Santa Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin, Attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo (Italian, ca. 1450–ca. 1516), Tempera on wood, gold ground

Santa Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin

Attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo (Italian, ca. 1450–ca. 1516)
ca. 1445
Tempera on wood, gold ground
21 3/4 × 14 7/8 in. (55.2 × 37.8 cm)
Framed: 26 1/8 × 19 1/4 in. (66.4 × 48.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
This panel painting represents a narrative from the Legend of Santa Francesca Romana. Together with another panel in the Robert Lehman Collection and panels in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and the Národní Galerie, Prague, it formed part of a more extensive series on the life of Santa Francesca Romana, presumed to have been painted for the Church of Santa Maria Nuova in Rome. The complex of narrative scenes from which these panels come in turn formed the basis, in 1468, for a fresco cycle depicting thirty seven episodes from her life painted by Antoniazzo Romano or his workshop in the Oblate convent of Tor de' Specchi. The frescoes are thought to have been commissioned following the death of Santa Francesca Romana, when a case for her canonization was presented.
Santa Francesca Romana, founder of the Olivetan Oblates, lived from 1384 to 1440. Her cult as a beata was authorized in 1460, and she was finally canonized in 1608. In the Lehman panel, she is presented in a white cloak kneeling before the Virgin and Child, both of whom hold inscribed scrolls. The Virgin wears a golden cloak, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Francesca Romana. Paul also holds a scroll. The scene takes place on a platform of cloud, and the Virgin and Child are surrounded by scarlet seraphim. At the right, Saint Mary Magdalene, cloaked in red, and Saint Benedict, in the foreground, hold a protective cloak around twenty members of the Olivetan order. Below the Gothic windows at left, an angel is engaged in carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Playing around the warp are two dogs and two cats. The narrative has been interpreted as signifying that the Oblate congregation was woven together by heavenly visions and was assailed by evil spirits in the form of cats and dogs, which were unable to break its threads.
Inscription: Inscribed (with excerpts from accounts of the saint's visions, XCV and XLVII, from a manuscript of 1469 in the Vatican Library): (on Christ Child's scroll) Anima che si ordinate pigliate l'arme mee da mi si reformata che facci / lo mio volere puorti le insegne mee fa che vivi in amore la luce con ar / dore in ti farragio remanere, amame mi anima amame che t'agio ri / amata damme ad mi conforso cha io t'agio conforsata (Soul, you are thus prepared to take up my arms, so transformed by me that you will do my bidding. Wear my emblems, live in [holy] love. I will keep the light burning brightly within you. Love me, my Soul; love me as I have loved you. Comfort me as I have comforted you.); (on Virgin's scroll) . . . ette da l'alto creatore. che lo signore ve a accepte nella mea unione / . . . scelte nella mea chiamata la donna anuntiata tutte voi ve aspecta / . . . l'animo si reale. siate bene fuorti ad cio che ve intervenerane ([proceeded?] from the high creator . . . that the Lord has accepted you all in his union with me . . . you are in my appeal the woman united with all the others [and he] awaits you . . . the soul so regal. May you be strong in the face of whatever may happen to you.); (on Saint Paul's scroll) Preparate tu anima preparate ad questi bieni ad[?] questi . . . li quali . . . fa / chencie[?] si virile animosa et fervente . . . confiamata et . . . te ardere de amore . . . (Prepare yourself, soul; prepare yourself for these blessings, [for?] these . . . which . . . will make [you?] so strong, bold, and fervent . . . enflamed and . . . burning with [holy] love. . . .)
Santa Maria Nuova, Rome; Violet, Lady Melchett, London; Melchett sale, Sotheby's, London, March 6, lot 109A; Tómas Harris, London. Acquired by Robert Lehman after 1948.