Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Saints and Scenes from the Life of the Virgin

Master of Monte Oliveto (Italian, active Siena ca. 1305–35)
ca. 1320
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Left wing, overall, with engaged frame, 25 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (64.1 x 23.5 cm), painted surface 23 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. (59.4 x 19.1 cm); right wing, overall, with engaged frame, 25 1/8 x 9 3/8 in. (63.8 x 23.8 cm), painted surface 23 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (59.7 x 19.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
Not on view
These well preserved panels are the wings of a portable triptych, the center panel of which is still unidentified. The anonymous master worked outside Siena itself, but his scenes are based on those of Duccio’s famous altarpiece in the cathedral of the city. The left wing depicts three principal scenes from the life of the Virgin (her so-called "joys") while on the right wing is her coronation in heaven. The six saints—three males and three females—would have been chosen by the person for whom the triptych was painted.
These two panels are from the wings of a portable triptych. Formerly they were attached to a panel of the Crucifixion, also in the Metropolitan (41.190.31a). However, this was a modern creation and the wings are now shown separately. The scenes on the two wings concern the life of the Virgin and show, on the left panel: the Annunciation, the Nativity combined with the washing of the infant Christ and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi; and, on the right panel: the Coronation of the Virgin, Saints John the Baptist, Stephen (or Lawrence), and Peter, and Saints Mary Magdalen, Catherine of Alexandria, and an unidentified female saint. Given the emphasis on the life of the Virgin, the center panel must have shown a Madonna and Child. Except for minor variations, the narrative scenes derive from the predella panels of Duccio's Maestà, which was completed in 1311. Among the most important differences are the elaborate throne that replaces Duccio's architectural setting in the Annunciation and the more elaborate throne the anonymous master gives the Virgin in the Adoration of the Magi. Duccio's scene of the Coronation of the Virgin from the Maestà is missing, so the scene shown here is of some interest in indicating its probable appearance. The inclusion of the scene of the midwives bathing the infant Christ derives from the apocryphal infancy Gospel of James (or the Protoevangelium of James) and was frequently included in Byzantine art. According to that source, the Nativity took place in a cave; Joseph found a Hebrew midwife who, in turn, found another—Salome by name—who doubted that a Virgin had given birth. The bathing scene can be found in the Arabian Gospel of the Childhood of Christ and possibly alludes both to Christ’s humanity and to the baptism. It is found as early as the eighth century in Rome (on this, see Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Greenwich, Conn., 1971, vol 1, pp. 63–65).

The painter of these two wings is known as the Master of Monte Oliveto. His eponymous work is a Maestà in the monastery of Monteoliveto Maggiore, south of Siena. He was a lesser personality active in the provinces of Siena in the second and third decades of the century. His late works show the influence of Segna di Buonaventura. Technically his works are of very high quality.

[Keith Christiansen 2013]
F. Mason Perkins, Lastra a Signa (by 1911, as by a follower of Duccio); Bernard and Mary Berenson, Villa I Tatti, Florence (in 1912; returned to Perkins); F. Mason Perkins, Lastra a Signa (?sold to Blumenthal); George Blumenthal, New York (by 1916–d. 1941; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XVI, as School of Duccio)
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Italian Primitives," November 12–30, 1917, no. 41 (with 41.190.31a, as "Christ on the Cross, and Other Biblical Subjects," by a follower of Duccio [caption reads "Duccio(?)"], lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).

Curt H. Weigelt. Duccio di Buoninsegna. Leipzig, 1911, pp. 193–94, 261, pl. 60 (with 41.190.31a), with 41.190.31a, as in the Perkins collection, Assisi; attributes it to a follower of Duccio close to Niccolò di Segna, and notes the connection of the scenes of the life of the Virgin to those in Duccio's Maestà.

V. Lusini. "Catalogo dei dipinti." Rassegna d'arte senese 8 (1912), p. 149, no. 64 [reprinted as "In onore di Duccio di Buoninsegna," Siena, 1913], with 41.190.31a, as by Segna di Buonaventura, in a private collection, Florence; lists it among paintings of which photographs were included in the Duccio exhibition held in Siena in 1912.

Osvald Sirén. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Pictures in the Jarves Collection, Belonging to Yale University. New Haven, 1916, pp. 32–33, with 41.190.31a, attributes it to the same follower of Duccio who painted a triptych in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (no. 35), and a small diptych of the Madonna and Child and the Crucifixion in the Jarves Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery; notes that the four scenes, as well as the standing figures of saints, are all closely related to Duccio's Maestà (Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena).

F. Mason Perkins. "Some Sienese Paintings in American Collections: Part One." Art in America 8 (August 1920), p. 199.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 2, The Sienese School of the 14th Century. The Hague, 1924, p. 90, fig. 55, with 41.190.31a, as School of Duccio; tentatively attributes this work and a Crucifixion in the collection of Prince Gagarin, Petrograd [St. Petersburg], to the same artist as the triptych in the Siena museum [see Ref. Sirén 1916]; rejects the connection with Niccolò di Segna [see Ref. Weigelt 1911].

Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. XVI, with 41.190.31a, as School of Duccio.

Curt H. Weigelt. Sienese Painting of the Trecento. Florence, 1930, p. 70 n. 28, p. 100 [Italian ed., Bologna, 1930, p. 65 n. 28, p. 95], with 41.190.31a, attributes it to a follower of Duccio, close to his workshop, by whom no other works are known.

Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. XXI, with 41.190.31a, as arte duccesca; rejects the attribution to Segna di Buonaventura [see Ref. Lusini 1912].

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 583, with 41.190.31a, lists it as from the studio of Ugolino da Siena.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 26.

Raimond van Marle. Le scuole della pittura italiana. Vol. 2, La scuola senese del XIV secolo. The Hague, 1934, p. 94, fig. 60.

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 501.

Edward B. Garrison Jr. "The Oxford Christ Church Library Panel and the Milan Sessa Collection Shutters: A Tentative Reconstruction of a Tabernacle and a Group of Romanizing Florentine Panels." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 29 (June 1946), p. 330 n. 15, mentions the incised haloes.

Esther Rezek Mendelsohn. "The Maestro di Monte Oliveto." Master's thesis, New York University, 1950, pp. 31–32, 37–40, 65–67 nn. 73, 75, 77, 80, fig. 4, attributes the wings of the triptych to the Master of Monte Oliveto; does not provide an attribution for the central panel, but finds that it is more closely related to Simone Martini and that, although it may date from about the same time as the wings, it is by an artist who was more influenced by later artistic trends than the Master of Monte Oliveto.

Millard Meiss. Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death. Princeton, 1951, p. 43 n. 121, mentions it in a discussion of representations of the Coronation of the Virgin.

Cesare Brandi. Duccio. Florence, 1951, p. 156 n. 34, with 41.190.31a, attributes it to a follower of Ugolino, perhaps the same artist who painted the Saint Michael in the museum at Grosseto.

Margaret B. Freeman. "Shepherds in the Fields." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 11 (December 1952), ill. p. 110 (detail).

Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), ill. p. 9, with 41.190.31a, as Workshop of Duccio.

Gertrude Coor-Achenbach. "Contributions to the Study of Ugolino di Nerio's Art." Art Bulletin 37 (September 1955), p. 163 n. 52, attributes the two wings to an artist strongly influenced by Segna.

Gertrude Coor-Achenbach. "A New Attribution to the Monte Oliveto Master and some Observations concerning the Chronology of his Works." Burlington Magazine 97 (July 1955), p. 204 n. 11, questions Mendelsohn's [see Ref. 1950] attribution to the Master of Monte Oliveto, calling the two wings closely related to works both women ascribe to this artist, but stating that she has not yet reached a conclusion as to their authorship.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 438.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 67, 268, 272, 301, 309, 364, 412, 429, 441, 457, 463, 608, attribute them to a follower of Duccio.

James H. Stubblebine. Letter to Maura O'Neill. February 17, 1976, attributes them to the Master of Monte Oliveto.

James H. Stubblebine. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. August 14, 1978, writes that in his forthcoming book (1979), he attributes them to the Master of Monte Oliveto.

James H. Stubblebine. Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School. Princeton, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 9, 47, 92, 100–101, 144, 176, 178–79; vol. 2, figs. 228 (with 41.190.31a), 229–34 (details), accepts it as forming a triptych with 41.190.31a, calling the work a collaboration between the Polyptych 39 Master (central panel) and the Master of Monte Oliveto (wings) and dating it about 1325; states that the Nativity, Adoration, and Coronation are based on scenes from Duccio's Maestà of 1311, but that the Annunciation is probably based on a scene from the predella of Duccio's lost Maestà of 1302; identifies the middle male saint on the right wing as Louis of Toulouse, stating that his presence, along with those of Saints Francis and Clare on the central panel, indicates that the triptych is of Franciscan origin; tentatively identifies the female saint on the right as Lucy, stating that the outline of the knife she once held in her right hand is incised in the gold ground.

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. 46–47, pl. 11 (with 41.190.31a), attribute the wings to the Master of Monte Oliveto and the central panel to an assistant or follower of Ugolino da Siena; date the wings to about 1315–20 and the central panel perhaps somewhat later, discussing the possibility that the triptych might be the result of a later reconstruction rather than the product of a collaboration between two artists.

Hayden B. J. Maginnis. The World of the Early Sienese Painter. University Park, Pa., 2001, p. 109, fig. 67, illustrates the two panels with 41.190.31a as a triptych from the orbit of Ugolino.

Luciano Bellosi, ed. La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, p. 119, includes them among works by the Master of Monte Oliveto.

Gaudenz Freuler in L'arte di Francesco: capolavori d'arte italiana e terre d'asia dal XIII al XV secolo. Ed. Angelo Tartuferi and Francesco D'Arelli. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2015, p. 218, under no. 25.

Carl Brandon Strehlke and Machtelt Brüggen Israëls. The Bernard and Mary Berenson Collection of European Paintings at I Tatti. Florence, 2015, p. 759, no. 97, ill. (with 41.190.31a), include I Tatti in the provenance, noting that it was insured as Ugolino da Siena for £400 in 1912; state that handwritten notes at I Tatti (FB folder 3.7) call it "School of Duccio" and state "B.B. gave back to Perkins, Assisi. Now Blumenthal Collection, New York listed as Ugolino da Siena".

The left wing depicts, from top to bottom, the Annunciation, Nativity, and Adoration of the Magi. The right wing depicts, from top to bottom, the Coronation of the Virgin, Saints John the Baptist, Stephen (or Lawrence)*, and Peter, and Saints Mary Magdalen, Catherine of Alexandria(?), and an unidentified female saint**.

*Stubblebine (1979) identifies this figure as Saint Louis of Toulouse.

**Stubblebine (1979) tentatively identifies this figure as Saint Lucy.
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