National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 3, 1979-1980

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Simone Martini's St Catherine of Alexandria: 
An Orvietan Altarpiece and the 
Mystical Theology of St Bonaventure

by Joel Brink

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10 An examination of contemporary Sienese altarpieces with three or more compartments indicates that the lateral panels usually repeat the carpentered shape and construction of the central compartment. This is consistently true with Simone's altar paintings and would apply certainly to the Orvietan altarpiece. For some exceptions from the second half of the Trecento see note 12.

11 C. de Benedictis, op. cit., figs 3 & 4.

12 For Bartolo di Fredi's altarpiece see E Santi, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria: Dipinti, Sculture e Oggetti d'Arte di Età Romanica e Gotica (Rome, 1969), pp. 98-99. See also the altarpiece by Paolo di Giovanni Fei, Birth of the Virgin (no. 116), Pinacoteca, Siena, illustrated in E Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti daI XII al XV secolo (Genoa, 1977), p. 179, fig. 199; and Giovanni del Biondo, Cavalcanti Altarpiece (no. 8606), Accademia, Florence, reproduced in R. Offner & K. Steinweg, Corpus of Florentine Painting, Section IV; Vol. V; (1969), Plate XXV; pp. 107-110. Exceptions from the second half of the fourteenth century are Luca di Tommè, Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels, Lucignano; and Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio, Madonna and Child Crowning a Saint with Saints Antonio and Michael (no. 145), Pinacoteca, Siena, illustrated in E Torriti, op. cit., p. 146, fig. 153.

13 J. Brink, "The Original Carpentry of Simone's Altarpiece," op. cit.

14 After Christ's declaration he states in the same verse: Nemo Venit Ad Patrem Nisi Per Me (No one comes to the Father except through me.) For the exegesis of John XIV:6 see The Anchor Bible - The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), trans. and intro. by R. E. Brown (Gardner City, N. Y: 1970), pp. 621-633. Simone's Orvietan painting may have been among the first to represent the text from the Gospel of St John in the hand of the teaching Christ-child. The text appears clearly on the Child's scroll in the contemporary panel in Santa Maria dei Servi, Siena (signed by Lippo Memmi), and in the panel attributed to the "Master of the Palazzo Venezia" (a painter from the orbit of Simone Martini) in the National Gallery, Rome; the text also appears later in the polyptych by Niccolo Tegliacci and Luca di Tommè, Pinacoteca, Siena. The scripture is sometimes inscribed in the book held by the Redeemer: see for example the panel in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples, sometimes wrongly attributed to Simone Martini; and later in the alterpiece by Giovanni in the Tosinghi and Spinelli Chapel of Santa Croce, Florence.

15 Although these inscriptions have been restored in places, they appear to be for the most part original. The identifications of the angels were first reported by J. A. Crowe & G. B. Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy (London: 1926), Vol. III, p. 40, nn 2 & 3. The identifications of the Seraph and Cherub are reversed in G. Contini & M. C. Gozzoli, op. cit., p. 88. For the "alpha & omega" see Revelation (1:8); (XXI: 6); and (XXII: 13).

16 S. Padovani, in "Una tavola di Castiglione d'Orcia restaurata di recente," Prospettiva, Vol. 17 (1979), pp. 82-87, has suggested that an Angel holding a staff - from the Lanckoronsky Collection, Vienna - could have been situated above the Ottawa painting. Unfortunately, the panel appears to be a fragment and its precise shape and dimensions are difficult to establish from the published photograph. Also, the style of the Angel is inferior to that of the Ottawa and Orvieto paintings and appears to be a product of the workshop.

17 Dionysius was a convert of St. Paul on the Areopagus (Acts 17, 16-34) and was once venerated as the first bishop and patron of Paris. This identification was doubted in the sixteenth century and later discredited in the nineteenth. The only certainty about the individual is that he was a monk, perhaps from Syria, who wrote c. 500 A.D. For the Dionysian corpus see J. E Migne, Pattologia Graeca 3, 119-1122; and for the important passages on the orders of angels see De Coelesti Hierarchia, VI-IX. In English see The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, trans. by Rev. J. Parker (London: 1897-99), reprinted by the Richwood Publishing Company (Merrick, N. Y: 1976). See also R. Roques, ed., Denys l'Aréopagite, La Hiérarchie céleste, in Sources Chrétiennes (Paris: 1958), Vol. 58, pp. 1-19; and The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: 1908), Vol. 1 p. 478, Vol. 3 pp. 646-648, and Vol. 13 p. 725.

18 Dante Alighieri, II Paradiso, canto xxviii, 127-130, trans. by D. L. Sayers & B. Reynolds.

19 A lucid examination of the scholastic approach to the angels can be found in E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. by L. K. Shook, C. S. B. (New York: 1956), pp. 160-173; and in Gilson's The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure, trans. by D. I. Trethowan & F. J. Sheed (Paterson, N.J.: 1965), pp. 215-244. See St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, Q. 108; and St Bonaventure, Breviloquium II, 8.

20 I am grateful to Professor Gino Corti for examining the passage in the book and for concluding that even though it resembles a Latin text, it makes no specific literary sense. Subsequent examinations of the passage have not produced any results. As the personification of Wisdom, the Cherub could be presenting a riddle, for as it is; revealed in the praise of Wisdom in Ecclesiasticus I:

All wisdom has one source; it dwelt with the Lord God before ever time began...God's wisdom thou canst trace to her origin, that was before all. First she is of all created things; time never was when the riddle of thought went unread...Buried her roots beyond all search, wise her counsels beyond all knowing; too high her teaching to be plainly revealed, too manifold her movements to be understood.

21 De Coel. Hier., II; and Summa Theol., I, Q. 108, 6.

22 For a general discussion of the angels in art see J. Villette, L'Ange dans L'Art d'Occident du XIIème au XVIème Siécle (Paris: 1940).

23 The Works of Bonaventure, Vol. I, "Mystical Opuscula," trans. by José de Vinck (Paterson, N.J., Vol. 1960).

24 On the "hierarchization" of the soul, the angelic choirs, and the spiritual acts of purgation, illumination and perfection, see E. Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure, op. cit., pp. 402-415.

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