BeccafumiDomenico di Giacomo di Pace, called Mecherino/Mecarino or Beccafumi, was born in 1484 (not 1486 as earlier supposed). According to Vasari, his family were peasants from Cortine in Valdibiana, near Montaperti, and lived on a farm owned by a rich Sienese citizen Leonardo Beccafumi, from whom he took his name. He is recorded as a painter in 1507. He worked for a time in Rome as a young man, witnessing (it is said) the painting of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling and Raphael’s Stanze. He returned to Siena in 1512 and, except for other postulated (but undocumented) trips to Rome and visits to Genoa around 1533 and Pisa in 1541, appears to have spent the rest of his life there. In 1519 he started work on designs for the marble pavement of Siena Cathedral, a vast project that was to occupy him on and off for the rest of his life. He was also a sculptor. His equestrian monument for the entry of Charles V in 1530 was modelled in papier mâché and is long lost, but works in bronze, stucco and terracotta have survived. He died in January-March 1551.
Often grouped with the early Florentine Mannerists Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, Beccafumi was a highly individual and inventive artist, evolving a style of his own out of a range of other styles. Nothing is known of his training. Vasari stresses his experience in Rome and his admiration for Perugino. His earliest certain pictures, which post-date his trip to Rome – such as the Trinity Triptych and the famous Stigmatisation of St Catherine (both now in the Siena Gallery) – show the influence of the classicising compositions of Fra Bartolommeo and Albertinelli. But Mannerist tendencies are already present. Later works – such as the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the Descent into Limbo (both also in the Siena Gallery) – are intensively emotional, use exaggerated contrapposto, ‘shot’ colour and dramatic lighting, and flout conventional perspective and consistency of scale. For Crowe and Cavalcaselle, exemplifying nineteenth-century classical taste, his ‘talents were marred by exaggeration and unhealthy fancy’. Sodoma, not Beccafumi, was regarded as the great Sienese painter of the early sixteenth century. Since the early twentieth century, the position has reversed. Most of Beccafumi’s best works (all his frescoes and nearly all his altarpieces) are still in Siena.
Allentown. Art Museum.
Nativity. Wood, 49 x 32.
This sketchily painted little panel is considered a late work of the 1540s. Once in the hands of the British art historian Robert Langton Douglas, it was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1939 from Dan Fellows Platt of New York, and has been at Allentown since 1960.
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
Holy Family with the Infant St John. Wood, 91 in dia.
Catalogued by the German museum as a work of Beccafumi since 1848. It appears to be a circular replica, by Beccafumi himself or his studio, of a rectangular painting in Siena (formerly in the Casa Bargagli and now in the Pinacoteca).
Head of Bearded Man. Paper, 28 x 21.
Beccafumi was almost alone among artists of his day in making oil sketches on paper. A good number of such sketches, executed in broad and fluid brushstrokes, have survived. All appear to date from the late 1520s or 1530s, and the majority are studies for the heads of figures in the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. The Rijksmuseum example is for the head of the Praetor Genutius Cippus, who is paired with the tyrannicide Thrasbulus in one of the corners of the ceiling. It was one of nine oil sketches by Beccafumi sold at Sotheby's in 1953 from the collection of the British mining engineer Henry Scipio Reitlinger.
Bayonne. Musée Bonnat.
Sophonisba; Cleopatra. Wood, 86 x 47.
Sophonisba, daughter of the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, holds the cup of poison she drank to avoid capture by the Roman general Scipio. Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, holds the venomous snake (asp) she used to kill herself. These two paintings belonged to a series of vertical panels of famous women from ancient history, which also included the Judith in the Wallace Collection, London. All three panels were in the collection of Prince Chigi in Siena, and later that of the Vicomte Both de Tauzia, who sold the Judith to Richard Wallace and left the Sophonisba and Cleopatra to his niece Mlle de Rumford. Attributed to Beccafumi as early works. Pope-Hennessy (in the April 1940 Burlington Magazine) considered them to be by some inferior hand, possibly Giomo del Sodoma, and Briganti and Baccheschi (1977) group them only with ‘attributed works’. But the attribution is accepted in Piero Torriti’s 1998 monograph.
Three more panels – similar in size and style but representing allegorical figures rather than ancient heroines – may have belonged to the same series. All three were formerly in the collection of Severino Spinelli at Florence. One is now with the New York dealer Robert Simon. Another was sold at Wannenes auction house, Genoa, in November 2016.
Birmingham. Barber Institute.
Reclining Venus. Wood, 57 x 126.
Venus dips her fingers in a pool. Cupid holds a whirligig – a revolving toy suggesting folly or change. Probably painted as a headboard for a bed. The panel has sometimes been associated with the decoration, completed in about 1519, of the camera of Francesco di Camillo Petrucci and Caterina Piccolomini, which included a ‘Venus by Mecarino [Beccafumi] made out of a headboard’. Two narrative panels showing ancient Roman festivals (the Lupercalia and Cerealia) in the Museo di Casa Martelli, Florence, and three vertical panels representing heroines from antiquity in London and Rome (Galleria Doria Pamphilj) are often said also to have been painted for the room in the Palazzo Petrucci. But there is no certain proof that the Venus belongs with the other panels or formed part of the Petrucci furnishings. Acquired in 1961 on the Italian art market.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
St Dominic burns the Books of the Heretics; Martyrdom of the Wife and Children of St Sigismund. Canvas, 26 x 38.
Scenes of ‘St Dominic burning the books of the heretics’ and of ‘the king having the wife and little children of St Sigismund thrown down a well’ are described by Vasari in the predella of an altarpiece painted by Beccafumi for the church of Santo Spirito. The paintings at Boston were once regarded as the originals but are now considered old copies. They were bought by the museum in 1950 for $2,500 from the dealer Vitale Bloch (who reputedly acquired them from Bernard Berenson's restorer Giannino Marchig). Two of the other three panels from the predella are in Tulsa; the third is in Cambridge.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
St Bernardino Preaching in the Campo at Siena. Wood, 30 x 42.
A panel of ‘St Bernardino of Siena preaching to a great crowd in the piazza of Siena’ is noted by Vasari as part of the predella to an altarpiece painted by Beccafumi for the Sienese church of Santo Spirito. The altarpiece was completed by March 1529 (not, as usually stated, 1528). The main panel, representing the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, was acquired by Galgano Saracini in the early nineteenth century and is still in the Chigi-Saracini collection in Siena. Two of the other predella panels were acquired for the Kress collection and are now in Tulsa; old copies on canvas of two more are in Boston. The subject of the Cambridge panel is repeated in the predella (now in the Louvre) to another altarpiece, painted by Beccafumi in 1537 for the Oratorio di San Bernardino. From the collection of Alfred Scharf of London, who also owned a compositional pen and ink drawing for the panel. Both the panel and the associated drawing were accepted by the Exchequer in lieu of tax in 1993 and allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Art Museum.
Heads of Old Men. Two oil sketches on paper, 25/27 x 17/20.
These two rapidly executed brush drawings are studies for the heads of figures in Beccafumi's fresco of the Killing of Spurius Maelius on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. One study (gifted to the museum in 1933) is for the head of Cincinnatus, who is enthroned on the left of the fresco. The other study (bequeathed in 1965) is for the head of the old man who is comforting a child in the right background.
Chatsworth. Duke of Devonshire’s Collection.
Offering the Keys to the City of the Virgin. Paper mounted on panel, 46 x 46.
This small square picture was probably a Biccherna or Gabella panel, commissioned by the Sienese Commune to hang in its tax offices. It commemorates a ceremony held on 22 July 1526, when Florentine and Papal troops were laying siege to the city at Porta Camollia. As a re-enactment of the famous dedication before the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, the keys of the city were presented to the Virgin in the chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie in Siena Cathedral. (Tomasso Rondini, Prior of the Concistoro, kneels before the altar to give the keys to Canon Giovanni Pecci.) The picture was probably painted shortly after the actual event. It is recorded in the Devonshire Collection, with an attribution to Perino del Vaga, in 1761.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch. Wood, 61 in dia.
The subject is identified by the inscription around the perimeter. St Ignatius of Antioch was an early bishop and martyr. According to tradition, he was thrown to lions in the Colosseum, but the tondo shows him being disemboweled. Possibly painted for the Compagnia di San MIchele Arcangelo at Siena, which possessed a relic of St Ignatius. Given to the Art Institute in 1986 by the New York dealer and collector Richard L. Feigen.
Holy Family with the Infant St John. Wood, 84 in dia.
Such tondi of the Holy Family with St John or the Madonna and Child with Saints were a significant part of Beccafumi’s production; some sixteen are currently known. This example is generally considered very early (1514-18). Recorded as a work of Beccafumi in a Medici inventory of 1624.
Self-Portrait. Paper mounted on panel, 32 x 25.
The man portrayed – rather piratical, heavily bearded and wearing a headscarf – bears a resemblance to the woodcut of Beccafumi in Vasari’s Lives and to proposed self-portraits in the Descent into Limbo (Siena Pinacoteca) and the Punishment of Korah (Pisa Cathedral). Probably a bozzetto (sketch) for a painting. It could be the self-portrait ‘a sbozzo di carta’ recorded in 1671 in the possession of Pandolfo Savini at Siena. It is first certainly recorded in 1675 in the collection of Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici. If an authentic self-portrait, it would (to judge from the sitter’s age) probably date from the late 1520s.
Holy Family with the Infant St John. Wood, 88 in dia.
Similar in composition to – but probably a little later than – the tondo by Beccafumi in the Uffizi. It may date from the early 1520s. The square frame, decorated with cherubs’ heads, is not original but probably dates from the end of the sixteenth century. In 1588 the tondo is recorded among Antonio de’ Medici’s pictures in the Casino di San Marco; the following year it was hanging in the Tribuna of the Uffizi.
Florence. Museo Bardini.
Hercules at the Crossroads between Virtue and Vice. Wood, 60 x 155.
Hercules is seated on a lionskin between two allegorical female figures. The figure to his right – modestly dressed and with the prospect of a green meadow behind her – represents Virtue. The figure to his left – scantily clad and with the prospect of a rocky path behind her – represents Vice. This restored panel is usually assumed to have been a cassone front. It was ascribed to Bacchiacca until 1936, when Gabrielli (La Critica d’Arte) attributed it to Beccafumi as an early work.
Florence. Horne Museum.
Story of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Wood, 53 x 134.
Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, left alone in the world after the great flood, were told by the oracle to throw the bones of their mother over their shoulder. Deucalion guessed the key to the oracle, and the couple threw stones – the bones of mother earth – behind them. Probably a cassone or spalliera panel. It is said to have been the first picture acquired by Herbert Horne in England.
Putti with a Medallion. Wood, 58 x 51.
The three putti hold up a medallion, framed in vine leaves and containing a little picture of the Drunkenness of Noah. On loan from the Uffizi. Recorded, with an attribution to Beccafumi, in a 1687 inventory of the Pitti Palace. There is a similar, but unfinished, picture in the Chigi-Saraceni collection, Siena, in which the medallion is blank.
Holy Family with the Infant St John and a Donor. Wood, 80 in dia.
The Christ Child reaches for the open book held by the donor; on the left St Joseph with the little St John. Until 1908 this exquisitely coloured tondo hung in the Palazzo Bianco in Genoa, and it was probably painted during Beccafumi’s visit to the city in the early 1530s. In 1916 it appeared on the New York art market. It resurfaced in Florence in 1937 and was acquired by the Comune, which placed it on loan with the Horne Museum. The gilded wooden frame, elaborately carved with sculptural busts and grotesques, is traditionally ascribed to the Sienese carver Antonio Barili. However, Barili died in 1516-17 – some years before the picture was probably painted.
Florence. Museo di Casa Martelli.
Lupercalia; Cerealia. Wood, each 67 x 125.
The two panels depict ancient Roman festivals. Lupercalia was named after the cave where the she-wolf (Lupa) suckled Romulus and Remus. Goats and dogs were sacrificed, and whips made from their skins were used to lash young women in the belief it would make them fertile. The other panel was once thought to represent the cult of Vesta, but is now believed to depict Cerealia – a festival devoted to Ceres, goddess of agriculture and motherly love. A bronze statue of the goddess stands behind an altar garlanded with corn. The two panels were once assumed to be cassone fronts, but they may rather have formed part of the frieze of a room. Although there is no hard evidence, they are usually thought to have come from Francesco di Camillo Petrucci’s camera in the Palazzo Petrucci, near the Baptistery in Siena. The decoration of the room may have been commissioned in 1512, when Francesco, nephew of the tyrant Pandolfo Petrucci, married Caterina Mandoli Piccolomini, and was probably completed around 1519, when the couple’s first son was born. Along with Francesco’s other possessions, the contents of the chamber were confiscated by the State and sold off after Francesco was exiled from Siena in 1523. The two panels were in Rome by 1632, when they are recorded in the celebrated collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. In the Palazzo Martelli, Florence, by 1677.
Leicester. New Walk Art Gallery.
Holy Family with Infant St John. Wood, 87 in dia.
This large, dark tondo is attributed to Beccafumi as a late work. The attribution was accepted by Berenson (1968 Lists) but doubted by Briganti and Baccheschi (1977). The picture is omitted from Pascale Dubus's 1999 catalogue raisonné. Purchased by the museum in 1965 from Colnaghi for £6,900.
London. National Gallery.
Story of Papirius. Wood, 74 x 138.
Previously called Esther and Ahasuerus, the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, and more recently Virginia before Appius Claudius. The subject was recently identified by Carol Plazzotta (September 2001 Burlington Magazine). The young Papirius attended a meeting of the Roman Senate. His curious mother asked him what he had heard there. But the subject of the debate was a secret, so he fabricated the story that the Senate had discussed whether it would be better for a husband to be allowed two wives or a wife two husbands. The picture shows a crowd of matrons flocking to the Senate Hall with a petition calling for the latter option. The recognisable Roman monuments include the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine (viewed through the right-hand arch of the Senate Hall), the Torre dei Conti, Basilica of Maxentius and (far right) Castel Sant'Angelo. The panel was presumably painted for a cassone or some other piece of furniture, or as part of the wood panelling of a room. Acquired in 1855 by Lord Northwick from George Pennell (on condition that he could return it ‘whenever [he] please and receive £20 for it’). Presented to the National Gallery by George Salting in 1894.
Tanaquil; Marcia. Wood, each 92 x 53.
The subjects are identified by the inscriptions (Latin couplets in gold letters). Tanaquil, who is shown holding a spindle, was celebrated for her powers of prophecy. She was the wife of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, who was elected King of Rome after she had persuaded him to leave Tarquinia to advance his fortunes. Marcia, the wife of Cato, was the paradigm of wifely obedience. When Cato’s friend Hortensius asked for her hand in marriage, Cato agreed and she bore her new husband children. But, once widowed, she returned faithfully to Cato. The two panels are among several by Beccafumi representing heroines of antiquity. A panel representing Cornelia in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery at Rome is clearly from the same series. The three panels (and three others of a different size and format) were linked by Sanminiatella (1967) with the commission of about 1517-19 for Francesco Petrucci, but there is no definite proof of such an association. From 1833 to 1965 the two London panels were in the Northwick collection (where they were ascribed to Andrea del Sarto until Borenius’s catalogue of 1921 recognised Beccafumi’s authorship). The Marcia had to be repaired in 2008, after it was dropped on the floor as it was being removed from the wall and the panel split vertically into two.
London. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Charity. Wood, 38 in dia.
Charity, with a baby at her breast, is surrounded by three little children playing with hobbyhorses and a dog. This small tondo, painted on a square panel, has always been attributed to Beccafumi and may date from the mid-1520s. It was probably one of a series of three panels representing the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. First recorded in 1853, when it was sold at Christie’s with the collection of Samuel Woodburn. Bequeathed to the museum with the Ionides collection in 1900.
London. Wallace Collection.
Judith. Wood, 85 x 47.
The Jewish heroine carries a sword and the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes. From the same series as the Sophonisba and Cleopatra in Bayonne. Beccafumi's authorship of the three panels has sometimes been doubted: alternative attributions have been made to Giomo del Sodoma (Pope-Hennessy) and Bartolomeo Neroni (Zeri). But it is accepted by Piero Torriti in his 1998 catalogue raisonné. Bought by Richard Wallace in 1872 from the Vicomte Both de Tauzia.
London. British Museum.
Head of Old Woman. Paper, 21 x 13.
This rapidly executed oil sketch was a study for the head of the old woman on the right of the fresco of the Sacrifice of Seleucus of Locri on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. It was one of nine oil sketches by Beccafumi sold at Sotheby's in 1953 from the collection of the British mining engineer Henry Scipio Reitlinger.
Head of a Bearded Man. Paper, 20 x 15.
Also acquired by the museum in 1953 from the Reitlinger collection. The oil sketch has been linked both with the head of a soldier on the right of the fresco of the Sacrifice of Codrus in the Sala del Concistoro and with the head of a figure in the left background of the painting of Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law in Pisa Cathedral.
Los Angeles. Getty Museum.
Two Scenes from the Life of St Catherine of Siena. Wood, each 29 x 42/41.
Both scenes are set inside chapels. One shows St Catherine receiving the Stigmata. Golden rays indicate the miraculous transmission of Christ's wounds from the large wooden statue on the altar to the saint's hands, side and feet. Two other Dominican nuns look on in wonder. In the background is an altarpiece of the Nativity with God the Father Blessing in the lunette. The other subject is the Miraculous Communion of St Catherine. The saint had prayed for God's help when a priest had refused to give her communion every day. Her prayers were answered when an angel broke off a piece of the host held by the priest celebrating Mass and gave it to her. The tall ciborium (container for the host) depicted on the table in the background resembles Vecchietta'a bronze ciborium on the high altar of Siena Cathedral.
The two small panels almost certainly came from a predella. Nothing is known of their history before 1958, when they were sold at Christie's, London. They had entered a private American collection by 1974, and were acquired by the Getty Museum from a New York dealer in 1997.
Head of a Youth. Paper, 28 x 21.
An oil sketch on paper prepared a golden brown. There is another version, more roughly executed, at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The sketches are related to the head of a figure in the fresco of the Sacrifice of Seleucus of Locri on the celing of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. Acquired by the museum in 2017.
Continence of Scipio. Wood, 68 x 140.
The subject, popular in painting, is from Livy's History of Rome (Book XXVI). After taking Carthago Nova, Scipio Africanus refused to take advantage of a beautiful Spanish princess who had fallen into his hands, but returned her to her parents and even gave presents to her fiancé Allucius. It has been assumed, because of its shape, that the picture was painted as the front of a cassone or as a spalliera panel. The subject would have been suitable for a marriage chamber. It is possible that the panel was painted for Scipione Petrucci, who appears to have acquired the panels painted by Beccafumi for the camera of his cousin Francesco Petrucci. Scipione married Livia di Pietro di Niccolò Piccolomini in 1525, which would be a plausible date for the painting.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornesmisza Collection.
Madonna and Child with St Jerome and the Infant St John. Wood, 86 in dia.
The tondo is brilliantly coloured, with lurid light effects and clashing hues (lime-green for the lining of the Virgin’s mantle, traditional blue for the mantle itself, rose pink for the bodice, bright yellow for the cushion). It is probably comparatively early (late 1510s or early 1520s). Previously unknown, it was bought by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornesmisza in 1981 from the art dealer Silvano Lodi.
Mells Manor (near Frome in Somerset).
Presentation; Visitation; Adoration of the Kings. Wood, each 28 x 52.
These three small, loosely painted panels clearly belonged to a predella. The predella was possibly that to the altarpiece of the Birth of the Virgin, painted for the nuns of San Paolo in Siena and now in the Pinacoteca there. Vasari mentions the predella to the Birth of the Virgin, but calls the three scenes the Presentation, Adoration of the Kings and Marriage of the Virgin (rather than the Visitation). Other (perhaps less likely) possibilities are that the panels formed the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin, painted for the Camaldolese nuns in Siena and now in Santo Spirito, or the predella of the Annunciation, painted about 1545 for the church of San Martino at Sarteano and still in situ. The three panels were among thirty italian paintings given as wedding gifts by William Graham (the Glaswegian merchant, politician and art collector) to his daughter Frances in 1883, when she married the barrister Sir John Horner. They came to public notice the following year, when they were loaned as works of Beccafumi to the 1884 Royal Academy Winter Exhibition.
Only the gardens of Mells Manor are regularly open to the public, though there are occasional guided tours of the house.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
Holy Family with the Infant St John. Wood, 113 in dia.
The Virgin, kneeling with her hand on her breast, and Joseph, seated against a tree stump, look down on the infant Christ, who embraces a lamb. The infant Baptist, dressed in a camel skin, holds a scroll (on which the inscription 'Ecce Agnus Dei' is partly visible) and a slender cross. The splendid large tondo was bought by Ludovic I of Bavaria in 1816 for 975 scudi from the Casa Marsili in Siena. An early, Raphaelesque work.
New York. Pierpont Morgan Library.
Head of Old Man. Paper, 29 x 20.
This roughly executed brush drawing, representing a white-haired old man with an open mouth and few teeth, is one of a good number of surviving studies for the heads of figures in Beccafumi's frescoes on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. It was a study for the head of the Athenian hero Thrasybulus, who is represented in one of the corners of the ceiling. Formerly in the collection of the painter and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray, it was acquired by Pierpont Morgan in 1909.
Head of a Bearded Man in Profile. Paper, 25 x 21.
This oil sketch was also acquired by Pierpont Morgan in 1909 from Fairfax Murray. It is a study for the head of St Dismas, the Good Thief, in the large altarpiece of the Descent of Christ into Limbo, painted around 1530-35 for the Marsili Chapel in San Francesco at Siena and now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale.
Oberlin (Ohio). Oberlin College.
Lucrezia. Wood, 41 x 33.
Cut down on all sides, and probably a fragment of a full-length figure of the Roman heroine. Previously ascribed to the minor Veronese painter Niccolò Giolfino. The attribution to Beccafumi, as one of his earliest paintings, was made only in 1988 (by Fiorella Sricchia Santoro). Acquired by Samuel H. Kress through Contini Bonacossi in 1941, and at the Oberlin College since 1961.
Three Predella Panels. Wood, 30 x 50.
The scenes are: St Anthony and the Miracle of the Mule; St Bernardino Preaching in the Piazza at Siena (repeating the subject in a panel at Cambridge); and St Francis Receiving the Stigmata. The predella, described by Vasari, belonged to the altarpiece painted in 1537 for the Oratorio di San Bernardino. The panels left the Oratory in the nineteenth century. Formerly in the Weitzner collection, London, they were acquired by the Louvre in 1966.
Head of a Young Man in Profile. Paper, 28 x 21.
An oil sketch (bozzetto) for the head of a young man seated on the left in the fresco of the Reconciliation of Marcus Emilius Lepidus and Flavius Flaccus on the celiing of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. It was one of nine oil sketches by Beccafumi sold at Sotheby's in 1953 from the collection of the British mining engineer Henry Scipio Reitlinger. Acquired by the Louvre in 2004.
Pesaro. Museo Civico.
Holy Family (Adoration of the Child). Wood, 63 x 42.
The naked Child – held under the arms by Joseph as though learning to walk – is adored by the kneeling Virgin. The small arched panel is probably one of Beccafumi's earliest surviving works. (It is usually dated about 1513-14, but it could be even earlier, predating the artist's visit to Rome.) Donated to the museum in 1883 with the collection of the composer Gioacchino Rossini.
Pictures in the Tribune.
Beccafumi’s pictures are hung around the apse, together with works by Sodoma and Sogliani. (They are difficult to see, as admission to the apse is granted only with special permission.) There are two large Old Testament scenes and four panels of the Evangelists. They are late works. The first contract was awarded by the Opera del Duomo in 1536 and payments were made in 1538-39.
Moses breaking the Tablets of the Law. Wood, 197 x 139.
Moses smashed the tablets of stone when he was enraged by the sight of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32: 19). The figure in profile next to the golden calf is presumed to be a self-portrait.
Punishment of Korah. Wood, 197 x 139.
Korah and his co-conspirators Dathan and Abiram, who had incited a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, were punished when God caused the ground to split open beneath their feet, swallowing them and their families. In the background, their 250 followers are shown consumed by heavenly fire (Numbers 16: 31-35).
Four Evangelists. Wood, each 197 x 88.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are shown life-size and full-length, standing in niches. Payments for the panels of John and Luke were made in July 1538, and payments for those of Matthew and Mark were made at end-December 1538. Tempera sketches (bozzetti) for two of the panels are preserved at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Pittsburgh. Carnegie Museum of Art.
Two Miracles of St Michael. Wood, each 30 x 44.
One panel shows the Miracle of St Michael on Monte Gargano. Legend has it that a bull strayed onto the site sacred to St Michael. An archer fired an arrow at the animal, but the arrow miraculously reversed direction and wounded the archer.
The other panel shows St Michael appearing to St Gregory. During a plague in Rome, Pope Gregory the Great led a procession to Hadrian's Mausoleum (Castel Sant'Angelo). St Michael appeared on top of the building, sheathing his sword to signal the plague would end.
The panels are from the predella, described by Vasari, of the altarpiece painted by Beccafumi for the church of San Niccolò al Carmine at Siena The main panel, representing the Fall of the Rebel Angels, is still in the church. Formerly in a Swiss private collection, the two predalla panels were acquired by the Pittsburgh Museum in 1969. Three other predella panels are untraced.
Princeton. Art Museum.
Holy Family with St Michael. Wood, 56 x 46.
A very late work, close in style and technique to the Holy Family in Washington. It appears to be unfinished, and the strong underdrawing is visible in places. A Sienese provenance is suggested by the coats-of-arms of the Ghini-Bandinelli and Cinughi families on the frame. However, the frame may not be original to the painting, and a Pisan provenance is suggested by markings on the back of the panel, which indicate that the painting belonged to the Order of Santo Stefano (founded by Cosimo I de' Medici in Pisa in 1560). The picture was sold in London in 1755 (as a work of Fra Bartolommeo), and remained in England until 1958, when it was acquired by the museum from the dealer Julius Weitzner.
Head of Young Woman. Paper, 23 x 16.
This oil sketch on brown paper was probably a study (bozzetto) for the head of one of the figures in the fresco of Postumius Tibertus putting His Own Son to Death on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. It was donated to the museum in 1948 by Ethel Bliss Platt, widow of the archaeologist and collector Dan Fellows Platt.
Rome. Galleria Nazionale (Palazzo Barberini).
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John. Wood, 90 x 65.
This radiant, rapidly executed panel must be comparatively late (late 1530s or early 1540s) and appears to be slightly unfinished. Listed in a Barberini inventory of 1730 as from the 'School of Leonardo', but recognised from the early nineteenth century as a work of 'Mecherino' (Beccafumi). It passed from the Barberini collection to the Italian State in 1959.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
Head of Young Man. Paper (laid on canvas), 25 x 17.
This roughly executed oil sketch on paper is one of a good number of surviving studies (bozzetti) for heads in Beccafumi's frescoes on the ceiling of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. First recorded without attribution in the 1833 Borghese inventory, and attributed to Pier Francesco Mola in Adolfo Venturi's 1893 catalogue and to the studio of Perino del Vaga in Paola della Pergola's 1959 guidebook. It was Donato Sanminiatelli, in his 1967 monograph, who identified the oil sketch as a study by Beccafumi for the head of the bystander behind the executioner's raised arm in the scene of the Sacrifice of Seleucus of Locri in the Sala del Concistoro. There is another, more polished version of the sketch in the Getty Museum at Los Angeles.
Rome. Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
St Jerome in Penitence. Wood, 50 x 36.
The penitent scholar-hermit kneels before a crucifix hung on a tree, a stone to beat his breast in one hand, a rosary in the other, his red cardinal’s hat hung at the base of the tree, his lion close by. Often portrayed in the wilderness, he is shown here in the foreground of a Tuscan landscape, which is bathed atmospherically in golden dawn light. The attribution of this small devotional panel to Beccafumi is traditional (to judge from an old inscription on the back) and has never been questioned. More highly finished than many of Beccafumi’s small panels, it is probably a fairly early work of around 1520.
Virgin and Child with Saints. Wood, 92 in dia.
St Catherine of Alexandria receives the ring from the Child; the little St John sits on the parapet; the other three saints are hard to identify. The red roses symbolise Christ's Passion and the small bowl next to St John's hand probably alludes to baptism. The name 'Magarino da Siena' on the parapet is not a signature but appears to have been copied from the entry in the 1603 inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini's collection. This large, luminous tondo may date from the late 1520s or early 1530s. The frame, carved with a pomegranate motif, is contemporary with the painting.
Cornelia. Wood, 93 x 51.
Cornelia, identified by the inscription, was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, who married her to his enemy Tiberius Gracchus in order to promote peace. A personification of maternal devotion, she raised her two sons, the Gracchi, in the traditions of public service. One of a series of panels of heroines from antiquity, which also included the Tanaquil and Marcia in London. They may have formed part of the backboard of a bench (cassapanca), with the Cornelia in the centre.
Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore. Museo Storico.
Madonna and Child with Two Saints. Wood, 86 in dia.
The saint on the left has been identified as Bernardino of Siena or Anthony of Padua, and that on the right as Catherine of Siena. This tondo was discovered in the Cappella Paolina and attributed to Beccafumi in 1913 (by Papini in Bollettino d’Arte). It probably dates from the 1530s or early 1540s. It is now displayed in the basilica's museum, opened in 2001.
Rotterdam. Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum.
St Catherine receiving the Stigmata. Wood, 55 x 41.
This little panel is exceptionally well preserved. The rapid and loose execution suggests that it is a very late work, probably dating from the mid-1540s. It repeats, in reverse, Catherine’s pose in a much earlier fresco of the subject in the Palazzo Chigi-Saracini. Rather large for a predella, it may have been intended as an independent panel for private devotion. Previously in the collection of Vitale Bloch, Paris.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Canvas (transferred in 1843), 220 x 205.
St Catherine of Alexandria kneels to receive the ring from the Christ Child. St Francis (reading aloud or singing), St Jerome, John the Baptist (pointing to the Child) and St Anthony of Padua (with flaming heart) stand on the left. John the Evangelist (with quill and book), St Nicholas of Bari (with his three gold balls), St Lawrence (with gridiron and martyr's palm) and an unidentified bearded saint are on the right. The picture was acquired in 1843 from the collection of the Duke of Braschi at Rome. Its earlier provenance is unknown, but it could conceivably be the lost high altarpiece from the Clarissan convent of San Lorenzo at Siena. It was ascribed to Fra Bartolommeo when acquired, and later given to Albertinelli and to Francesco Granacci. It was not recognised as a work of Beccafumi until Berenson’s 1932 Lists. A comparatively early work (late 1510s or early 1520s). It spent many years rolled up in storage.
Sarteano (10 km from Siena). San Martino in Foro.
*Annunciation. Canvas (transferred from panel), 237 x 222.
This fine painting hangs on the right wall of the church, which was rebuilt in the nineteenth century. It was first published (by Mason Perkins) as a work of Beccufami only in 1932. It is probably the picture mentioned in a document of 1548 as painted by Beccafumi two years earlier for Gabriello d’Antonio da Sarteano. It must be one of the artist’s last paintings. The Virgin’s shrinking pose seems to be based on that of the Virgin in Michelangelo’s Sistine Last Judgement of 1535-41. The 1548 document (which refers to a 'tavola d'atare con più figure e suoi ornamenti') seems to suggest that the picture had a predella, but no panels from one have been certainly traced.
Siena. Pinacoteca Nazionale.
*Trinity Triptych. Wood, 152 x 240 (each panel 89 x 60).
Still complete in its splendid original frame. The side saints (Cosmas and John the Baptist, on the left, and John the Evangelist and Damian, on the right) are little smaller than life-size and oddly out of scale with the Trinity in the centre panel. Painted for the Cappella della Madonna del Manto in Santa Maria della Scala. The inclusion of the two doctor saints, wearing scarlet head garb and holding pots of ointment, reflects the work of the hospital of which the chapel was a part. A damaged frescoed lunette, representing Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate, is still in situ. The altarpiece is Beccafumi’s earliest documented work, recorded as finished on 6 May 1513 when an outstanding payment of 140 lire was made. The composition of the central panel may have been influenced by Albertinelli’s Trinity, painted in about 1510 for the Florentine convent of San Giuliano (now in the Accademia at Florence). The altarpiece remained in situ until 1610, when it was moved to the vestibule of the hospital; it was transferred to the Accademia in 1812.
*Stigmatisation of St Catherine. Wood, 212 x 162.
St Catherine of Siena, eyes fixed on the crucifix on the wall, awaits the stigmata, flanked by St Benedict and St Jerome; above, the Madonna and Child on a cloud supported by putti. From the Benedictine monastery (now destroyed) of Monte Oliveto to the east of Siena, just outside the Porta Tufi. The picture was ‘greatly praised’, wrote Vasari, ‘for its harmonious colouring and excellent modelling’. It recalls the altarpieces by Fra Bartolommeo in Lucca. (especially the God the Father with SS. Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene of 1509). Undocumented, it is usually dated as early as about 1514-15, though some critics have put it a few years later.
The three panels (31 x 49) from the predella represent scenes from the life of St Catherine: the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine; St Catherine Miraculously receiving Communion from from an Angel; and St Catherine receiving the Lily and Habit from Three Dominican Saints. The predella panels were separated from the main panel by the end of the eighteenth century, and their order is reversed in the current modern frame.
*Fall of the Rebel Angels. Wood, 347 x 224.
Beneath the spectral figure of God the Father in the apex, the armoured St Michael leads the sword-brandishing loyal angels against the rebels, who fall headlong through the clouds; below, in the lake of fire and sulphur, fallen angels, shorn of their wings, writhe in agony and try to flee the heat. The figure on the extreme left was clearly borrowed from Michelangelo’s Punishment of Haman in a pendentive of the Sistine Ceiling. This large, unfinished picture was the first version of an altarpiece commissioned for the church of San Niccolò al Carmine. Vasari described it as ‘una pioggia d’ignudi molto bella’ (‘a lovely rain of nude figures’). He says that the monks rejected it, and Beccafumi kept it until his death, after which it was installed in Santa Maria della Scala. It is usually thought to date from the middle or late 1520s. Beccafami’s second (more coherent but less exciting) version of the altarpiece, painted a few years later, is still in San Niccolò.
*Descent into Limbo. Wood, 395 x 225.
The subject, which has no specific scriptural basis, is found in the fifth-century Gospel of Nicodemus. Christ, bearing the banner of the Resurrection, leads Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, led by Adam and Eve and King David, out of the mouth of Hell. The man standing on the left with a cross is St Dismas, the Good Thief. Beccafumi's famous picture was painted for the Marsili Chapel in the church of San Francesco. Anastasia Marsili, a wealthy widow, had earlier commissioned Beccafumi's Nativity for San Martino. Like the Nativity, the Descent into Limbo was set within a marble frame (now lost) carved by Lorenzo di Mariano ('Il Marrina'). It is usually dated around 1530-36 – when Beccafumi was working on the ceiling decoration of the Sala del Consistoro in the Palazzo Pubblico or had just completed it. Borrowings from Michelangelo and from Dürer’s woodcuts have been picked out by art historians; it has also been suggested that the fantastic, dreamlike quality and elaborate nude figure poses could reflect acquaintance with Perino del Vaga’s sophisticated ceiling frescoes in the Genoese palace of Andrea Doria, which Beccafumi would have seen on his visit to the city (probably around 1533). The bearded man, looking over a ridge of rock near the centre of the picture and praying, may be a self-portrait. The picture was only slightly damaged in the fire of 1655, which all but destroyed San Francesco. Transferred to the Accademia in 1862. Several bozzetti (oil sketches on paper) for the picture have survived. One for the figure of King David is in the Uffizi and one for the head of the Good Thief is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
*Birth of the Virgin. Wood, 225 x 145.
A strikingly lit night scene. A midwife washes the newborn infant, testing the temperature of the water with her fingers. The elderly mother, St Anne, sitting up in her canopied bed holding a rosary, is offered refreshment. Through the doorway on the left, St Joachim sits deep in thought, while a maid appears to be drying linen. The picture was painted as an altarpiece for the church of the ex-convent of San Paolo at Siena (today the Oratorio della Contrada della Chiocciola). It is a work of Beccafumi’s late maturity: Vasari says that it was painted after Beccafumi’s return from Pisa, while modern critics have proposed dates ranging from the early 1530s to the early 1540s. The picture was taken to the Accademia in 1816, when the convent was closed. The predella, mentioned by Vasari, became detached and was sold. The three panels from it are sometimes identified with paintings of the Adoration of the Kings, Visitation and Presentation that were formerly in the collection of the Glaswegian merchant, politician, art collector and patron William Graham and are now at Mells Manor in Somerset.
Madonna and Child (no. 35). Wood, 68 in dia.
This tondo, acquired by the Pinacoteca only in 1988, is now considered one of Beccafumi’s earliest works (about 1514). Once in England (the collection of Edward Cheney at Badger Hall), it was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1936 (through Contini Bonacossi), and hung for a time in the cathedral at Washington. Formerly ascribed to Girolamo del Pacchia, it was attributed to Beccafumi in 1982 (by Fiorella Sricchia Santoro).
Madonna and Child (no. 350). Wood, 61 x 45.
Also formerly ascribed to Pacchia and now given to Beccafumi as a very early work. It is the central part of a larger panel that has been cut down. Once in the Bellanti collection, it was acquired by the Accademia in 1872 from the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala.
Madonna and Child with SS. Galgano and Paul. Wood, 59 in dia.
This tondo still preserves its original frame. Datings have ranged from the 1520s to late 1530s.
Holy Family with the Infant St John. Wood, 86 x 75.
From the Casa Bargagli, near Sant’Agostino in Siena, where it was recorded by 1835. It may date from the late 1520s. Two circular replicas, by Beccafumi or his studio, are known; one is in the museum at Altenburg and the other was formerly in the Tortolini collection at Livorno.
Baptism of Christ. Wood, 64 x 47.
From the Abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore a Chiusuri at Siena. The picture repeats the composition of a smaller Baptism by Beccafumi in a predella panel (now in Tulsa) from the Santo Spirito Altarpiece of 1529. Sometimes considered an early work of Beccafumi himself and sometimes ascribed to a follower (Marco Pino?).
Siena. Complesso Museale di Santa Maria della Scala.
Cappella della Madonna del Manto.
Beccafumi frescoed two lunettes and the vault of the chapel and painted the altarpiece (now in the Pinacoteca). The frescoes are almost completely lost, apart from the damaged but beautifully coloured lunette (270 x 552) of Joachim and Anna Meeting at the Golden Gate. The altarpiece was paid for in 1513, but the lunette has sometimes been dated a few years later (around 1518) on grounds of style.
Four Illuminated Initial Letters. Each 37 x 25.
The illuminated letters, painted in tempera and gold on parchment, are: A (with the Resurrection); D (with Pentecost); R (with the Nativity); and another D (with the Madonna of the Snow). The four sheets were contained in a manuscript discovered in 1974 in a chest at the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala. They may date from around 1520.
Siena. Palazzo Pubblico.
*Ceiling frescoes in the Sala del Concistoro.
The central tondo shows Justice with sword and scales (praised by Vasari as ‘so powerful that it is a marvel’); the allegorical figure in the octagon to the left represents Patriotism and that in the octagon to the right Concord. The compartments around the sides depict scenes and characters from Roman and Greek history, which promote republican virtues and denigrate tyranny.
The rectangular scene at the east end of the room (above the entrance) depicts the Sacrifice of Codrus. Codrus, the legendary King of Athens in the war against the Dorians, sacrificed himself after learning from an oracle that victory would go to the side whose leader was killed. The fresco of the Reconciliation of Marcus Emilius Lepidus and Fulvius Flaccus at the west end of the room (above the back wall) represents two Roman Censors and former arch-enemies putting aside their differences for the sake of the Republic. The bearded man on the extreme left, looking directly at the spectator, could be a self-portrait. On the long south side of the ceiling, the gruesome octagonal scene in the centre (directly below the figure of Justice) represents the Beheading of Spurius Cassius. Spurius Cassius, an early Roman Consul, was executed for opposing the election of magistrates. The rectangular narratives on either side are equally grim. The one on the right shows the Roman Tribune Publius Mutius ordering his Treasonous Colleagues to be Burnt Alive. That on the left shows the Roman General Postumius Tibertus putting his own Son to Death for Disobeying Orders. The General's son was so eager to engage the enemy that he left his assigned post and, following the strict letter of Roman military discipline, his father had him executed. The octagonal scene in the centre of the north side (overlooking the Campo) depicts Marcus Manlius Thrown from the Capitoline. The Consul Marcus Manlius, a popularist who helped debtors during the Gallic siege of Rome, was accused of planning to make himself king and tossed from the Tarpeian Rock. The rectangular narrative on the left represents the Sacrifice of Seleucus of Locri. Rather than enforce the full penalty of blindness on his adulterous son, the Greek lawgiver Seleucus (or Zaleucus) put out one of his own eyes and then one of his son's. The scene on the right shows the Killing of Spurius Maelius. Spurius Maelius, a wealthy Roman plebian who had sought popularity by selling cheap wheat during a famine, was killed because he was suspected of harbouring personal aspirations to power.
The Sala del Concistoro was used as the meeting room for Siena’s main committee of government and as a reception room for foreign embassies. Beccafumi received the prestigious commission to decorate the ceiling on 5 April 1529. The fee was 500 ducats. The work was to be completed in eighteen months – perhaps to be in time for the projected visit of Charles V. But, in the event, it was still not finished in 1532, when it was interrupted (possibly by Beccafumi’s visit to Genoa). The work was resumed and completed in 1535.
Beccafumi made oil sketches for heads in the frescoes, and a number of these bozzetti are preserved in public collections (including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, British Museum, Louvre, Galleria Borghese in Rome, and Pierpont Morgan Library in New York).
Siena. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
St Paul Enthroned. Wood, 230 x 150.
At the sides of the enthroned apostle, identified by his sword, are scenes of his Conversion and Beheading. Painted for the Cappella di San Paolo, attached to the Loggia della Mercanzia. Described by Vasari as an early work, and usually dated about 1515-17. When the chapel was demolished in 1748, the picture was moved to the Baptistery; thence to the museum.
Designs for Marble Pavement.
More than forty artists worked on the pavement, including Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Francesco di Giorgio and Pintoricchio. But Beccafumi was much the most productive, designing 35 of the 56 scenes. Payments to him for cartoons started in May 1519 and continued, off and on, until February 1547. Some of his huge cartoons are splendidly conserved in the Pinacoteca. His designs were realised in marble intarsia by a number of stonemasons, including Bernardino di Jacomo, Bartolomeo di Pietro Galli and Giovanni d’Antonio Marinelli. The floor beneath the cupola and in the apse and transepts is usually covered, and shown only from 7-22 August. Some of the designs have been replaced by copies (the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo).
Frescoes in Apse.
Beccafumi’s decoration of the apse, which included frescoes and stuccowork, was underway by 1535 but not completed until 1544. His huge fresco of the Ascension was seriously damaged in 1798 by an earthquake. The middle part was lost, and the surviving portions were arbitrarily restored and repainted in 1812 by Francesco Mazzuoli. The Glory of Angels from the top remains in the apse semi-dome. On the walls below (either side of Bartolomeo Cesi's Assumption of the Virgin) are two elegant flying angels and two groups of apostles from the lower part of Beccafumi's fresco.
The eight bronze candelabra in the form of angels, supported on brackets against the pillars of the presbytery, were cast by Beccafumi in 1548-51.
Siena. Oratorio di San Bernardino.
The simple rectangular upper hall was used by the Compagnia di San Bernardino for its meetings and devotions. The early sixteenth-century decorations survive virtually intact. The sculptor and woodcarver Venturi Turapilli was responsible for the papier-mâché frieze running round the room, the pilasters separating the frescoed scenes and the richly embellished coffered ceiling. Since 1999, the Oratory has been incorporated into the new Diocesan Museum.
Frescoes: Marriage of the Virgin; Death of the Virgin. Each 280 x 300.
Beccafumi contributed two scenes to the cycle representing the Life of the Virgin. The other scenes are by Sodoma (Visitation, Presentation, Assumption and Coronation) and Girolamo del Pacchia (Annunciation and Nativity). Payments for the frescoes began on the last day of 1518. The frescoes were badly restored in the early nineteenth century.
Altarpiece: Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints and Angels. Wood, 250 x 290.
St Anthony of Padua (holding a heart), St Peter (receiving the keys from the Christ Child) and St Francis (kneeling with his hand clutching the stigma in his side) are on the left. St Bernardino (kneeling and offering his monogram), John the Baptist (pointing heavenwards) and St Louis of Toulouse (wearing a cope embroidered with the fleurs-de-lys of France) are on the right. Beccafumi’s altarpiece for the Oratory, hung between Pacchia’s frescoed Annunciation, was painted almost twenty years after his frescoes there. It was commissioned by 1533 and finished by 12 September 1537, when it is mentioned in a record of a payment made by the Compagnia di San Bernardino. It was damaged by old restorations and is much repainted. It has also lost its predella, mentioned by Vasari, the three panels from which are now in the Louvre.
Siena. Museo Diocesano.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 80 x 59.
This sketchily painted panel is probably comparatively late (about 1540?). First recorded in 1784 in the Seminario di San Giorgio. It was exhibited for a time in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and then the Museo del Seminario di Montarioso. Restored in 1986 and well preserved. The richly carved and gilded frame was probably made by the same craftsman as the frame on the tondo in the Horne Museum, Florence. (It is traditionally ascribed to the Sienese woodcarver Antonio Barili, but might rather be by Barili's pupil Lorenzo di Girolamo Donati.) There are other versions of the picture in the Siena Gallery and in the Palazzo Mansi at Lucca.
Nativity. Wood, 390 x 235.
The picture is still in its original location, over the third altar on the left of the dark church. The altar was dedicated to the Nativity and St Joseph, who is a prominent presence in the picture. The Virgin lifts a luminous pinkish-white cloth to reveal the Christ Child. An angel points to the infant and looks towards Joseph, who is deep in thought. As in Francesco di Giorgio's Quattrocento Nativity in San Domenico, the scene is set before a crumbling triumphal arch, symbolising the fall of the pagan order. Shadowy shepherds approach through the arch. Overhead, against the golden dome of heaven, four angels have joined hands, and the dove of the Holy Spirit appears in the circle formed by their arms. The head at the left edge has been supposed to be a self-portrait. This large and striking altarpiece was commissioned by Anastasia di Nanni Marsili, a wealthy widow. It was probably painted in about 1523. The marble framing of the altar, carved by Lorenzo dei Mariano (called 'Il Marrina'), is documented as finished by January 1522 (1523 new style). Anastasia Marsili's name appears in the dedicatory inscription on the altar's platform, and her family coat-of-arms and that of her husband, Ugolino Ugolini, are carved on the base of the frame.
Siena. San Niccolò al Carmine.
*Fall of the Rebel Angels. Wood, 348 x 225.
This well-preserved picture is Beccafumi’s second version of the altarpiece. The first, unfinished version was rejected by the Carmelite monks and is now in the Pinacoteca. The second version is usually dated around 1526-30. (It must have been finished by 1535; as Vasari says that it was admired by Baldassare Peruzzi, who left Siena that year and died in 1536.) The composition has been radically altered. God the Father is introduced as a dominating presence in the upper part. St Michael, now in the middle of the composition, drives Lucifer to the centre of the earth. The torment of the fallen angels below in Hell contrasts with the blissful radiance of the semi-circles of angels in Heaven. The predella mentioned by Vasari, with five scenes ‘painted in tempera in a beautiful and judicious manner’, was detached in 1688 when the altar was restored. Two surviving panels from it are in Pittsburgh.
Siena. Santo Spirito.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 300 x 174.
SS. Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria kneel in the foreground; Anthony of Padua and Pope Gregory are behind. The altarpiece was painted not for Santo Spirito but for the Camaldolese monastery of the Ognissanti, outside the Porta Romana in Siena. It was moved to the Oratorio di Santa Maria Maddalena in the early seventeenth century, taken to the Accademia in Florence in the early nineteenth century when the oratory was closed, and transferred finally to Santo Spirito around 1832. It now hangs in the third chapel on the right side of the church. It has lost its ‘very beautiful’ predella with ‘some small figures in tempera’ mentioned by Vasari. Probably comparatively late (about 1540?). The panel has had to be treated for a bad infestation of worm.
Siena. Palazzo Chigi-Saracini. Chigi-Saracini Collection.
The famous Chigi-Saracini collection – now owned mainly by the Monte dei Paschi bank but still housed in the splendid fourteenth-century palazzo on the Via di Città – contains at least a half-dozen works by Beccafumi. The collection is not open to the public, though exhibitions are held periodically.
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 310 x 230.
Saints Peter and Paul sit on the steps; Sigismund and Dominic stand behind on the left with the infant John the Baptist; and Catherine and Bernard stand on the right. This large picture was the main panel of an altarpiece completed by 20 March 1529 (1528 old style) for the chapel of the Gambassi family in the Dominican church of Santo Spirito at Siena. Santo Spirito was dependent on the Florentine church of San Marco, and Beccafumi’s picture (with flying angels supporting a canopy over the Virgin enthroned at the top of a flight of steps) has much in common with Fra Bartolommeo’s San Marco altarpiece of about 1512. Beccafumi’s altarpiece, ‘which was executed with much judgement and design, gained him great honour’, Vasari says. It had a painted and gilded frame and was valued at the substantial sum of about one hundred ducats. The predella, described in detail by Vasari, was dispersed when the altarpiece was acquired by Galgano Saraceni in the early nineteenth century. Two of the panels from it are now in Tulsa; one is in Cambridge; and the remaining two are known through old copies at Boston. Restored in 2014.
There are two studies (brush drawings in oil on paper) in the Uffizi for the seated figure of the Virgin with the Child on her lap and a study (also oil on paper) at the British Museum for the head of the infant Baptist looking up in profile.
St Catherine receiving the Stigmata. Detached fresco, 132 x 103.
Traditionally ascribed to Sodoma, this fresco is an early work of Beccafumi, perhaps about contemporary with his famous altarpiece of the Stigmatisation of St Catherine from the Olivetan monastery of San Benedetto fuori Porta Tufi (now in the Siena Gallery) or with the frescoes of the Marriage and Death of the Virgin in the Oratorio di San Bernardino. Transferred, with its supporting masonry, to the Palazzo Chigi-Saraceni in 1814 from the Palazzo Lucherini, and placed on a wall by the chapel, where it still remains.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Wood, 101 x 73.
Probably the ‘S. Agostino di Mecarino’ (that is, ‘St Augustine by Beccafumi’) recorded in the Saracini collection in 1819. Ignored in the Beccafumi literature until 1981, when Fabio Bisogni discussed it in an article on the painter’s pictures in the Saracini collection (published in Prospettiva). Bisogni suggested a provenance from the Sienese Compagnia di San Michele, which possessed a venerated relic of St Ignatius.
Madonna and Child with St Anne. Wood, 53 x 32.
This small devotional work is close in style to the large altarpiece of the Nativity in San Martino, and may date from the early 1520s. Recorded, with an attribution to Beccafumi, in the Saraceni collection since 1819.
Putti with a Medallion. Wood, 66 x 50.
Similar to the panel in the Horne Museum, Florence. Unfinished, the medallion being left blank. Recorded in the Saracini collection since 1819.
Lucrezia. Wood, 60 x 44.
At the sides: Lucrezia’s husband Tarquinius Collatinus, father Lucretius, and avenger Lucius Junius Brutus. Loosely painted and unfinished. Perhaps the painting of ‘the chaste Susanna, falsely accused by two wicked old men, defended by the Prophet Daniel’ attributed to Beccafumi in the 1819 inventory of the Saracini collection.
Saint Stephen. Wood, 25 x 22.
This tiny panel probably belonged to the predella or, more likely, the pilaster of an altarpiece. Recorded, with an attribution to Beccafumi, in the Saracini collection since 1819. The attribution was once doubted, but has been accepted by several critics since the 1980s.
Three Heroines of Antiquity: Artemisia; Cleopatra; Judith. Wood, each, 77 x 44/45.
The figure holding a goblet was formerly thought to be the Carthaginian noblewoman Sophonisba, who poisoned herself rather than be humiliated in a Roman triumph, but is now identified as Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus, who drank the ashes of her dead husband Mausolus in order to become his living tomb. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra holds the snake (asp) to her breast. The Old Testament heroine Judith brandishes a sword in one hand and holds the severed head of the Assyrian general Holofernes in the other. Previously ascribed simply to an anonymous 'Maestro delle Eroine Chigi Saracini', the three panels were attributed to Beccafumi, as early works of around 1506-7, only in 2015 (by Alessandro Angelini in Prosettiva).
A number of other works formerly attributed to Beccafumi are classed as copies in Fiorella Sricchia Santoro’s 1988 catalogue of the collection. These include a small panel of the Madonna and Child Reading (thought by Sanminiatelli (1967) to be a side panel of a triptych painted for the Compagnia di Santa Lucia in 1521) and an oil sketch of the Nativity (once believed to be a brozzetto for the altarpiece in San Martino).
Siena. Palazzo Bindi Sergardi (formerly Palazzo Casini-Casuccini).
Beccafumi decorated the ceiling of a small room on the first floor when the palazzo, on the Via dei Pellegrini, was probably still the residence of the Venturi family (exiled from the city with Francesco Petrucci in 1524). Two large rectangular compartments (each 260 x 280) in the centre of the ceiling represent the Continence of Scipio and Zeuxis and the Maidens of Croton. Six octagonal spaces illustrate the deeds of classical heroes and ten medallions show scenes from classical mythology. The ceiling was restored for the 1990 Beccafumi exhibition.
The palazzo (which has an inconspicuously plain façade) is still in private ownership and access is not permitted.
Siena. Ricovero di Campansi.
Madonna and Child with Saints. Detached fresco, 240 x 222.
The Virgin and St Anne are seated on a marble bench; Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment) stands behind on the left and St Ursula (with arrow and banner) is on the right. This charming (but damaged) fresco is on the first floor of the former Franciscan convent of San Girolamo in Campansi (now converted into a nursing home).
Spoleto. Museo Diocesano.
Nativity. Wood, 153 x 122.
Towards the top of the panel are tiny scenes of the angel appearing to the shepherds (left) and the journey of the Magi (right). The picture was an altarpiece from the church of Santa Maria Assunta in the village of Montesanto near Sellano (some 25 km from Spoleto). The church was partly destroyed in the 1997 earthquake. The picture was little known until 1964, when it was included in an exhibition of restored works of art at Perugia. It was previously in a very neglected state: the panel was cracked and there were many paint losses (particularly in the lower part). A late work, dating from the 1540s. The frame is original and an inscription on it gives the name of the donor ('the most pious nun Mariangela Sperantiae').
Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Madonna and Child with Infant St John. Wood, 92 x 69.
The lurid colour, elaborate contrapposto and soft, sketchy handling are typical of Beccafumi's late style (early 1540s?). The painting, which was in Germany before the War, came to notice only in 1988, when it was auctioned at Sotheby's, London, for £297,000. The composition was already known from other versions (one in the Palazzo Piccolomini at Pienza and another in the Santuario di San Bartolomeo at Ponzano Magra). Bought by the museum in 1992 from the Matthiesen Gallery.
Tulsa. Philbrook Art Center.
Baptism of Christ; St Catherine accepts the Crown of Thorns. Wood, 25 x 38.
These two small panels match Vasari’s descriptions of two scenes – ‘St John baptising Christ’ and ‘Christ presenting St Catherine of Siena with two crowns, one of roses, the other of thorns’ – in the predella of the altarpiece painted in 1529 for the church of Santo Spirito in Siena. The main panel, representing the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, is now in the Chigi-Saracini collection. The predella panels were detached and dispersed by 1822. Once in the Manzi collection at Siena, the Tulsa panels were acquired by Samuel H. Kress from Contini Bonacossi in 1939 and donated to Philbrook Center in 1953. One of the other predella panels is in Cambridge. Two are lost, but are known through old copies in Boston. There is a larger version of the Tulsa Baptism in the Siena Pinacoteca.
Venice. Seminario Patriarcale. Galleria Manfrediniana.
Penelope. Wood, 84 x 48.
In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus (Ulysses). To keep suitors at bay during her husband's long absence, she pretended to weave a burial shroud. She is shown in a classical dress of green silk, standing beside a decorated loom and holding a spindle in her right hand. The loom rests on a pagan altar adorned with bronze rams' heads, while the stone relief on the parapet appears to show women buying spindles from a street seller. Once thought to be from the same series as the Cornelia in Rome (Galleria Doria Pamphilj) and the Tanaquil and Marcia in London, but now considered earlier in style (about 1514?). Acquired by Marchese Federico Manfredini from the Ospedale di Santa Maria Scala at Siena, where it was ascribed to Baldassare Peruzzi. The Manfredini collection was bequeathed to the Seminario Patriarcale in 1829.
Washington. National Gallery.
Holy Family with Angels. Wood, 81 x 62.
Freely executed with broad, fluid brushstrokes. The scarlet and pink of the Virgin's dress and veil and greenish blue of her mantle contrast starkly with the dull brownish monochrome of the rest of the painting, and the blurry heads of Joseph and the angels seem to melt into the shadowy backround. This well-preserved panel is considered one of Beccafumi’s latest pictures (1540s). From the collection at Rome of Cavaliere Enrico Marinucci, who probably inherited it in 1934 from his uncle, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress (via Contini Bonacossi) in 1939 and gifted to the National Gallery in 1943..