Click on any panel in the altarpiece reconstruction below to see an enlarged version of the image. Color reproductions in the reconstruction indicate panels in the National Gallery of Art collection.
The inscription around the elaborate gold clasp holding her cloak gives her name, but 14th-century viewers would have immediately recognized Saint Catherine of Alexandria by the book she holds and the spiked wheel before her. Legends of the fourth-century Egyptian martyr made her one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. A beautiful girl from a royal family, she was baptized following a dream in which the infant Jesus gave her a ring. As the bride of Christ, she rejected a temporal marriage to the Roman emperor Maxentius and protested his persecution of Christians. When famous philosophers were sent to convince her of the errors of her faith, she confounded them with her knowledge, but she was still sentenced to be torn apart between spiked wheels. When the moment came, miraculously, the wheels burst into flames, but she was beheaded anyway. Catherine was considered an especially potent intercessor for human prayers, protector of the dying, and patron of students.
This painting was once part of an altarpiece that stood in the church of San Cerbone, in the Tuscan town of Lucca (see
The painting represents the martyr saint of Alexandria according to the usual
Terms that refer broadly to the study of subjects and themes in works of art. Iconology, which is based on the results of iconography, is the more wide-ranging and comprehensive. One of the principal concerns of iconography is the discovery of symbolic and allegorical meanings in a work of art. —Willem F. Lash, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
George Kaftal, Saints in Italian Art, vol. 1, Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting (Florence, 1952), 225–234.
Type of object with several panels, usually an altarpiece, although it may also fulfil other functions. The polyptych normally consists of a central panel with an even number of side-panels, which are sometimes hinged to fold. Although in principle every object with two panels or more may be called a polyptych, the word is normally used as a general term for anything larger than a triptych. As with diptychs and triptychs, the size and material can vary. —Victor M. Schmidt, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar, abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum. The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. —Alexander Nagel, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Licia Bertolini Campetti and Silvia Meloni Trkulja, eds., Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca: La villa e le collezioni (Lucca, 1968), 141 – 142. The Madonna measures 91 × 56 cm and the panel of Saint John the Evangelist 72.5 × 42.2 cm. According to Placido Campetti (1932), the monastery sold the two panels in the early years of the twentieth century. Placido Campetti, “Annuari,” Bollettino storico lucchese 4 (1932): 159.
Raffaele Bruno, Roma: Pinacoteca capitolina (Bologna, 1978), 3. The panel of Saint Bartholomew (inv. no. 345) measures 75 x 42 cm, and that of Mary Magdalene (inv. no. 346) 73 x 41 cm. The two paintings entered the Capitoline collection, Rome, in 1936.
The five-part San Cerbone polyptych had a rather archaic structure, formed of five rectangular panels
I refer to such panels as the dispersed polyptych from the church of the Carmine in Siena, dated 1329, in which the laterals (representing full-length figures of saints) were each surmounted by an image of a pair of saints, or polyptych no. 50 in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Siena, probably dating to c. 1335 – 1340, in which the saints of the main register are represented half-length, though again with paired saints in the upper tier. Cf. Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 97 – 99, 105 – 106. In contrast to the Carmine polyptych, the spandrels in polyptych no. 50 are decorated not with figures of angels but with ornamental motifs.
One may recall the polyptych formerly in the church of Santa Croce in Florence, probably executed in c. 1330 and now divided among various museums in the world. Here the saints in the main register, portrayed just over half-length (and the angels filling the spandrels), are surmounted by a frieze of medallions with images of the ancestors of Christ and above that by paired saints; cf. Stefan Weppelmann, “Geschichten auf Gold in neuem Licht: Das Hochaltarretabel aus der Franziskanerkirche Santa Croce,” in Geschichten auf Gold: Bilderzählungen in der frühen italienischen Malerei, ed. Stefan Weppelmann (Berlin, 2005), 26 – 50.
Bulgarini, in his triptych representing the Crucifixion at the center and half-length figures of female saints in the laterals (no. 54 in the Pinacoteca of Siena), surmounted the panels of the main register (with a pointed arch defining the painted area and ornamental decoration in the spandrels) with triangular-shaped gable panels filled with half-length figures of saints. Cf. Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 136. It should be said, however, that, as may be observed from the pose of the saints in the lateral panels, this complex must originally have been a five-part altarpiece. Since it has been truncated below, the main register likely consisted of full-length figures. A complex very similar to the San Cerbone polyptych, apart from that now in the Berenson Library at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, must have been that of which only the centerpiece now survives, namely the Madonna and Child in the Museo Diocesano at Pienza. See Franco Russoli and Nicky Mariano, The Berenson Collection, trans. Frances Alexander and Sidney Alexander, Edizioni Beatrice d’Este (Milan, 1964), xvii; and Laura Martini, ed., Museo diocesano di Pienza, Musei senesi (Siena, 1998), 29 – 31. Only in his late phase, it seems, did Bartolomeo adopt the solution of paired saints in the upper register of altarpieces: an example of this type is the fragment now in the Lehman collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Cf. John Pope-Hennessy and Laurence B. Kanter, The Robert Lehman Collection, vol. 1, Italian Paintings (New York, 1987), 16 – 17.
As for the attribution of the panel now in the Gallery, it was formerly considered a work by Deodato Orlandi, a leading painter of Lucca in the later thirteenth century, who is known to have painted a Crucifixion dated 1288, formerly in the same church of San Cerbone from which our Saint Catherine came.
Now in the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi in Lucca; cf. Licia Bertolini Campetti and Silvia Meloni Trkulja, eds., Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca: La villa e le collezioni (Lucca, 1968), 139–140.
Adolfo Venturi, “La quadreria Sterbini in Roma,” L’Arte 8 (1905): 427, 428 fig. 5; Adolfo Venturi, La Galleria Sterbini in Roma: Saggio illustrativo (Rome, 1906), 33–35; Adolfo Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, vol. 5, La pittura del Trecento e le sue origini (Milan, 1907), 696 n. 1.
F. Mason Perkins, “Arte senese nella Quadreria Sterbini a Roma,” Rassegna d’arte senese 1, no. 4 (1905): 148 – 149; F. Mason Perkins, “Pitture senesi poco conosciute,” La Diana 6 (1931): 28; Raimond van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. 2, The Sienese School of the 14th Century (The Hague, 1924), 326; Emilio Cecchi, Pietro Lorenzetti (Milan, 1930), 7, pl. 8; George Harold Edgell, A History of Sienese Painting (New York, 1932), 114; Duveen Brothers, Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America (New York, 1941), no. 14; National Gallery of Art, Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture (Washington, DC, 1941), 111; Regina Shoolman and Charles E. Slatkin, The Enjoyment of Art in America (Philadelphia, 1942), 284, pl. 253; National Gallery of Art, Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection (Washington, DC, 1945), 20.
Emil Jacobsen, Sienesische Meister des Trecento in der Gemäldegalerie zu Siena (Strasbourg, 1907), 41 n . 7; Edward Hutton, in Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle, A New History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century, vol. 2, Sienese School of the Fourteenth Century; Florentine School of the Fifteenth Century, ed. Edward Hutton (London and New York, 1909), 90 n. 7; Ernest T. DeWald, “Pietro Lorenzetti,” Art Studies 7 (1929): 160 n. 2.
Andrea Péter, “Ugolino Lorenzetti e il Maestro di Ovile,” Rivista d’arte 13 (1931): 22–33; Millard Meiss, “Ugolino Lorenzetti,” The Art Bulletin 13 (1931): 380–384, 393, 397.
Raimond van Marle, Le scuole della pittura italiana, vol. 2, La scuola senese del XIV secolo (The Hague, 1934), 155, 160.
See Millard Meiss, “Bartolommeo Bulgarini altrimenti detto ‘Ugolino Lorenzetti?,’” Rivista d’arte 18 (1936): 113 – 136; and Elisabeth H. Beatson, Norman E. Muller, and Judith B. Steinhoff, “The St. Victor Altarpiece in Siena Cathedral: A Reconstruction,” The Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 610 – 631, where for the first time a painting attributed to both “Ugolini Lorenzetti” and to the Ovile Master — the Nativity in the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts — was identified as a documented work by Bartolomeo Bulgarini.
What still remains problematic is the chronological sequence of Bulgarini’s oeuvre, which is devoid of dated works, apart from the tavole di biccherna.
The following biccherna panels can be attributed to Bulgarini: that in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin (K. 9222), dated 1329 – 1330; those in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (nos. 1669 – 1670), dated respectively 1339 – 1340 and 1345 – 1346; that in a private collection in Geneva, dated 1349 – 1350; and that in the Archivio di Stato in Siena (no. Bicch. 28), dated 1352 – 1353. See, respectively, Miklós Boskovits, ed., Frühe italienische Malerei: Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde, trans. Erich Schleier (Berlin, 1988), 180 – 181; L’Art gothique siennois: Enluminure, peinture, orfèvrerie, sculpture (Florence, 1983), 198 – 200; Il gotico a Siena: Miniature, pitture, oreficerie, oggetti d’arte (Florence, 1982), 251 – 252.
On the altarpiece, apart from the publication cited in note 12 above, cf. also Rudolf Hiller von Gaertringen, Italienische Gemälde im Städel 1300 – 1550: Toskana und Umbrien, Kataloge der Gemälde im Städelschen Kunstinstitut Frankfurt am Main (Mainz, 2004), 82 – 96. Since in May 1351 a carpenter received payments for “fattura civori e cercini e colonine di legname per la tavola di Santo Vittorio” (making awnings, curtains, and wooden columns for the altarpiece of San Vittorio), that is, for the embellishments to the polyptych’s wooden frame, it may be assumed that the work had already been completed by this date.
Ever since his earliest works, such as the Madonna of Montichiello and the great Marian polyptych in the Pieve di Santa Maria at Arezzo (1320),
Cf. Laura Martini, ed., Museo diocesano di Pienza, Musei senesi (Siena, 1998), 23–31.
Andrea Péter, “Ugolino Lorenzetti e il Maestro di Ovile,” Rivista d’arte 13 (1931): 32; and Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 136–137 had already noted these similarities in pose and physiognomic types.
Cf. note 6 above. The greater linearity and expansive volume of the figure in the panel now in the Pinacoteca Capitolina suggest an earlier date for the Berenson Magdalene.
A picture consisting of three parts. The term denotes both the object itself and its compositional form. As an object, the triptych may vary in size and material, but usually consists of a central panel flanked by wings (or shutters), which may be hinged; as a compositional form it is a tripartite structure, often with an emphasized central element. Although its imagery was, until the 19th century at least, predominantly religious, the object as such was not tied to a specific function. —Victor M. Schmidt, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), 134–135 (without inventory number).
This group of works can be safely assumed to have been executed in the same span of years, presumably still in the course of the first half of the century, but after an initial phase in which Bulgarini had produced the nervous, tormented figures of the polyptych formerly in the Museo di Santa Croce in Florence,
Millard Meiss, “Ugolino Lorenzetti,” The Art Bulletin 13 (1931): figs. 18, 19; Andrea Péter, “Ugolino Lorenzetti e il Maestro di Ovile,” Rivista d’arte 13 (1931): fig. 1.
Piero Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, vol. 1, I dipinti dal xii al xv secolo (Genoa, 1977), 134 – 135. This is the painting that is likely closest stylistically to the San Cerbone polyptych. However, the daring invention in the latter, of presenting Saint John immersed in reading and with his face slightly foreshortened, though anticipated in the polyptych by
Brigitte Klesse, Katalog der italienischen, französischen und spanischen Gemälde bis 1800 im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (Cologne, 1973), 65–66 (nos. 610–611).
I refer to panels with trapezoidal termination and inner pointed arch with trefoil moldings, such as the Madonna by
In his first attempt to reconstruct the chronology of the artist’s catalog, Millard Meiss (1931) placed the San Cerbone polyptych among the master’s earliest works, close to 1330. Fern Rusk Shapley (1966, 1979) proposed a slightly later date of c. 1335, a dating that Antonio Caleca accepted (1981, 1986). Judith De Botton (1983) proposed 1340 – 1350, Miklós Boskovits (1990) c. 1340, Judith Steinhoff-Morrison (1990, 1993, 1996) the mid-1340s, Erling Skaug (1994) c. 1339 – 1348, and Angelo Tartuferi (1998) c. 1340. See Millard Meiss, “Ugolino Lorenzetti,” The Art Bulletin 13 (1931): 376 – 397; Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII–XV Century (London, 1966), 54; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:270 – 271; Antonio Caleca, in Il secolo di Castruccio: Fonti e documenti di storia lucchese, ed. Clara Baracchini (Lucca, 1983), 199; Antonio Caleca, “Pittura del Duecento e del Trecento a Pisa e a Lucca,” in La Pittura in Italia: Il Duecento e il Trecento, ed. Enrico Castelnuovo, 2 vols. (Milan, 1986), 1:254; Judith De Botton, in L’Art gothique siennois: Enluminure, peinture, orfèvrerie, sculpture (Florence, 1983), 242; Miklós Boskovits and Serena Padovani, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Early Italian Painting 1290 – 1470 (London, 1990), 36, 37 n.13; Judith Steinhoff-Morrison, Bartolomeo Bulgarini and Sienese Painting of the Mid-Fourteenth Century, 2 vols. (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1990), 1:192; Judith Steinhoff, “A Trecento Altarpiece Rediscovered: Bartolommeo Bulgarini’s Polyptych for San Gimignano,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 56 (1993): 107; Judith Steinhoff-Morrison, “Bulgarini, Bartolomeo,” in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner, 34 vols. (New York, 1996), 5:164; Erling S. Skaug, Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico: Attribution, Chronology, and Workshop Relationships in Tuscan Panel Painting with Particular Consideration to Florence, c. 1330 – 1430, 2 vols. (Oslo, 1994) 1:250; and Angelo Tartuferi, in Sumptuosa tabula picta: Pittori a Lucca tra gotico e rinascimento, ed. Maria Teresa Filieri (Livorno, 1998), 45. The most elaborate motivation for the dating is undoubtedly the one Steinhoff-Morrison (1990) proposed, though her reasoning was based (in my view) on partially mistaken premises. We may agree with her when she declared that the San Cerbone polyptych was later than that formerly in the Museo di Santa Croce in Florence and the triptych from Fogliano now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena. But her proposal to link this latter altarpiece with a payment made in 1339 for a painting of similar subject executed for the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena was mere conjecture, nor does it seem to me that there are sufficient grounds to affirm, as did Steinhoff-Morrison, that the biccherna panel of 1339 now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is earlier in date than the Fogliano triptych. Moreover, her observation, however subtle, that Bulgarini in the San Cerbone polyptych (and more precisely in the figures of Saint John and Saint Catherine) adopted “attributes [of the saints] as podia for their books” (Steinhoff-Morrison, “Bulgarini, Bartolomeo,” 192) cannot lead to the conclusion that the motif derived from Pietro Lorenzetti. In particular, her claim that “the earliest known instance of this device is in the altarpiece of the Beata Umiltà in the Uffizi,” which was executed “by a pupil of Pietro Lorenzetti . . . probably . . . ca. 1340” (both, 192), is open to question. Apart from the fact that various reputable scholars recognize this important though unfortunately dismembered altarpiece (nos. 6120 – 6126, 6129 – 6131, and 8437 of the Uffizi in Florence, and nos. 1077 and 1077A of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin) as a fully autograph work by Pietro Lorenzetti, Boskovits’s argument (1988) placing its date c. 1330 – 1335 has not so far been repudiated. See Miklós Boskovits, ed., Frühe italienische Malerei: Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde, trans. Erich Schleier (Berlin, 1988), 87 – 89. It also should not be forgotten that Simone Martini, in his figure of Saint Mark in the Pisa polyptych (1319), had already used the motif in question by letting the lion support the Evangelist’s book. For a reproduction, see Pierluigi Leone De Castris, Simone Martini (Milan, 2003), fig. on 176. So there is no terminus post quem of 1340 for the saints of the San Cerbone polyptych.
Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)
March 21, 2016
on the gilded brooch of the saint's mantle: S.K.A.T.E.R.I.N.A
Monastery of San Cerbone, near Lucca, by 1706 until no later than 1845; possibly Carlo Lasinio [1759–1838] or his son, Giovanni Paolo Lasinio [c. 1796-1855], Pisa; probably Monsignor Gabriele Laureani [d. 1849], Rome; Giulio Sterbini [d. 1911], Rome, by 1905; (Pasini, Rome). (Godfroy [sometimes spelled Godefroy] Brauer, Paris and Nice), by 1921; his estate; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 5 July 1929, no. 29); half shares purchased by (Kunsthandel A.G., Lucerne) and (antique dealer, Amsterdam); sold 18 October 1932 to (Julius Böhler, Munich); sold 4 September 1937 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold 1940 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1943 to NGA.
The painting is on a single-plank wooden support with the grain running vertically. In 1940 – 1941, Stephen Pichetto
Attaching a woodent grid to the reverse of a panel to prevent the panel's warping.
Photographs made during Pichetto’s treatment (in NGA conservation files) show the painting still in its rectangular shape, but with the top edge cut down.
A mixture of finely ground plaster and glue applied to wood panels to create a smooth painting surface. —Grove Art © Oxford University Press
An initial layer of paint applied to a ground that begins to define shapes and values.
There are a number of paint losses, especially along the abovementioned split. Apparently, the hooked spikes embedded in the rim of the wheel also were damaged: they were probably covered by silver leaf originally;
The NGA scientific research department analyzed the spokes using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF). Traces of silver were found in all but one spectra (analysis completed March 3, 2014, report forthcoming).
Application of restoration paint to areas of lost original paint to visually integrate an area of loss with the color and pattern of the original, without covering any original paint.
Antonio di Brandeglio, Vita di S. Cerbone vescovo di Popolonia e confessore (Lucca, 1706), 221 – 222, 300, reported a renovation of the chapel of the Virgin in the church of San Cerbone in 1669, during which the Washington panel and its companions (see below) were given a “more decent framing.” Evidently the reframing entailed the truncation of the upper part of the arched termination in all panels.
Venturi published a photograph by the Danesi studio (Rome) in 1905 and 1906; here the panel is shown virtually in the same state as in photo no. E – 3562 of the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione in Rome. This latter was probably made in the same year. See Adolfo Venturi, “La quadreria Sterbini in Roma,” L’Arte 8 (1905): 427, 428 fig. 5; Adolfo Venturi, La Galleria Sterbini in Roma: Saggio illustrativo (Rome, 1906) 33 – 34, 35 repro.
The photograph in question, of which a copy is preserved in the photographic archive of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, was taken (according to a handwritten annotation) when the painting was with the dealer Julius Böhler in Munich.
- Brandeglio, Antonio di. Vita di S. Cerbone vescovo di Popolonia e confessore. Lucca, 1706: 221-222, 300.
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