Simon “the Zealot” is one of Jesus’s apostles in the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but otherwise Simon is an elusive figure. Legend says that he was martyred by being sawn apart, but there is no saw to indicate his martyrdom in this half-length portrait. This panel once decorated the predella of an altarpiece along with nine other small portraits of apostles, three of which are in the collection of the National Gallery of Art:
The array of 10 apostle portraits was already a bit old-fashioned when Simone painted the altarpiece and helps to determine the painting’s date, around 1320. After that time, such predellas were more typically decorated with a series of narrative scenes from the life of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or a saint. In addition, it is believed that this is the last time Simone employed rounded arches, choosing the more “modern” pointed Gothic arch for his later altarpieces.
This panel and its three companions at the Gallery—
In 1924, Maitland Fuller Griggs, acquired four panels of the series—Saints Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthias, and Andrew—through Edward Hutton, and these entered the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1943. The bust of Saint James Minor (fig. 9) belonged to the Stoclet Collection in Brussels at least since 1927, and since 2005 it has belonged to the Salini collection at Castello di Gallico (Asciano). Philip Lehman purchased the image of Saint Philip (fig. 8) along with the four panels discussed here before 1928. The Saint Philip was sold at auction at Christie’s in New York on January 11, 1991 (lot 12). It was purchased by Carlo de Carlo (Florence), in whose collection it remained until 1999; its present whereabouts are unknown.
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
The horizontal graining of the wood of the support in all ten panels suggests they are fragments of a
A horizontal band, cut from a single plank, below the main panels of an altarpiece. The appearance of the predella can be seen as part of the development of the altarpiece from a single panel to a large, multilevel polyptych. The small figures or scenes painted on the predella formed part of the integrated program of the altarpiece, providing a visual commentary on the major images above and at the same time physically raising the main panels, thus improving their visibility. —Ronald Baxter, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
The predella, especially in large-size altarpieces in Tuscany, was almost always painted on a single timber with grain running horizontally, separated from the wooden support of the main panels. The top tier of images above the main register, on the other hand, was frequently painted on the same vertically grained panel as the main register itself. See John White, Duccio: Tuscan Art and the Medieval Workshop (New York, 1979), 89–91; Christoph Merzenich, Vom Schreinerwerk zum Gemälde: Florentiner Altarwerke der ersten Hälfte des Quattrocento (Berlin, 2001), 55. The following scholars maintained that the panels formed part of the predella of a polyptych: Lionello Venturi, Pitture italiane in America (Milan, 1931), no. 60; Lionello Venturi, Italian Paintings in America, trans. Countess Vanden Heuvel and Charles Marriott, 3 vols. (New York and Milan, 1933), 1: no. 76; George McCall, Masterpieces of Art: Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800, ed. Wilhelm R. Valentiner (New York, 1939), 116–117; Michael Mallory, “An Altarpiece by Lippo Memmi Reconsidered,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 9 (1974): 201 n. 19; Michel Laclotte, in Retables italiens du XIIIe au XVe siècle, ed. Claude Ressort, Sylvia Beguin, and Michel Laclotte (Paris, 1978), 19; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:332, 333 n. 7; Andrew Martindale, Simone Martini (Oxford, 1988), 35 n. 18; Cristina De Benedictis, Lippo Memmi in Encyclopedia dell’arte medievale, Rome, 1996, 7:732. De Benedictis (1974) initially argued, as Federico Zeri (1980) did, that they belonged instead to the upper register of a polyptych. Gertrude Coor (1956) thought that both solutions were possible, as did Sabina Spannocchi (2009). See Cristina De Benedictis, “A proposito di un libro su Buffalmacco,” Antichità viva 13, no. 2 (1974): 8, 10 n. 13; Federico Zeri and Elizabeth E. Gardner, Italian Paintings: Sienese and Central Italian Schools; A Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1980), 95; Gertrude Coor, “Trecento – Gemälde aus der Sammlung Ramboux,” Wallraf – Richartz – Jahrbuch 18 (1956): 118; and Sabina Spannocchi, in La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV, ed. Luciano Bellosi, 2 vols. (Florence, 2009), 1:135.
Examples of the predella type with busts of saints set in round-arched frames are Simone Martini’s polyptych now in the Museo Nazionale in Pisa (1319–1320); that of Ugolino di Nerio in the Museo Nazionale in Lucca, datable to c. 1320; and that of Meo da Siena, also dating to around 1315–1320, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Perugia. Cf. James H. Stubblebine, Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1979), 2: fig. 375; and Francesco Santi, ed., Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, vol. 1, Dipinti, sculture e oggetti d’arte di età romanica e gotica (Rome, 1969), 58–59. Predellas with medallions surrounded by floriated motifs, by contrast, were used by