Simone Martini

Summary

Simone Martini (Siena, c.1284 – Avignon, 1344) was an Italian painter and one of the greatest figures of medieval Sienese painting. Throughout his life he was commissioned by the highest circles, he was the first ”court artist” in Siena for the Council of Nine, he painted a series of frescoes in the most important church of the Franciscan Order in Assisi, he was commissioned by the Kingdom of Naples and later worked at the papal court. He went from being a local painter to becoming an internationally renowned artist. He and his circle of students transmitted important pictorial models which were exploited by many other European artists and entire schools of painting.

Little is known about Simone Martini”s life and personality. Giorgio Vasari, in his book “The most distinguished painters, sculptors and architects”, has described her life story along with that of several other Tuscan painters, but the information in the book is inaccurate. Vasari did not even know his name exactly, calling him Simone Memmi, confusing him with his brother-in-law Lippo Memmi. He was born in Siena or not far from the city around 1284. His father worked as an assistant to painters, helping to prepare frescoes. He probably studied in the workshop of Duccio di Buoninsegna and became a recognised artist before 1315. Between 1312 and 1315, he made drawings for the stained glass windows of the Chapel of St. Martin in the basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. In 1315, he painted the Maesta in the council chamber of the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) in Siena, and then worked on the frescoes in the Chapel of St Martin in Assisi. His fame grew rapidly and in 1317, shortly after his thirtieth birthday, he was invited to the court of the Angevins in Naples, where he received an annual stipend and was knighted. This is attested to by a pay order dated 23 July 1317, where he is referred to as a knight and not a painter. In the late first and early second decades of the 14th century he produced a number of panel paintings, but only two of these can be dated, the most important of which is the signed painting for the church of St Catherine of Alexandria in Pisa, painted in 1319, and the other is the altarpiece now in Orvieto, from 1320. No other works from these years have survived, so in the absence of sources it is not possible to identify which of the many works were his and which were made by his assistants. By the second decade of the 14th century, he already had a number of followers working in his workshop. Only his brother Donato and his later brothers-in-law Lippo and Federico Memmi are known by name. In the 1320s, he received numerous commissions in Siena, as attested by surviving documents, which generally refer to the sums paid to the artist. In 1321, he had to repaint part of the Maestà, and in 1322 and 1323 he received several commissions to decorate the Palazzo Pubblico. These works have been destroyed, and it is not possible to determine from documents what these commissions were. In 1324 he married Memmo di Filippuccio”s daughter Giovanna. The painter was by then a wealthy man, and shortly before his marriage he bought a house and gave his wife a wedding present of 240 gold coins as a wedding present. By marrying into the Memmo family, he and Lippo Memmo became even closer, a relationship that lasted for the rest of his life. The altarpiece of Blessed Augustus of Tarano in the church of St Augustine in Siena and the panel of St Lazarus, the Hungarian king, which was intended for private veneration, were probably painted in the 1320s. In 1326 he painted a panel for the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo. It was a significant work, as can be deduced from the considerable sum paid to the artist for it, but no other information is available. The following year, he painted two flags, which were given to the Republic of Siena]] King Robert of Naples presented it to his son, Prince Charles of Calabria. In 1329 or 1330, he painted two angels for the Palazzo Pubblico and there he painted the portrait of Marco Regoli, who was later executed for treason. These frescoes are also known only from the sources. Martini”s most popular work, the portrait of Guidoriccio da Folignano, was also painted in 1330. In 1333, he painted the Angelic Salutation for Siena Cathedral, his last known work before moving to Avignon. Sienese art also spread through miniatures. A beautifully illustrated missal in the Vatican library is attributed to him, as is the large watercolour and diluted tempera miniature he painted for a codex owned by Petrarch (now in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan). Of his works during his stay in Avignon, only a few fragments of frescoes survive in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Doms, a depiction of the Holy Family in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (1342), and pieces of a multi-part altarpiece in Antwerp, Paris and Berlin. Simone Martini died in Avignon in the summer of 1344. He had no children of his own, so in his will he divided his property (two houses, vineyards and a considerable sum of money) between his wife, his two nieces Francesca and Giovanna and the children of his brother Donato. His wife probably returned to Siena in 1347 to escape the plague.

Simone Martini was a follower of Duccio di Buoninsegna, and probably learned his art as a painter in his environment. He was also familiar with Giotto”s innovations, but consciously refrained from using them. He was close to French Gothic art, whose elegant lines are recognisable in his works. Thanks to him, the Sienese school enjoyed a brief reputation that was greater than that of Florence. He worked in Assisi, Naples, Rome and the Papal Palace in Avignon. Outside the official commissions of the Republic, he worked little in Siena, and much more for the Anjou of Naples. Through his work in Avignon, the characteristics of Sienese painting, with its Byzantine-style composition and colouring, and its Western Gothic lines, spread first to France and later to other parts of Europe. This style can be seen as a direct precursor of international Gothic. In addition to his frescoes, he also produced a large number of panel paintings, and these easily transportable wooden panels were a major factor in the spread of his reputation over large areas and the later popularisation of the Sienese style throughout Europe. He often used gold backgrounds, which were not affected by the new achievements in spatial representation. In many cases, he used a metal tool with an engraved end to print floral and other decorative motifs on the gold background, marking the frames, the glories or the hem of the garments. It is in the work of Simone Martini that we first observe the individualistic representation of his portraits in medieval painting. Examples of this are the portrait in profile of King Robert of Naples or the figure of Cardinal Gentile da Montefiore in the Chapel of St. Martin.

Simone Martini probably created his early works in Siena in the early 14th century. His earliest known work is Madonna with Child, which is in the Siena Picture Gallery (no. 583). It was the centrepiece of a multi-part panel painting, as indicated by the holes drilled in the frame. The Madonna is facing the viewer, her posture upright, her cloak covering her body tightly. These features are attributable to Duccio”s art, but the painting also shows the innovations of Martini, such as the characteristic shape of the shawl covering the Madonna”s head, the lights and shadows on the figures” clothes, the movement of the Child as she turns to face the saint (now lost) on her right, her curly hair and her perfectly sculpted ears. Another of his early works was discovered in the church of San Lorenzo in Ponte in San Gimignano, and research suggests that it was painted between 1311 and 1314. This is a picture of the Madonna, but only the face of the figure can be considered to be the work of Simone Martini, as in 1413 Cenni di Francesco repainted almost the entire fresco. Despite the extremely poor condition of the fresco, the depiction of the Madonna”s face by the lights and the remaining folds of the mantle are reminiscent of the Madonna of the Sienese Picture Gallery. Also found in Siena is his painting of the Madonna of Mercy, which may have been painted during the same period. Even in this painting, Duccio”s stylistic features are recognisable, especially in the arrangement of the figures under Mary”s cloak, but Martini”s innovation is the sense of space separating the figures, the animated figure of Mary and the folds of her cloak.

The Maestà

His first major assignment was in his hometown. Construction of the Palazzo Pubblico was completed in the early 14th century, and he painted the Madonna, the city”s protector, in the council chamber inside the building in 1315, in the company of saints and angels, just four years after Duccio had finished the altarpiece in the cathedral. It follows that Simone Martini was already a renowned master by this time, otherwise Duccio, not Simone Martini, would have been commissioned to create such a major work. Here the Madonna is no longer a semi-Byzantine figure but wears a crown like the French Madonnas. In her lap the child Jesus is holding a blessing in one hand and a scroll in the other. St. Peter, St. Paul, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are holding up a large colourful canvas canopy, the curtain of which is turned towards the viewer so that the inner side is visible. The coloured fabric canopy is supported by thin columns. The throne chair is Gothic in style, reminiscent of 14th-century tripartite altarpieces, suggesting that the artist was attracted to French Gothic from the beginning, even before he became more familiar with it at the papal court in Avignon. The features of the saints surrounding the Madonna are not very individual, they are not very expressive, and their expressions are gentle and without violence. The painter has placed the figures in planes behind each other in an attempt to give the impression of spatiality. To the left of the ornate throne are St Catherine of Alexandria, St John the Evangelist, St Mary Magdalene, St Gabriel the Archangel and St Paul, and to the right St Barbara, St John the Baptist, St Agnes, St Michael the Archangel and St Peter. In the lower row, the four patron saints of Siena kneel in the company of two angels who offer roses and lilies to the Madonna. The large fresco is framed by a wide decorative border, alternating between busts of prophets and floral motifs, and also features the coat of arms of the city of Siena in small medallions. In the four corners of the frame are the four evangelists with their symbols. Sinmone used other materials in addition to traditional paints, and in some parts of the fresco he carved into the wall or created raised surfaces to achieve the desired effect. The scroll that Jesus is holding is real paper and the text on it is real ink. He also drew heavily on the art of the Sienese silversmiths, a motif that is most evident in the design of the throne chair. At the kneeling figures, a line runs from the floor, about four metres above the ground, where the colours change slightly. It is probable that between the two parts he was in Assisi where he surveyed the surfaces and made drawings in the chapel of St Martin. He partially repainted the Maestà six years after its completion because parts of it had been damaged by rainwater infiltration. It is possible that the figures of Mary, the Child Jesus and the two angels holding flowers are the result of this repainting, as they bear the stylistic marks of the painter”s mature period.

The St Martin fresco cycle

The first four of the ten scenes depict the saint as a secular person.

Paintings of saints in the transept of the Basilica of St Francis

In the lower church of St Francis Basilica, in the transept on the right, on the outer wall of the chapel of St Nicholas, Simone Martini painted a wide band of seven saints and a Madonna and Child. The frescoes may have been painted around 1318, but some researchers believe it is possible that they were painted a decade later. The entire band is surrounded by an ornate frame, the figures are separated by thin columns, the lines are harmonious and the colours used to paint them are bright. The figures are, from left to right, St Francis, St Louis of Toulouse, St Elizabeth of Hungary, St Margaret, Prince Imre, St Stephen, Our Lady with Child and St Lazarus

King Robert of Naples, a friend of Petrarch, came to power after his brother Louis abdicated the crown. Louis entered the Franciscan Order, later became Bishop of Toulouse, and was canonised after his death. King Robert wanted to commemorate his brother, so in 1317 (at the same time as his canonisation) he commissioned an artist to paint his portrait. The panel was originally painted in a chapel of the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples and is still on display in the Capodimonte Picture Gallery in Naples. The panel was framed in a wide frame decorated with lilies, the symbol of the House of Anjou. Saint Louis is shown in the centre of the composition, seated on a throne, in a rigid frontal view. The prince wears an ornate high priestly robe over his Franciscan habit, and carries on his head a bishop”s mitre decorated with precious stones and pearls. He holds a shepherd”s crook in his right hand and the royal crown in his left hand, which he holds above his brother”s head. The saint is crowned by two angels, thus intertwining the earthly and heavenly coronations of Louis. The painting reflects the royal dignity of the characters, with the Anatolian carpet, the real glass disc holding the robes together, and the depictions of the jewellery and ornate dresses on the figures. Robert of Anjou wanted to emphasise the legitimacy of his reign, to protect himself from accusations of usurpation of the throne, and to emphasise the fact that the painter probably painted a lifelike portrait of the king, the figure of St Louis seems immaterial, looking into the distance, apparently already belonging to the divine sphere, while his brother, unlike him, is part of earthly reality

Scenes from the life of Saint Louis of Toulouse

At the bottom of the panel is the story of St Louis of Toulouse in five scenes. In the first image, Saint Louis accepts to be consecrated Bishop of Toulouse. For political reasons, this was done in secret in December 1296 in Rome in the presence of Pope Boniface VIII and King Charles II of Naples (Louis” father), who wanted to gain greater influence in an area of great importance to King Philip IV of France. Louis wanted no part in political games and was only willing to serve as a bishop if he could enter the Franciscan order. In the second picture, Louis takes the vows of 5 February 1297 on the basis of a secret pact with the Pope and becomes a member of the Franciscan Order, in the third picture he distributes holy food to the needy, in the fourth his funeral, a worthy act for a high priest, and in the fifth one of his miraculous acts of resurrecting a child who had died shortly before.

Research suggests that the polyptych of St Catherine (multi-panel painting) is entirely the work of Simone Martini. Some researchers have suggested that the martyr figures of St. Dominic and St. Peter were made by his assistants, but this is unlikely because the assistants” involvement was not emphasised until later in his work. In the annals of the monastery of Santa Caterina in Pisa, there is an indication that the commission was given in 1319 by a certain Petrus Converus, and that the work was intended for the main altar of the monastery. It is still on display in the San Matteo Museum in Pisa and is considered to be the most important signed painting by the artist. The altarpiece consists of seven pieces, each piece divided into three parts. The altarpiece features a total of forty-three figures of apostles, martyrs, bishops and prophets. Over the centuries, the pieces of the panel have been placed side by side in different orders. Currently, the triangles above show the Saviour in the centre, with King David playing the harp and Moses with the tablets on either side, and the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. In the second row, two figures occupy each of the seven panels. In the centre are the archangels Michael and Gabriel, with the apostles and the evangelist Matthew. Their names appear on the gold background, each holding a copy of the Gospel. From left to right: Thaddeus, Simon, Philip, James the Younger, Andrew, Peter, Paul, James the Elder, Matthew the Evangelist, Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the Apostle. In the middle row are the large figures of Mary Magdalene, St. Dominic, St. John the Evangelist, Our Lady with Child, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter the Martyr and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Above the Madonna in the frame is the artist”s signature “Symon de Senis me pinxit”. The lower row, the order of the predella parts, is less problematic. In the centre is Christ with the Virgin Mary and St Mark. The other figures are, from left to right, St Stephen, St Apollonia, St Jerome, St Luca, St Gregory, St Luke, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine of Hippo, St Agnes, St Ambrose, St Orsolya and St Lawrence. The fact that the panel painting is divided into so many parts has given the artist the opportunity to depict other figures in addition to those traditionally depicted in this type of work, such as St Jerome and St Gregory, who were associated with the order of the commissioning Dominican. In addition, there are also recent canonisations, St Domonkos, the founder of the Order of Domonkos, and St Peter the Martyr. One of the special features of the panel is that it depicts St Thomas Aquinas in glory, although his canonisation did not actually take place until 1323.

It is very difficult to date the artist”s works from the early 1320s, and for many of them it is not even possible to determine with certainty who created them. This is because the assistants who worked closely with the master worked in his workshop in large numbers, often using each other”s brushes and sometimes even signing works that someone else had made. The Orvieto polyptych is a typical example of this phenomenon. The date of its creation has not yet been established, but it dates from the 1320s and was made for the church of St. Dominic. It is currently on display at the Opera del Duomo in Orvieto. It was commissioned by the Bishop of Sovana, Trasmundo Monaldeschi, who paid one hundred gold pieces for it. The panel was originally in seven parts, but today the two outer panels have been lost. In the centre is the Madonna and Child, with St Peter, St Mary Magdalene, St Dominic and St Paul. The polyptych, currently in the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, may be contemporary with the previous one, or it may have been made only slightly later. Originally painted for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Orvieto, the altarpiece is in five parts. Here too, a Madonna and Child is depicted in the centre, flanked from left to right by St Paul, St Luca, St Catherine of Alexandria and St John the Baptist. In the triangular areas above the main figures, angels appear in the centre next to Christ, who is showing his wounds, holding in their right hands the symbols of the Passion (column, whip, crown of thorns, cross, and spear). Stylistically, this panel is closer to the painting for the monastery of Santa Caterina in Pisa than to the polyptych from Orvieto. The figures have elegant lines, their hands are carefully worked. Scholars now consider the panel to be entirely the work of Simone Martini, except for the figure of St Paul. A group of works from the 1320s are almost impossible to date because no written documentation has survived. This group may include a panel of the Madonna with Child and Angels in the Opera del Duomo in orvieto, another of this painting, a martyr in Ottawa, a panel of St Luca and St Catherine in Settignano and two Madonnas in the Siena Picture Gallery. Some researchers also consider the crucifix in the church of the Misericordia in San Casciano in Val di Pesa to be a work by Simone Martini, dating from around 1321, but there is no written evidence of this either.

After spending several years in Assisi, Orvieto and also working in Pisa, he returned to Siena in 1324, married and probably stayed in the city for many years. By this time he was a widely known artist. He painted a number of frescoes for the town hall of Siena, but these works have not survived, and we only know of them from sources that tell us about the sums paid to the artist. In his second period in Siena, he painted the Blessed Augustine Altarpiece in the Church of St. Augustine in Tarano, the famous portrait of Guidoriccio da Folignano and the Angelic Salutation, now in the Uffizi.

The Blessed Augustine Altarpiece in Tarano

Augustus was a popular figure of the time. He studied law at the University of Bologna and then entered the Order of St Augustine, where he became a General of the Order. At the height of his career, he decided to retire to the hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago, not far from Siena. The altarpiece consists of five panels, depicting him and four of his miracles. It originally hung on the wall of the church of St. Augustine, above the coffin of Blessed Augustine. Together with the altar dedicated to him, the coffin and the panel formed a distinctive commemorative ensemble. The tablet could only be dated approximately, but it was probably already finished in 1324, when the city held a large and costly celebration in honour of Augustus. In the centre of the panel is a young-faced Augustus holding a book (the Statutes of the Order of St Augustine). The painter has depicted him in glory, even though he was not canonised. The trees next to him and the elderly hermits painted in the medallions above him are a reference to the secluded hermit life he led in San Leonardo al Lago. The four miracles are all about his help to people (in three cases children) who had suffered accidents. The miracle of the wolf attacking the child shows the town of Siena, the miracle of the child falling from the balcony shows a street in the town, the miracle of the child falling from the cradle shows the inside of a house, and the miracle of the knight falling into a ravine shows the surroundings of Siena in the background.

The Saint László plaque

The Altomonte St. Lazio plaque (Altomonte, Museo della Consolazione) was made for Filippo di Sangineto, an influential Neapolitan courtier, when he spent an extended period in Siena on the emperor”s orders. The small panel was probably in two parts, the surviving part of which depicts King Saint Lazio of Hungary. The choice of subject expresses the close ties that bound the client to the Hungarian branch of the House of Anjou. The saint stands before an ornate gold background, holding a battle-axe in his hand. The colours used for the panel are bright, and the shape of the saint”s cloak gives the impression of spatiality.

Guidoriccio da Folignano

Martini is said to have painted a portrait of the general Guidoriccio da Folignano in the council chamber of the Palazzo Pubblico in 1330, the year in which he put down the rebellion of the towns of Montemassi and Sassoforte, which were rebelling against the rule of the Sienese Republic. During the recent restoration, it was discovered that the fresco was painted from the top right, not the top left corner, as is customary. The mural was completed very quickly in seven or eight days, with the painting of the general and his horse taking just one day. The two small villages are depicted on a hilltop, with the camp of the Sienese army at their feet and the general on horseback in the centre. Behind him is a simply painted background with a dark blue sky. The painter seems to have paid great attention to the depiction of camps, insignia, banners, weapons and armour. The mural is one of the high points of Sienese fresco art, combining monumentality and decorativeness, as well as the initiatives of realistic portraiture, and the beginnings of realistic landscape painting in the abstract, signpost-like vision. In 1980, another fresco of great artistic value, probably dating from after 1330, was discovered beneath the painting, which may call into question both the date and the author of Guidoricco”s portrait. Researchers are still unable to say with certainty whether it is the work of Simone Martini. The last restoration revealed that the entire left side of the painting, including the depiction of Montemassi”s castle, was repainted in the 15th or 16th century. Examinations also revealed that there are four layers of plaster overlapping on the right side of the painting. This suggests that there may be remnants of an older painting underneath the landscape depicted in the painting, but to determine this, part of the current painting would have to be removed. Thus, the date and author of the painting remain uncertain.

Greetings from an angel

Greetings from an Angel is one of Simone Martini”s most popular works and also one of the most Gothic. Painted in 1333 for the altar of St. Ansanus in the Cathedral of Siena, it is currently on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Its frame is a richly inlaid Gothic architecture, articulated with broken arches. In the main triptych (three-panel painting), the cloaked Madonna is contracting as she hears the angel”s message. Her features are tense, as if awakened from sleep by the angel. The artist has taken particular care to depict the angel. He holds a palm branch in his hand, the folds of his special plaid robe giving a sense of his stormy appearance. His wings are elaborated with the meticulous care of a miniature painter. The back of the chair is covered with a red shroud decorated with delicate gold floral motifs. Alongside the figures, precisely rendered details, the ornate edge of the missal, the marble floor and the vase with lilies add to the elegance of the picture. The medallions at the top of the panel depict, from left to right, the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel, identified by their names written on the scrolls they hold in their hands. The vivid, subtle depiction of the dialogue between the angel and Mary makes Simone Martini”s mysticism still vivid and beloved today. The two saintly figures on either side of the triptych were probably painted by the artist”s brother-in-law Lippo Memmi, as indicated by the fact that the two figures are very different from the central figures, and are also signed by Memmi.

Simone Martini moved to Avignon at the invitation of Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi in early 1336 with his family and a few assistants, and died there in 1344. During his eight years in Avignon he received many commissions, but the vast majority of his works were destroyed. The frescoes Jesus with the Angels and Madonna and Child, commissioned by Cardinal Stefaneschi for the doorway of Notre-Dame-des-Doms, are fragmentary synopias. The special attraction of these synopsies is that they offer an insight into the creative process, the corrections and iconographic changes made during the work. Here, for the first time, he used the iconography of the Madonna dell”Umiltà (Madonna of the Humble), where Mary is not seated on a throne but on the ground. In addition, only a 17th century drawing preserves the memory of the fresco of St George painted on the façade of the church, which was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century. This fresco was also commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi and was not only a representation of his patron saint, but also embodied an ecclesiastic idea. Here, the fresco was a reminder that the Christian knights had as much a duty to free the Church imprisoned in Avignon as St George had to rescue the princess from the dragon. He also decorated a book for the Cardinal, painting the figure of the Virgin Mary snatching a child from purgatory at the beginning of a codex of Marian hymns acquired by the archpriest.Simone Martini formed a close friendship with Petrarch during his stay in Avignon and painted his portrait of Laura. The portrait, which the poet mentions in two of his sonnets, has been lost, but the miniature on the title page, humanistically inspired in both subject and conception, which he painted for a codex owned by Petrarch, has survived. The book contains the works of Virgil with commentaries by Servius. The picture shows Servius pulling back a curtain to show a knight, a peasant and a shepherd the poet. The miniature is painted in watercolour and diluted tempera, with translucent layers of paint and harmonious, rhythmic lines, and is influenced by French Gothic painting. Of his last works, the Polyptych of the Passion (fragments of which have been scattered in museums throughout Europe) is so stylistically different from his other works in Avignon that its date is uncertain. The panels of this small polyptych, commissioned for private devotion, depict the life of Christ in elegant variations on Duccio”s compositions of the Octave of Maestà. Some scholars believe it was completed before he moved to Avignon and then transported to France. Others believe that it is one of his latest works, commissioned by Napoleone Orsini, who died in Avignon in 1342. This theory is supported by the fact that the coat of arms of the Orsini family appears in the background. The last known work by Simone Martini is a painting of the Holy Family, signed and dated 1342. (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery). It is another small-scale private devotional picture, characterised by elegance and a harmony of enamel-like bright colours. No written records survive of the last two years of Simone Martini”s life, during which time her works were destroyed.

Sources

  1. Simone Martini
  2. Simone Martini
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