 36, identifies two triangular paintings representing a young male martyr saint and Saint Anthony Abbot (both, National Gallery, Prague) as pinnacles from the same altarpiece as the MMA, Loeser, Perkins, and Lia panels; attributes this altarpiece to a close associate of Pietro Lorenzetti and tentatively dates it close to mid-century.
Federico Zeri. Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore, 1976, vol. 1, p. 38, under no. 22, p. 40, under no. 23, dates the altarpiece to Pietro's very last period, after 1342.
Michel Laclotte. "Un saint évêque de Pietro Lorenzetti." Paragone 27 (July–September 1976), pp. 15–18, adds a half-length martyr bishop saint (Noailles collection, Paris) to the panels of the polyptych already identified, and places the five panels in the following order, left to right: Noailles, MMA, Loeser, Perkins, Lia; refers to the Lia saint as James, not John; dates the altarpiece to Lorenzetti's late period, after 1335, and believes that it must have been composed of seven rather than five main panels.
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Deletions from the Œuvre of Pietro Lorenzetti and Related Works by the Master of the Beata Umiltà, Mino Parcis da Siena, and Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 20, no. 3 (1976), pp. 287–90, figs. 37, 40–42, 45 (details), states that study of the punch marks on the various panels [he is unaware of the panel identified by Laclotte; see Ref. 1976] associated with the altarpiece fully supports their relationship, but, on that same basis, tentatively attributes the work to Mino Parcis, father of Jacopo di Mino, suggesting that Mino Parcis may have been the Mino recorded in 1321 as a collaborator of Pietro Lorenzetti; believes that the MMA panel was probably on the right side of the Madonna and Child and the Perkins Saint Margaret probably on the left.
Erling Skaug. "Notes on the Chronology of Ambrogio Lorenzetti and a New Painting from his Shop." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 20, no. 3 (1976), p. 324, attributes the altarpiece to a close follower of Pietro Lorenzetti, but does not provide a date.
Carlo Volpe. "Su Lippo Vanni da miniatore a pittore." Paragone 27 (November 1976), p. 57, dates the polyptych after 1342.
Hayden B. J. Maginnis. "The Literature of Sienese Trecento Painting 1945–1975." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 40, nos. 3/4 (1977), p. 294 n. 4.
Fern Rusk Shapley. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. Washington, 1979, vol. 1, p. 269, relates the polyptych to which this panel belonged to one by Pietro Lorenzetti in the National Gallery depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints Mary Magdalen and Catherine.
Carlo Volpe inPetit Larousse de la peinture. Paris, 1979, vol. 1, p. 1051.
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. 31–32, pls. 16, 17 (detail), place the five main panels of the polyptych in the following order, left to right: Noailles, Perkins, Loeser, MMA, Lia; date the altarpiece after 1342; state that it must have resembled a triptych attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti in the Seattle Art Museum (Kress collection).
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 221, 228, fig. 394 (color).
Hayden B. J. Maginnis. "The So-Called Dijon Master." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 43, no. 2 (1980), pp. 123–26, 128–30, 136–38, fig. 11, attributes the polyptych to an artist he names Master of the Loeser Madonna, considering Frinta's [see Ref. 1976] identification of this artist as Mino Parcis a possibility; tentatively dates the polyptych before 1348; apparently concurs with Laclotte in placing the MMA panel to the left of the central panel of the Madonna and Child but proposes reading the inscription at the top of the MMA panel as S. IOHES rather than S. AGNES, which would mean that the altarpiece did not need to have had seven main panels, but only five [see Ref. Laclotte 1976].
Max Seidel. "Neu entdeckte gotische Fresken in S. Agostino in Siena." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 25, no. 1 (1981), p. 23, fig. 27 (detail), attributes it to Pietro Lorenzetti, probably with the help of assistants, and dates the polyptych late in his career.
Carlo Volpe inIl gotico a Siena: miniature pitture oreficerie oggetti d'arte. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Florence, 1982, p. 146, dates the altarpiece to Pietro's late period.
James H. Stubblebine. "A New Chronology for the St. Cecilia Master." Tribute to Lotte Brand Philip: Art Historian and Detective. Ed. William W. Clark et al. New York, 1985, p. 207, fig. 6, calls it very late in Pietro's career, not before the 1340s.
Federico Zeri. La collezione Federico Mason Perkins. Turin, 1988, p. 53, fig. 3, under no. 15.
Carlo Volpe. Pietro Lorenzetti. Ed. Mauro Lucco. [Milan], 1989, pp. 13–14, 17, 56, 186–92, no. 169, ill.
Erling S. Skaug. Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico: Attribution, Chronology, and Workshop Relationships in Tuscan Panel Painting. Oslo, 1994, vol. 1, pp. 229–32, 235; vol. 2, punch chart 7.6, based on study of the punch marks used in the panels, attributes the altarpiece to the Master of the Loeser Madonna [see Ref. Maginnis 1980], an artist stylistically close to Pietro Lorenzetti but working independently; believes this painter could have been Mino Parcis [see Ref. Frinta 1976]; tentatively supports a date of about 1340–42.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 45, ill. p. 44.
Andrea G. De Marchi inLa Spezia, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia: Dipinti. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 1997, pp. 180, 182, fig. a.
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, pp. 73, 99, 249, 262, 311, 318, 334, 347, 386, 432, 441, 454, 511, 532, ill. pp. 73, 347, 386 (details of punch marks), classifies the punch marks appearing in this painting; attributes it to an artist close to Pietro Lorenzetti, possibly Mino Parcis or Mino di Cino.
Laurence B. Kanter and Pia Palladino inThe Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi. Ed. Giovanni Morello and Laurence B. Kanter. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Milan, 1999, p. 94, under no. 13.
Keith Christiansen. "Paul Delaroche's 'Crucifixion' by Pietro Lorenzetti." Apollo, n.s., 157 (February 2003), pp. 12, 14 nn. 14, 17, believes that the altarpiece is the product of workshop collaboration, but that the finest panels, especially the MMA painting, reveal the hand of Lorenzetti himself; dates the altarpiece 1340–42.
The inscription above the arch has usually been deciphered as "S [A]GNES" (Saint Agnes), but in fact reads "S IOhES" (Saint John). This inscription identifies the saint that would have appeared in the pinnacle above this panel. The Noailles panel bears the inscription "S MARCUS"; the inscriptions from the other panels have not survived.
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