Simone Martini: biography
Simone Martini: the works
Signed and dated in the lower part of the frame, the Maestà is the major work of Simone Martini’s youth. The Virgin Enthroned beneath a wide canopy is surrounded by angels and a crowd of saints, with some supporting the canopy with poles. Among the many saints we can recognize the four protectors of Siena kneeling in the foreground: Ansano, Savino, Crescenzio and Vittore. On the right side of the fresco are Peter, the Archangel Michael, Agnes, Barbara and John the Baptist; on the left Paul, John the Evangelists, Catherine of Alexandria and the Magdalene. Painted between 1313 and 1315 this fresco was conceived as a grandiose piece of goldsmith’s art, enriched with gold decorations and punch-work, colored metal and stucco reliefs. It was “restored” by Simone and his helpers in 1321.
St. Martin is Knighted
This scene is part of the fresco cycle that Simone Martini painted in the chapel of St. Martin in the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It had been considered the work of Puccio Capanna, a pupil of Giotto, until the end of the XVII century: the arrangement of the architecture and some details of the landscapes are indeed very similar to the works of the great master who frescoed the basilica. In any event, the monumental nature of Giotto’s figures does not carry over into Simone’s characters that are permeated by an aristocratic elegance and distinguished by pure, brilliant colors. This scene portrays the moment that Martin of Tours was knighted by Constantine II, the son of Constantine the Great.
St. Martin Renouncing the Sword
This scene is part of the fresco cycle that Simone Martini painted in the chapel of St. Martin in the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It had been considered the work of Puccio Capanna, a pupil of Giotto, until the end of the XVII century: the arrangement of the architecture and some details of the landscapes are indeed very similar to the works of the great master who frescoed the basilica. In any event, the monumental nature of Giotto’s figures does not carry over into Simone’s characters that are permeated by an aristocratic elegance and distinguished by pure, brilliant colors. This scene portrays the moment in which, after having requested permission to leave the army and being accused of cowardice, Martin faced the enemy armed only with a cross.
Burial of St. Martin
This scene is part of the fresco cycle that Simone Martini painted in the chapel of St. Martin in the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It had been considered the work of Puccio Capanna, a pupil of Giotto, until the end of the XVII century: the arrangement of the architecture and some details of the landscapes are indeed very similar to the works of the great master who frescoed the basilica. In any event, the monumental nature of Giotto’s figures does not carry over into Simone’s characters that are permeated by an aristocratic elegance and distinguished by pure, brilliant colors. The Burial of St. Martin is the final scene of the fresco cycle.
San Gimignano Polyptych
Along with the Madonna and Child in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne (Germany) and the Saint Catherine in the Frescobaldi collection in Florence, this painting, that is now in Cambridge, was part of a huge, seven-panel polyptych painted around 1317 for the church of Sant’Agostino in San Gimignano where Vasari saw it and attributed it to Memmi. In 1785 the polyptych was still in situ as we can see from Della Valle’s comments to The Lives, but it was probably dismantled and sold during the Napoleonic suppression of churches and religious orders. With Duccio’s influence still evident and with recollections of the Maestà, the polyptych reveals spacious formal and chromatic elegance that would point to Simone’s hand rather than his helpers’ as had been hypothesized starting with Vasari.Iconography
St. Louis of Toulouse
This painting was probably done in 1317, the year that Louis, second son of Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily and Mary of Hungary, was canonized. The saint renounced the crown in favor of his brother Robert who is shown kneeling at the right of the painting. Robert’s ascent to the throne triggered many protests and Simone’s painting, that shows Louis being crowned by two angels and Robert being crowned by his brother, reiterates the legitimacy of the Kingdom of Naples. Once again Martini conceived a painting as a work of fine goldsmithing: the severe figures that can be considered the first portraits in the history of Italian art stand out against the gold background.Iconography
Originally this polyptych was in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Orvieto from which it was purchased in 1851 later to be resold to Isabella Stewart Gardner at the turn of the century via Bernard Berenson. The polyptych belongs to a group of three paintings done by Simone’s atelier for the city of Orvieto early in the third decade of the fourteenth century. The autography of the individual panels is still under debate even if the idea of the Child tickling the Virgin’s chin along with the Gothic elegance and linear, dynamic tension of the whole composition must be attributed to Simone.
This grandiose retablo that comprises 43 half figures of saints was done in 1320 for the high altar of the Dominican church of Santa Caterina in Pisa. Dismantled and dispersed the polyptych was reassembled thanks to the work of Ernst Förster, who started with the parts that were still in Pisa and had been attributed to Giotto. The panels were found in a room in the bishop’s seminary, but were kept hidden out of fear that they would get onto the antiques market. Signed at the bottom of the central panel, this is certainly the most complex and complete of Simone’s surviving polyptychs. The division into panels is overcome by the use of different gestures and motifs that imposed Simone’s language as the prototype for Tuscan altar polyptychs.
The Blessed Agostino Novello
This panel painting is divided into three parts: in the center is the severe standing figure of the blessed Augustinian monk from Siena, Agostino Novello, while the miraculous scenes from his life are narrated on either side. Agostino, whose father was from Siena, was born at Terranova in Sicily sometime around 1235. After studying in Bologna he became an advisor and judge to King Manfredi. Upon the king’s death he entered the Augustinian order and moved to Siena. He lived nearby at the monastery of San Leonardo al Lago and died there in 1309. He quickly became one of the most venerated figures of Siena. The altarpiece was placed above his tomb in the church of Sant’Agostino in Siena and he is portrayed with a saint’s halo in homage to the profound cult that developed around him. The high quality of painting is also evident in the lateral scenes that are set within the walls of Medieval Siena.Iconography
Guidoriccio da Fogliano
affresco; 340 x 968
Siena, Palazzo pubblico, sala del Mappamondo
L’affresco mostra il comandante dell’esercito senese nella presa del castello di Montemassi in Maremma, avvenuta nel 1328, ed è collocato nella Sala Maggiore del Palazzo pubblico di Siena, proprio di fronte alla Maestà di Simone. La zona di destra, in cui appare il castello di Montemassi, è un rifacimento tardo-quattrocentesco, condotto con molta probabilità sull’originale, e anche il blu del cielo fu ridipinto in un momento successivo alla stesura originale. La figura del condottiero e dell’accampamento sulla sinistra sono invece in buono stato, anche se hanno perduto la ricchissima decorazione originale, tranne i tipici punzoni aurei della pittura di Simone. Le decorazioni della gualdrappa e della giornea del cavallo, oltre alle vesti di Guidoricccio, erano ricoperte da una sottile lamina di piombo argentato, mentre le losanghe, oggi nere, erano probabilmente auree. Il fulgido gruppo centrale gareggiava dunque con la Maestà della parete di fronte, contrapponendo le glorie civiche a quelle religiose e politiche della città.
The Annunciation and the Two Saints
By 1330 Simone’s style had become increasing refined and subtle, with little attention to naturalistic observation. This trend culminated in the Annunciation in the Uffizi that he had painted for the Siena cathedral in 1333. The painting is signed by both Simone and Lippo Memmi even though the critics agree that this is Simone’s most famous painting. The entire composition is bathed in golden light that is accentuated by the fine embroideries that are punchwork or pastille. The Virgin seems fearful after hearing the Angel’s words; the Angel, who holds an olive branch, seems to be moving with his wings at the peak of their vertical tension, while a vase of lilies stands in the middle of the setting.Iconography
Title Page, Petrarch’s Virgil
This scene is the illuminated title page of a codex with Virgil’s works annotated by Servius that had once belonged to Petrarch. Stolen in 1326 the precious manuscript was found in 1338 and on that occasion while in Avignon Simone, who was a friend of Petrarch’s, illuminated the title page with a portrayal of Servius raising the veil of obscurity from Virgil who is on the right. Next to Servius is Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s most famous epic poem, the Aeneid, while the farmer and shepherd in the foreground are references to Virgil’s Bucolics and Georgics. In the center there are two couplets in hexameter on scrolls held by winged hands commemorating Virgil, a son of the Italic land, and Servius, who was capable of revealing its “mysteries”. This tempera miniature is one of the focal points for reconstructing Simone’s work in Avignon and for identifying his later style that combines a didactic symbolism with a fresh and analytical rendering of nature.