Ambrogio LorenzettiWith Simone Martini, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti were the most important Sienese painters after the death of Duccio. The two brothers pursued independent careers: they do not appear to have maintained a joint workshop or collaborated regularly. Ambrogio is presumed to be the younger, but there is no evidence as to his date of birth. An attributed painting from Vico l’Abate (now in the Museo d’Arte Sacra in San Casciano in Val di Pesa) is dated 1319. He seems to have worked a good deal in Florence (some of his goods were seized for debt there in 1321, he sold some land there in 1324, and in about 1329-30 he was admitted to the Arte de’ Medici e Speziali). After Simone Martini’s departure for Avignon, Ambrogio seems to have replaced him as the chief painter to the Sienese Commune. His frescoes of ‘Roman Stories’ on the exterior of the Palazzo Pubblico (1337) and famous rotary wall map for the Sala del Mappamondo (1345) are lost, but his allegorical frescoes of Good and Bad Government in the Sala della Pace are the most important cycle of secular paintings left from the Middle Ages. A summary of his will, dated 9 June 1348, and notices of the sale of his property in 1349 and 1350 suggest that he died of the Black Death, which ravaged Siena in 1348-49.
The Lorenzetti were influenced by the sculpture of Giovanni Pisano and by the contemporary Florentine work of Giotto and his followers. Their art is less traditionally Byzantine than Duccio’s. It is more naturalistic, and shows a marked advance in the treatment of space and perspective. The bulky forms of their figures, found particularly in their later works, are in contrast to the slender, graceful, more Gothic forms of Simone Martini. For Lorenzo Ghiberti, the Florentine sculptor writing around 1450, Ambrogio Lorenzetti was ‘a most perfect master, a man of great genius … a most noble designer’.
Asciano (30 km southeast of Siena). Museo d’Arte Sacra (Palazzo Corboli).
Saint Michael Triptych. Wood, 258 x 230.
The centre panel (110 x 90) shows the Archangel Michael, in splendid Roman armour, swooping down on multi-coloured wings to slay the seven-headed dragon described in the Book of Revelation. The triangular pinnacle above shows a half-length Madonna and Child. The side panels contain full-length figures of St Bartholomew (with knife and book) and St Benedict (in the white habit of the Olivetan or Cistercian monastic orders), and the side pinnacles contain bust-length figures of St John the Evangelist (with quill and book) and St Louis of Toulouse (partly effaced). There are no certain early references to the triptych, which came from the monastery of San Cristoforo a Rofeno in the village of Badia a Rofeno, near Asciano. It is conceivably identical with the 'panel made by Ambrogio at the end of his life' recorded by Vasari at Monte Oliveto di Chiusuri, which is not far from Badia a Rofeno. It was published as a work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti only in 1912 (by G. de Nicola in the Italian journal Vite d'Arte). Thoroughly restored in 2011, when the panels were removed from an ornate sixteenth-century frame carved by Fra Raffaele da Brescia. The simple original frame, with rudimentary painted decoration, has been revealed largely intact.
Birmingham. City Art Gallery.
Head of a Franciscan Friar. Fresco, 32 x 28.
This small fragment of fresco is thought to be one of a number of such fragments sold off in the late nineteenth century by the convent of San Francesco at Siena. There are three other fragments (one attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the other two to Pietro Lorenzetti) in the National Gallery, London. Bequeathed in 1960 by the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley.
Boston. Fine Arts Museum.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 76 x 45.
The touchingly intimate composition – the Madonna holding the Child by his feet and thighs and pressing him to her so their cheeks touch – is very similar to that of the centre panel of the Santa Petronilla Altarpiece (Siena Pinacoteca). The panel may date from the late 1330s or early 1340s. It came from the former Benedictine abbey church of Sant’Eugenio (3 km beyond the Porta San Marco at Siena), which was acquired by the Griccioli family in 1812 for use as a villa (Villa di Monastero). The Griccioli sold the picture to Dan Fellows Platt of New Jersey in 1904, and the museum bought it from Platt’s widow for $15,000 in 1939. The panel had been radically restored by the Sienese painter and forger Icilio Federico Joni, who had added a steep pointed gable. It has now been returned to its original dimensions and shape.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Madonna. Wood, 85 x 58.
The Latin text inscribed on the scroll held by the Christ Child is from John: 13, 24 ('A new commandment I give you: Love one another'). A fragment of a much larger panel, which probably had three arches with saints at either side. Sometimes ascribed to a follower. One of many early Sienese works acquired by the Hungarian bishop and historian Arnold Ipolyi in 1867, when the collection of the German painter Johann Anton Ramboux was auctioned at Cologne. Presented to the Budapest museum in 1872.
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Art Museum.
Crucifixion. Wood, 68 x 35.
Christ on the cross is mourned by two wailing angels. The mourners in the left foreground include the swooning Virgin (attended by two Holy Women), Mary Magdalene (who flings her arms wide as she gazes up at the crucified Christ) and John the Evangelist (who wrings his hands with grief as he looks down at the Virgin). Two of the mounted soldiers' banners carry the inscription SPQR (standing for the Senate and People of Rome). The panel was probably the right half of a diptych. According to Zeri (1971), the left half was the Virgin and Child enthroned with Saints in Berlin, which is attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti. (The two panels correspond in size and in their stamped border ornamentation.) Given to the museum by Paul J. Sachs, the investment banker and associate director of the Fogg, in 1939.
Saint Agnes. Wood, 37 x 25.
The early Christian virgin-martyr is identified by her usual emblem of a lamb. This tiny triangular panel was presumably a pinnacle from an altarpiece. Acquired in Siena by Charles Fairfax Murray in about 1880. It first entered the museum as an indefinite loan in 1911 and was donated by Edward Waldo Forbes, the Harvard art historian and director of the Fogg, in 1953. The museum also has a remarkably convincing modern copy, which was made in the 1920s by a student of Forbes called Arthur Everett ('Chick') Austin.
El Paso (Texas). Museum of Art.
Madonna. Wood, 53 x 35.
The history of this picture can be traced back only to1912, when it was acquired (as a work of Lippo Memmi) by Philip Lehman of New York from a picture restorer in Florence. It was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1943 and donated to the El Paso Museum in 1961. The attribution to Ambrogio Lorenzetti dates back to Mason Perkins (1920). It has sometimes been rejected in favour of a close follower, but attribution is made difficult by the picture’s poor condition. The frame is original.
Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 257 x 168.
The aged Simeon holds the Child. On the right stands the eighty-four year old prophetess Anna, who holds a scroll with a verse from St Luke’s Gospel: ‘And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem’. On the left stand Joseph, Mary and two female attendants. The doves held by the priest were part of the ritual purification required by Mosaic law. The perspective is remarkably sophisticated. The lines of the floor tiles converge roughly to a single vanishing point. The frame gives the sense of a portal admitting the spectator into the interior of a Gothic church. In the spandrels at the top are figures of the Prophets Moses (referring to the law of purification) and Malachi (whose scroll is inscribed with the prophecy: 'the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple'.) Restoration in 1985-86 revealed the unexpected brilliance of the colours. The Presentation was the centre panel of an altarpiece commissioned for an altar dedicated to St Crescentius in Siena Cathedral. The altar was in the right transept, where Matteo Preti’s Preaching of St Bernardino stands today. According to a fifteenth-century inventory, the altarpiece also included side panels of SS. Crescentius and Michael and a predella. It was one of a cycle of Marian altarpieces that once furnished Siena Cathedral. Signed and dated 1342 on the horizontal border along the bottom edge. Pietro Lorenzetti’s Birth of the Virgin (Cathedral Museum) is from the same cycle and bears the same date. The Presentation remained in situ until 1651, when the altar of St Crescentius was demolished. It was transferred to the Florence Accademia in 1822 from the Spedale di Monna Agnese. It has been suggested that the Allegory of the Redemption (Siena Pinacoteca), which also came from the Spedale, could have formed part of the predella.
Triptych: Madonna and Child and Saints.
The altarpiece is from the ancient little Florentine church of San Procolo, on Via dei Giraldi, where it was seen by Ghiberti and Vasari. According to an inscription, now lost but recorded in a guidebook of 1667, it was painted in 1332. The wings (141 x 43) represent St Nicholas of Bari and St Proculus (with St John the Evangelist and John the Baptist in the pinnacles). They were transferred to the Uffizi in 1947 from the Bandini Museum in Fiesole. The triptych was recomposed in 1959 when the centre panel (171 x 56) of the Madonna and Child (with the Redeemer in the pinnacle) was presented by Bernard Berenson. There was originally also a predella. The three panels had become much darkened by dirt, old varnish and discoloured repaint; a restoration was announced in 2014.
Four Scenes from the Life of St Nicholas of Bari. Two panels, each 96 x 53.
The scenes are: St Nicholas restoring to life a child strangled by a devil; the saint begging grain from ships from Constantinople passing through Myra during a famine; the saint leaving three bags of gold as dowries for three poor maidens; and his consecration as a bishop. From San Procolo, and probably painted in about 1332. Vasari says that this ‘life of St Nicholas in small figures … enormously increased [Ambrogio’s] name and reputation’. The panels probably formed part of some larger structure (dossal, tabernacle or triptych). According to Ghiberti, Ambrogio also frescoed a chapel in San Procolo and painted an Annunciation for the ‘Scala where the foundlings are kept’. After the church was closed by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo in 1778, the St Nicholas scenes and side panels from Ambrogio’s triptych were moved to the Florentine Badia. Transferred thence to the Accademia in 1810.
London. National Gallery.
Heads of Nuns. Fresco, roughly 59 x 52.
A small, irregular-shaped fragment of a large wall fresco, the subject of which may have been Poor Clares weeping over the body of St Francis. The fragment comes from San Francesco at Siena. Ambrogio Lorenzetti is said by Ghiberti and Vasari to have painted frescoes in the cloister of the convent, but the fragment appears to have come from the Chapter House. It was recovered from whitewash and cut out of the wall in about 1855 by the maestro di casa, who sold it to the National Gallery (through Fairfax Murray) in 1878 for £45. Two large Franciscan scenes are still at San Francesco (preserved in the church). There are two other small fresco fragments from San Francesco in the National Gallery; these are attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti.
Massa Marittima. Palazzo Comunale.
Madonna with Saints and Virtues. Wood, 150 x 205.
Faith, Hope and Charity are seated on the steps of the Madonna’s throne; angels kneel on either side (perhaps the first angel musicians in Italian art); and behind is a great company of saints, patriarchs and prophets. The local patron saint Cerbone is shown on the extreme right with his gaggle of geese. There are about 120 figures in all. The panel was the central part of a large polyptych, which stood originally on the high altar of Massa Cathedral. The original Gothic frame, with its pinnacles, pilasters and predella, has long since disappeared. The picture is mentioned by Ghiberti and Vasari, who say that Ambrogio also frescoed a chapel in Massa. The painting then disappeared from view for three centuries. It was rediscovered in 1867 in the attic of the priory of the Augustinian Hermits in the città nuova. It is said to have been cut into five parts and used as a container for ashes. The picture was probably commissioned for the high altar of an Augustinian church in Massa Marittima – either Sant’Agostino or the nearby San Pietro all’Orto. It may have been painted shortly after Massa's submission to Siena in 1335.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 85 x 57.
The Virgin, almost in profile, holds the tightly swaddled baby, who seems to be struggling to move his hand and feet. Usually considered quite early (1320s). Perhaps originally the central panel of a polyptych. Damaged by cleaning: the faces have lost their final paint layers and the gold ground is also very worn. While the blue pigment has largely disappeared, the floral pattern on the Virgin's mantle is still visible. Acquired in Siena at the end of the nineteenth century by Nadine Helbig, a cultured Russian aristocrat living in Rome. Donated to the Brera in 1947 by the wealthy Milanese art collector Guido Cagnola, who had owned the picture for some forty years.
Monte Siepi (30 km south-west of Siena). Oratory of San Galgano.
Annunciation and other frescoes.
The small chapel, attached to the twelfth-century oratory, was probably built and decorated in the 1340s by the noble Salimbeni family of Siena. The frescoes represent the Annunciation, with the Maestà above, and events in the life of St Galgano. They were attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1904 by Mason Perkins. The execution was probably largely by Ambrogio’s workshop. When the Annunciation was detached from the wall in 1966, a beautiful sinopia was revealed – now displayed on a side wall of the chapel – which shows the Virgin shrinking to the floor and hugging a column. It is thought that the fresco itself, with its more orthodox composition, may have been reworked by another artist in the second half of the fourteenth century.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
St Martin and the Beggar. Wood, 30 x 20.
The fourth-century bishop-monk Martin of Tours was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. According to the famous legend, he cut his cloak in half to clothe a nearly naked beggar at Amiens. In the early twentieth century this small panel had a variety of attributions (Simone Martini, follower of Bartolo di Fredi and Lippi Vanni). The attribution to Ambrogio Lorenzetti was made in 1951 by Federico Zeri, who suggested that the panel was a companion piece to the Episode from the Life of St Nicholas in the Louvre. The two panels were probably the wings of a portable triptych, with the St Martin on the right. According to Moran and Seymour (Yale University Art Bulletin, 1967), the centre panel was the ‘Small Maestà’ in the Siena Gallery. From the huge collection of ‘Italian primitives’ formed in Florence in the mid-nineteenth century by James Jackson Jarves and sold to the college in 1871.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 94 x 56.
Greatly damaged. The Virgin’s face is perhaps the best-preserved part. The gold background (gesso, gilding and tooling) is almost entirely a modern reconstruction by the Sienese restorer (and forger) Icilio Federico Joni. The Child originally held a bird (goldfinch?). Recorded in 1862 on the altar of the Cappella di San Francesco at Pompana, near Murla. Removed secretly from the chapel by 1924, when it was with Durlacher Brothers of London. Acquired shortly afterwards by George Blumenthal of New York, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1941.
Episode from the Life of St Nicholas. Wood, 30 x 20.
The subject has been interpreted as the saint giving gold to three poor girls for their marriage dowries to save them from prostitution. The panel was probably a fragment of the left wing of a small triptych, which had as its right wing the St Martin in the Yale University Gallery. The ‘Small Maestà’ in the Siena Gallery may have been the centre panel. Sold by Don Raoul Duseigneur to the Louvre in 1916. Probably the picture of ‘three sleeping children on a bed with a father and a saint …’ recorded in 1830 (with an attribution to Simone Martini) in the possession of Carlo Lasinio, who combined his position as keeper of the Campo Santo at Pisa with a lucrative business as a picture dealer. An inscription on the back gives Lasinio’s name and an attribution to ‘Simon Memmi’.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 122 x 54.
The Child bites into a fig. In a trefoil moulding in the pinnacle, a tiny Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. This panel was presumably the centre of a polyptych, but no companion panels have been identified. It was in the hands of the Parisian auctioneer Pierre-Émile Lecoq in the late nineteenth century, and was later in a private collection in Bourgogne. It was unknown to art historians before 1998, when it was acquired by the Louvre from the Éric Turquin gallery in Paris.
San Casciano in Val di Pesa. Museo d’Arte Sacra.
Virgin and Child ('Madonna di Vico l'Abate'). Wood, 190 x 160.
The Madonna's simple, box-like throne is decorated with geometric inlay. She is severely hieratic – monumental, impassive and rigidly frontal. The Child, in contrast, is naturalistic and lively, moving his hands and kicking his feet. The picture bears the date 1319 and is attributed to Ambrogio as his earliest surviving work. It was discovered only in 1922 in the church of Sant’Angelo in Vico l’Abate, near Florence. The inscription states that it was commissioned by a certain Bernardo for the soul of his father, Burnaccio, of Tolano, which is very near Vico l’Abate.
Siena. Pinacoteca Nazionale.
‘Santa Petronilla Altarpiece’ (no. 77-77c).
These six panels came from the convent of Santa Petronilla at Siena – formerly the church of the Umiliati. They were framed together, possibly in the eighteenth century, as a polyptych – the three panels representing the Madonna and Child and two half-length females saints above, the long horizontal Lamentation over the Dead Christ below, and the two full-length St Johns at the sides. The original arrangement of the panels is unrecorded. It is not even absolutely certain that they are all from the same altarpiece. The naturalistic Madonna and Child (101 x 56) was clearly a centre panel. The curly haired infant holds a scroll with a text from Luke’s Gospel (‘Blessed are the poor …’) suitable to the Umiliati Order. Mary Magdalene (87 x 41) is identified by the jar of precious ointment she is holding. The bleeding face of Christ is emblazoned on her heart. The other female saint (87 x 42), holding a nosegay and with flowers in her lap, is usually called Dorothy but has recently been identified as Martha. The full-length figures of St John the Evangelist and the Baptist (128 x 42/43) may have been executed, in part at least, by Ambrogio’s workshop. The dramatic but damaged Lamentation (50 x 140) was presumably part of a predella. Probably comparatively late (late 1330s or early 1340s).
‘La Madonna di Rapolano’ (no. 605). Wood, 100 x 58.
The Child holds a goldfinch by its wing. The pose of the Madonna and Child – she holding him close so their cheeks touch – is similar to that of the Madonna in the Santa Petronilla Altarpiece. From the church of San Lorenzo at Serre, a little town eight kilometres south of Rapolano. Probably comparatively late (about 1340).
Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints (‘Small Maestà’). Wood, 50 x 34.
The Madonna is surrounded by six angels, two female saints (Dorothy and Catherine of Alexandria) and four bishop saints (Nicholas, Martin (?), Clement and Gregory). The earliest record of this exquisite small panel is in a pinacoteca list of 1816. It was probably the central part of a small portable triptych. The wings were possibly the Episode from the Life of St Nicholas (Louvre) and the St Martin and the Beggar (Yale University Gallery). Probably late (1340s).
Annunciation. Wood, 130 x 150.
In the centre of the two arches, Christ blessing. Signed and dated 17 December 1344, and the latest work by Ambrogio that can be securely dated. From the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico. Sometimes called the ‘Madonna dei Donzelli’ because in the eighteenth century it hung in the young women’s dining room, near the kitchens. It seems to have been commissioned for the offices of the Biccherna (exchequer). As well as Ambrogio’s signature and the date, the inscription along the bottom gives the names of tax officials – the camarlingo (treasurer, one Don Francesco, a monk of San Galgano), three esecutori (executors) and a scrittore (scribe). It has been suggested that the subject is actually the ‘Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin’ as the angel holds a palm rather than a lily. The angel originally had large folded wings down her back, which were painted out by a restorer. The strange backward gesture with his thumb probably means ‘not I but He who sent me’. The perspective of the floor tiles (with its approximation to a true vanishing point in the centre of the picture) is remarkable.
Allegory of the Redemption. Wood, 57 x 118.
This damaged and darkened panel, which came from the convent of Monnaguese, has been attributed either to Ambrogio or Pietro Lorenzetti. The strange, mystical composition shows Adam and Eve led from the Garden by Death, Cain killing Abel, the Crucifixion with corpses rising beneath the cross, and the Last Judgement. Possibly the centre panel of an unusually large predella. It has been suggested that it belonged to the altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Uffizi, which shares the same provenance – the Spedale di Monna Agnese.
Two Small Landscapes. Wood, 22 x 33.
Enzo Carli (1954) suggested that the two panels belonged to the furniture of some public building, and represented the harbour town of Talamare and the Lake of Montepulciano as the western and eastern limits of Sienese terriority. They are possibly the earliest examples of pure landscape painting in Italian art. The panels have also been attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti (Berenson), while Rowley (1958) and others think that they are not by the Lorenzetti at all but rather date from the mid-fifteenth century. (It has been suggested that they were cut from the background of Sassetta’s Arte della Lana Altarpiece.)
Crucifixion. Wood, 266 x 211.
This large, damaged crucifix is from the church of the Carmine at Siena. Formerly ascribed to Pietro Lorenzetti; now considered an early work of Ambrogio or his workshop (about 1330?).
St Paul; St John the Baptist. Wood, each 103 x 36.
Half figures. The Lion of St Mark in the pinnacle of the St Paul; the Angel of St Matthew in the pinnacle of the Baptist. From the ex-convent of Santa Marta (founded in 1328) at Siena.
Siena. Palazzo Pubblico. Sala della Pace.
Good and Bad Government. Frescoes.
The complicated allegory on the wall opposite the window shows the Commune of Siena, personified as a majestic old man enthroned with a sceptre and holding a golden shield with an image of the Virgin (now effaced). Above his head hover Faith (carrying a cross), Charity (holding a flaming heart and arrow) and Hope (gazing up into the heavens where appears the face of Christ). Enthroned beside him are Justice (guided by Wisdom who floats above her head), Temperance (with a hour glass), Magnanimity, Prudence (pointing to flames in a dish), Fortitude (with sceptre and shield) and Peace (holding an olive branch). The twenty-four members of the council, who are clearly painted from life, advance towards the throne, holding a rope leading to Concord, a beautiful woman sitting below Justice. Justice is dispensed through two winged figures: one (Distributive Justice) crowns a kneeling figure and beheads another and the other (Communative Justice) gives money to a merchant and a lance and sword to a nobleman. The famous reclining figure of Peace is derived from a fragment of a Roman sarcophagus, now in the Palazzo Pubblico.
The other two frescoes in the room are more damaged. Early chroniclers called them Peace and War. The modern titles, the Effects of Good and Bad Government, derive from a 1792 poem by Luigi Lanzi. A city of peaceful commerce and pleasure is contrasted with a ruined city of bloodshed, and a spring and summer countryside of plenty is contrasted with a winter countryside of barren fields. Securitas, a beautiful female, floats above the well-governed city. Her scroll reads: ‘Every man can travel freely without fear, and each can till and sow, so long as the Commune keeps this lady as sovereign for she has stripped the wicked of all power’. The first ten feet or so of the fresco, to the left of the dancers, have been reworked by a later artist. Tyranny, a monster with tusks and horns, presides over the ill-governed city, flanked by Cruelty, Deceit (holding a sheep with scorpion’s tail), Fraud, Fury, Division (with a saw) and War (in black armour), while winged Avarice, Pride and Vainglory hover above.
The frescoes were commissioned by the Consiglio del Nove – the council of nine elected merchants and bankers that met in the room. Payments to Ambrogio Lorenzetti, totalling 357 lire, 11 soldi and 4 denari, are recorded between 26 February 1338 and 29 May 1339. It is clear from the efforts made to preserve them that the frescoes continued to be held in high regard long after the rule of the Nove ended in 1355. Restoration work was carried out in 1360-85 (by Andrea Vanni), in 1492 (by Pietro di Francesco Orioli), in 1518 (by Girolamo di Benvenuto) and in 1521 (by Lorenzo di Francesco).
Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Four panels of Saints. Wood, 110 x 44.
Half-length figures of SS. Catherine, Benedict, Francis and Mary Magdalene, with small busts of John the Baptist, Paul and two Evangelists in the pinnacles. The four panels may have belonged originally to a five-part polyptych. (Rowley (1958) sought to identify the missing centre panel with the Madonna and Child, now reframed as the central pinnacle of the triptych, from Badia a Rofena (now at Asciano)). The execution is probably at least partly by Ambrogio’s workshop.
Siena. Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra (Oratorio di San Bernardino). ‘Madonna del Latte’. Wood, 90 x 45.
In a poignantly human representation, the Virgin looks tenderly down on the nursing Child, who kicks and squirms in her arms. Probably comparatively late (early 1440s?). From the Augustinian monastery at Lecceto (11 km south-west of Siena). When the monastery was abandoned in 1866, it was transferred to the church of San Francesco and thence to the Archbishop’s palace.
Siena. Archivio di Stato.
Gambella book cover: the Commune. 41 x 24.
The symbolical figure of the Commune sits enthroned with sceptre and seal, his feet resting on the she wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. Entitled: ‘Book of receipts and payments of the General Gabelle of the Commune of Siena for July to January 1344’. Possibly by an assistant of Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
Maestà. Frescoed lunette, 128 x 240.
The Madonna is seated on a throne of seraphim among eight saints: Agatha (offering her severed breasts); Augustine (holding books); Catherine (offering her head on a trencher); Bartholomew (holding the knife with which he was flayed); Michael the Archangel (with sword); Clare (holding a vase from which rises a seraph); Anthony Abbot (a venerable monk holding flowers); and Apollonia (holding a huge pair of pincers). The Christ Child is frightened by a goldfinch, symbol of his future Passion. The fresco, situated in the former chapterhouse, was discovered in 1944 behind Sodoma’s Epiphany. There are no specific early references to it, although Ghiberti and Vasari say that Ambrogio painted frescoes of the Crucifixion, the Legend of St Catherine and the Apostles’ Creed in the church. Some heads of saints to the right of the great door have been thought to be remains of the St Catherine cycle. The frescoes were probably painted shortly before 1338, when the General Chapter of the Order of Augustinian Hermits met in the convent.
Siena. San Francesco. North transept, third chapel.
St Louis of Toulouse before Pope Boniface VIII. Detached fresco, 410 wide.
Louis, a young Angevin prince, renounced a claim to the throne of Naples in order to take Franciscan vows. He is shown at his investiture in December 1296 as a friar kneeling before Pope Boniface VIII. His father, Charles II of Anjou, seated among a row of Cardinals, looks on disapprovingly.
Martyrdom of Franciscans. Detached fresco, 338 wide.
An Oriental ruler is enthroned in judgement in a Gothic portico. The seven curious little statues on pinnacles may represent Virtues and Vices. On the left, three friars await execution. Three others have already been beheaded, and children throw stones at their corpses. The fresco was once mistakenly believed to be one described by Ghiberti that represented the martyrdom of Bishop Thomas of Tolentino and three Franciscan companions in 1321 at Tana (Thane), near modern Mumbai. The subject is now often identified as the execution, by the Soldan, of St Daniel and six other Franciscan missionaries in 1227 at Ceuta in North Africa. But the costumes and Mongolian facial features suggest that the martyrdom represented might rather be that of Bishop Richard of Burgundy and three other Franciscans in 1339-40 at Almalyk (Olmaliq) in central Asia (modern Uzbekistan). There is a general similarity of composition to Giotto's fresco of St Francis before the Sultan in the Bardi Chapel at Santa Croce.
The two frescoes were part of a cycle of large narrative Franciscan scenes. They were discovered in the Chapter House, beneath whitewash, in about 1855 and transferred to the church in 1857. Another fragment from the cycle, representing the heads of four Poor Clares, is in the National Gallery, London.
Also from the Chapter House are two frescoes attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti – a Crucifixion (1st chapel left of the choir) and a Resurrected Christ (now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). Ghiberti and Vasari do not mention the frescoes in the Chapter House but do describe frescoes by Ambrogio in the cloister of the convent (now restored to house the Faculty of Political Science of the University). These were covered by whitewash in the eighteenth century and assumed totally lost. However, a fragment was discovered during building work in the 1970s of another Franciscan scene (believed to represent the martyrdom at Tana). According to the History of Siena by Sigismondo Tizio (d. 1528), the frescoes were painted in 1331, but this date has often been doubted. An earlier dating of around 1326 has been proposed on the grounds that renovation work began on the church that year. On the other hand, identification of the martyrdom as the one at Almalyk implies a later dating (after 1340).