SignorelliLuca Signorelli (his full name was Luca d’Egidio di Luca di Ventura) was from Cortona in Southern Tuscany. His father, Egidio di Ventura Signorelli, was a painter in the city. Luca was once thought to have been born in 1441 (on the basis of Vasari’s claim that he was 82 when he died), but this is probably about ten years too early. According both to Vasari (who claimed to be his great-nephew) and the mathematician Fra Luca Pacioli, he was a pupil of Piero della Francesca. He would presumably have served his apprenticeship in the 1460s, when Piero was working in Arezzo. He must also have had early contact with the Florentine art world, which was dominated at this time by the workshops of the Pollaiuolo and Andrea Verrocchio.
Signorelli is known to have worked at Cortona, Arezzo and Città di Castello in the early 1470s, and he was employed by the Della Rovere at Loreto in the late 1470s or 1480s. He was called to Rome in 1481 or 1482 to help complete the cycle of frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. During the later 1480s he appears to have been active mainly in Cortona, but he also produced works for the Medici in Florence. His mysterious and melancholy School of Pan was painted at this time, probably for Lorenzo de’ Medici. It became Signorelli’s most celebrated panel painting after it was discovered in a Florentine attic in 1865. (Formerly at Berlin, it was lost in the disastrous fire of May 1945.) It was through the agency of Lorenzo de' Medici that the artist acquired in the early 1490s a workshop at Cortona in premises beneath the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo that had previously belonged to the Guelph Party of Florence. During the same decade, Signorelli obtained commissions from Volterra (1491), Città di Castello (1493-98) and Monte Oliveto (1498-9).
Signorelli’s great masterpiece is the fresco cycle illustrating the Last Judgement in Orvieto Cathedral (1499-1504), which spectacularly displays his powers of invention and skill in anatomical drawing. No painter had previously introduced such a variety of nude figures, often sharply foreshortened and with poses strained in violent action, in compositions on such a large scale. Vasari claims that Michelangelo praised Signorelli’s frescoes and borrowed from them for his own great Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.
Signorelli was called to Rome briefly again by Julius II in 1507 or 1508 to participate with Perugino, Pintoricchio, Sodoma, Lotto and others in the decoration of the Vatican Stanze, but his work was destroyed when Raphael took over the commission. In about 1509 he worked with Pintoricchio on the decoration of a room in Pandolfo Petrucci’s Palazzo del Magnifico at Siena. He is known to have visited Rome again in 1513, when he borrowed money from Michelangelo, but he spent his old age chiefly in or around Cortona, producing repetitious altarpieces with the aid of assistants (who included his nephew Francesco Signorelli). He died on the night of 23/24 October 1523.
The fame which for centuries surrounded Signorelli as a precursor, even rival, of Michelangelo diminished during the twentieth century. However, the restoration (completed in 1996) of the Orvieto frescoes generated some revival of interest, and the first English-language monograph on the artist for more than a century was published in 2002.
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
Panels from a Polyptych.
There are five predella panels (each about 35 x 40) showing scenes from Christ’s Passion: Christ on the Mount of Olives, Flagellation, Crucifixion, Deposition, and Resurrection. There are also four small pilaster panels of saints (35 x 17): Bernardino of Siena, Casilda of Toledo (or Elizabeth of Hungary), Clare and Louis of Toulouse. The panels appear to be comparatively late works (after 1505), executed largely by an assistant (Girolamo Genga?). Bernhardt von Lindenau acquired them in Rome in 1848 and 1853. It has sometimes been suggested that they could have belonged to the altarpiece painted by Signorelli in 1508 for the church of San Francesco at Arcevia, the main panel of which is now in the Brera. While the choice of saints (all Franciscans) would have been appropriate for this altarpiece, the predella is said to have shown scenes from the Life of the Virgin rather than from Christ’s Passion.
St George and the Dragon. Wood, 55 x 77.
In the foreground, strewn with naked corpses, St George fights the dragon, while the princess flees with her arms in the air. In the right background are small figures of the saint and the princess (on the same horse) and her father the king. The original function of this picture (which seems too large to have been a predella panel) is unknown. It may date from the late 1490s or early 1500s. In the nineteenth century, it was in the London collections of Alexander Barker and Sir William Farrer. One of some seventy Italian works bequeathed to the Rijksmuseum in 1941 by the Amsterdam businessman and collector Edwin vom Rath.
Arcevia (formerly Rocca Contrada, near Sassoferrato). San Medardo.
Polyptych. Wood, 393 x 315.
Still in situ over the high altar. A polyptych of twenty-nine panels, painted to fit an existing elaborate Gothic frame carved by Corrado Teutonico. Lower tier: Virgin and Child between full-length figures of St Sebastian and St Medardo (left) and St Andrew and St Roch. Upper tier: God the Father Blessing between full-length-figures of St Paul and John the Baptist (left) and St Peter and St James. Predella: Annunciation, Adoration of Shepherds, Adoration of Magi, Flight into Egypt, and Massacre of Innocents. The last scene may have influenced Raphael’s famous drawing (engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi). On each pilaster are seven half-lengths of saints. Signed and dated 1507 on the step of the Virgin’s throne. In such a large undertaking, Signorelli doubtless made much use of assistants (probably including Girolamo Genga).
Baptism of Christ. Wood, 244 x 160.
Originally the high altarpiece of the church of San Gianne (John the Baptist) at Arcevia. The Gothic frame is original. The predella shows other scenes from the life of the Baptist (Birth; Preaching in the Desert; Denouncing of Herod; Feast of Herod; and Beheading in Prison). In the contract, dated 5 June 1508, Signorelli agreed to paint the figures of Christ, the Baptist and God the Father, leaving the rest to assistants. The picture was evidently painted in some haste, as the receipt for payment (27 ducats) is dated 24 June. The two background figures, one removing his shirt and the other his sandals, are repeated from the altarpiece painted by Signorelli some fifteen or twenty years earlier for the church of Sant'Agostino at Siena (fragments now in Toledo (Ohio)).
Madonna with Saints and Prophets. Wood, 342 x 233.
A very late work, painted for the Compagnia di San Girolamo at Arezzo. It was commissioned for 100 florins on 19 September 1519, to be finished by June 1520. Vasari says that he remembers the altarpiece being delivered when he was eight years old, the brethren carrying it on their shoulders from Cortona to Arezzo. The kneeling donor is an advocate called Niccolò Gamurrini, who is being recommended to the Virgin and Child by St Nicholas. The Child holds a splinter of glass from St Donatus’s chalice, which was accidently broken during mass and miraculously mended. St Stephen, dressed as a deacon, holds a martyr's palm and a stone. St Jerome, wearing only a loincloth, points to his breast, which is red raw from being beaten with a rock. Beneath the Virgin’s feet are three Old Testament prophets: David (playing a harp) and Ezechiel and Isaiah (holding scrolls). A predella is mentioned in the contract: this is thought to be the one now in the National Gallery, London. The main panel was transferred to the Pinacoteca in 1849 from the church of Santo Spirito.
Madonna with Saints and Angels. Wood, 277 x 210.
The Virgin, seated on a cloud packed with cherubs' heads, is accompanied by two angels playing lutes and two others holding up lengths of string with flowers tied to them. St Francis holds a book and displays the stigmata in his hand and side, St Clare is dressed as the Franciscan abbess of San Damiano, Mary Magdalene holds her pot of ointment, and St Margaret stands with her dragon dead at her feet. Commissioned in March 1518 by the nuns of Santa Margherita in Arezzo and delivered by August 1519, when Signorelli was paid 70 florins. The execution was probably mainly by an assistant (Francesco Signorelli?). Transferred to the Pinacoteca in 1810.
Arezzo. Duomo. Museo Diocesano.
Five Predella Panels. Wood.
Scenes (18 x 45 each) of the Birth, Presentation and Marriage of the Virgin are flanked by half-length representations (18 x 22) of St Francis and St Bernardino of Siena. Once thought to have come from the altarpiece painted for Santa Margherita at Arezzo, but possibly the predella to a much smaller picture now in Washington.
Atlanta. Museum of Art.
Two Miracles of St Nicholas of Bari. Wood, 25 x 20 each.
One tiny panel shows the Birth of St Nicholas. To the wonder of his parents and their servants, the new born child starts to pray as he is being washed in a basin. The other panel shows the Rescue of Adeodatus. Adeodatus had been abducted by pagans and forced to serve as cupbearer to their king. In the right distance, his parents are shown visiting the shrine of St Nicholas, where they prayed successfully for his return. The two panels are probably from a predella, recorded in 1784 in the church of San Niccolò at Cortona, showing miracles of the saint. This predella may have belonged to the double-sided processional banner that is still in the church. The Atlanta panels were bought by Samuel H. Kress from Contini Bonacossi in 1937 and given to the museum in 1961. The execution is rather coarse, and the panels are classed by the museum and Kress Foundation as studio works.
A panel, similar in size, representing St Nicholas saving Three Knights from Execution, almost certainly belonged to the same predella. Once in the Ducal Palace at Meiningen and later in a German private collection, it was sold at the Van Ham auction house, Cologne, in November 2020 for €87,700 and sold again at Sotheby's, New York, in January 2022 for $176,400.
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery.
Angel Gabriel. Wood, 78 x 54.
This much damaged and restored panel, showing the angel in profile holding a white lily, is a fragment from the left side of a large Annunciation. The right-hand fragment, showing the Virgin Annunciate, has been identified as a panel (74 x 55) that was once in the Von Gelder collection at Zeecrabbe Castle in Belgium, was later in an American private collection, and was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in 2010 for $74,500. The Baltimore fragment was previously in the collections of Stephen Bourgeois at Cologne and Peter Widener at Philadelphia, and was acquired by Henry Walters by 1922. Perhaps similar in date to Signorelli’s Annunciation at Volterra, which is signed and dated 1491.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
St Roch; St Sebastian Two panels, 30 x 17.
The two plague saints are represented conventionally: Roch as a pilgrim displaying the ulcer on his thigh and Sebastian in a loincloth with his hands bound behind his back. The two small panels (possibly from the pilaster bases of an altarpiece or the shutters of a portable triptych) are usually ascribed to Signorelli's workshop (or to Francesco Signorelli). Bequeathed by the art historian Giovanni Morelli in 1892.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 52 x 35.
Also from the Morelli collection. In poor condition and probably a studio work. Another version (similar in size but adapted to the tondo format) was sold at Christie's, New York, in June 2014 as by 'Signorelli and workshop'.
Two Altar Wings. Wood, 144 x 74.
One panel shows SS. Eustochium (or Catherine of Siena), Mary Magdalene and Jerome; the other shows SS. Augustine, Catherine of Alexandria and Anthony of Padua. The two panels were the wings of an altarpiece painted for the chapel of the Bichi family in Sant’Agostino at Siena. In the centre of the altarpiece was a polychrome wooden statue now in the Louvre (ascribed formerly to Jacopo della Quercia and now to Francesco di Giorgio) of St Christopher (the saint to whom the Bichi Chapel was dedicated). According to a reconstruction first proposed by Tancred Borenius in 1913, the altarpiece also included two panels now at Toledo (Ohio), and a predella with panels now in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, Pollok House in Glasgow and the Clark Institute in Williamstown (Massachusetts). It was formerly thought that the altarpiece had been painted in about 1498 (as a contemporary, Sigismondo Tizio, had written in 1513 that it had been painted fifteen years earlier). However, following the discovery that the frame had been commissioned from the Sienese wood carver Ventura di Ser Giuliano in 1488, the dating of the altarpiece has been revised to the late 1480s or early 1490s. The altarpiece was dismembered before 1759, and the wings were acquired by the Berlin Gallery in 1821 with the Solly collection.
*Portrait of an Elderly Man. Wood, 50 x 32.
The grey-haired man wears a red cap and red robe, with the black stole of a lawyer. In the background are classical ruins, with figures of naked youths and girls in classical costume. The finest of Signorelli’s few surviving portraits. It probably dates from about 1490. It came from the Casa Torrigiani at Florence (where it was described as self-portrait), and was purchased from a Florentine dealer by the Berlin Museum in 1894. It has been recently suggested (by Tom Henry in his 2012 Life and Art of Luca Signorelli) that the sitter could be the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, who wrote important commentaries on the Aeneid and Divine Comedy and championed the cause of vernacular Italian.
Visitation. Wood, 70 in dia.
On the left, the infant Baptist, held by by his father Zacharias, playfully baptises the infant Jesus, seated in Joseph’s lap. On the right, the pregnant St Elizabeth embraces the pregnant Virgin. This small, signed tondo may date from the early 1500s, and is perhaps recorded in a 1539 inventory of the property of the heirs of the Sienese tyrant Pandolfo Petrucci. Acquired by the Berlin Museum in 1875 from the Marchese Patrizi of Rome. Much damaged and restored. An inferior version, attributed to Francesco Signorelli, was auctioned at Sotheby's, New York, in June 2013.
Birmingham. Barber Institute.
*Portrait of Niccolò Vitelli. Wood, 46 x 38.
The elderly sitter is shown bust-length and in profile, facing right, against a dawn landscape background. He is identified by his initials, inscribed in large gold letters in the upper corners, and by an inscription with his full name on an eighteenth-century copy in Città di Castello. Niccolò Vitelli, ruler of Città di Castello, died in January 1486, and Signorelli’s portrait is probably posthumous. It is one of a series of portraits of the Vitelli family; two others, representing Niccolò’s sons Camillo and Vitellozzo, are in the Berenson collection at I Tatti (near Florence). Formerly in the Cook collection at Richmond. After acquisition by the Barber Institute in 1945, green overpaint was removed from the sky and landscape background.
Bologna. Museo Civico.
Woman Weeping. Wood, 24 x 27.
A small fragment, showing the head of a weeping Holy Woman, from a large panel representing the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. (Part of the ladder used to remove Christ's body from the cross is visible at the right edge.) The Lamentation is thought to be the picture documented as painted by Signorelli between May 1504 and September 1505 for the high altar of the church of Sant'Agostino at Matélica (some 35 km west of Macerata in the Marche). We have some idea of the composition of the Matélica Lamentation, as the commissioning contract stipulated that it should be made 'just as he [Signorelli] has painted and perfected the high altarpiece of the church of Santa Margherita' (now in the Museo Diocesano at Cortona). The picture was sold by the friars in 1736 and subsequently cut up at some unknown time.
Six other fragments sawn from the panel are known. One (a Calvary from the upper left background) is at Washington. Another (a Man on a Ladder from the upper centre of the composition) was acquired in 2016 by the National Gallery in London. A fragment showing Four Standing Figures (from the left side of the panel) is in an English private collection. The Head of Christ is in the Unicredit Art Collection (currently on loan to the Musei Comunali at Bologna) and the recently discovered Head of the Virgin is in a private collection. A Resurrection (cut from the upper right corner of the panel) is last recorded with an art dealer in the 1950s.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Virgin and Child with an Angel. Wood, 59 x 41.
One of three similar Madonnas; the others are at Oxford (Christ Church) and Venice (Fondazione Cini). They are very close in style to late works of Piero della Francesca, sharing their calm monumentality and light palette, but the figures are less robust and strangely elongated. An attribution to Signorelli – traditionally a pupil of Piero – as youthful works of the early to mid-1470s was made by Bernard Berenson (first in 1926 in the journal Art in America and later in his 1932-68 Lists). The attribution was based on a perceived affinity with a gravely damaged head of St Paul, a fragment of a fresco allegedly painted by Signorelli in 1474 on the Torre del Vescovo at Città di Castello (now in the local museum). The resemblance with Signorelli’s certain early works (such as the Flagellation and Madonna in the Brera) is not strong, and the attribution has never gained general acceptance. The Boston museum classes its painting as ‘attributed to Signorelli’. Previously in private collections in Rome and London, it was bought as a work of Piero della Francesca by the museum in 1922 from the Galleria Pesaro, Milan, for the high price of $37, 985.
Bucharest. Art Museum.
Predella. Wood, 21 x 141.
The three scenes (set in a continuous landscape but divided by painted balusters) are thought to represent: St Augustine at the Seashore; the Angels appearing to Abraham; and St Athanasius fleeing from the Arians and hiding in a Well. The panel has presumably been cut on the left – removing the child, the object of St Augustine's attention, attempting to empty the ocean with a seashell. Possibly the predella to the Trinity Altarpiece in the Uffizi, which includes figures of St Augustine and St Athanasius. From the royal collection at Peles, Sinaia.
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
St James with a Living and a Dead Pilgrim. Wood, 34 x 26.
The unusual subject is taken from the Golden Legend. St James appeared in the guise of a man on horseback to comfort a Compostela pilgrim whose companion had died. The saint put the pilgrim and dead body on his horse and carried them to the shrine, covering fifteen-days journey in a single night. The little panel is recorded in 1857 in the Monte di Pietà (charitable pawnbrokers) at Rome as a work of Signorelli's son Francesco. Later ascribed to Eusebio da San Giorgio or simply to the Umbrian School, it was first published as a work of Luca Signorelli only in 2010, when it was included in the Treasures from Budapest exhibition at the Royal Accademy, London. The catalogue entry (by David Ekserdjian) suggests that it could have formed the base of the left pilaster of the Virgin and Child with SS. James, Simon, Francis and Bonaventure (dated 1508) in the Brera.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum (on loan in 2012-21 from a private collection).
Massacre of the Innocents. Wood, 23 x 75.
At the ends of the panel are small background scenes of the Adoration of the Shepherds and Adoration of Magi. Probably the central part of a predella, which also included scenes of Christ among the Doctors (Kansas City) and Marriage of the Virgin (location unknown). It has been conjectured that the predella belonged to the altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1519-21 for the cathedral at Cortona and now in the Museo Diocesano there. On loan to the Courtauld Institute from 2008 to 2012 and then to the Fitzwilliam Museum from 2012 to 2021. Sold at Christie's, London, in December 2021.
Lamentation. Detached fresco, 191 x 268.
Painted for the Cappella del Sacramento in the Pieve adjoining the Collegiata. It originally had an arched top, which was lost when the fresco was detached and moved in 1629. The composition largely repeats that of the famous picture of 1502 in Cortona.
Chaalis (40 km north of Paris). Abbaye Royale. Musée Jacquemart-André.
Virgin and Child with Two Saints. Wood, 83 x 54.
A youthful John the Baptist stands on the left and an unidentified elderly male saint kneels on the right. Bought by Nélie Jacquemart-André in 1897 from the Florentine dealer Elia Volpe. Though acquired as a work of Signorelli and attributed to the artist in old guidebooks, it was ignored by art historians until 1999, when it was 'published' by Tom Henry in a note in the Burlington Magazine. The Renaissance frame, with shell-like finials and with a coat-of-arms on the base, is roughly contemporary with the picture but is unlikely originally to have belonged to it.
Città di Castello. Pinacoteca.
*Martyrdom of St Sebastian. Wood, 288 x 175.
The composition – with the saint raised high on a tree trunk and encircled by archers firing their arrows and loading their crossbows – was probably influenced by the famous picture by Antonio and Piero Pollaiuolo, painted some twenty years earlier for the Oratory of San Sebastiano at Florence and now at the National Gallery, London. On the steep city street descending in the right background, soldiers drag the saint to the place of execution. On the hill above are the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and loggia, and on the hill opposite stands a crumbling triumphal arch. The picture was an altarpiece commisioned, probably during an outbreak of plague in 1497, by Tommaso Brozzi for his chapel, dedicated to St Sebastian, in the church of San Domenico. An inscription originally on the altarpiece gave the names of Tommaso and his wife Francesca and the date 1498. (The elderly couple on the right are probably portraits of Tommaso and Francesca.) Raphael’s Mond Crucifixion (now in the London National Gallery) hung opposite it at the east end of the nave. The almost identical pietra serena surrounds of the two altarpieces are still in the church. Raphael evidently studied Signorelli's picture as a sketch survives (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) of part of one of the figures (the buttocks and left leg of the archer on the right). Of the five altarpieces painted by Signorelli for churches in Città di Castello between 1493 and 1498, this is the only one remaining in the city. It was transferred to the gallery in 1867. Parts (particularly of the background) were probably finished by assistants. A restoration (the first since 1953) was carried out in 2019, when the picture was included in the Raffaello 1520-1483 exhibition held in Rome.
Madonna and Child in Glory with Eight Saints (‘Pala di Santa Cecila’). Wood, 305 x 202.
The Child crowns St Cecila, who holds a small portable organ. The other saints are: Clare (on the right, holding a lily and reading); Catherine of Alexandria and Elizabeth of Hungary (kneeling); Francis and Bonaventura (upper left); and Louis of Toulouse (whose cope is emblazoned with Angevin fleurs-de-lys); and Anthony of Padua (who holds a book and human heart). The pseudo-kufic lettering along the hem of St Catherine's robe has been interpreted as giving Signorelli's (abbreviated) signature and the date 1516. This large altarpiece came from the Franciscan church of the Monastero di Santa Cecilia at Città di Castello, where it is first recorded in 1627. It was removed from the church by the French in 1813; but, possibly because of its size, it was taken only as far as Perugia and was subsequently returned to Città di Castello. Transferred to the gallery in 1912. It is a late work, executed with much help from the workshop. The six pilaster panels of saints (each 80 x 24) have been ascribed to Francesco Signorelli. One (representing St Michael) was stolen in 1986 and has been replaced by a monochrome copy. The surviving predella panels (27 x 103/106) depict the martyrdoms of St Cecilia, her financé St Valerian and his brother St Tibertius.
Detached fresco fragments.
Three fragments of a fresco painted on the Torre del Vescovo (Bishop’s Tower) at Città di Castello. The fresco, which represented the Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Paul, was finished in November 1474. It is often described as Signorelli’s earliest datable work. However, it is first described as a work of Signorelli only in 1832, and the attribution has sometimes been doubted. The surviving fragments – consisting of the head and torso of St Paul (98 x 68), part of the Child’s head (54 x 27) and part of a decorative candelabra (99 x 25) – are scanty and very damaged. They were removed to the Pinacoteca in 1935.
St John the Baptist; Baptism of Christ. Canvas, 168 x 102.
Two sides of a processional banner (gonfalone). First recorded around 1726 in the church of San Giovanni Decollato at Città di Castello. The two canvases, which were abraded and torn, were restored in 2007-10. They have been generally ascribed to Signorelli's workshop or Francesco Signorelli, though Henry (2012) sees the master's participation in the Baptism.
Cortona. Museo Diocesano.
*Lamentation. Wood, 270 x 240.
The dead Christ has just been taken down from the cross. His head rests in the lap of the Virgin Mary, while his legs lie across the legs of Mary Magdalene. One of the Marys kisses Christ's left hand and another brushes tears from her eyes. John the Evangelist looks down on the body, wringing his hands with grief. The two elderly men standing in discussion on the right, one holding a nail and the crown of thorns, are probably Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. In the background are detailed scenes of Calvary (left), Jerusalem (centre) and the Resurrection (right). The altarpiece is one of Signorelli’s finest and best preserved panel paintings. The predella (29 x 235) shows other scenes from Christ's Passion: the Agony in the Garden, Last Supper, Arrest of Christ and Flagellation. Painted for the high altar of the church of Santa Margherita at Cortona, where Vasari saw it, describing it as ‘beautiful’ and ‘worthy of great praise’. On 7 February 1502 it was valued at 200 florins by Bartolomeo della Gatta, but Signorelli accepted only 100 florins. When the old church was destroyed in 1764, the altarpiece was moved to the Cathedral. It was transferred to the Museo Diocesano in 1945. The pilasters of the frame were decorated with eight figures of saints (Michael, John the Baptist, Anthony Abbot, Basil, Jerome, Francis, Nicholas of Bari and Bonaventura). One of these pilaster saints (Michael) was sold in 2009 at Christie’s in London for £127,250. Two more (Francis and Nicholas of Bari) were sold from the same auction house in July 2016 for £98,500.
*Institution of the Eucharist. Wood, 235 x 220.
Christ, framed by the pilasters and arch of a Renaissance loggia, distributes the host to the twelve apostles; Judas, turning away, slips either the host or a coin resembling it into his moneybag with the twenty pieces of silver. The subject is common among Flemish artists (there is a famous example by Justus of Ghent at Urbino), but rare in Italy. Signed and dated 1512 (on the pilasters). The richly coloured picture is one of the finest of Signorelli’s later works. It was one of three altarpieces painted by Signorelli for the Chiesa del Gesù (now the museum). It stood over the high altar of the church, which was built at the beginning of the sixteenth century for the lay confraternity of the Buon Gesù. In 1786 it was moved to the Cathedral, where it remained until 1925. The lunette (which represented the Madonna with SS. Joseph and Onofrio) and the predella are lost.
Assumption of the Virgin. Wood, 270 x 212.
The Virgin is welcomed into heaven by a great host of angel musicians. The twelve apostles surround her tomb, which is filled with flowers. Commissioned in March 1519 for the high altar of the new Cathedral of Cortona (Santa Maria Assunta) and executed (with much help from assistants) by September 1521, when Signorelli was paid 110 florins. It remained in situ until 1664, when it was removed from its frame (carved by Michelangelo Leggi, called Il Mezzanotte) and hung on the wall of the choir. A study in black chalk for the four apostles on the left is preserved in the British Museum.
It has been plausibly suggested (first by Laurence Kanter in his 1989 doctoral thesis: the Late Works of Luca Signorelli) that the altarpiece had a predella comprising scenes of Christ among the Doctors (with the Flight into Egypt in the left background), Massacre of the Innocents (with the Adoration of the Shepherds in the left background and Adoration of the Magi in the right background) and Marriage of the Virgin (with the Annunciation in the right background). The Christ among the Doctors is now in the museum at Kansas City; the two other panels are still in private hands.
Immaculate Conception. Wood, 217 x 163.
The unusual iconography links the Immaculate Conception with the Fall of Man and Old Testament prophecy. The Virgin, flanked by angels scattering flowers and standing on cherubs’ heads, rises towards God the Father, who holds a baton in his right hand. Her ascent seems to originate from the Tree of Knowledge, below which are tiny representations of Adam and Eve. Six Old Testament prophets stand or kneel at the sides. One of Signorelli’s very last works, ordered by the confraternity of the Gesù on 10 July 1521 for a side altar of their church, and finished by 7 January 1523, when the final payment of 35 florins was made. The execution was probably by Francesco Signorelli.
Nativity. Wood, 217 x 163.
Also from the Chiesa del Gesù. It was probably commissioned around the same time as the Immaculate Conception and originally hung opposite it. Again, Signorelli appears to have played little part in the execution.
Madonna and Four Franciscan Saints. Wood, 157 x 155.
The saints are Francis himself, Louis (represented as the young Bishop of Toulouse), Bonaventura (represented as Bishop of Albano and displaying a book with his Tree of Life diagram) and Anthony of Padua (holding a heart, symbolising Divine Love). First recorded in 1866 in the Chiesa del Gesù, but presumably painted for a Franciscan church. A school work according to some critics, but accepted as autograph by Kanter and Henry (2002).
Predella: Episodes from the Life of St Benedict. Wood, 22 x 170.
The subjects are from the account of the Life and Miracles of St Benedict given in the Second Book of St Gregory's Dialogues. From left to right: St Benedict orders Brother Maurus to rescue Brother Placidus, who had fallen into a lake; he revives a boy crushed by the collapse of a wall; he overcomes temptation by throwing himself into briers and nettles; and he retires to a cave, where he lives on bread lowered down on a rope. A late work of Signorelli (and his studio). It may originally have formed the predella to an altarpiece painted for the Benedictine nuns of San Michelangelo at Cortona and now in the museum of the Castel Sant'Angelo at Rome.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Wood, 150 x 170.
The elderly Simeon stands to the right of the altar with the baby in his arms; the Virgin stands to the left with Joseph, who holds the pair of doves required for the Hebrew purification rite. The predella represents Eucharistic subjects: St Anthony and the Mule, the Blood of the Redeemer and the Mass at Bolsena; St Anthony and St Francis are depicted at the two ends. The altarpiece was ordered from Signorelli on 27 April 1521 for the Oratorio of the Madonnuccia di Piazza. (The Oratorio, now destroyed, was attached to the Hospital of the Misericordia at Cortona.) The execution appears to have been left entirely to a workshop assistant (once identified as Maso Papacello but possibly Francesco Signorelli).
Cortona. Accademia Etrusca.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 146 in dia.
The Virgin floats on a cloud with her feet resting on cherubs' heads. The four saints are the protectors of Cortona. The Archangel Michael, dressed in classical armour and weighing human souls, has vanquished the Devil, who sprawls on the ground. St Mark is on the right, holding a model of the city, while two local saints, Vincent Martyr and Margaret of Cortona, stand behind. This large tondo was probably painted for the Palazzo dei Priori, and is recorded in the Sala dei Consiglio there in 1756. It has often been attributed to Francesco Signorelli, but Kanter and Henry (2002) consider it a comparatively late work of the master. Restored in early 2023.
Cortona. San Domenico.
Madonna and Child with Saints, Angels and Donor. Wood, 144 x 139.
The Virgin sits, her feet resting on cherubs, between two angels and St Dominic and St Blaise. Painted (as an inscription formerly stated) in 1515 for Giovanni Sernini(o), Bishop of Cortona, who is portrayed in profile in the lower right-hand corner. Overpainted (St Peter Martyr with a knife in his skull being substituted for the mitred St Blaise) and enlarged in 1619. These additions and repaints were removed in a 1952 restoration.
Cortona. San Niccolò.
*Double-sided Church Standard. Wood, 152 x 172.
On one side, the Dead Christ with Saints (Nicholas with Dominic and Francis kneeling on the left, and Jerome kneeling on the right with Michael). On the other side, the Virgin and Child between Saints Peter and Paul. Painted for the Compagnia di San Niccolò at Cortona. Signorelli was apparently a member of the lay confraternity, which was founded around 1440 by followers of St Bernardino of Siena. The double-sided picture had a dual function: it was used as a processional banner (gonfalone) and also served as the altarpiece of the confraternity's oratory. It now hangs above the high altar of the church, which has been remodelled in a Baroque style. (It has been fitted with a hinge, allowing both sides to be seen.) Probably comparatively late (about 1510?).
After the confraternity was suppressed, the church standard/altarpiece was transferred in 1784 to the nearby church of the Gesù, but it was returned to the oratory of San Niccolò in 1792. A predella, depicting MIracles of St Nicholas, is recorded in a 1784 inventory. Three small panels from it have been plausibly identified. Two are preserved in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The other, formerly in the Ducal Palace at Meiningen, was sold at Sotheby's, New York, in January 2022.
Madonna and Saints. Fresco (north wall), 280 x 290.
The large fresco shows an image of the Virgin and Child above an altar; Saints Roch, Sebastian, Christopher and Paul stand to the left of the altar; and Saints Nicholas, Jerome, Catherine and Barbara are to the right. Signorelli is said to have painted frescoes for the church without charge because he was a member of the Brotherhood of San Niccolò. This fresco was recovered from whitewash in 1847. According to Scarpellini (1964) it was painted by a follower of Signorelli from a cartoon of the master, while Kanter (2002) considers it a sixteenth-century pastiche.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Noli me Tangere; Christ with Apostles. Wood, 19 x 45.
Two panels from a predella – possibly that to the altarpiece of the Institution of the Eucharist (which was painted by Signorelli in 1512 for the Chiesa del Gesù in Cortona) or that to a picture of the Incredulity of Thomas (destroyed by fire in 1995) from the Pieve of San Vincenzo at Cortona. The execution is rapid and rather coarse. First recorded in 1900 in a private collection at Cortona; sold in New York in 1916 by the Florentine dealer Elia Volpi; and acquired by the Detroit Institute in 1929 from the artist and art critic Walter Pach.
Dublin. National Gallery of Ireland.
Feast in the House of Simon. Wood, 27 x 89.
The subject is from Luke's Gospel (7, 36-50). Christ, seated at the right end of the table, is approached by Mary Magdalene, who holds the ointment she used to anoint his feet. A panel from the predella of the altarpiece painted in about 1490 for the Bichi Chapel in Sant’Agostino at Siena. Another predella panel, representing the Martyrdom of St Catherine, is at Williamstown (Massachusetts) and a third, a Lamentation, is at Pollok House, Glasgow. The predella was painted on a single plank of wood and the scenes were divided by decorative candelabra. The Dublin scene was on the left side of the predella – beneath the left lateral panel, now in Berlin, depicting Mary Magdalene and two other saints. Formerly in the collection of Captain James Stirling, Laird of Glentyan in Renfrewshire; acquired by the Dublin Gallery at Christie's in 1887.
*Madonna and Child. Wood, 170 x 115.
A tondo in a painted frame imitating marble, with fictive reliefs of John the Baptist (in a shell in the centre) and two Old Testament Prophets (in medallions in the corners). The superbly modelled figures of nude men in the background may have provided the inspiration for the nude youths in Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni. Their significance is unclear. On one interpretation, the classicizing nudes represent mankind in pagan times (ante legem), before the Law of Moses and the coming of Christ. A different interpretation views the figures, who play reed pipes, as shepherds – either those in Luke's Gospel or those in Virgil's Eclogues who sing the prophecy of a Messiah. Vasari says that the tondo and another painting – probably the famous School of Pan that was destroyed in Berlin in 1945 – were presented by Signorelli to Lorenzo de' Medici. It probably dates from the late 1480s. In Vasari's day, it was at the Medici villa of Castello. There is some doubt as to whether the original owner identified by Vasari was Lorenzo il Magnifico or his cousin Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici (the probable patron of Botticelli's Primavera, which Vasari also saw at Castello). The painting remained at Castello until 1779, when it was transferred to the Uffizi.
Holy Family ('Madonna di Parte Guelfa'). Wood, 124 in dia.
Joseph and the Christ Child, a boy of about five, study the book read by the Virgin, who is seated on the ground in the manner of a 'Madonna of Humility'. This large tondo was painted for the udienza (meeting hall) of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa (the Guelph Party in Florence), where it was described by Vasari. (The Palazzo di Parte Guelfa, with its meeting hall designed by Brunelleschi, stands on Via Pellicceria, in the very heart of Florence.) Transferred thence to the Uffizi in 1802. Generally dated towards 1490.
The Trinity. Wood, 278 x 188.
The Virgin is enthroned between the Archangels Michael (weighing souls) and Gabriel (holding a white lily and a scroll inscribed with his salutation to the Virgin Mary (Ave Maria Grati...)). The Trinity (Christ on the cross with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above and God the Father enthroned behind) is represented above in a mandorla of cherubs' heads. St Augustine and St Athanasius (the great proponents of the doctrine of the Trinity) are seated on the pedestal of the throne. Athanasius writes the creed traditionally attributed to him: 'Whosoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep [the Catholic faith]'. His cope is embroidered with scenes from Christ's Passion, while Augustine's cope appears to show scenes from the Life of St Stephen. The picture is an altarpiece from the church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini at Cortona. It was probably painted in the early 1510s with substantial studio assistance. It was moved, by Napoleonic decree, to the Accademia in 1810, and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. The colours appear considerably brighter since restoration in 2000.
*Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene. Canvas, 249 x 166.
The skull at the base of the cross marks the spot as Golgotha (the 'place of the skull' where Adam's skull was supposedly buried) and the snake crawling through the skull might allude to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Mary Magdalene is in her customary place, kneeling at the base of the cross. Unusually, she is the only figure beside the cross, and neither the Virgin nor John the Evangelist is shown. The three figures in the right middle distance might be the two other Marys with Nicodemus; on the hill beyond are scenes of the descent from the cross and Christ being carried to the tomb. On the left, an elderly man sits in deep contemplation under the rock arch. Clumps of spring flowers – including violas, forget-me-nots, strawberries and buttercups – are meticulously described in the otherwise barren foreground. The picture was once thought to be one side of a church standard; but the only evidence for this seems to be that it is painted on canvas – a fairly rare support for an altarpiece of this date. From the convent of Annalena at Florence. It probably dates from the 1490s or early 1500s, and was possibly a Medici gift to the convent, whose founder, Annalena Malatesta, was the adopted daughter of Ottaviano di Vieri de’ Medici. It was moved to the Accademia in 1810 and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. Traditionally ascribed to Castagno, it was recognised as a work of Signorelli by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864). When the picture was rebacked in the early 1950s, a drawing of St Jerome was discovered on the back of the canvas.
Predella. Wood, 21 x 210.
Three tiny scenes: the Annunciation, Nativity, and Adoration of the Magi. Acquired in 1831 from the church of Santa Lucia at Montepulciano. It may have belonged to the same altarpiece as a damaged Madonna that is still in the church.
Predella. Wood, 32 x 205.
Three Passion scenes: the Last Supper, Agony in the Garden and Arrest of Christ, and Flagellation. From Cortona, and traditionally (but unreliably) assumed to be the predella of the Trinity painted for Santissima Trinità at Cortona and also now in the Uffizi. Usually attributed to Signorelli’s studio (Girolamo Genga or Francesco Signorelli?). Cleaned in 2000.
Allegory of Abundance or Fertility. Wood, 61 x 109.
Painted in grisaille. Abundance is identified by the cornucopia she holds, but the significance of the male nude who crowns her and of the female nude with the basket of fruit are unclear. Bought by the Uffizi in 1894 from Girolamo Tommasi of Cortona, who also owned the beautiful Bache Madonna (now in New York).
Crucifixion with Saints. Wood, 203 x 180.
Painted as an altarpiece for the church of the Gesuati convent of San Giusto alle Mura, and moved to the church of San Giovanni Battista della Calza after the convent was destroyed during the Siege of Florence in 1529. Vasari praised the picture as a work of Perugino, who was much employed at the Gesuati convent. Art historians, beginning with Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864), have, however, often suspected Signorelli's collaboration. The figure of Mary Magdalene – kneeling at the base of the cross and contemplating Christ's wounded feet – is particularly Signorellesque. It has been recently claimed that the gold design on the hem of the saint's garment incorporates, in a highly cryptic form, Signorelli's abbreviated signature (the letters 'LUC SI') and the date 1480. (See Raffaele Caracciolo, La Prima e Tarda Attività di Luca Signorelli (2016).)
Holy Family with a Female Saint. Wood, 99 in dia.
The Virgin supports the Infant on a cushion; he dictates to a female saint (variously identified as Catherine of Alexandria, Mary Magdalene or Barbara) who writes in a book. The tondo is first recorded in the Medici collections in the seventeenth century, when it was sent from Florence to Siena for Prince Mattias de’ Medici, son of Cosimo II and Governor of Siena. It has occasionally been attributed to Signorelli’s studio.
Florence. Museo Horne.
St Catherine of Alexandria. Wood, 26 x 38.
In this unusual representation of the saint, she is shown reading while seated on a huge spiked wheel. Probably from a predella or from the base of a pilaster of an altarpiece. Acquired by Herbert Horne with the Palazzo Corsi in 1912.
Florence. Galleria Corsini.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 115 in dia.
The Madonna is seated in a flowery meadow between the kneeling St Jerome (clutching a stone) and St Bernard of Clairvaux (with pen and open book). This fine tondo probably dates from the 1490s. It apparently still hangs in the room where it was described in Gaetano Milanesi's 1850 edition of Vasari. The Galleria Corsini is no longer open to the public, but can occasionally be visited on guided private tours.
There is another (inferior) version of the tondo, probably from the same cartoon, in the Fondazione Aida Badual-Zamberletti at the Castel di Poggio in Fiesole.
Florence (Settignano). Villa I Tatti.
*Portraits of Vitellozzo and Camillo Vitelli. Wood, each 42 x 32.
The subjects are two of the five sons of Niccolò Vitelli, the tyrant of Città di Castello, whose portrait by Signorelli is in Birmingham (Barber Institute). Like their father (and indeed most of the male Vitelli), the brothers were condottieri. They have a place in the history of Renaissance warfare. Vitellozzo created a new type of infantry armed with pikes and Camillo pioneered the use of mounted harquebus units (balestrieri a cavallo). Both met violent deaths. Camillo died in 1496 at the siege of Circello in Capitanata and Vitellozzo was strangled in 1502 at Senigallia after conspiring against Cesare Borgia. The two Berenson portraits and the one at Birmingham are identical in size and type (bust-length profiles against landscape backgrounds), and were almost certainly painted as a group. They probably date from the early or mid-1490s, when Signorelli was most active in Città di Castello. The two panels are recorded in 1551 in the famous portrait collection formed by the historian Paolo Giovio and housed in his villa on Lake Como. They were acquired by Bernard and Mary Berenson in London in 1909.
Foiano della Chiana (20 km west of Cortona). Collegiata (Santi Martino e Leonardo).
Coronation of the Virgin with Saints. Wood, 255 x 154.
The saints are Joseph (standing on the left with his flowering staff), Mary Magdalene (with her jar of ointment), Martin (kneeling in a gold cope), Leonard (holding manacles), Anthony of Padua (with a human heart), Benedict (with a birch rod), Jerome (kneeling in a loincloth), Luke (displaying his Gospel) and Michael (with sword and scales). The donor, Angelo Mazzarelli, vicar-general of the Bishop of Cortona, kneels in profile at the right edge. The predella, containing scenes from the life of St Martin, was partly stolen in 1978, and the remaining panels (depicting the Translation of the Body of St Martin and St Martin driving out Demons from a Mad Cow) has been removed for safekeeping to the Museo d'Arte Medievale e Moderna. The altarpiece is Signorelli’s last documented work; it was commissioned on 24 March 1522 and payment was made on 14 June 1523. The price was 90 ducats. The execution was doubtless in large part by Signorelli’s workshop.
Glasgow. Pollok House.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Wood, 28 x 118.
The mourners include the Virgin Mary (who has fainted with her dead son lying against her), John the Evangelist (supporting the Virgin), Mary Magdalene (standing on the right in a frenzy of grief), the two other Marys (one holding the Virgin's head and the other seated) and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (in discussion on the far right). In the background: the sarcophagus in the mouth of the rock cut tomb, the three crosses in the left distance, and Jerusalem on the hill. This long horizontal panel is from the predella of the Bichi Altarpiece of about 1490 from Sant’Agostino at Siena. Two other scenes were painted on the same plank of wood. These are the Feast in the House of Simon at Dublin and the Martyrdom of St Catherine at Williamstown (Massachusetts). The Lamenation, which is longer than the two other scenes, was in the centre of the predella. The panel had entered the collection of the Stirlings of Keir by 1857, when it was loaned to the huge Art Treasures exhibition held at Manchester.
Kansas City. Nelson Gallery of Art.
Christ among the Doctors. Wood, 22 x 68.
The subject is from Luke's Gospel (2, 41-52). Mary and Joseph have returned to the temple to find the twelve-year old Jesus in discussion with the scholars. On the left, the unrelated epsode of the Flight into Egypt. A predella panel, possibly from the Assumption painted by Signorelli in 1519-21 for Cortona Cathedral (now in the local Museo Diocesano). Panels of the Massacre of the Innocents (sold at Christie's, London, in December 2008 and again in December 2021) and Marriage of the Virgin (last recorded in the hands of the Florentine dealer Luigi Grassi) are likely to have belonged to the same predella. Formerly in the collection of the Contessa Vosdari of Ferrara. Acquired by the Kress Foundation in 1950 from Contini Bonacossi.
Liverpool. Walker Art Gallery.
Madonna. Wood, 59 x 50.
Apparently painted from the same cartoon as the Bache Madonna in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and sometimes ascribed to Signorelli’s workshop or Francesco Signorelli. It may date from about 1505-15. It was bought (as by Cima) in 1835 by the Liverpool Royal Institution, which loaned it to the art gallery from 1893 and finally presented it to the gallery in 1948. Heavy repaint was removed in the early 1950s.
London. National Gallery.
Triumph of Chastity. Fresco (transferred to canvas), 123 x 134.
The subject is taken from Petrarch’s Triumphs. The caste heroines Laura, Lucretia and Penelope bind Cupid, pull out the feathers from his wings and break his bow and arrows. Caesar and Scipio, in Roman armour, are spectators. In the background, Chastity captures Cupid and exhibits her prisoner in her triumphal car. The fresco is one of eight classical scenes and allegories painted for a room in Pandolfo Petrucci’s Palazzo del Magnifico at Siena. Two other frescoes from the room (one by Signorelli and the other by Pintoricchio) are also in the National Gallery. Two others (attributed to Girolamo Genga) are in the Pinacoteca at Siena. Three scenes (two of them by Signorelli) are lost or concealed under whitewash. The room was probably decorated to celebrate the marriage in 1511 of Pandolfo’s eldest son, Borghese Petrucci, to Vittoria Piccolomini, niece of Pope Pius III. One of the maiolica tiles from the room, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, bears the date 1509.
Coriolanus Persuaded to Spare Rome. Fresco (transferred), 126 x 126.
The story of Coriolanus, the legendary Roman general who was exiled and defected to the Volscians, is told in Plutarch's Lives. In the camp of the Volscians, who are besieging Rome, a delegation of Roman women, including Coriolanus’s mother Veturia and wife Virgilia, persuade Coriolanus to take pity on the city. The soldiers' armour and women's robes are probably based on Roman relief carvings. Another of the frescoes from the Palazzo del Magnifico at Siena. The frescoes were damaged when they were detached from the wall in 1842-44. Two were bought by the National Gallery at Alexander Barker’s sale in 1874; the Coriolanus was bequeathed by Ludwig Mond in 1924. Both the Coriolanus and the Triumph of Chastity are signed by Signorelli. They are in poor condition, their colour dull and surfaces crumbly.
*Circumcision. Wood (transferred), 259 x 180.
The balding Joseph leans on a staff on the left. Simeon, the old high priest, stands behind the Virgin, casting his eyes to heaven and raising his hands. The grisaille roundels in the upper corners probably depict a prophet and a sibyl. The picture was the altarpiece of the Chapel of the Circumcision, belonging the Compagnia del Santissmo Nome di Gesù and attached to the church of San Francesco at Volterra. It was probably painted in 1491, the date on two altarpieces by Signorelli at Volterra. Vasari (who mistakenly calls the picture a fresco) says that the Christ Child was repainted by Sodoma. (X-rays suggest that the Child was actually repainted twice – once apparently by Signorelli himself and the second time presumably by Sodoma.) The picture was removed from the church at the end of the eighteenth century, when the Compagnia was suppressed. It was bought by the National Gallery in 1882 at the Duke of Hamilton’s sale for 3,000 guineas. The picture has suffered from flaking (particularly along the joins in the panels), and was transferred to a synthetic support in 1965.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 215 x 170.
The scene under the portico in the centre background is thought to represent the decree of taxation by Augustus. A curious young man (shepherd?) with a wreath in his hair sits in a cave to the right playing the bagpipes. An altarpiece from the church of San Francesco at Città di Castello (second altar on the right of the nave). According to a guidebook of 1627, it was painted in 1496. During the Napoleonic era, the picture passed to the Mancini family of Città di Castello, who sold it in 1876 to Stefano Bardini, the Florentine collector. It was bought by the National Gallery from Bardini in 1882 for £1,200. Cleaned in 1997-8, when thick brown varnish was removed and the angel to the left of the Virgin was uncovered from repaint.
Virgin and Child with Saints. Wood, 265 x 193.
The Virgin, flanked by two angels, stands on cherub’s heads, flanked by SS. Sebastian and Christina (with a millstone round her neck). SS. Jerome and Nicholas stand below. The landscape has been identified as a view of Lake Trasimeno. The scapular held by the Virgin seems to be a later addition. It is known from the inscription and from a contemporary document that the altarpiece was painted in July-August 1515 for a French physician, Lodovicus de Rutenis (Louis of Rodez), for services rendered to Signorelli and his family. It was originally in a chapel, built by the physician and dedicated to Santa Christina, in the church of San Francesco at Montone. The picture may have been executed partly by Francesco Signorelli. For most of the nineteenth century, it belonged to the Mancini family at Città di Castello. It was bought by the National Gallery in 1901. The predella is in the Brera.
Holy Family. Wood, 81 x 65.
The Child holds strawberries in his left hand, perhaps symbolising righteousness or fruitfulness. The picture probably dates from the late 1480s or early 1490s. It is heavily restored (the faces of the Virgin and Joseph and the body of the Child are partly reconstructed) and may have been cut down. Bequeathed by the Australian collector George Salting in 1910.
Predella. Wood, 30 x 213.
There are four scenes. The long scene in the centre is taken from the Old Testament Book of Esther (5: 1-8) The Jewish heroine, Queen Esther, whose people had been condemned to death, appears before the Persian KIng Ahasuerus. He points his sceptre at her, granting her permssion to speak, and she faints with fear into the arms of her attendants. The three other, unrelated scenes are from Giovanni d'Andrea's Hieronymianus – a fourteenth-century text on St Jerome's miracles. They show St Jerome appearing at the time of his death to other Christian writers. He appears with John the Baptist to St Augustine; he appears with Christ to Sulpicius Severus; and he appears, again with Christ, to St Cyril. The German art historian Jean Paul Richter, who owned the picture himself in 1886-87, identified it as the predella of the altarpiece commissioned in 1519 by the Compagnia di San Girolamo at Arezzo, and now in the Gallery of Arezzo. Richter sold the panel to Ludwig Mond, who bequeathed his collection to the National Gallery in 1924. It has been cut down on the right (probably removing part of St Cyril’s cell). The coarseness of execution of this late work has sometimes been attributed to the intervention of an assistant and sometimes to Signorelli’s own haste.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 17 x 65.
Possibly a predella panel or a panel below a tabernacle. Probably comparatively late (early 1510s). First recorded in 1856 in the collection of Agostino Castellani at Cortona, and bought by the National Gallery in 1900. Thick dark varnish was removed in 1997-8.
Man on a Ladder. Wood, 88 x 52.
A fragment of a large panel representing the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. The man, descending the ladder with a pair of pliers in his left hand, has removed Christ's body from the cross. The top of St John's haloed head can be seen at the bottom edge. Six other fragments sawn from same panel are known – one in the Museo Civico at Bologna, one in the National Gallery at Washington, one in the Unicredit Art Collection (currently on loan to the Musei Comunali at Bologna) and three in private collections. The Lamentation is thought to be the picture documented as painted by Signorelli between May 1504 and September 1505 for the high altar of the church of Sant'Agostino at Matélica (in the Marche). The Man on a Ladder is recorded in 1875 in the collection of the Glasgow merchant William Graham, a patron of Pre-Raphaelite artists, who loaned it to the painter Edward Burne-Jones. It was bought at Christie's in 1886 by Lord Muir-Mackenzie and was later in private collections in London. Acquired by the National Gallery in 2016 under the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme.
London. British Museum.
Festival of Pan (Pan and the Fates). Paper, 29 x 37.
Pan, seated in the centre with his pipes and shepherd's crook, holds court. He is surrounded by men wearing loincloths and adorned with vine leaves. They hold staves and some blow pipes. The three women, upper left, represent the Fates weaving human destiny. The drawing is of considerable interest as a record of a fresco from the cycle painted around 1509 for the Palazzo del Magnifico in Siena. The fresco – now lost or concealed under whitewash – was similar in many respects to Signorelli's famous panel painting of the School of Pan, but the panel painting (destroyed at Berlin in 1945) did not include the figures of the Fates. Two other frescoes by Signorelli from the cycle were detached in the 1840s and are now in the National Gallery, London. The drawing may not have been executed by Signorelli himself, and attributions have been made to his studio, Girolamo Genga and a Sienese copyist. Donated to the British Museum in 1946 by Count Antoine Seilern, an Austrian aristocrat who fled the Nazis to settle in London.
Loreto. Basilica of Santa Casa.
*Sagrestia di San Giovanni. Frescoes.
The four octagonal sacristy chapels at the corners of the dome, each dedicated to one the Four Evangelists, were to be decorated in fresco with scenes from the Old Testament. However, only two out of the four chapels – the Sacristy of St John, painted by Signorelli, and the Sacristy of St Mark, left unfinished by Melozzo da Forlì – were ever brought near to completion.
The Sacristy of St John is in the right transept. Each of the eight triangles of the vaulted ceiling contains an angel playing a musical instrument with, below, one of the Four Evangelists or Four Doctors of the Church. In the centre is the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere, the Pope’s nephew, who was appointed protector of the sanctuary in February 1477. Seven of the walls below have frescoes (the eighth has a window). Five frescoes show pairs of Apostles. The figures – probably influenced by the Apostles on Donatello's bronze doors for the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo – are not posed in a traditional hieratic fashion but are depicted in vigorous movement, animated debate or deep in thought. They are shown without attributes, and only Peter and John can be certainly identified. The remaining two frescoes represent the Incredulity of Thomas (a composition derived from Verrocchio’s famous bronze of 1483) and the Conversion of St Paul. Vasari suggests that the frescoes preceded Signorelli’s work in the Sistine Chapel, but some critics have dated them slightly later (middle to late 1480s). The frescoes were controversially restored in 1924 by Lorenzo Cecconi-Principi, who had earlier worked on Signorelli's great cycle at Orvieto.
Signorelli and his workshop frescoed monochrome roundels of twenty-four prophets over the arches of the nave. The nave was completed in 1489, and the frescoes may date from the early 1490s. They were repainted by Pomarancio in the early seventeenth century and have been restored on many other occasions.
Lucignano (near Monte San Savino). Museo Civico.
Madonna. Wood, 135 x 85.
From the church of San Francesco, where Vasari says that Signorelli painted the doors of a church cabinet. The Madonna was published as a work of Signorelli in 1907 (by Mason Perkins in Rassegna d'Arte). It was then much repainted. Two saints (one in a Franciscan habit and the other a female martyr) have been covered by a modern background of punched gold.
St Francis receiving the St Stigmata. Wood, 98 x 232.
St Francis received the stigmata, or impressions of the five wounds of Christ, on Mount La Verna in 1224. The miracle was witnessed by Brother Leo, who shields his eyes from the seraph's glare. The panel has been associated with the commission awarded to Signorelli in 1482 to paint a wooden cabinet to house a precious reliquary called the Albero della Vita (now also preserved in the town museum). However, the large lunette seems rather to have formed part of an altarpiece. Attributed to Signorelli and/or his workshop.
*Flagellation. Wood, 84 x 60.
Christ is bound to a Corinthian column topped by an idol; Pilate sits high on the left; in the background is the façade of a classical building with statues. Signed on the entablature. The muscularity and violent action of the scourgers seems to show the influence of the Pollaiuoli, while the composition has some obvious points of similarity with Piero della Francesca’s famous picture at Urbino. An early masterpiece (late 1470s or early 1480s). From the church (now destroyed) of Santa Maria del Mercato at Fabriano. Transferred by the Napoleonic administration to the Brera in 1811.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 84 x 60.
This panel and the Flagellation (which are of identical size and provenance) almost certainly formed the two sides of a processional banner painted for the Raccomandati di Santa Maria del Mercato, a confraternity of flagellants. The two sides of the banner had already been sawn apart when they entered the Brera.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 227 x 185.
The Virgin is enthroned against the backdrop of a richly-embroidered curtain. St Simon and St Bonaventura are seated at the sides and St James and St Francis stand behind. The long inscription on the pedestal of the throne gives Signorelli’s name, the date 1508, and the name of the patron, Giacomo di Simone Filippini. The picture was the main panel of an altarpiece painted for Filippini’s chapel in the church of San Francesco at Arcevia (formerly Rocca Contrada). When the church was remodelled in the first half of the eighteenth century, the altarpiece seems to have been broken up and the main panel transferred to a new altar with Baroque stucco decoration. It remained in the church until 1811, when it was removed by the French, exhibited for a few years in the Brera, and then sent in 1815 to the Pieve at Figino Trenno (near Milan). Having been forgotten for many years, it was rediscovered in 1891 and returned to the Brera. Other parts of the altarpiece, which included a lunette, predella and pilasters, remained with the Filippini family. The lunette is now at San Diego, but the other panels have not been certainly traced. Dirt and discoloured repaint were removed in a 2005 restoration.
Episodes from the Life of St Christina. Wood, 15 x 203.
St Christina of Bolsena was an early Christian virgin martyr. According to legend, her father, a Roman magistrate called Urbanus, wanted her to be a pagan priestess and subjected her to a series of implausibly horrific tortures when she refused. The scene on the left shows her smashing a pagan idol and the one on the right shows her being beaten with rods. The predella of an altarpiece (now in the National Gallery, London) painted in 1515 for a chapel dedicated to St Christina in San Francesco at Montone. The execution has been ascribed to Signorelli’s nephew, Francesco. In poor condition (restored in 2001).
Monte Oliveto Maggiore (26 km southeast of Siena). Great Cloister.
*Frescoes from the Life of Saint Benedict. Each lunette about 300 wide.
Of the eleven scenes from the middle of the saint’s life on the cloister wall to the right of the entrance, the first is by Riccio, the second was destroyed when a doorway was cut, and the last was completed by Sodoma in 1505. The remaining eight scenes were painted by Signorelli. They represent: the collapse of a house, crushing the evil monk Florentius; the overthrow of an idol worshipped by the people of Montecassino; Benedict exorcising the devil who had prevented the stone from moving; the resurrection of a monk whom Satan caused to fall from a high wall; the reproval of two monks for breaking the fast vow; the temptation of an abstinent monk; the shield-bearer coming to Benedict in place of Totila, King of the Goths; and Benedict receiving Totila. Signorelli’s work at Monte Oliveto began after the spring of 1497, when the patron (Abbot Airoldi) was elected, and abandoned in 1499, when he accepted the commission from Orvieto. His workshop (particularly Girolamo Genga) is usually considered to have played a big part in the execution. The poor condition of the frescoes (restored in 1994-97) is due partly to the deterioration of lead white.
Montepulciano. Santa Lucia.
Madonna. Wood, 152 x 78.
Vasari mentions that Signorelli sent some pictures to Montepulciano from Cortona. This damaged Madonna is usually thought to have been painted in the 1490s with studio assistance.
Morra (near Città di Castello). Oratory of San Crescentino.
Scenes from Christ's Passion and other frescoes.
The upper part of the two side walls is frescoed with ten scenes from Christ's Passion. There are other frescoes in the altar niche on the end wall (God the Father with Mary Magdalene and Another Female Saint) and in niches on the two side walls (Madonna della Misericordia and Madonna di Loreto). The frescoes were probably painted after 1507, when an inscription on the façade states that the oratory was restored. Most of the frescoes were probably executed by Signorelli’s workshop after his cartoons. They have been badly damaged by damp. The most notable scenes are the Flagellation (left wall) and Crucifixion (right wall).
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
Madonna in Landscape. Wood, 87 in dia.
This tondo, which may still retain its original frame, probably dates from the 1490s. The nude man removing his sandal is based on the classical Spinario. (In Signorelli's day, there was a marble version of the sculpture is the Medici collections (now at the Uffizi) and a bronze version in the Papal collections (now at the Capitoline Museums).) The figure is repeated, in reverse, in one of the panels at Toledo from the Bichi Altarpiece. Acquired in 1894 from the Palazzo Ginori at Florence.
Nativity. Wood, 142 x 179.
Recorded in 1627 over the altar of a side chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino at Città di Castello. The chapel, dedicated to the Nativity, was endowed in 1493 by one Francesco Feriani, who presumably commissioned the altarpiece. The picture was sold after the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1789, and by 1802 it had entered the Torlonia collection in Rome. It was transferred to the Capodimonte in 1939 from the Palazzo Reale at Naples. There is the curious detail of a giraffe (in front of the triumphal arch in the right middle distance). A recent restoration, completed in 2020, repaired damage caused by deep cracks along the horizontal joins in the panels. A picture in Turin simplifies and reverses the composition.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 35 x 44.
James Jarves, who sold his collection of 'primitives' to Yale in 1871, claimed to have acquired this panel from the Bishop’s Palace at Cortona. It is probably from the same predella as the Adoration of the Shepherds in Philadelphia. It has been suggested that the predella could have belonged to the altarpiece of the Madonna with Four Franciscan Saints (now in the Museo Diocesano at Cortona).
New York. Metropolitan Museum
*Madonna. Wood, 51 x 48.
The Madonna, dressed in red, is shown in profile against a gilded background decorated with vines, tendrils and putti and, in the upper corners, representations of Roman coins or medals with the profile heads of Domitian and Julius Caesar. The panel is probably the ‘small picture with a half-length image of the Virgin Mary with the Child in her lap and with an elaborate gold background’ given by Signorelli to his only daughter Gabriella in April 1507. It was still in Cortona (in the Casa Tommasi) in the late nineteenth century. Bought in 1893 by Robert and Evelyn Benson of London, whose entire collection of Italian Old Masters was acquired by Duveen in 1927. Bought for $200,000 by the New York banker Jules Bache, who bequeathed his collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 1949. Exceptionally well preserved. The imitation Renaissance frame was made for Duveen in 1927. There is another version – inferior and with a plain background – at Liverpool.
Assumption of the Virgin with Saints. Wood, 171 x 131.
On the left, St Michael stands triumphant over a vanquished Satan. The white-robed saint on the right, holding a book and birch switch, has often been identified as Romuald, but is probably Benedict. First recorded only in 1860 (by Cavalcaselle) in the convent of Santissima Trinita at Cortona. It cannot, as once believed, have been painted for this convent, which was not founded until 1582, and the choice of saints suggests that it was commissioned for the Olivetan convent of San Michele Arcangelo at Cortona. Probably comparatively early (late 1480s). It was probably designed by Signorelli, but executed in substantial part by an assistant. By about 1927, the picture had passed into the hands of the art dealer and collector Elia Volpe of Florence. It was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1929 from the Dutch dealer Jacques Goudstikker. Somewhat damaged, the music-making angels in the upper corners being particularly abraded.
**Last Judgement. Frescoes.
The council of the Cathedral, who had been kept waiting for nine years by Perugino, contracted Signorelli on 5 April 1499 to finish the decoration of the ceiling of the chapel which had been started by Fra Angelico over fifty years before. Before the ceiling had been completed, Signorelli was commissioned to fresco the walls, which he did in 1500-4 (with a break in 1502 when funds were short). He was paid 775 ducats, partly in kind (wheat and wine). The fresco cycle is Signorelli’s masterpiece and one of the most spectacular of the Italian Renaissance.
The ceiling contains two quadripartite rib-vaults. In the first (nearest the altar), Signorelli added two compartments, representing the Apostles and Angels sounding Trumpets and bearing Instruments of the Passion, to the two painted by Fra Angelico with Christ as Judge and Prophets. He painted all four compartments of the second vault with Virgins, Patriarchs, Martyrs and Doctors of the Church.
The major scenes fill four huge lunettes on the left and right walls. The first of these, on the wall to the left of the entrance, shows the Deeds of the AntiChrist (a subject extremely rare in Italian art). The AntiChrist, inspired by the Devil whispering in his ear, preaches wickedness from a pedestal in the foreground. The gullible mob is incited to plunder a temple and execute innocent people (right background), and strip the bodies of victims they have strangled (left). The AntiChrist is shown again performing false miracles (pretending to raise a dead person, centre distance), distributing seductive gifts, and being struck down to earth by an angel after trying to fly (in the sky on the left). The many portraits include Dante (among the crowd on the right) and Signorelli himself with Fra Angelico (as bystanders in the bottom left corner).
The Resurrection of the Dead is shown in the lunette on the right wall nearest the door. Beneath the golden dome of heaven, in which two colossal angels sound the Last Trump, the dead rise from the barren earth as nudes or as skeletons.
The other lunette on the right wall shows the Damned condemned to Hell. Ferocious demons, human in form but livid with the colours of decomposing flesh, subdue and torment a struggling mass of naked sinners (binding their wrists, carrying them on their backs, biting them and tearing their hair, ears and toes, throttling and garrotting them, and dragging them to the fires). Winged-demons control the sky overhead, casting down sinners attempting to escape, while three armoured archangels with swords bar the way to heaven.
Paradise is represented in the second lunette on the left wall. The Blessed, completely naked or wearing only loin cloths, stand gazing upwards in ecstasy or kneel, as angels place golden crowns on their heads, shower them with flowers and serenade them with music.
The divided altar wall contains narrow scenes on either side of the windows. That on the right shows the Damned descending into Hell. A demon with a white banner leads the legions downward; Charon plies his ferry across the Styx; and the Archangels Michael and Raphael look down with drawn swords. The fresco on the left shows the Blessed ascending to Heaven, angels guiding the way upward.
On the entrance wall, the narrow semi-circular space around the arch of the door shows the Apocalypse. In the lower right foreground, prophets (perhaps including King David and the Sibyl) foretell the end of the world. In the sky above, the moon becomes as blood and the stars of heaven fall to the earth. On the left, winged demons rain down fire from the darkening sky, buildings are toppled by earthquakes, and the fleeing mob seems to spill out into the chapel.
The exquisite grisaille decoration beneath the main scenes illustrates episodes from the Divine Comedy and descriptions of the underworld by Greek and Roman poets, and includes medallion portraits of Virgil, Ovid, Dante, Lucan, Cicero (?) and Empedocles (?).
Signorelli also painted the beautiful Lamentation with the Virgin and Mary Magdalene in the recess on the right (containing the sarcophagus of Pietro Parenzo, patron saint of Orvieto). The fresco reverses the composition of the Lamentation of 1502 at Cortona, which must have been painted around the same time. The local saints Pietro Parenzo and Faustino are shown standing at the sides.
The paintings were done very largely in true fresco. Details added a secco – such as putti flying in the heavens and skulls on the ground in the Resurrection of the Dead and the garrottes used by the demons in the Damned condemned to Hell – have faded or flaked off. A massive restoration of the chapel, costing $4.4 million, was carried out over the ten-year period ending in 1996. The roof was rebuilt, ventilation passages were bored to dry out the walls, more than 150 iron clamps (hammered into the walls in the early twentieth century to prevent the frescoes peeling off) were removed, a rosy discoloration caused by algae was treated, and the frescoes were thoroughly cleaned and restored.
Orvieto. Museo dell’Opera.
Mary Magdalene. Wood, 167 x 119.
The saint stands in a landscape holding her jar of ointment. Originally the altarpiece of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene, a recess on the east wall of the Cappella di San Brizio. An inscription along the bottom of the picture records that it was commissioned by the Conservatori della Pace and gives the date 1504. There is a record of 9 June of the payment (30 florins) for the picture, ‘yet the rude handling of it might suggest the exclusive employment of an assistant’ (Crowe and Cavalcaselle). The picture remained in situ until 1653, when the altar was remodelled.
Self-portrait with Niccolò di Franchi. Tile, 33 x 40.
The two men, who face each other, are identified by an inscription on the back of the tile. Niccolò di Angelo Franchi was bursar of the Cathedral works. Rejected by Roberto Longhi and others as an old fake.
Oxford. Christ Church.
Virgin and Child and Three Angels. Wood, 88 x 58.
This rather damaged painting, which may originally have shown the Virgin full-length, is near in style to Piero della Francesca, and is usually classed as the work of an assistant or immediate follower of his. Together with the Virgin and Child with an Angel in Boston and a Madonna in the Fondazione Cini in Venice, it was attributed to the youthful Signorelli by Bernard Berenson. The attribution is conjectural and has never won general support. One of some thirty-five early Italian pictures acquired in Italy by the diplomat William Thomas Horner Fox-Strangways and presented to the college in 1834.
*Birth of the Baptist. Wood, 33 x 70.
One of the finest and best preserved of Signorelli’s many predella panels. It was once thought to represent the Virgin’s birth, but the presence of Zechariah on the right, writing his son’s name on the tablet, establishes the subject as the Birth of the Baptist. The effects of light, entering the bedchamber through the open doorway on the left, are beautifully observed. The panel is possibly from the Vannucci Altarpiece of 1484 in Perugia Cathedral. It entered the Louvre in 1824 from the collection of Louis XVIII.
Adoration of Magi. Canvas (transferred from panel in 1884), 326 x 243.
The old Magus has presented his gift and stands talking to St Joseph; the middle-aged Magus kneels to make his offering; and the young Magus stands, hand on hip, waiting his turn. Painted (apparently with much studio help) for the high altar of the church of Sant’Agostino in Città di Castello. Signorelli was paid in 1493-94. After the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1789, the picture was sold to Pope Pius IV. It was acquired by the Louvre in 1863 with the Campana collection.
Group of Figures. Wood, 107 x 72.
A fragment of an unknown altarpiece. Before restoration in 1940, only five of the fifteen heads were clearly visible. Also from the Campana collection.
Penitent Saint Jerome. Wood, 69 x 49.
The saint, half-length, beats his bare breast with a rock and contemplates an image of Christ crucified in the sky above his head. Alternatively ascribed to Bartolomeo della Gatta, a Camaldolese painter and book illuminator who collaborated with Signorelli in the Sistine Chapel and possibly also at Loreto. Acquired in 1913.
Paris. Musée Jacquemart-André.
Holy Family. Wood, 102 x 87.
The naked Christ Child, perched on the Virgin's knee, takes the ECCE AGNUS DEI banderole offered by the boy Baptist, implying acceptance of his fate. The old man shown in profile on the right – hollow-cheeked, ragged and holding his hand to his breast in a gesture of devotion – has been variously identified as St Joseph, St Jerome and a shepherd, but he could also be some unidentified ascetic saint or a donor in ascetic guise. The panel, now oval, was originally round in shape. It probably dates from the 1490s. Acquired by Edouard André in 1888 from the Florentine dealer Emilio Constantini. Cleaning in 2022, removing yellowed varnish, revealed gold stars sprinkled over the Virgin's blue drapery.
Perugia, Galleria Nazionale.
Altarpiece ('Pala di Paciano'). Wood, 347 x 265.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned among Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua (kneeling), Michael, Lawrence, Sebastian and Anthony Abbot. The predella shows episodes from the lives of four of the saints: the Dream of Innocent III (in which St Francis supports the Lateran basilica); Martyrdom of St Lawrence; Meeting of St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit; and the Miracle of St Anthony of Padua and the Miser's heart. The altarpiece was painted for the Franciscan convent of Sant'Antonio di Padova at Paciano Vecchio, outside Perugia. The convent was abandoned in 1864 and the altarpiece was sold to the city of Perugia in 1865. It is signed and dated 1517, but appears to have been executed very largely by Signorelli's workshop. It retains its original frame but is very damaged. After many years in storage at the Perugia gallery, it was restored in 2012 and returned to public view.
Perugia. Museo del Duomo.
*Madonna and Saints ('Vannucci Altarpiece' or 'Sant'Onofrio Altarpiece'). Wood, 221 x 189.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned under a garland of fruit and flowers. On the left are the emaciated desert hermit St Onofrius (wearing only a loincloth of woven leaves) and the youthful John the Baptist (eyes turned up in ecstasy). The bishop on the right is called St Hercolanus by Vasari, which may be correct, though he has been alternatively identified as a portrait of the donor Jacopo Vannucci (as he does not have a halo) or St Dionysius. The deacon saint is called Stephen by Vasari, but might be Lawrence (the titular saint of the Cathedral). A nude angel sits at the base of the throne and tunes his lute. The transparent glass of flowers (columbines) in the foreground is a quotation from Hugo van der Goes’s Portinari Altarpiece of 1473-4.
This stunning picture is the earliest surviving large altarpiece by Signorelli. It was painted for the Cappella di Sant’Onofrio in the right transept of the Cathedral. An inscription on the frame (now lost but recorded in 1648) stated that the chapel had been founded by Jacopo Vannucci, Bishop of Perugia, and that the altarpiece had been installed there in 1484 by his nephew and successor Bishop Dionisio Vannucci. The Vannucci (or Vagnucci) were from Cortona, which may account for the choice of the young Signorelli for the important commission. The altarpiece was moved in 1608, when the chapel was altered, but remained in the Cathedral until 1923, when it was transferred to the new Museo Capitolare. The picture has suffered some obvious damage. There are jagged paint losses around the edges, and cracks along the horizontal joins in the panel have been repaired. The cartoon for the head of the Baptist (squared and pricked for transfer) is preserved at Stockholm.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. J. Johnson collection).
Portrait of Young Man. Wood, 25 x 18.
He is shown almost in profile, looking down as though lost in thought. This sensitive likeness appears to be a small independent portrait and not, as sometimes supposed, a fragment cut from an altarpiece. Executed swiftly, it was perhaps a preparatory study. It seems never to have been framed, but was hung simply by a string passed through holes at the top of the panel. Bought by Johnson from Wilhelm Bode in 1911.
Mary Magdalene. Canvas (transferred from panel), 72 x 51.
Top right, the three Marys at the tomb. A late work, probably executed by an assistant (Francesco Signorelli?). Bought by Johnson in 1902 from the Dutch painter, chess master, Olympic fencer, art collector, dealer (and swindler) Leo Nardus.
Annunciation. Canvas (transferred from panel), 25 x 40.
A predella panel. It might originally have belonged to the altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1493-94 for the church of Sant'Agostino at Città di Castello and now in the Louvre. In the nineteenth century, it was in the Mancini collection at Città di Castello (where it was attributed to Raphael and Francesco Tifernate). Bought by Johnson from Count Goloubev of Paris in 1910. Damaged, and not usually on public view.
Adoration of Shepherds. Wood, 36 x 43.
A predella panel. Comparatively late, and probably from the same altarpiece as the Adoration of the Magi at the Yale Gallery, New Haven. Bought by Johnson from the Florentine dealer Luigi Grassi in 1911.
Richmond (Virginia). Museum of Fine Arts.
Presentation of Virgin. Wood, 23 x 46.
From the same predella as the Marriage of the Virgin at Washington. Both scenes were formerly in the Gemäldegalerie at Kassel, which sold them during the German economic crisis after the First World War. They were painted on the same plank of wood and separated only in 1922, when they were sold at Lucerne. The Presentation was acquired by the Richmond museum in 1954. The execution is rather coarse, but is usually accepted as by Signorelli's own hand.
Rome. Vatican. Sistine Chapel.
*Testament of Moses. Fresco, 335 x 540.
There are several episodes set in a hilly landscape. Moses is recognizable by his yellow robe and green cloak and by the golden rays emanating from his head. On the right, he reads the laws; the ark of the covenant is open at his feet to reveal the tablets of stone and the jar of manna. On the left, he hands the golden rod of command to Joshua; the high priest Eleazar stands behind the kneeling youth. In the centre background, the angel leads the elderly Moses up Mount Nebo to show him the Promised Land. Below, he descends from the mountain. In the left distance, he is buried in the land of Moab, where the Israelites mourned him for thirty days. Signorelli is not named in the contract of October 1481 for the decoration of the walls of the chapel, but Vasari says he painted this fresco and the Flight over the Body of Moses on the end wall. The Testament of Moses was possibly designed by Perugino and probably executed partly by Don Bartolomeo della Gatta, painter and Abbot of San Clemente at Arezzo, who assisted Signorelli and Perugino in the Sistine Chapel according to Vasari. There is disagreement over the division of work, but most critics agree that Signorelli was at least responsible for the figures in the central group. The Flight over the Body of Moses was entirely overpainted in 1560 by Matteo da Lecce.
Signorelli may also have contributed, in a more minor way, to the design or execution of one or two of the other frescoes in the chapel. Several figures in Perugino's Giving of the Keys have been plausibly ascribed to him. Signorelli's style is also, arguably, recognizable in some details of Cosimo Rosselli's Crossing of the Red Sea (particularly the drowning white-haired man in the bottom right corner grasping a horse's bridle).
Rome. Castel Sant’Angelo.
Madonna and Saints. Canvas (transferred from panel), 189 x 176.
The Virgin, hovering above the ground on a platform of cherubs' heads, is crowned by two flying angels. St Peter and St Paul stand at the sides, with St Benedict and a deacon saint (Stephen or Vincent of Saragossa?) behind. A late work, probably painted around 1515-16 by Signorelli and his workshop for the Benedictine nuns of San MIchelangelo at Cortona. The picture passed into the possession of the noble Tommasi family of Cortona and was later with the dealer Elia Volpi at Florence. Deposited at the Castel Sant'Angelo in 1928 with part of the Contini-Bonacossi collection. It was restored in 2012, after almost ten years in storage. The colours now appear much fresher and brighter, though earlier astringent cleaning has left the picture surface somewhat abraded.
The predella, showing scenes from the Life of the Baptist, came from another altarpiece. The original predella may be one, showing episodes from the Life of St Benedict, in the Museo Diocesano at Cortona.
San Diego. Museum of Art.
Coronation of Virgin. Wood, 127 x 224.
Christ crowns the Virgin. They are blessed by God the Father and flanked by angels playing a lute and lira da braccio. The large, brightly coloured lunette crowned the Madonna and Saints painted in 1508 for the Filippini Chapel in the church of San Francesco at Arcevia and now in the Brera. After the altarpiece was broken up in 1811, the lunette was retained by the Filippini family, who sold it (along with the predella) to a Roman antiques dealer. It then passed to the famous antiquarian and collector Stefano Bandini, who sold it in 1886 to the industrialist and Liberal MP Sir Bernard Samuelson. Its connection with the Arcevia altarpiece was recognised in 1914 by Tancred Borenius (as editor of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s A History of Painting in Italy). After passing through other British private collections, it was sold at Christie’s in 1979 and bought by the San Diego museum in 1985 for $500,000.
Sansepolcro. Sant’Antonio Abbate.
Crucifixion; St Anthony Abbot and St Eligius. Canvas, 217 x 162.
A double-sided banner painted for the Confraternity of Sant’Antonio Abbate, a flagellant brotherhood founded in the fourteenth century. One side shows the Crucifixion, with Anthony Abbot gazing up at the crucified Christ and gesturing downwards towards the Virgin fainting in the arms of two Marys. St John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene stand behind at the sides, with scenes of Calvary and the Passion in the distance. The other side shows St Anthony Abbot (holding a book and staff) and St Eligius (with a horse’s leg and file for horse’s hooves). Four diminutive hooded members of confraternity kneel in prayer in the corners. The banner, which is not mentioned by Vasari, was commissioned after 22 May 1505 (when the confraternity authorised their prior to order it ‘for whatever price was necessary’) and was probably finished by 8 December 1506 (when payment is recorded for thread to sew the two sides together). The splendid frame dates from 1532-33, and was carved by Bartolomeo di Jacopo Begni for 32 scudi. It was gilded in 1561 by the local painter Raffaellino del Colle, who also painted the God the Father in the lunette. The banner was previously displayed in the Museo Civico at Sansepolcro, but has recently been returned to its original place over the high altar of the church.
Siena. Sant'Agostino. Bichi Chapel (right transept).
Eritrean Sibyl; Tiburtine Sibyl. Monochrome frescoed ceiling medallions.
Signorelli's frescoed ceiling medallions and Francesco di Giorgio's frescoed wall scenes (Birth of the Virgin and Nativity) were plastered over when the church interior was restored in a neo-classical style after a fire in 1747. They were uncovered in the later twentieth century. Signorelli's altarpiece (the panels from which are dispersed among museums in Berlin, Dublin, Glasgow, Toledo (Ohio) and Williamstown (Mass.)) has been replaced by Niccolò Franchini's painting of the Return of Pope Gregory to Rome (1755).
Toledo (Ohio). Musem of Art.
*Nude Figures on a River Bank. Two panels, each 68 x 42.
One panel shows two men undressing, one taking off his shirt. The pose of the other man, sitting on a tree stump and removing his sandal, is taken from a famous antique sculpture known as Lo Spinario. (Signorelli also used the pose for a figure in his tondo at Munich.) The other panel shows a naked man from the back and a woman in a diaphanous robe with a baby on her shoulders. Tancred Borenius (1913) identified the two panels (then in the Cook collection at Richmond) as part of the Bichi Altarpiece, painted for the Chapel of St Christopher in the church of Sant’Agostino at Siena. They were fragments of a much larger panel that formed a painted backdrop for a polychrome wooden statue of St Christopher (now in the Louvre, where it is attributed to Francesco di Giorgio). The two principal panels from the altarpiece are in Berlin, while the predella is divided between Dublin. Glasgow (Pollok House) and Williamstown (Clark Institute). The Toledo panels were acquired by the museum in 1955.
Turin. Galleria Sabauda.
Nativity. Canvas (transferred from panel), 129 x 121.
In the left background, the Annunciation to the Shepherds. A simplified and reduced repetition (with the figures reversed) of the Nativity in Naples. First recorded at Cortona (Tommaso collection), and probably painted for a church or confraternity there. Donated to the gallery in 1928 by the industrialist, financier, film producer and art collector Riccardo Gualino.
Umbertide. Santa Croce.
Deposition. Wood, 198 x 147.
The Magdalen catches in the palm of her hand the drops of blood that fall from Christ's feet; John the Evangelist stands on the right, gesturing towards the Virgin Mary, who has fainted into the arms of one of the Holy Women; the turbaned man holding the ladder is probably Joseph of Arimathea; and the richly dressed female saint standing on the left might be the Empress Helena. The Crucifixion is shown on the left horizon, while in the right distance the dead Christ is carried to the tomb. The altarpiece was commissioned by the Compagnia di Santa Croce in August 1515 and completed by July 1516. Signorelli was paid 70 florins. The predella (possibly executed by Francesco Signorelli) shows scenes from the Legend of the True Cross: Constantine's Dream and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge; St Helena discovers the True Cross and proves its authenticity by raising a youth from the dead; the Queen of Sheba recognises the sacred wood being used as a bridge; and Heraclius brings back the True Cross to Jerusalem. The scenes borrow from Piero della Francesca’s famous frescoes at Arezzo. The altarpiece, which is in a frame of 1611, has always stood on the high altar of the church.
Urbino. Galleria Nazionale.
*Crucifixion. Canvas, 156 x 104.
The Magdalen, standing beside the cross, and St John, wringing his hands with grief, gaze up at the crucified Christ. The Virgin Mary, overcome by sorrow, is tended by two Holy Women. The rider holding a commander's baton and pointing to Christ is presumably the centurion who proclaimed: 'Truly, this was the Son of God'. The rider with the spear is presumably the Roman soldier (Longinus) who pierced Christ's side.
*Pentecost. Canvas, 156 x 104.
The apostles' room is depicted in symmetrical perspective. The vanishing point is at the centre of the picture, close to the head of the Virgin, who is seated at the far end of the room with the Three Marys. Above her head, God the Father releases the Holy Spirit in the guise of a dove. The twelve apostles are seated along the two sides of the room with 'cloven tongues of fire' above their heads.
The two canvases formed the sides of a church standard, now divided. Commissioned in June 1494 by the brotherhood of Santo Spirito for their church in Urbino. The price was 20 florins. According to some critics, the Pentecost is not entirely by Signorelli’s own hand. Removed from the church by 1858, when recorded in the Palazzo Albani, and acquired by the museum in 1903.
Venice. Ca d’Oro. Galleria Franchetti.
Flagellation. Wood, 42 x 34.
The composition (particularly the figure of Christ bound to the column) is similar to that of the early Flagellation in the Brera. This is a much later work, in which the hand of Luca’s nephew Francesco has sometimes been seen. Acquired by Franchetti from the Pazzagli collection, Florence.
Venice. Fondazione Cini.
‘Villamarina Madonna’. Wood, 62 x 53.
This half-length Madonna seems clearly to be by the same assistant or imitator of Piero della Francesca as the Virgin and Child with an Angel in Boston and the Virgin and Child with Three Angels in Oxford. Berenson identified the artist as the youthful Signorelli. The attribution, based rather tenuously on a comparison with a ruined fresco in Città di Castello, has been rejected more often than it has been accepted. Formerly in the Villamarina collection, Rome.
*Madonna and Saints. Wood, 302 x 233.
The Virgin is enthroned between John the Baptist (pointing to the Christ Child) and St Peter (with his keys). The Franciscan friars in the background might be St Francis himself and St Anthony of Padua (or the Blessed Gerard of Villamagna). St Bonaventura (composing his Tree of Life diagram) and St Jerome (translating the Bible) are seated in the foreground. The Virgin's throne is placed on a Roman sarcophagus with a relief of the battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs. (The sarcophagus is based on one discovered in the fifteenth century and admired by Donatello and Brunelleschi. It is now in the Museo Diocesano at Cortona.) An inscription on the step of the throne states that the picture was painted for Pietro Belladonna (a member of the Franciscan convent in Volterra) in 1491. It originally hung over the high altar of the church of San Francesco. It was transferred to the Palazzo Pubblico in 1879 and the new Pinacoteca in 1905. According to newspaper reports, the picture suffered accidental damage (a long, deep scratch on St Jerome's red robe) in June 2014, when it was being moved within the museum.
*Annunciation. Wood, 282 x 205.
The Virgin, standing in a beautiful Renaissance loggia, has dropped her book, startled by the appearance of the angel. The dove descends from God the Father in a heavenly glory of seraphim and cherubim. The relief of King David over the open doorway on the right symbolises Christ's royal descent. The picture was painted for the Compagnia della Virgine Maria (or the Disciplinanti) for their oratory, dedicated to the Annunciation, in the Duomo of Volterra. Payments of 70 florins were made from 6 February to 13 May 1491 (the year inscribed on the nearest pillar of the colonnade). The panel was split into three when the campanile of the cathedral was struck by lightening in 1731; the restoration by Ippolito Cigno is recorded in an inscription on the picture. Transferred to the new Pinacoteca in 1905.
Saint Jerome. Fresco, 192 x 173.
Painted (as the inscription states) for Bindaccio di Francesco Beninsegni, captain of Volterra. Signorelli appears to have reused the cartoon for the figure of St Jerome in the Bichi Altarpiece (Berlin). Removed in 1960 from the stairwell of the Palazzo dei Priori. Much of the bottom part of the fresco is lost.
Washington. National Gallery.
Calvary. Wood, 71 x 100.
A fragment from a large Lamentation over the Dead Christ, which was probably painted in 1504-5 for the high altar of the church of Sant’Agostino in Matélica (in the Marche). As stipulated in the commissioning contract, the Matélica altarpiece was modelled on the Lamentation painted by Signorelli some three years earlier for the high altar of the church of Santa Margherita at Cortona and now in the Museo Diocesano there. A substantial part of the picture remains lost, but there are other fragments in the Museo Civico at Bologna, the National Gallery in London and several private collections. The Calvary came from the upper left of the panel. Formerly in the collections of Sir Charles J. Robinson in London and Sir Francis Cook in Richmond, it was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1948.
Marriage of the Virgin. Wood, 22 x 48.
The subject is not from the Bible but is found in apocryphal Gospels and the medieval Golden Legend. The elderly Joseph, about to place the ring on the Virgin's finger, holds the rod that had miraculously flowered to show that he had been chosen as the bridegroom. The disappointed suitors break their rods. This small panel may have belonged to the predella of the altarpiece of the Annunciation, now in the Volterra Pinacoteca, which is dated 1491. A companion panel, the Presentation of the Virgin, is now in the Virginia Museum at Richmond (USA). Both panels were formerly in the Gallery at Kassel. The Marriage of the Virgin passed into the huge collection of the Jewish Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker (who was killed in an accident in 1940 while crossing the English Channel to escape the Nazis) and was inherited by his widow (the opera singer Dési von Halban, who had settled in New York). Bought by the Kress Foundation in 1955.
Madonna and Saints and Angels. Wood (transferred to hardboard), 156 x 136.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned amongst two seated Evangelists (perhaps Mark and John), Michael the Archangel weighing souls and a bishop saint (perhaps Donatus, patron saint of Arezzo, or Augustine). This small altarpiece is a very late work, doubtless executed with studio help. It came from the collection of the Marchesi Albergotti at Arezzo, and may have been painted either for the Albergotti Chapel in the Cathedral, which was built in 1517, or for the church (now demolished) of San Marco a Murello, which was near the Albergotti palazzo. It passed into the Lombardi-Baldi collection at Florence, and was sold in 1875 for 1,300 francs to the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, who placed it in his Florentine villa (the Villa Palmieri at Fiesole). It remained with the Earls of Crawford until 1946, when it was sold at Christie’s. Acquired by Kress in 1949; transferred to Washington from the Honolulu Academy in 1961. The altarpiece may originally have had a predella (possibly that showing scenes from the Life of the Virgin in the Museo Diocesano at Arezzo). It is in good condition for a transferred picture, though somewhat retouched.
Williamstown (Massachusetts). Clark Art Institute.
Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Wood, 30 x 92.
Two separate episodes are shown. To the right, St Catherine kneels in prayer as angels with swords destroy the machine with spiked wheels on which she was to be tortured. To the left, the Emperor Maxentius and pagan philosophers and orators look on as the saint is beheaded in a city square. The panel is from the predella of the Bichi Altarpiece, painted in about 1490 for the church of Sant’Agostino in Siena. Other panels from the predella are at Dublin and Glasgow (Pollok House). The Williamstown scene was on the right side of the predella – beneath the right lateral panel, now at Berlin, depicting St Catherine of Alexandria and two other saints. Acquired by Sterling Clark in 1914.