Simone MartiniSimone Martini was arguably the greatest of the early Sienese painters, with a remarkable feeling for line and colour. He is traditionally viewed as a pupil of Duccio, but also seems to have been influenced by the sculpture of Giovanni Pisano and French Gothic art and by the murals of the Roman painters at Assisi. Almost nothing is known of his early life. A commemorative inscription recorded by Vasari, but now lost, implies that he was born in 1284. He was clearly already a prominent painter by 1315, when he signed and dated the huge fresco of the Maestà in the Sala del Mappamondo of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena.
Shortly afterwards, he was probably employed at the court of Robert of Anjou at Naples. He signed a painting of the king crowned by Louis of Toulouse, which was originally in the church of Santa Chiara at Naples, and he is sometimes identified with a Simone Martini who was awarded an annual salary of fifty ounces of gold in July 1317 (although that Simone is described as a knight rather than a painter). In 1320 (or 1319) he signed a polyptych at Pisa, and from 1321 until 1333 there is fairly continuous evidence of his activity in Siena. He did a substantial amount of work for the Comune (not just prestigious commissions but also minor tasks such as polychroming sculpture), but he was apparently never an ‘official’ city painter on an annual salary. In 1324 he married Giovanna, daughter of Memmo di Filipuccio, a painter from San Gimignano, and sister of Lippo Memmi, who was Simone’s collaborator. The famous Annunciation from Siena Cathedral (now in the Uffizi) is dated 1333 and signed by both Simone and Lippo. Another brother-in-law, Tederigo (or Federico) Memmi, was also a painter, but no signed works by him have survived.
Around 1335-36, Simone moved with his family from Siena to Avignon, where the Papacy was then established. He painted frescoes (now lost or ruined) in the cathedral there, and met Petrarch. Petrarch mentions Simone’s portrait of Laura in the 49th and 50th sonnets of the Rime in Vita di Madonna Laura, and writes in a letter: ‘I have known two painters of talent, one Giotto, in high renown among moderns, and the other Simone of Siena’. The Laura portrait and another portrait painted by Simone in Avignon of Cardinal Napoleone Orsini (both lost) are the earliest recorded independent portraits in Italian painting. Simone's last recorded work was an altarpiece (also lost) painted in 1343 for the Franciscan church at Avignon. (A fifteenth-century notice of this hitherto unknown picture was published by Emma Capron in the January 2017 Burlington Magazine.) It is uncertain whether Simone died at Avignon or Siena. His funeral was held at San Domenico in Siena on 4 August 1344.
As well as Lippo Memmi (who painted a Maestà similar to Simone’s in the Palazzo Comunale at San Gimignano), his immediate followers included Matteo Giovanetti di Viterbo (who painted the frescoes that still remain in the Palais des Papes at Avignon), the enigmatic Barna da Siena (who is traditionally, but unreliably, credited with the great cycle of the Life of Christ in the Collegiata at San Gimignano) and various anonymous painters (including the ‘Master of the Madonna di Palazzo Venezia’). In Siena, traces of his style persisted well into the second half of the fourteenth century in the work of Bartolo di Fredi, among others. Lorenzo Ghiberti records in the mid-fifteenth century the belief among his Sienese contemporaries that Simone remained the supreme master of their school. His influence on French painting is harder to demonstrate, though some historians have argued that his elegant, linear style is likely to have played a role in the development of International Gothic, which originated towards the end of the fourteenth century in the courts of Paris and Burgundy and then spread rapidly.
Altomonte (Cosenza). Museo di Santa Maria della Consolazione.
Saint Ladislao of Hungary. Wood, 46 x 22.
The saint is identified by the pole-axe he is holding. On the shield in the centre of the picture, on the saint’s chest, are the arms of the Sanginetto family. The church of Santa Maria della Consolazione was built by a member of the family – Filippo di Sanginetto, Count of Altomonte and a member of the Angevin court at Naples. It is uncertain whether the small panel was an independent picture or part of a portable diptych or altarpiece. It is unrecorded before 1916, and was attributed to Simone only in 1948 (by Giovanni Paccagnini in the Burlington Magazine). Arguments have been made on historical grounds for a dating around 1326 and on stylistic grounds for one around 1340.
Antwerp. Musée Royal des Beaux Arts.
*Crucifixion; Deposition; Annunciation. Four panels, each 30 x 20.
The four tiny panels – well preserved and brilliantly coloured – belonged to a folding double-sided polyptych that, when open, showed four scenes from Christ’s Passion. The Virgin Annunciate was on the reverse of the Crucifixion and the Angel Gabriel was on the reverse of the Deposition. The Deposition is signed ‘SYMON’ on the frame beneath the donor, a kneeling elderly bishop. Other panels from the polyptych are at Berlin (the Entombment) and Paris (the Road to Calvary). The polyptych is thought to have been painted for Cardinal Napoleone Orsini (the Orsini arms are on the back of the Paris panel), and was probably given by a member of the Orsini family to the Chartreuse de Champmol, the great monastery outside Dijon (two of the cardinal’s nephews married women of the Burgundian nobility). The Antwerp panels were bought at Dijon in 1826. Their date is uncertain: they are often thought to be very late works, painted in France, but have also been dated very early (about 1312). In his 2003 monograph Pierluigi Leone de Castris argues for an intermediate date, just before Simone’s departure for France.
Assisi. San Francesco. Lower Church.
**Chapel of San Martino. Frescoes of the Life of St Martin. Each scene, 265-390 x 200-230.
St Martin of Tours, a fourth-century monk and bishop, was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. There is, however, no obvious precedent in Italy for Simone Martini's fresco cycle of his life. The cycle begins on the lower left wall, continues on the lower right wall, upper right wall and upper left wall, and finishes on the vault. There are ten scenes: St Martin cuts his cloak in two to clothe a nearly naked beggar at Amiens; Christ appears to him in a dream wearing the cloak he had given away; St Martin is knighted by the Emperor Julian (with a falconer on the left and musicians and singers on the right); he renounces arms and goes forth with only a cross to meet the Goths (the barbarian army seen behind the rocks on the right); St Martin restores a child to life (damaged); the Emperor Valentinian, who had refused to receive St Martin, kneels at his feet after his throne catches fire (damaged); two angels bring a piece of precious fabric to St Martin, who was celebrating Mass with bare arms because he had given his clothes to a beggar; St Ambrose foresees St Martin's death in a dream; St Martin's death (four angels carry the saint's soul to Heaven, while the legs of the fleeing Devil are seen under the arch at the right edge); and St Ambrose officiates at the saint’s funeral at Tours (set in a spatially convincing chapel with spiral colonettes and Gothic tracery).
On the underside of the entrance arch, four pairs of saints are depicted, almost life-size, standing in Gothic niches. From top left to bottom right (each 215 x 185): St Anthony of Padua and Francis; Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria; Clare of Assisi and Elizabeth of Hungary; and King Louis IX of France and the newly canonised Louis of Toulouse (shown against a background of Angevin fleurs-de-lis). Some colour has scaled off, revealing that several of the figures have been reworked. St Elizabeth of Hungary appears to be a reworking of an earlier figure of St Ursula. St Louis IX of France and St Louis of Toulouse also appear to have been painted over earlier figures of other saints. These revisions, which seem to have been made while work on the frescoes was still in progress, were probably made under the influence of the Angevin royal house and must postdate the canonisation of St Louis of Toulouse in 1317.
Simone Martini may also have designed the stained glass, which is thought to have been executed by a local craftsman, 'Maestro Giovanni di Bonino di Assisi'.
The patron of the chapel was the Franciscan Gentile Partino da Montefiore, an Apostolic Delegate and Cardinal Priest of San Martino ai Monte in Rome. Gentile visited Assisi in 1312, the year of his death, leaving 600 florins for the chapel. He is shown kneeling before St Martin in the fresco above the entrance arch and also in the central panel of the stained glass window. His coat-of-arms appears both between the busts of saints at the sides of the windows and on the stonework of the chapel walls. The frescoes, largely ignored by early writers, were attributed to Simone Martini only in 1820 by Sebastiano Ranghiaschi, an aristocratic picture collector and restorer from Gubbio. They are sometimes regarded as early works, painted before 1319-20, when Assisi was occupied and pillaged by the Ghibelline forces; but they have also been frequently placed in the middle or late 1320s.
The frescoes on the vault and upper walls have been damaged by rainwater, while the earthquakes in 1997 and 2016 loosened the plaster in places. An eight-month restoration was completed in February 2023.
*Right transept. Half-length figures: Virgin and Child with Two Saints; Five Saints.
Vasari, who attributed the frescoes in the Chapel of San Martino to Puccio Capanna, a pupil of Giotto, says that Simone began figures of the Virgin and certain saints in the south transept which were finished by Lippo Memmi.
On the east (right) wall, originally over an altar dedicated to St Elizabeth of Hungary, is a fresco (110 x 200) of the Madonna between Two Royal Saints. Both saints are crowned and hold sceptres and orbs. One is often identified as Louis IX of France, but is possibly Stephen I (the first king of Hungary). The other is usually called Ladislaus (another eleventh-century Hungarian king).
On the north (back) wall (120 x 380) is a fresco of Five Saints. The first three saints are clearly Francis (touching his heart while gazing at the Virgin and Child on the altar wall), Louis of Toulouse (placing the crown of Naples he had renounced on the frame of the fresco) and Elizabeth of Hungary (pointing to the Virgin and Child), but the two saints on the right are harder to identify. The saint wearing a nun's habit and holding a small cross was formerly assumed to be Clare, but – on the evidence of the faint crown above her halo – she has been identified recently as either Margaret of Hungary (a royal princess who became a Dominican nun) or Agnes of Bohemia (a royal princess who became a Poor Clare and founded convents and hospitals). The youthful saint holding a lily and with a faint crown above his halo was previously assumed to be Louis IX of France, but is possibly Emeric (Henry) of Hungary (the short-lived son of St Stephen of Hungary).
Given the presence of Louis of Toulouse and the Hungarian royal saints, it seems likely that the frescoes were commissioned by Mary of Hungary (great niece of St Elizabeth and mother of St Louis of Toulouse), her son Robert of Anjou or conceivably her grandson Charles Robert (Charles I of Hungary).
Avignon. Musée du Palais des Papes.
Virgin of Humility. Detached fresco and sinopia.
Two angels, kneeling at the sides, hold up a cloth of honour behind the Virgin, who is seated on the ground with the Christ Child in her lap. The donor, Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, is presented by the angel on the left. The fresco, now ruined, was painted in the lunette over the main doorway of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms. A detached fresco, equally ruined, showing the half-length figure of Christ Blessing came from the triangular pediment above. Other frescoes in the Cathedral porch were destroyed in 1828; these included scenes of St George killing the Dragon (Cardinal Stefaneschi wrote a life of the saint) and of Andrea Corsini curing a Blind Man. The frescoes were probably commissioned by Cardinal Stefaneschi shortly before his death in 1343.
Avignon. Musée Petit Palais.
Four Prophets. Wood, 10.5 in dia.
These four small roundels, unrecorded before 1979, are thought to have belonged to an altarpiece from San Francesco at Orvieto. The central panel, representing the Madonna with Christ Blessing and Angels, is now in the Cathedral Museum there. The four heads have been tentatively identified as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jacob and David. Acquired by the museum in 1983 from the Matthiesen Gallery, London.
*Entombment. Wood, 22 x 15.
This tiny painting contains some two dozen figures. The seven haloed mourners are the Virgin Mary (who embraces her dead son as he is laid in the sarcophagus), Mary Magdalene (who gestures towards Christ with both hands), the two other Marys (one kissing Christ's wounded hand and the other grieving with her head in her hands), Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (who embalm Christ's body) and John the Evangelist (who buries his face in his red cloak). A panel from a small double-sided polyptych, which was hinged to fold up like a concertina. Four other panels are at Antwerp, and another is in the Louvre. The Berlin panel is not as well preserved as the others, and its reverse (which may have displayed the Orsini arms like the back of the Louvre panel) is lost. Bought from a private dealer (M. Emile Pacully) in Paris in 1901.
Birmingham. City Art Gallery.
Young Saint with Book. Wood, 19 x 20.
The young beardless saint is probably an apostle – possibly Philip or Thomas. The small octagonal panel is related in size, shape and style to a Bearded Saint at Boston. The two panels might have belonged a predella showing half-length figures of apostles ranged either side of a dead Christ. Formerly in the collection of Lord Action at Aldenham Hall, Shropshire. Acquired by the gallery in 1959.
Birmingham. Barber Institute.
Grieving Saint John the Evangelist. Wood, 42 x 30.
Probably the right-hand panel of a portable triptych. A Grieving Virgin would have been on the left and a Man of Sorrows in the centre. The date given on the frame (1320) is a later addition but might replicate an original inscription. The panel is unrecorded before 1932, when it was in a private collection in Paris. Bought by Professor Thomas Bodkin, the Barber Institute's founding Director, from the travel writer Edward Hutton in 1938 for £4,500.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
*Madonna and Saints.
A polyptych of five panels. The centre panel (99 x 61) shows the Virgin and Child, with Christ displaying his wounds in the gable above. The side panels (86 x 43) show Saints Paul, Lucy, Catherine of Alexandria and John the Baptist, with angels in the gables. Two angels sound trumpets and two display instruments of the Passion (scourge, column, spear, sponge, cross and nails). The picture is first recorded in 1671-86 in the sacristy of Santa Maria dei Servi at Orvieto. The convent was abandoned in 1830, when its roof and one of its walls collapsed. In 1842, the Servite friars attempted to raise money for rebuilding work by selling the polyptych to two Chilean diplomats. However, the authorities in Rome refused to allow its export and insisted it be returned to the church. In 1851, the friars obtained permission to sell the polyptych to a local gentleman, Cavaliere Leandro Mazzocchi, on the condition that it be installed in his private chapel in Orvieto. In the event, the Mazzocchi family loaned the polyptych to the Cathedral museum in Orivieto and then sold it to Mrs Gardner (through Berenson) in 1899. The price was only £500. Some workshop intervention is likely, especially in the side panels.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 34 x 25.
A small picture for private devotion. Well preserved. In the ‘predella’ along the bottom are half-length figures of four saints (Helen, Paul, Dominic and Stephen) and the tiny donor figure of a praying Dominican nun. Bought by Mrs Gardner from the Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini in 1897 for 6,000 lire. Long regarded as an independent work of Lippo Memmi, it was re-ascribed to Simone Martini in 1986 by Miklós Boskovits (Arte Cristiana). In the 2003 monograph by Pierluigi Leone de Castris, it is classed as a work of collaboration between Simone and Lippo Memmi.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Bearded Saint with Book. Wood, 21 x 22.
The old bearded saint is probably an apostle – possibly Andrew or Matthew. According to Martindale (1988), this small octagonal panel, and another of a Young Saint with a Book at Birmingham, may have belonged to the predella of the San Domenico Polyptych at Orvieto. Unrecorded before 1929, when it was in the hands of the Berlin art dealer Paul Bottenweiser. Bought by the Boston museum in 1951 for $15,000 from the New York dealer Julius Weitzner.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
*Three Saints. Three panels, each 60 x 36; pinnacles 33 x 31.
The saints, identified by inscriptions (now barely legible), are Geminianus (in a rose-red chasuble), Michael (holding a sword and a pair of scales to weigh souls) and Augustine (wearing a pale fawn cope over a dark brown monk's habit). Above each is an angel in a triangular pinnacle. The panels are from a five-part polyptych: a Virgin and Child (now in Cologne) was in the centre, the St Germinianus and St Michael on the left, and a Saint Catherine (in a private collection) and the St Augustine on the right. The inclusion of St Geminianus and St Augustine suggests that the polyptych came from the church of Sant’Agostino at San Gimignano. Vasari mentions a picture there by Lippo Memmi. The three panels were acquired in Ascoli by Thomas Blayds, who sold them at Christie’s in 1849 for £15 as works of Gentile da Fabriano. For more than thirty years (until 1885) they hung in the vicarage, Eagle House near Enfield, of the Revd John Fuller Russell, a high church Anglican and enthusiastic collector of early Italian religious art. Purchased by the museum in 1893 (as ‘Sienese School’). The St Michael has been sometimes judged inferior to the other panels and less acceptable as a work of Simone himself.
Castiglione d'Orcia (some 40 km southeast of Siena). Rocca di Tentennano. Sala d'Arte Giovanni.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 80 x 61.
From the church of Santa Maria Maddalena at Castiglione d'Orcia. Given in the past to Lippo Memmi or Bartolo di Fredi, it was attributed to Simone Martini only after restoration in 1979. It may date from the early 1320s. The small museum was opened in 2006, and the panel was previously on deposit at the Museo Civico e Diocesano at Montalcino.
Cologne. Wallraff-Richartz Museum.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 79 x 56.
The Child holds a struggling goldfinch, which has its beak clamped onto the Child's index finger. The painting was the centre panel of a polyptych, which also included three panels of saints at Cambridge and a panel of Saint Catherine in a Florentine private collection. The polyptych almost certainly came from the church of Sant'Agostino at San Gimignano, and may have stood over the tomb of the Blessed Bartolus, sculpted by Tino di Camaino in 1317-26. A closely similar Madonna at New York (Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum) was also the centre panel of a five-part polyptych. Opinion on dating has varied considerably (late 1310s to 1330s). By 1854 the panel was in Lord Northwick’s collection at Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham. It was acquired by the museum in 1961. It has lost its spandrels and its triangular gable (which probably depicted Christ blessing).
Cracow. Wawel Castle.
An Angel. Wood, 44 x 25.
A fragment of a lost polyptych. The half-length angel, with reddish-gold hair and wings, resembles the angels in the pinnacles of the three panels in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Attributed either to Simone Martini, as an early work, or to Lippo Memmi. One of eighty-five paintings donated to the Wawel Castle Museum in 1994 by the Countess Karolina Lanckoronska.
**Annunciation. Wood, 265 x 305.
Gabriel, crowned with olive leaves and holding an olive branch, kneels humbly before the Virgin Mary. His greeting from Luke's Gospel ('Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee') is inscribed on the gold background. The letters are not painted but were modelled in gesso and covered with gold leaf. The angel wears a plaid cloak, which flutters out behind him, and a sumptuous robe of gold brocade. The brocade pattern was crafted by the sgrafitto technique of scraping away areas of paint to reveal the gold leaf beneath. The exposed gilding was then punched to represent gold threads. The Virgin, disturbed while reading, shrinks fearfully back into her chair, clutching the neck of her mantle. In the apex of the central arch, the dove of the Holy Spirit is shown descending in a mandorla of seraphim. The delicately painted white lilies in the golden urn symbolise Mary's purity. On the left side, St Ansanus, protector of Siena, stands with a martyr's palm and the city flag. The female martyr on the right is identified as Giulitta on the frame and as Margaret in an old inventory, but is more probably Ansanus’s god-mother and fellow martyr Massima. There are busts of Old Testament Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Isaiah and Daniel) in four of the gables. The central tondo, representing God the Father, is now lost, as is the predella.
Beneath the Annunciation, on a strip of wood from the original frame, is inscribed the date 1333 and the names of Simone and his brother-in-law Lippo Memmi. Lippo was responsible for the ornamental work, as is proved by a record of 1333, which states that he was paid seventy gold florins for the ‘columns and haloes’. The two saints standing at the sides and the roundels of Prophets in the gables are also often ascribed to him. The altarpiece was painted, at a cost of 316 livres and 17 soldi, for the altar of Sant’Ansano in Siena Cathedral. The altar was located to the left of the chancel, where Francesco Vanni’s St Ansanus Baptising the Sienese stands today.
The Annunciation was among the first narrative altarpieces ever made – perhaps the very first. It was one of four altarpieces, all representing episodes from the Virgin’s life, commissioned for altars dedicated to Siena’s patron saints. The other three were Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Presentation in the Temple (also in the Uffizi), Pietro Lorenzetti’s Birth of the Virgin (Siena Cathedral Museum) and probably a Nativity attributed to Bartolommeo Bulgarini (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.). By 1420 the Annunciation, kept behind a red curtain that was opened only during mass, had been updated with a new frame. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, when the altar was remodelled, it was transferred to the small church of Sant’Ansano at Castelvecchio. It came to the Uffizi in 1799 in exchange for two paintings by Luca Giordano. The present flimsy Gothic-style frame dates from the late nineteenth-century.
Florence (Settignano). Villa I Tatti.
Two Female Saints. Two panels, 54/51 x 41/40.
Half-length figures. One saint, crowned and holding a book and martyr's palm, is identified as Catherine (though she has no sword or wheel). The other saint, holding a sword, is identified as Lucy (the indistinct gold object in her right hand would, on this identification, be a cup or salver displaying her gouged-out eyes). Damaged and much restored. Presumably panels from a polyptych – possibly that which had the Madonna with Child Blessing and Angels at Orvieto as its central panel. Acquired by Berenson at the turn of the twentieth century from Enrico Torrini of Siena.
Liverpool. Walker Art Gallery.
*Christ discovered in the Temple. Wood, 50 x 35.
Signed and dated 1342 on the frame. The Latin inscription on the book gives Mary’s words when the Child Jesus was found in the temple: ‘Son, why have you dealt with us like this, behold your father and I have sought you sorrowing’ (Luke II, 48). The picture is Simone’s last surviving dated work and the only surviving dated picture from his Avignon period. It was possibly painted for Pope Clement VI as a present for his nephew Pierre Roger de Beaufort (later Gregory XI), who was aged twelve in 1342, the reputed age of Christ at the time of his discovery in the temple. Another theory is that it was commissioned by Robert of Anjou, King of Naples, or his wife Queen Sancha – perhaps as a gift for the Poor Clares’ convent in Aix-en-Provenance. (Evidence of an Angevin patron has been found in the frame, where the trefoil cusps resemble fleurs-de-lis). The picture is remarkably well preserved. The edges of the wooden frame are intact and still covered in the original gold leaf. The back of the panel is painted to look like marble, and there are no traces of hinge marks or other evidence that it was attached to any other painting. Bought by William Roscoe (the celebrated Liverpudlian collector, banker, merchant, lawyer, botanist, historian and poet) at Christie’s in 1804 for 5 gns, and presented to the Liverpool Royal Institution in 1819.
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
Saint Luke. Wood, 57 x 37.
One of five panels of a portable folding altarpiece. Three of the other panels are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The fourth was recently acquired by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid. The panels were previously attributed to a later fourteenth-century Sienese painter and illuminator, Lippo Vanni. But the attribution to Simone Martini (advanced by Miklós Boskovits in the July 1974 Burlington Magazine) is now generally accepted. The Saint Luke was owned from the mid-1920s by the Austrian-Jewish industrialist and collector August Lederer, now best known as a patron and friend of the Expressionist painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. It was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939, when the Gestapo raided the family's mansion in Vienna. It was among the looted artworks recovered by American forces in May 1945 in the salt mines at Altaussee, and was eventually returned to Erich Lederer, August's son, who sold it to the Getty Museum in 1982.
The panel preserves its original engaged frame, which is painted with trompe l'oeil red, blue and white jewels. The reverse has simulated porphyry decoration.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Saint Peter. Wood, 58 x 39.
The saint holds two huge keys, one silver and one gold. His book appears to rest on the edge of the picture frame – a remarkable early example of trompe-l'œil. The panel is from a five-part polyptych; three of the other panels are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the fourth is in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The Saint Peter was formerly in the collection of the American banker Robert Lehman, who also owned two of the three panels now in the Metropolitan Museum.
Milan. Biblioteca Ambrosiana.
Virgil Codex. Frontispiece, 287 x 198 mm.
The poet Virgil, reclining under a tree, holds a quill and has a book open on his knees. His interpreter Servius draws back a curtain to reveal the secrets of his poems. About them are people to whom the poems were addressed: Aeneas (the Aenied) stands next to Servius; a farmer (the Eclogues) prunes vines; and a peasant (the Georgics) shears sheep. Winged hands hold scrolls inscribed with Latin couplets. The upper inscription reads: 'Italy, benevolent country, nourishes famous poets. This one enables you to achieve Grecian genius'. The lower one reads: 'This is Servius, who reveals the mysteries of eloquent Virgil to leaders, shepherds and farmers'. Simone's famous miniature is the frontispiece of a Virgil that belonged to Petrarch; and it was probably painted between 1340 and 1344, when the painter and the poet were both residing at Avignon. The book remained in Petrarch's possession until his death at Arquà (near Padua) in 1374. It was donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana by its founder, Cardinal Federico Borromeo.
**St Louis crowning Robert of Anjou. Main panel, 250 x 188.
The enthroned saint is crowned by angels. Under a cope adorned with the arms of Anjou and Provence, he wears a Franciscan habit. He holds a crosier in his right hand, and with his left hand he crowns his younger brother Robert to whom he ceded the Kingdom of Naples in 1295. King Robert’s profile was probably drawn from life – making it one of the earliest portraits in Italian art. His luxurious robe has a Chinese leaf and lotus pattern (achieved by applying light green paint and gold over a darker green ground). The back of the panel is decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis on a deep blue ground. The frame – also decorated with the fleurs-de-lis of the French royal house – is original, but it has lost its central pinnacle and side shafts. The predella (56 x 205) shows five scenes from the life of the saint (he accepts the Bishopric of Toulouse; he is inducted into the Franciscan Order and consecrated as a bishop; he invites the poor to eat at his table; he is venerated in death; and he posthumously raises a child of Avignon from the dead). It is the earliest narrative predella to survive intact.
This huge and gorgeous altarpiece, which is signed across the spandrels of the predella but not dated, may have been painted in Naples in 1317, the year of Louis’s canonisation. It probably stood originally in the great Franciscan church of Santa Chiara, but is first recorded in San Lorenzo Maggiore. It was transferred to the pinacoteca in 1921. The altarpiece is relatively well preserved for a picture of its age (though the surface is somewhat abraded and the precious gems and seed pearls that once adorned the panel have long since disappeared).
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Madonna and Child; Saint Andrew; Saint Ansanus. Wood, each 57 x 38.
The Saint Andrew was gifted to the museum with the collection of George Blumenthal in 1941, while the Madonna and Child and Saint Ansanus were bequeathed with the Lehman collection in 1975. The three panels came from a portable altarpiece, to which a Saint Luke (in the Getty Museum) and a Saint Peter (recently acquired for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection) also belonged. The Madonna and Child would have been in the centre. In most polyptychs, the centre panel is larger than the side panels; but here all the panels are the same size, which would have enabled the altarpiece to be easily folded and moved. Long ascribed to Lippo Vanni, the altarpiece was attributed to Simone only in 1974 (by Miklós Boskovits). Its provenance cannot be certainly traced back earlier than about 1900, when all the panels belonged to Alessandro Toti, Bishop of Colle Val d’Elsa. However, it has been suggested that it is the ‘very fine altarpiece’ seen by Ghiberti in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena, which was once in the principal chapel there (the Cappella dei Signori) and was probably painted in about 1326-27. In 1448, when the altarpiece was revamped with a Renaissance frame, Sano di Pietro was commissioned by a goldsmith called Jachomo d'Andreuccio to paint a predella (the panels from which are now divided between the Vatican, the Altenburg Museum and the University of Michigan).
Four Panels of Apostles. Wood, each 30 x 22.
The four Apostles, depicted bust-length below round arches, are: Saint Bartholomew (holding his flaying knife and a book); Saint Thomas (gesturing as though placing his fingers into the wound in Christ's side); Saint Andrew (with a cross); and Saint Matthias (with book). The four small panels belonged to a series of the Twelve Apostles. Six others are known: four are in the National Gallery at Washington and the remaining two are still in private hands. All ten surviving panels were acquired in Siena by the German painter and collector Johann Anton Ramboux and passed, after his death, into the Wallraf-Richartz Museum at Cologne. The Cologne museum sold the panels in 1922. The four now at the Met were bought in 1924 by the New York lawyer Maitland Griggs, who bequeathed them to the museum in 1943. The execution of the panels, which have suffered somewhat from overcleaning, is usually ascribed to Simone's workshop or to Lippo Memmi.
Orvieto. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Five panels survive. There were probably originally seven. The central panel (113 x 63) shows the Virgin and Child – the Child holding an orb and a scroll with the text 'I am the light of the world' from John's Gospel. An inscription on the base gives Simone’s name and a fragmentary date – 1321, 1322, 1323 and 1324 are all possibilities. The side panels (94 x 49) represent Saints Peter (with keys), Mary Magdalene (holding her jar of ointment and introducing the tiny figure of a kneeling bishop to the Virgin and Child), Paul (with sword) and Dominic (with lily). The polyptych was painted for the high altar of San Domenico at Orvieto. The patron was Trasmondo Monaldeschi, Bishop of Soana (now called Sovana), who is the donor depicted in the panel of the Magdalen (for whom he had a particular devotion). Simone was paid 100 florins for the picture. It was taken to Paris during the Napoleonic occupation.
Madonna with Christ Blessing and Angels. Wood, 165 x 57.
This picture is first mentioned by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who say that it was formerly in the Chiesa de’Gesuiti but stood originally in the church of San Francesco at Orvieto. Four small roundels of prophets at Avignon and a female saint at Ottawa are believed to have come from the same altarpiece.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Wood, 82 x 45.
The saint is identified by her martyr's palm, jewelled crown, sword (only the pommel of which is visible) and wheel in the form of a brooch. This panel is believed to have belonged to the altarpiece from San Francesco at Orvieto (the central panel of which is now in the Museo dell’Opera there). It is damaged and heavily restored. An early photograph shows large paint losses on the Virgin's mantle, halo and right hand. These losses were skilfully concealed by restoration in the 1870s, when the panel was in the hands of the Florentine collector and dealer Stefano Bardini. Bardini sold the panel in the about 1880 to the Prince of Liechtenstein, Johannes II. Acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1956.
*Christ Bearing the Cross. Wood, 25 x 16.
Though tiny, this scene of violent drama contains upwards of thirty figures. The procession following Christ and his Roman guard squeezes through the gate of Jerusalem – a walled hill town like Siena, viewed from below in rudimentary perspective. To the left, the Virgin is restrained by St John and the Magdalen raises her arms to the heavens. The panel belonged to a small, portable double-sided polyptych, painted presumably for the Roman Orsini family whose arms are on the back. Four other panels are in the Antwerp Gallery, and another is in Berlin. In 1791 the Christ Bearing the Cross was in the Chartreuse de Champmol, outside Dijon. It was bought by Louis Philippe from M. L. Saint Denis in 1834 for 200 francs.
Pisa. Museo Nazionale di San Matteo.
**Santa Caterina Altarpiece. Wood, 195 x 338.
Simone’s finest surviving polyptych. The annals of the Dominican convent of Santa Caterina at Pisa record that it was commissioned in 1320 (or 1319) by Frater Petrus, a lay brother and sacristan, for the high altar of the church. The seven principal panels show the Virgin and Child between Saints Mary Magdalene (with her jar of ointment), Dominic (with lily and book), John the Evangelist (with his Gospel), John the Baptist (gesturing towards the Christ Child), Peter Martyr (with knife wound in his head) and Catherine of Alexandria (with book and martyr's palm). The upper tier shows the Archangels Gabriel and Michael in the centre and the Twelve Apostles in pairs at the sides. Six Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets (Jeremiah, Isaiah, David with harp, Moses with tablets, Daniel and Ezechiel) are depicted in the triangular gables, with the Redeemer blessing in the centre pinnacle. The predella shows Christ as the Man of Sorrows in the centre between the Virgin and St Mark. The six pairs of saints at the sides include the Four Doctors of the Church, the deacon saints Stephen and Lawrence, the Dominican philiosopher Thomas Aquinas and the female saints Apollonia (with pincers), Agnes (with lamb) and Ursula (with red-cross flag). Signed on the border between the Virgin and Child.
The altarpiece was dismembered in 1680, when the church was renovated in a Baroque style, and the panels were stored in the seminary next to the church. It was reassembled only in 1946. It has lost its outer frame and some minor parts (such as the pilasters and crockets). The arrangement of the panels has been changed on several subsequent occasions and the present reconstruction is not certainly correct. The execution of the forty-four figures is of uniformly high quality and seems to be largely by Simone himself. There has been some fire damage and surface wear. A major restoration was carried out in situ in 2010-12.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
Christ Blessing. Wood, 39 x 29.
Christ, traditionally dressed in a red mantle (symbolising his humanity) over a blue tunic (symbolising his divinity), raises his right hand in blessing and rests his left hand on a book. Triangular central pinnacle of an unknown altarpiece. It has been dated about 1320.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Virgin of the Annunciation. Wood, 31 x 22.
The Virgin is seated on a cushion and holds a book of hours. Her shrinking pose recalls that of the Virgin in the famous Annunciation in the Uffizi. The gold background is tooled with a profusion of elaborate punched decoration. Originally the right half of a small diptych. The left half, representing the Angel Gabriel, is in Washington. The backs of both panels are decorated with chased ornamentation, imitating leather. The two panels were separated by the mid-nineteenth century. The Virgin Annunciate came to notice in 1904, when it was loaned to the Mostra d’Arte Antica in Siena by Count Stroganoff, who is said to have acquired it from the famous Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini. It was bequeathed to the Hermitage in 1911. It is in quite poor condition (the ultramarine of the Virgin’s robe has deteriorated and the gilt background is abraded), and the attribution has occasionally been doubted (eg. by Andrew Martindale in his 1988 monograph).
A similar small panel – doubtless also the right wing of a devotional diptych – was formerly in the celebrated collection of the Belgian engineer and banker Adolphe Stoclet. It has been attributed either to Simone Martini or to a close follower (such as Naddo Ceccarelli or Andrea Vanni). It was auctioned as a work of Simone Martini at Sotheby's, New York, in January 2012 for $4.1 million.
San Casciano in Val di Pesa (15 km southwest of Florence). Santa Maria sul Prato (Chiesa della Misericordia).
Crucifix with the Virgin and St John. Wood, 164 x 147.
Recorded in the church since 1854 and attributed to Simone Martini in 1916 (by Giacomo De Nicola in L'Arte). Sometimes identified with a Crucifixion documented as painted in 1321-22 for the Cappella dei Nove (Chapel of the Nine) in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena (though that work may have been in fresco rather than on panel). Possibly a workshop collaboration: the half-figures of the grieving Virgin and St John at the ends of the arms of the cross have often been ascribed to an assistant. Restored in 2011-19.
Siena. Pinacoteca Nazionale.
**The Beato Agostino with Scenes of His Miracles. Triptych, 200 x 256.
Agostino Novello (d. 1309) was a courtier of King Manfred of Sicily who became a hermit and Prior General of the Augustinian Order. After his remains were translated to Siena from the hermitage at San Leonardo al Lago, he became the centre of a popular local cult. The central panel shows him, full-length and almost life-size, walking in a forest, lost in meditation, while a tiny angel whispers in his ear. The portrait of Beato Agostino – beardless, tonsured and wearing a black Augustinian habit – cannot have been painted from life but is likely to have been based on contemporary Augustinian descriptions and writings. The side panels show four of his posthumous miracles: he heals a boy whose eye had been gouged out by a wolf; he restores to life a boy who had fallen from a balcony and a traveller who had fallen from a horse; and he revives a baby who had fallen from its hammock. A Latin inscription gives the subject and states that the picture was formerly on the altar of the old church of Sant’Agostino (where it formed part of an ensemble that included the coffin of Beato Agostino). Given to Lippo Memmi in old guidebooks, it was attributed to Simone by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864). There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the picture was painted in the mid or late 1320s. (Beato Agostino's feast was being celebrated in Siena by 1324, and the Augustinians petitioned the city council to support the feast day celebrations in 1329.)
Madonna and Child. Wood, 96 x 53.
On deposit from the Pieve at Lucignano in the Val d’Arbia. Discovered by Enzo Carli in 1957. Cut at the top, and originally part of a polyptych. Since restoration (which removed heavy old repaint), it has been attributed to Simone as an early, Ducciesque work, very similar in style to the polyptychs at Orvieto and Pisa. While the Virgin's face and hands and the figure of the swaddled Child have survived largely intact, almost nothing remains of the original gold background or the Virgin's blue mantle. It is likely that the gold leaf and ultramarine pigment were scraped off long ago because of their resale value. The grey-blue toning on the mantle was added by restorers in the 1970s.
Madonna of the Misericordia. Wood, 154 x 88.
On deposit from the parish church of San Bartolomeo a Vertine at Gaiole in Chianti. Recently ascribed to Simone Martini as a youthful work, painted in collaboration with his father-in-law (and possible master) Memmo di Filippuccio, who is reckoned to have executed the people sheltering under the Virgin’s cloak. Previously attributed to Niccolò di Segni.
Siena. Palazzo Pubblico. Sala del Mappamondo.
**Maestà. Fresco, 1058 x 977.
The fresco covers virtually the entire end wall. Surrounded by saints and angels, the Madonna is enthroned under a canopy supported on poles held by SS. Paul, Peter, John the Evangelist and John the Baptist. The Christ Child holds a scroll inscribed with a quotation from the Wisdom of Solomon: 'Love righteousness, ye that be judges of the earth'. Two angels kneeling at the Virgin’s feet offer flowers on behalf of Siena’s four patron saints: Crescentius, Victor, Savinus and Ansanus. The huge fresco is enclosed in a wide painted border with twenty roundels, showing half-length figures of God the Father (centre top), Old Testament prophets, the Four Evangelists and Four Doctors of the Church, and a two-faced female symbolising the old law and the new (bottom centre). The edges of the canopy are embellished with the coats-of-arms of Siena, France and Naples. An inscription reads: ‘1315 is over and Delia has made the lovely flowers bloom and Juno cried: I am turning over. Siena had me painted by the hand of Simone’. The artist was paid 81 lire and 4 soldi. In 1321 he was paid another twenty-seven lire for a restoration, which seems to have consisted of cutting out and renewing the faces and hands of the Virgin and Child and some half a dozen other principal figures. It is unclear whether the restoration, carried out only five or six years after the fresco had been completed, was motivated by dissatisfaction with the original figures or their premature deterioration. The repainted heads and hands appear much lighter and brighter than the others. The fresco – unlike Duccio’s Maestà – seems never to have functioned as an altarpiece but seems rather to have served as a backdrop to a platform used by councillors during meetings in the room. It has suffered considerably from damp, while parts painted a secco have flaked off, exposing the ochre underdrawing. Lavish use was made of precious pigments (ultramarine, azurite and malachite) and metals (gold and gilded tin), and pieces of coloured glass were set into the wall to embellish details such as the Virgin’s brooch, the Child’s halo and the elaborately worked throne. Restored in 1988-94.
Guidoriccio da Fogliano. Fresco, 340 x 968.
In the middle of the framing (repainted) is the date 1328. In that year Guidoriccio led the Sienese against Montemassi, which is thought to be the hilltown represented on the left of the fresco. In the background, a captured castle flies the flag of the Sienese Commune. A stone-throwing machine is visible within the castle walls. To the right is the tented camp of the Sienese. The fresco is probably the most reproduced picture in Siena, appearing on posters, covers of guidebooks, plates and trays, boxes of biscuits, calendars, lampshades, table mats, winebottles and much else. It has been the subject of remarkable controversy over the past thirty years. It had been previously assumed that the fresco is the one referred to in a document of 1330, when Simone was paid 16 florins for depictions of the fortress towns, just annexed by Siena, of Montemassi and Sassoforte. (A year later, Simone was paid a further 8 florins for depictions of Arcidosso and Castel del Piano.) The authenticity of the Guidoriccio was questioned in 1907 by Adolfo Venturi in his monumental Storia dell'Arte Italiana. Venturi's comments failed to attract attention at the time. But doubts resurfaced during restoration work in 1978-80, when another fresco – clearly earlier – was discovered just below the Guidoriccio. Ever since, the attribution and date of the fresco (which is much repaired and restored) has been the subject of heated debate. Some art historians have suggested that it is a later fourteenth-century work. Some have argued that the rider is authentic but other parts have been repainted. Some have even written off the entire fresco as a much later pastiche. (The challenge to Simone's authorship was vociferously led by the American art historian Gordon Moran: see, for example, his article with Michael Mallory in the April 1986 Burlington Magazine.)
The fresco discovered in 1978-80 is badly damaged by the circular grooves left by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s lost revolving World Map of 1345. It shows a stockaded hilltown with two figures in discussion in the left foreground. Some art historians have considered the fresco to be one of the scenes of fortress towns documented as painted by Simone in 1330-31 and have interpreted the subject as Count Aldobrandeschi surrendering the castle of Arcidosso to Guidoriccio. An alternative view, favoured by the Palazzo Pubblico, identifies the newly discovered fresco with an earlier documented scene representing the submission of the town of Giuncarico in 1314 and proposes an attribution to Duccio. Attributions to Simone's father-in-law Memmo di Filippuccio and to Pietro or Ambrogio Lorenzetti have also been published.
Washington. National Gallery.
Angel of the Annunciation. Wood, 31 x 22.
The Angel Gabriel wears a gold embroidered robe and holds an olive branch. The left half of a diptych, the right half being the Virgin Annunciate in St Petersburg. The two panels were separated in the nineteenth century and drastically overcleaned. The Angel was once in the collection of Lord Canning, a Victorian statesman and Governor-General of India. It later belonged to the Earl of Harewood, and was acquired by Samuel H, Kress in 1936. Previously repainted; cleaned in 1955, it now appears badly abraded. The attribution, sometimes been doubted in the past, has been almost unanimously accepted by more recent critics. The two panels have often been considered late works, dating from Simone's residence in Avignon, but the style appears to be close to the famous Annunciation of 1333 in the Uffizi.
Four Panels of Apostles. Wood, each 31 x 23.
The four Apostles, represented bust-length beneath round arches, are Saint James the Great (with a scallop-shell banner hanging from the top of his pilgrim staff); Saint Matthew (holding a quill, inkpot and book); Simon the Zealot (resting a book on the frame); and Saint Jude (young and clean-shaven, drawing up his orange cloak with one hand and holding a book in the other). The four small panels are from a series of the Twelve Apostles. Six others are known: four are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the remaining two are in private collections. The panels probably formed the predella of a large polyptych (perhaps some nine feet wide). None of the main panels has been identified. All ten surviving panels were formerly in the Cologne museum, which sold them in 1922. The four panels now at Washington were bought by the American investment banker Philip Lehman, who sold them to Samuel H. Kress in 1943. It has been usual to ascribe the execution to Simone Martini's workshop or to Lippo Memmi, but Miklós Boskovits (in a 2016 entry to the National Gallery's online catalogue) argued for an attribution to Simone himself.