Pietro LorenzettiBrother of Ambrogio. A joint inscription of 1335 once recorded on the façade of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, in which Pietro’s name comes first, lends some support to the conventional assumption that he was the senior. He may be identical with a Petruccio di Lorenzo who was paid a small sum in February 1306 for painting part of an altarpiece for the Council of Nine, but his earliest authenticated work is a polyptych dated 1320 in the Pieve at Arezzo. He was also active at Assisi, where he frescoed a transept of the Lower Church with a Passion cycle of great dramatic power, and at Florence. He is last certainly recorded in 1344 in connection with a sale of land on behalf of the sculptor Tino da Camaino’s children. He probably died, like Ambrogio, in the Black Death of 1348-49.
Ghiberti, who writes reliably and enthusiastically about Ambrogio, strangely fails to mention Pietro. Though Vasari acknowledges both Ambrogio and Pietro, he is badly informed about Pietro (wrongly calling him 'Pietro Laurati' and being even unaware that he was Ambrogio’s brother). However, some half-dozen authenticated works exist – three are documented, six are signed and four are dated – which enable his style to be convincingly defined and distinguished from his brother’s.
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
Madonna; Pietà. Wood, 35 x 26.
The Pietà is signed in gold letters on the base of the sepulchre. The two panels were bought, framed as a diptych, in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century by Baron Bernard von Lindenau's agent, the archaeologist Emil Braun. Probably late (early 1340s). The panels are not well preserved, and there is a prominent vertical crack running through the Madonna’s face.
Arezzo. Pieve di Santa Maria.
**Polyptych. Wood, 296 x 306.
This great polyptych, commissioned by the Ghibelline Bishop of Arezzo, Guido Tarlati, is Pietro Lorenzetti’s earliest documented work. The contract, signed on 17 April 1320, still survives. Local citizens made donations towards the cost, which continued until January 1324. The polyptych contains twenty panels, with glowing gold grounds. The lowest course shows the Virgin and Child in a patterned white gown lined with ermine (centre, more than life size), St John the Evangelist and St Donatus (left) and the Baptist and St Matthew (right). St John the Evangelist and St Matthew hold large leather-bound books with gold-tooled foliate designs. Above the centre panel is the Annunciation (in which rays issuing from the hand of God enter the Virgin's room through a window) and above that, in a pinnacle, the Assumption of the Virgin (with the Virgin seated in a mandorla of seraphim). In the second tier are four panels depicting pairs of half-length saints, about half life-size. (The saints depicted here do not appear always to match the inscriptions beneath the panels.) St Luke, the bearded saint to the left of the Annunciation, may be a portrait of the artist. The four side pinnacles depict female saints with the instruments of their martyrdom: Reparata (with sword), Catherine (with wheel), Ursula (with arrow) and Agatha (with pliers). Signed on the lower frame; another inscription (Petrus me fecit) was discovered on St Reparata’s sword during a restoration in 1979.
The predella, mentioned by Vasari (who was himself responsible for removing the polyptych from the high altar), is lost, as are the frescoes of the Life of the Virgin in the apse of the church. Despite being dismantled and relocated several times, the remainder of the polyptych is largely intact and in tolerably good condition. There was a major restoration after an act of vandalism in 1976, when the backs of some panels were badly burnt. The early twentieth-century frame was discarded and parts of the supporting wooden structure were replaced. A thorough new restoration was started in 2014 and completed in 2020.
Assisi. San Francesco. Lower Church.
**Scenes from Christ’s Passion. Frescoes.
The Passion cycle covers both sides, the vault and the end of the transept. It begins in the barrel vault with the Entrance into Jerusalem and the Last Supper (with the amusing detail of the dog licking clean the plates in the adjoining kitchen). Beneath these are the Washing of Feet and the Arrest of Christ, and on the left side of the vault are the Flagellation and Way to Calvary. The great Crucifixion on the curved left wall is four times the size of the other scenes and includes some fifty figures. The sky is filled with grieving angels, who wring their hands, cover their faces, tear at their clothes and bare their chests. A large rectangular section at the bottom was destroyed when a baroque altar was erected in 1607. The cycle continues on the end wall with the moving Deposition (a remarkable fictive sedilia painted below) and the Entombment. Above these, in the spandrels on either side of the arch, are the Resurrection and Descent into Limbo. The cycle ends on the curved right wall with the grimly realistic Suicide of Judas (the false apostle shown hanging from a wooden beam below a stone arch, with his neck broken and his entrails spilling out of his burst belly). Also on the right wall, opposite the Crucifixion, is St Francis receiving the Stigmata.
The patron of the frescoes is not known, though donor portraits and coats-of-arms (a rampant lion on a shield with a cross) are visible beneath the Crucifixion. Vasari ascribed the Crucifixion to Pietro Cavallini and the other scenes to Puccio Capanna, a follower of Giotto. The attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti was made by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in 1864 and has been rarely questioned since, although some critics also discern the hand of Ambrogio and much of the execution must be by assistants. The dating of the frescoes is controversial, but the prevailing current view puts them among Pietro’s earliest works. (They might have been commissioned after the election in 1316 of Michele di Cesena as minister general of the Franciscan Order and completed by autumn 1319, when the Ghibellines under Muzio di Ser Francesco sacked the convent and looted the papal treasury.) The majority of scenes derive from the Passion scenes of Duccio’s Maestà.
*Madonna with SS. Francis and John the Evangelist. Fresco, 78 x 177.
Situated low down, to the left of the Crucifixion. The Child, seated on the Virgin's arm, seems to be asking his mother a question, which she answers by gesturing towards St Francis with her thumb. This famous fresco is known as the Madonna dei Tramonti because it is illuminated at sunset by the light flooding through the door opposite. Beneath the figures are two shields (their heraldry now indecipherable), a miniature Crucifixion on a gold ground in the centre, and a kneeling male donor in profile on the right.
Orsini Chapel (end of the left transept).
*Madonna with SS. Francis and John the Baptist. Fresco, 137 x 244.
The chapel was founded by Cardinals Gaetano and Napoleone Orsini, nephews of the Orsini Pope Nicholas III, and is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The frescoed triptych has been considered Pietro’s earliest work in Assisi. It probably dates from before March 1320, when Cardinal Napoleone Orsini, angered by the Ghibellines’ plundering of the papal treasury at Assisi, decided not to be buried in the chapel. The elegant poses and costumes recall Simone Martini’s nearly contemporary cycle of the Life of St Martin in the Lower Church.
Treasury (Mason Perkins Collection).
Saint Margaret. Wood, 67 x 46.
The saint, shown half-length, wears a crown of flowers and holds a small cross. Now usually referred to as Margaret, she was often called Dorothy in the early literature and has also been identified as Cecilia. A partly ruined panel from a dismembered polyptych. The centre panel of the Madonna and Child is in Florence (Loeser Collection, Palazzo Vecchio). The Saint Margaret was probably on its left. There are other side panels – representing Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an Apostle and a Martyr Bishop – in New York (Metropolitan Museum), La Spezia (Museo Amadeo Lia) and a French private collection. Two of the triangular pinnacles – representing Saint Anthony Abbot and a Male Martyr Saint – are in the National Gallery at Prague. Opinion has been divided over the attribution of the altarpiece. Leading Italian art historians have accepted the panels of the dismembered polyptych as late works of Pietro Lorenzetti, but some American experts have assigned them to a pupil or follower (christened the 'Master of the Loeser Madonna' by Hayden Maginnis (Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (1980)).
Virgin and Child. Wood, 71 x 45.
The Child holds a pomegranate. Probably the centre panel of an altarpiece. It was radically restored in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and enlarged to a rectangle, but has now been cleaned of repaint and returned to its original shape. The original gold leaf has all but disappeared from the background and a conspicuous vertical crack runs through the Child's foot. The panel has sometimes been considered a studio work, but was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1999 (Spendori di Assisi) as 'a beautiful example of Pietro's work from the height of his maturity'.
Athens (USA). Georgia Museum of Art.
Saint Clare of Assisi. Wood, 60 x 28.
She is shown three-quarter-length, wearing a Franciscan habit and holding a flaming, horn-shaped lamp. Presumably a panel from the right-hand side of a polyptych. It is badly worn. Once in the huge collection of the shipping magnate Achillito Chiesa, it was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1936 from the dealer Contini Bonacossi and allocated to the Georgia museum in 1961. The attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti was published in 1933 (by Andrea Péter in La Diana) and had significant support for a time. More recently, the panel has often been assigned to the painter's workshop or wider circle. In the 1989 Georgia Museum of Art News, Hayden Maginnis published an attribution to the 'Master of the Loeser Madonna' (a hypothetical close associate or follower of Pietro Lorenzetti named after a Madonna now exhibited with the Loeser Bequest in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum.
Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels. Wood, 38 x 25.
The enthroned Virgin is flanked by four saints (Augustine and an unidentified female martyr, left, and an unidentified bishop and Lucy, right) and two angels with folded arms leaning forward behind the throne. Originally the centre panel of a small folding triptych (hinge marks are visible on the left edge). The apex of the pointed arch has been sawn off. Probably late (1340s). From the huge collection (more than 1,700 art objects) amassed by Don Marcello Massarenti of Rome, which was acquired en bloc by Henry Walters in 1902.
*Two Episodes from the Life of the Blessed Humilitas.
One panel (46 x 55) entered the museum with the Solly collection in 1821. It shows the Blessed Humilitas Healing a Nun. The sick nun is shown sitting in bed, while the doctor in the adjoining room gestures helplessly at a vessel filled with blood. The other panel (42 x 32; transferred to canvas) was bought in Berlin in 1888. It shows the Miracle of the Ice. The Blessed Humilitas, taken ill during an August heat wave, asked for something cool. The nuns find a piece of ice in the well and bring it to her. Both panels were part of the altarpiece painted, possibly in 1341, for the convent founded by the Blessed Humilitas at Vallombrosa. Most of the remainder of the altarpiece is in the Uffizi.
Virgin and Child enthroned with Angels and Saints. Wood, 35 x 31.
St Paul (with sword) and John the Evangelist (holding his Gospel) on the left; John the Baptist (pointing to the Christ Child) and St Peter (with a large gold key) on the right. The pointed gable has been cut off. According to Zeri (1971), the panel was the left half of a diptych, the right half being the Crucifixion in the Fogg Museum at Cambridge (Mass.), which is attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti. From the Solly collection.
Buonconvento. Museo d'Arte Sacra.
Madonna and Child. Wood.
This little known panel is on loan from the church of San Bartolomeo in Castelnuovo Tancredi (a hamlet just 3 km from Buonconvento), where it is recorded in 1575. It was possibly the centre panel of a triptych or polyptych, and could date from around 1336, when the church was renovated. It was heavily repainted by the eighteenth-century Sienese artist Niccolò Franchini (whose name and the date 1757 is inscribed on the back). The repaint was removed in a 1992 restoration. The picture is attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti in Anna Maria Guiducci's 1998 catalogue of the Buonconvento museum, but does not appear to have received much attention in the literature on the painter.
Cambridge (Mass.) Fogg Art Museum.
Crucifixion and Saints. Wood, 46 x 36.
St Clare and St Francis kneel at the foot of the cross; St John and the Virgin stand at the sides; and in the sky around Christ are angels and symbolical figures of the sun and moon. The panel was probably the centre of a small portable altarpiece; the shutters are missing. Probably early (around 1320). One of some 4,000 art objects bequeathed to Harvard in 1943 by the New York collector Grenville Lindall Winthrop.
Castiglion del Bosco (12 km northwest of Montalcino). Chapel of San Michele Arcangelo.
Annunciation and Saints. Fresco.
The fresco, on the wall behind the altar, is divided into three square panels, with the Annunciation in the centre. Each side panel contains three standing saints: Anthony Abbot, John the Baptist and Stephen on the left; Michael, Bartholomew and Francis on the right. The inscription beneath the Annunciation gives the date 18 November 1345 – which is the latest date on a work attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti. The fresco was discovered in 1876 and restored. Some art historians have considered it to be the work of assistants.
The chapel is now in a private estate and access is restricted.
Castiglione d'Orcia (some 40 km southeast of Siena). Santi Stefano e Degna.
Madonna and Child ('Madonna delle Grazie'). Wood, 73 x 52.
The Virgin's mantle is traditional blue, but the lining is bright orange, and the Child's garment is golden yellow. The background, unusually, is silver rather than gold leaf. The Madonna is recorded in the church at the end of the nineteenth century as a work 'in the manner of Segna di Bonaventura'. The attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti was published in 1908 by the American art historian Frederick Mason Perkins (Rassegna dell'Arte). Mason Perkins called the picture a mature work, but more recent opinion has dated it very early (Volpe (1989) suggests 1310-15). It is often described as Pietro Lorenzetti's earliest surviving panel painting. Restored in 1979, when the panel was removed from its modern frame and freed of coarse repaint.
Cortona. Museo Diocesano.
*Madonna enthroned with Four Angels (Maestà). Wood, 126 x 83.
From Cortona Cathedral (formerly the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta), where it hung in the third chapel to the right of the entrance. Probably the central panel of a polyptych. An early work (though probably after September 1312, when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII granted Cortona independence from nearby Arezzo). The rather Byzantine Madonna is modelled on the Virgin on the front of Duccio’s Maestà, and the angels also closely follow Duccio’s types. Signed along the bottom of the panel. Vasari says that Pietro Lorenzetti worked in Cortona but does not mention any specific works.
Crucifix. Wood, 380 x 274.
In a star at the top of the cross is represented the Eternal Father, and in the stars at the ends of the arms are represented the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. This great painted crucifix is from the church of San Marco at Cortona. It is similar to the crucifix by Segna di Bonaventura in the church of Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo, which is thought to date from 1319. Crudely cut down at the bottom, but otherwise well preserved for a painting of its size and age.
Small Crucifixion. Wood, 125 high.
A portable 'cut-out' crucifix carried in church processions. From the church of the Gesù at Cortona (now the museum), where it was discovered in a cupboard in 1945 and published (by Carlo Ragghianti in Critica d'Arte) as a work of Pietro Lorenzetti. It was assumed, at first, that the crucifix was a fragment – an image cut out of a panel of the Crucifixion. But it was established in 1980 (by Hayden Maginnis in Revue d'Arte Canadienne) that it had always been a 'cut-out' crucifix. Like the other Lorenzettis at Cortona, it is an early work, possibly painted in the years following the Assisi frescoes.
Dijon. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
The central panel (44 x 25) shows the Virgin and Child enthroned between St Peter and St Clare (left) and John the Bapist and Mary Magdalene (right). Four angels hold up a cloth of honour. The wings (each 41 x 21) depict St Christopher and the Crucifixion, with the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation in the pinnacles. This tiny folding triptych has sometimes been accepted as a work of Pietro Lorenzetti himself, but is more often attributed to his workshop or to a follower ('Master of the Dijon Triptych'). It is close in style to the National Gallery's St Sabinus before the Governor, which probably came from the predella of Pietro Lorenzetti's San Savino Altarpiece. Bequeathed to the museum in 1905 by the Dijon philanthropists Henri and Sophie Grangier.
*Altarpiece of the Blessed Humilitas.
The Blessed Humilitas or Humility (1226-1310) was a noblewoman from Faenza who became a nun late in life and founded a monastery in Florence. The central panel (126 x 57) shows her, full-length and almost life-size, wearing a Vallombrosan habit and a sheepskin cap (a symbol of her humility). The object in her right hand has been called a palm branch but may be a birch switch. A female devotee, presumably the donor, kneels at her feet. (She is possibly Margherita of Faenza, Humilitas's successor as abbess.) Nine smaller side panels (45 x 32) show stories from Humilitas's life: she reminds her husband Ugoletto to respect their vows of chastity; they are bestowed with habits as monk and nun; she reads in the refectory; a monk with a gangrenous leg is about to have his leg amputated; she heals the monk and saves his leg; she leaves the monastery at Faenza; she arrives at Florence (with a summary view of the city in the background); she helps to build the monastery of San Giovanni Evangelista; she instructs two nuns; and a priest conducts her funeral. Two narrative panels are missing and are now in Berlin. The three surviving pinnacles (52 x 21) represent the Evangelists Mark, John and Luke with their symbols; Matthew is missing and has not been traced. The seven small tondi (18 in dia.) in the predella represent a Pietà (centre), the Virgin, St John the Evangelist, St Paul, St Peter and two Vallombrosan saints (probably Bernardo degli Uberti and Giovanni Gualberto). The date in Roman numerals on the frame of the central panel was read as 1316 in old sources. An alternative reading of 1341, based on a copy of an earlier inscription, is now commonly (though not universally) preferred.
The altarpiece was placed above the altar beneath which the body of the Blessed Humilitas lay. The monastery (located where the Fortezza da Basso is now) was destroyed during the Siege of Florence (1529-30) to improve the city's defences, and the altarpiece was subsequently moved to the Vallombrosan abbey of San Salvi on the outskirts. It was transferred in fragments to the Accademia and reassembled in 1841. The panels were transferred to the Uffizi in 1919, and the altarpiece was reconstructed in 1954 on the strength of an eighteenth-century sketch.
The altarpiece is not signed, documented or mentioned in early sources. It was at first ascribed to Buffalmacco (a rather mysterious fourteenth-century Florentine painter mentioned by Ghiberti and Vasari). An attribution to Pietro Lorenzetto was first suggested, rather tentatively, by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in their History of Painting in Italy (1864). The attribution was doubted by some American art historians (including Ernest DeWald, who published his monograph on Pietro Lorenzetti in 1930, Millard Meiss (1955) and Mojmir Frinta (1976)). But the dominant view (particularly in Italy) has not only accepted the attribution, but regarded the altarpiece as one of Pietro Lorenzetti's most important works.
*Madonna and Child with Eight Saints. Wood, 145 x 122.
Cut at the top (the fragmentary red wings suggest that the apex was originally filled with cherubim). The inscription along the base of the Virgin's throne, giving the artist's name in gold Gothic capitals, has been restored several times. The original date included in the inscription has been variously read as 1315, 1316, 1340 or 1343; but while the exact year is in doubt, there is now agreement on a dating in the early 1340s. The picture was described by Vasari, who saw it in the church of San Francesco at Pistoia, as ‘Our Lady with some angels very well arranged about her’. Vasari, misreading the signature, called the painter 'Laurati' – thus failing to recognise that Pietro was the brother of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Vasari mentions a predella, with ‘small, alert, very lively figures’, which is now lost. The picture was acquired by the Uffizi in 1799, exchanged by a Pistoian senator, Giovan Battista Cellesi, for a painting by Sano di Tito. In 1864, Crowe and Cavalcaselle reported that 'the injury done to the picture renders it a poor example of Pietro's manner'. The flesh tones were described as 'an untransparent brownish grey'. A major restoration was carried out in 1929, and the colours – the ultramarine of the Virgin’s mantle and the paler blues of the angels’ tunics – now appear extraordinarily fresh.
Florence. Palazzo Vecchio (Loeser Collection).
Madonna and Child. Wood, 86 x 59.
The centre panel of an unknown polyptych. The four side panels – representing Saint Margaret, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an Apostle and a Bishop Martyr – are in Assisi (Perkins Collection, San Francesco), New York (Metropolitan Museum), La Spezia (Museo Amadeo Lia) and a private French collection. Virtually all Italian experts (including Federico Zeri and Carlo Volpe) have accepted the polyptych as a late work of Pietro Lorenzetti. However, some American authorities (most notably Hayden Maginnis) have called it a product of workshop collaboration or ascribed it to a close associate or follower (the ‘Master of the Loeser Madonna’).
Florence. Horne Museum.
Three Saints. Wood, 63 x 33.
St Catherine of Alexandria is identified by her spiked wheel; the tonsured monk with a book and tau-shaped staff has been called St Leonard or St Benedict; and the female saint in blue is usually called Margaret. Three panels from a polyptych, framed together as a triptych. A panel of the Madonna and Child from the Pieve at Monticchiello (now in the Cathedral Museum at Pienza) and one of a female saint at Le Mans are thought to have belonged to the same polyptych. Bought by Herbert Horne in 1906.
Florence. Santa Lucia dei Magnoli. First altar on left.
Saint Lucy. Wood, 168 x 83.
The virgin martyr is shown full-length, holding a palm and an oil lamp. Traditionally ascribed to Pesello. The attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti, made by Suida (1905) and Mason Perkins (1906), has sometimes been doubted (for example by Volpe in his 1989 monograph). The panel is said to have been repainted by Jacopo del Sellaio, the fifteenth-century artist responsible for the Annunciation at the sides. Before restoration, the panel had an arched rather than a pointed top and showed a sword embedded in the saint's neck.
Florence (Settignano). Villa I Tatti.
Madonna and Child with Donor. Wood, 61 x 33 (central image: 33 x 14).
The Virgin Mary, standing, holds the Christ Child in her arms. An Augustinian friar kneels at her feet. One half of a two-sided reliquary tabernacle. The other half, discovered by Federico Zeri in 1953 in a private collection in Rome, shows Christ blessing, with another friar holding a scroll. (It was acquired by an American collector in 1957 and auctioned at Sotheby's, New York, in 1997.) Around the painted image are twenty-six small compartments, alternatively red and blue, that originally contained relics behind glass. The reliquary may date from the late 1330s or early 1340s. It possibly came from the hermitage of San Salvatore at Leccato, near Siena. Acquired by Berenson, from an unknown source, by 1912.
Hull. Ferens Art Gallery.
Christ between Saints Paul and Peter. Wood, 32 x 70.
Christ blesses; St Paul holds a sword in a scabbard and St Peter an enormous key. The panel is from the Cowper collection at Panshanger in Hertfordshire and was probably acquired in Italy in the nineteenth century. It was virtually unknown before 2012, when it was auctioned at Christie's for more than £5 million (a record for the artist). It was acquired by the Hull gallery the following year, after the UK Government had imposed an export ban. It is thought to have formed the central part of a predella of a polyptych that had the signed Virgin and Child at Philadelphia as its main panel. (X-rays have revealed that the Hull and Philadelphia panels have a distinctive vertical wood grain in common.) The framing is damaged, but the painting is free from modern restoration and is in generally good condition for a work of the period. It went on display at the museum in January 2017, after four years of conservation at the National Gallery, London.
Le Mans. Musée Tesse.
A Female Saint. Wood, 56 x 34.
The graceful half-length figure, fair haired and dressed in orange, has sometimes been identified as St Agnes or St Margaret. A panel from a polyptych, which is thought also to have included the three panels of saints in the Horne Museum at Florence and the Madonna from the Pieve at Monticchiello (now in the Cathedral Museum at Pienza). One of twenty-three early Italian works acquired by the city of Le Mans in 1863 at the Paris sale of the collection of Evariste Fouret (a native of Le Mans and enthusiastic collector of late Medieval and early Renaissance art).
Wings from a Triptych. Wood, each 55 x 17.
The left wing shows St Catherine with the Angel Gabriel in the pinnacle, the right wing a bishop saint (Nicholas of Bari?) with the Virgin in the pinnacle. They have been attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti’s studio (eg. in Berenson’s 1968 Lists). They have also been attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s shop and to an anonymous ‘Master of the Saints of Le Mans’. The centre panel of the triptych has been identified as a damaged painting of the Madonna and Child with SS. Peter and Paul and Angels sold at Sotheby’s (as ‘Sienese School, circa 1320’) for $490,000 in January 2004. Acquired in 1863 at the Fouret sale.
London. National Gallery.
St Sabinus before Venustianus. Wood, 31 x 27.
The scene probably represents Venustianus, Governor of Tuscany, trying to make Sabinus, one of the patron saints of Siena, worship a pagan statue (here apparently represented as Venus holding a golden apple). Fairfax Murray, who bought the panel in Siena in 1874 and presented it to the National Gallery in 1882, believed that it formed part of the predella of the altarpiece painted by Pietro Lorenzetti between 1335 and 1342 for the chapel of San Savino in Siena Cathedral. The main panel of the Birth of the Virgin is now in the Cathedral Museum. It is documented that in 1335 a Master Ciecho was paid for translating the legend of St Sabinus into the vernacular for the purpose of the altarpiece. One of the side panels of the altarpiece represented the saint, and if the National Gallery scene did come from the predella it was presumably located beneath it. The execution has sometimes been ascribed to Pietro Lorenzetti himself and sometimes to his studio or a follower.
Two Female Heads. Fresco fragments, roughly 40 x 30.
The crowned saint might be Elizabeth of Hungary. Probably originally in hexagons, the two heads came from the border of a large fresco in the Chapter House of San Francesco at Siena. Sir Henry Layard bought the fragments ‘from a man who had cut them out of the wall’. They were formerly ascribed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti, who Ghiberti and Vasari say painted frescoes in San Francesco. However, they are now catalogued by the National Gallery as by 'Pietro Lorenzetti and workshop'. One of the fragments – that of the head without the crown – was included with an attribution to Ambrogio in the major exhibition devoted to him in 2017-18 at Siena.
Milan. Museo Poldi Pezzoli.
Madonna with Saints and Angels. Wood, 55 x 26.
The Virgin is enthroned between SS. Agnes (with a lamb) and Catherine of Alexandria (with her wheel); six angels hold up the gold cloth of honour behind her; in the pinnacle, Christ blessing. Probably the central panel of a small portable triptych. Acquired by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli before 1865; like many of his pictures, it was restored by the Milanese painter and restorer Giuseppe Molteni, but is apparently in good condition. Previously ascribed to the School of Giotto, it was first attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti in 1888 (by the German art historian Henry Thode). The attribution is now generally accepted, though at one time some critics gave the panel to a follower (called the ‘Master of the Dijon Triptych’ by DeWald (1929)). It is probably comparatively late (early 1340s).
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
St Andrew and St James (with Prophet above). Wood, 39 x 44.
The first two letters of the Apostles' names are inscribed on the gold ground. (James is probably 'the Less'.) A panel from the upper tier of the great altarpiece painted for the Sienese Carmelites around 1329. There were originally four such panels, each showing a pair of half-length Apostles and (in the V-shaped spandrel above) the bust of a scroll-bearing Old Testament Prophet. Two of the other panels are in the Siena gallery, along with most of the rest of the altarpiece. Formerly in the Rabinowitz collection at Sands Point, Long Island; given to Yale University in 1959.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 36 x 26.
In the left foreground, the Virgin is supported by the Magdalen and the two other Maries; St John stands nearby. The man towards the right swinging a club is breaking the legs of the bad thief. The small panel is still in its original engaged frame and is astonishingly well preserved. It is thought to have belonged to the same portable altarpiece as the Christ before Pilate in the Vatican Pinacoteca. There may originally have been four panels showing scenes of Christ’s Passion. The Crucifixion once belonged to the French painter Paul Delaroche. After his death, it was sold in Paris in 1857 as a work of Giotto. Bought by the Metropolitan Museum for $12 million in 2002 from Wildenstein of New York and a private collector in Basel.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Wood, 66 x 41.
The half-length saint is shown without her spoked wheel, but is identified by her crown, regal costume and martyr's palm. The silver leaf in the spandrels has blackened. The panel is from a dismembered polyptych; the damaged inscription above the arch refers to the figure (Saint Agnes or more probably Saint John) that occupied the compartment above. Other panels from the same altarpiece are at Florence (Loeser Collection, Palazzo Vecchio) and Assisi (Mason Perkins Collection). There are also two triangular pinnacles, representing a Martyr Saint and Anthony Abbot, at Prague. The Saint Catherine was probably on the right of the Madonna in the centre. It was formerly owned by Dr Gottlieb Friedrich Reber of Barmen, Germany, and acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1913. The panels from the dismembered polyptych have sometimes been accepted as late works of Pietro Lorenzetti (perhaps dating from the early 1340s) and sometimes ascribed to an associate or follower (the 'Master of the Loeser Madonna').
*Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 33 x 24.
Well preserved and still in its original frame. The back is painted to resemble marble. Originally part of a small altarpiece, perhaps a diptych, which is also thought to have included the Presentation in the Temple at Zagreb (Mimara Museum). Longhi (1952) called it a late work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, but it is now generally given to Pietro. Volpe (1989) dates it around the time of the San Savino Altarpiece (1335-42). Its history is only known from 1949, when it was in the Charpentier Gallery in Paris with an attribution to the fourteenth-century Florentine School. Acquired by the Louvre in 1986.
Pasadena. Norton Simon Foundation.
St John the Baptist; the Prophet Elisha. Wood, each 126 x 47.
Two of the four side panels from the altarpiece painted for the Sienese Carmelites in about 1329. The two other side panels represent St Agnes and St Catherine of Alexandria; these are in the Siena Gallery, together with the central panel and the predella. Elisha, the successor of the prophet Elijah, who was venerated as the founder of the Carmelite Order, wears the white Carmelite habit. His scroll quotes from 2 Kings 2: 11-12 ('Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind ...') The Baptist wears a striking red cloak over his camel skin. His gesture with his right thumb was presumably directed towards the Madonna and Child in the centre panel. By the end of the nineteenth century, the two panels were in the possession of Jerome 'Bonaparte' Wheat of Branford, Connecticut. They were sold by Wheat's granddaughter in 1972, and acquired by the museum the following year from a New York dealer.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
*Madonna Enthroned. Wood, 126 x 76.
Pietro Lorenzetti’s signature was discovered on the bottom edge during restoration in 1992-93. Probably originally the centre of a large polyptych. A recently discovered panel of Christ between SS. Paul and Peter, auctioned at Christie's in 2012 and now in the Ferens Art Gallery at Hull, is thought to have formed the central element of the predella. The diminutive donor kneeling on the left, tonsured and wearing a black habit, may have been a Servite friar. If so, a provenance from Santa Maria dei Servi in Siena is possible. Probably early (about 1320). Much of the picture is well preserved, but some large paint losses in the lower part and at the sides of the throne are concealed by restoration. Said to have been in the Chigi-Saracini collection at Siena. Acquired around 1908 by the art historian Langton Douglas, who sold it to Johnson. The two Angels in the top corners, looking down in adoration with folded arms, were detached at some unknown date and cut into separate panels. They belonged at one time to the Russian ambassador to Vienna and later to the New York collector Carl W. Hamilton. They were bought by the museum at Christie’s in 1985 from the estate of Dorothy P. West (niece of the art critic Royal Cortissoz), and were reassembled with the main panel in 1993.
Pienza. Museo della Cattedrale.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 68 x 46.
This half-length Madonna was recently transferred from the church of Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo at Monticchiello (4 km south-east of Pienza). Probably part of a dismembered polyptych, to which the three panels of saints in the Horne Museum at Florence and the panel of a female saint at Le Mans are also likely to have belonged. Attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti as an early work (about 1315?). There were previous attributions to Ambrogio Lorenzetti and to an eponymous 'Maestro di Monticchiello'. Restored in 1964, when a large scroll (reading 'MATER PURITATIS') painted across the top of the panel was removed, together with a large star painted on the Virgin's shoulder.
Prague. National Gallery (Sternberg Palace).
Male Martyr Saint; Saint Anthony Abbot. Wood, 45 x 37.
The young martyr saint holds a palm and book. The elderly hermit saint is identified as Anthony Abbot by his tau-shaped staff. These two small triangular panels were unknown before 1974, when they were discovered in the museum storerooms by Hayden Maginnis and published by him in the Burlington Magazine. They are believed to have been pinnacles of a polyptych, which also included the panels of the Madonna and Child at Florence (Palazzo Vecchio), Saint Catherine at New York (Metropolitan Museum), Saint Margaret at Assisi (Mason Perkins Collection) and an Apostle at La Spezia (Museo Amadeo Lia).
Riggisberg (Switzerland). Abegg-Stift.
Saint Leonard. Wood, 97 x 58.
The saint is identified by an inscription on the gold ground. St Leonard was popular in the late Middle Ages as a patron of prisoners of war. In the bottom left-hand corner is a small figure of a flagellant. Well preserved. There may originally have been side panels with scenes depicting the life of the saint. The panel could have come from the Augustinian hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago at Monteriggioni, near Siena. First recorded in the collection of the German painter Friedrich August von Kaulbach (died 1920).
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
Christ before Pilate. Wood, 38 x 28.
It used to be thought that this little panel, like the one at the London National Gallery, belonged to the predella of the San Savino Altarpiece. However, the fact that there is a marble design on the back indicates that it was intended to be seen from both sides, and it was presumably part of a small diptych or triptych. A Crucifixion acquired in 2002 by the Metropolitan Museum, New York, has been identified recently as a panel from the same altarpiece. The Christ before Pilate came from the Vatican Library and was first exhibited in the Pinacoteca in 1903-4.
Seattle. Art Museum.
Triptych: Madonna and Saints.
The middle panel (70 x 38) shows the Madonna and Child, and the two side panels (60 x 32) show St Paul (with sword) and St Peter (with keys). The touchingly natural Christ Child snuggles in his mother’s mantle, as though avoiding the attention of St Peter. In the pinnacles are half-lengths of Mary Magdalene, Christ blessing and the Archangel Michael. The picture, which may be roughly contemporary with the Arezzo altarpiece of 1320 but is poorly preserved (abraded and much restored), has been attributed either to Pietro Lorenzetti himself or to an immediate follower. From the collection of Achillito Chiesa, an Argentine shipping magnate living in Milan. It was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1934 (via the dealer Contini Bonacossi), and has been in Seattle since 1952.
Siena. Pinacoteca Nazionale.
*Madonna with Saints and Angels. Wood, 169 x 148.
The Virgin sits enthroned between Elijah, legendary founder of the Carmelite Order, and St Nicholas. There are four angels behind. Signed and dated on the step of the throne; the date can be read as 1327, 1328 or 1329.The picture came to the gallery from the little church of Sant’Ansano a Dofano outside the Pispini Gate of Siena, but it was originally the centre panel of a large polyptych which stood on the high altar of the convent church of San Niccolò dei Monte Carmelo. The unusual white garments of the Madonna and Elijah refer to the monastic habits worn by the Carmelites. The altarpiece was finished for 150 florins, which was paid to Pietro on 20 November 1329 after a dispute. One third of the price was defrayed by the municipality at the prayer of the Carmelites, who pleaded poverty. In the late sixteenth century, the altarpiece was moved to the Oratory of Sant’Ansano in Castelnuovo Berardenga, near Siena; the Elijah was transformed into an Anthony Abbot (with pig, staff and bell) and the predella was covered with stories of the martyrdom of St Ansanus. It was only in 1920 that the partly overpainted Madonna with Saints and Angels was identified (by the American art historian Ernest Dewald) as the centre panel of the altarpiece painted for the Sienese Carmelites. The overpainting was removed in 1936, after the picture had been transferred to the Pinacoteca. Most of the rest of the altarpiece is also in the gallery – apart from three panels which are in American museums (the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, and the Yale Art Gallery, New Haven).
St Catherine of Alexandria; St Agnes. Wood, 128 x 45.
St Catherine is crowned and holds a martyr's palm; St Agnes has her lamb. Two of the four side panels of the altarpiece painted for the Sienese Carmelites in about 1329. The other two panels, representing the Prophet Elisha and St John the Baptist, are now in the Norton Simon Foundation at Pasadena. They are the first known examples of full-length saints in a Sienese altarpiece.
St Thaddeus and St Bartholomew; St Thomas and St James. Wood, 40 x 44.
Bartholomew holds his flaying knife. The other Apostles have no distinguishing attributes, but are identified by the inscriptions (the first two letters of their names). James is probably 'the Great'. The panels are two of the four cusps of the Carmelite Altarpiece. Another is in the Yale University Art Gallery at New Haven; the fourth is lost. Each panel includes a scroll-bearing Prophet in the V-shaped space (spandrel) between the two arches of the moulding.
*Predella of the Carmelite Altarpiece. Wood, 38 x 341.
The panels present five scenes in the history of the Carmelites. The first scene, the Annunciation to Sobac, illustrates the legend that Elijah's father, Sobac, had a dream in which men dressed in white predicted that Elijah would have many followers. The second scene depicts Hermits at the Fountain of Elijah. The early Carmelites are said to have settled near Elijah's Spring, where they built a monastery and an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary ('Our Lady of Mount Carmel'). Their striated habits were inspired by the cloak of Elijah, scorched as he ascended to heaven on his chariot of fire. The long central panel shows St Albert granting a Rule to the Carmelites. Albert of Vercelli, Patriarch of Jerusalem, is shown travelling to Mount Carmel with his entourage and being greeted by the hermits. The last two scenes show Pope Honorius III issuing a Bull confirming the Rule of St Albert (an historical event that took place in 1226) and Pope Honorius III approving the new Carmelite Habit (all white replacing the black-and-white stripes).
St Bartholomew; St Cecilia; the Baptist. Wood, each, 85 x 32.
Half-figures; in the pinnacles, St. Agnes, St Catherine and another female saint (Elizabeth, Anna or Clare?). These three panels were originally in the Pieve di Santa Cecilia at Crevole, near Murlo (south of Siena). They probably formed a polyptych in five parts, with a Madonna and Child in the centre. On the frame of the St Cecilia panel are remains of a signature and the date 1332.
*San Giusto Polyptych. Wood, 124 x 175.
Madonna and Child between half-length figures of Saints Julia, Peter, Paul and Justus (Giusto). The Child appears to be holding a pomegranate. Upper tier: the Annunciation (with God the Father in the pinnacle releasing the dove of the Holy Spirit) between eight small Apostles. The interior of the Virgin's chamber is represented in remarkably convincing perspective. This almost complete altarpiece – there may originally have been figures in the four side pinnacles – came from the church of San Giusto at Siena. (The church, formerly in the Vicolo dell'Oro, was demolished in 1936.) Probably a mature work. (Similar punch marks are found on the Madonna and Child with Eight Angels, signed and dated 1340(?), in the Uffizi.) Parts, including the eight small Apostles, were probably executed by Pietro’s workshop.
Siena. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
*Birth of the Virgin. Wood, 185 x 180.
St Anne lies on her bed, and is fanned by a girl, while in the foreground a midwife holds the baby in her lap and tests the temperature of the water in a basin. In an anteroom on the left, Joachim, the aged father, is brought news of the birth by a servant boy, and on the right two female servants hold a jug and linen. The Gothic frame is integral to the picture, its arches an extension to the painted architecture of the vaulted bedchamber and anteroom. The panel was the centre part of an altarpiece painted for the chapel of San Savino in the left transept of Siena Cathedral (where the Virgin in Glory with Saints by Salvatore Fontana and Raffaello Vanni stands today). In November 1335 Pietro Lorenzetti received the first payment of 30 florins. The altarpiece took a long time to complete, as it is signed and dated 1342. According to a cathedral inventory of 1429, the Birth of the Virgin was flanked by panels of St Sabinus and St Bartholomew. These are missing. The altarpiece also had a predella.
The Birth of the Virgin is the first known example of an altarpiece without a gold background. It was one of a cycle of four altarpieces commissioned in the 1330s and 1340s for side altars in Siena Cathedral. Each altarpiece depicted a scene from the Virgin's life on a triple-arched central panel, which was flanked by figures of patron saints on separate panels. Two of the other altarpieces – Simone's Martini's famous Annunciation and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's almost equally famous Presentation in the Temple – are now in the Uffizi. The third – an Adoration of the Shepherds by the lesser known Bartolommeo Bulgarini – has not been certainly traced, but a Nativity in the Fogg Museum at Cambridge (Mass.) could be a fragment of the central panel.
Pietro Lorenzetti's altarpiece remained in situ until 1651, when the altar was demolished. The Birth of the Virgin was transferred to the present museum from the sacristy in the nineteenth century. A small panel in the London National Gallery (St Sabinus before the Governor) may have belonged to the predella.
Resurrected Christ. Detached fresco.
This ruined fresco is from the Chapter House of the convent of San Francesco at Siena. It was detached from the wall in 1970. Other frescoes detached from the Chapter House (a Crucifixion by Pietro Lorenzetti and two Franciscan scenes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti) are exhibited in the church.
Siena. San Francesco. North transept, first chapel.
Crucifixion. Detached fresco, 309 x 393.
Discovered in the Chapter House in the middle of the nineteenth century and detached from the wall in 1857. The surface of the fresco is damaged by the scrapping off of whitewash. The standing figures in the foreground have been cut off at the knees. There are no early references to the fresco. Ghiberti praises Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s work in San Francesco but fails to mention Pietro at all. Another of Pietro’s frescoes from the Chapter House – a ruined Resurrected Christ – has been transferred to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, while two small fragments from a decorative border were removed in the nineteenth century and are now in the London National Gallery. The frescoes may date from around 1326, when renovation work began on the church (though it is not known whether this work involved the Chapter House).
Siena. Santa Maria dei Servi. Second chapel to right of high altar.
Massacre of the Innocents. Detached fresco.
The composition, with King Herod ordering the massacre from the balcony of his palace on the left, bears some general resemblance to the frescoes by Giotto in the Arena Chapel at Padua and by Giotto's workshop in the Lower Church at Assisi. The grief of the mothers – tearing their hair and scratching their cheeks – is depicted with dramatic realism. The attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. It is still often accepted, though some modern criticism ascribes the fresco in great part or entirely to Francesco di Segna and/or his brother Niccolò.
The frescoes in the second chapel to the left – Salome Dancing and the Ascension of St John – are perhaps from Pietro Lorenzetti's workshop or following. They recall Giotto’s frescoes of the same subjects in the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa Croce, Florence.
La Spezia. Museo Civico Amadeo Lia.
An Apostle. Wood, 68 x 46.
The half-length Apostle has been identified either as John the Evangelist or James the Great. As first recognised in 1968 (by Federico Zeri), the panel belonged to the same polyptych as panels of the Madonna and Child at Florence (Loeser Collection, Palazzo Vecchio), Saint Margaret at Assisi (Mason Perkins Collection, San Francesco) and Saint Catherine of Alexandria at New York (Metropolitan Museum). A fifth panel – a Bishop Martyr – from a Paris private collection was published in 1976 (by Michel Laclotte in Paragone). As the Apostle is shown almost in left profile, the La Spezia panel was presumably placed on the far right of the polyptych. It was probably surmounted by the triangular gable of Saint Anthony Abbot at Prague (Sternberg Palace).
Dead Christ (Pietà). Wood, 49 x 60.
This small gold-ground painting, set within quatrefoil framing, was evidently the central panel of a predella. Only one other panel from the predella is known. (Representing Saint Anthony Abbot, it was formerly in the celebrated collection of the German art dealer Heinz Kisters and was sold at Christie's, London, in July 2011 for £421,000.)
Washington. National Gallery.
*Triptych. Canvas (transferred from panel).
This large triptych is likely to have been painted as a church altarpiece. The centre panel (100 x 52) represents the Madonna and Child. The Virgin offers the Child cherries, a symbol of his future Passion. The side panels (92 x 44) show Mary Magdalene (with her jar of ointment) and St Catherine of Alexandria (crowned and holding her spiked wheel and martyr's palm). In the three triangular pinnacles, there are tiny half-length figures of Christ Blessing and two angels. The frame is modern (1941-42), but it incorporates a strip of wood from the original frame containing the date and artist's signature. The date has been variously read as 1321, 1340 or 1341, but 1340 is now thought more likely. The triptych is unrecorded before 1926, when it was in the hands of the Italian art dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi. By 1929 it had been bought by the German-born banker Felix M. Warburg of New York, whose widow Frieda donated it to the gallery in 1941. The panels were transferred to canvas in 1941-42 and are quite heavily restored (particularly the Virgin's robes, saints' faces and the gold leaf).
Zagreb. Mimara Museum.
Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 31 x 22.
The aged Simeon, recognising the baby Jesus as the Messiah, has taken him from the Virgin Mary. The eighty-four year-old prophetess Anna stands on the left with a scroll. Joseph, on the right, holds a cage with the doves required for the Jewish purification rite. The panel was part of a small portable altarpiece, which is also thought to have included the Adoration of the Magi in the Louvre. From the large and variable collection of the mysterious Ante Topic Mimara (dealer, painter, restorer and probable forger, art thief and spy), which was acquired by the Republic of Croatia in 1973 and has been housed in its own museum since 1987. Seals on the back of the panel show that it once belonged to the engraver and art dealer Carlo Lasinio, who was curator of the Camposanto at Pisa from 1807 to 1838.