Immediately striking is the quality and diversity of the tooling, with different punches employed in the decoration of the various haloes. The most complex pattern is reserved for that of Christ, whose halo combines marks used in those of each of the four saints. The tooled border is particularly ornate, comprising rows of alternating lozenge, rosette and roundel motifs. In the lower section the figures’ drapery extends to the outer frame, overlapping the border, providing the otherwise flat pictorial field with a sense of depth. The heavy drapery lends a certain monumentality of form to the mourners, which recall the figures at the foot of the Cross in Pietro’s Crucifixion now in the Pincoteca di Siena (inv. no. 147, fig. 1). The identity of the female figure to the right of the cross remains somewhat elusive; when Longhi published the panel in 1951 (see Literature), he identified her as possibly Saint Scholastica, Saint Monica or Saint Clare. In more recent literature it has been suggested that the nun's austere habit would fit with the traditional iconography of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who is often portrayed in the brown habit of her Franciscan order.5
A curious feature in the depiction of the Virgin is her long, golden hair, loosened and escaping from her mantle where it falls across her chest. This highly unusual detail is perhaps an allusion to the custom frequently described in texts from classical antiquity, where women would tear at their hair, face and clothing when overcome with grief.6 Indeed, in Pietro’s fragmentary detached fresco of the Crucifixion, in the basilica di San Francesco, Siena (fig. 2) the giottesque angels nearest to the cross wrench at their clothes, exposing their chests in anguish. When Miklós Boskovits published the present panel in 1986 (see Literature), he compared it to both the San Francesco fresco of circa 1330 and the small Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saints John the Evangelist, Clare and Francis of circa 1320 in the Harvard Art Museums, Boston (inv. no. 1943.119). He noted the similar verticality of Christ’s form on the cross, and the manner in which his sunken cheeks are framed by the hair.
While scholars are united in their praise of this painting’s high quality, support for its attribution to Pietro Lorenzetti has not been unanimous during the history of its publication and today remains divided (see Literature). Some scholars, including Millard Meiss, Carlo Volpe and Erling Skaug considered the painting to be by an artist closely influenced by the Lorenzetti brothers, while Mojmir Frinta and Cristina De Benedictis both placed the painting among a heterogeneous group of works ascribed to Simone di Gheri (see Literature). The painting was published by Ada Labriola in 2009 as an autograph work, an opinion shared, among others, by Ernest DeWald, Roberto Longhi, Michel Laclotte, Giulietta Chelazzi Dini, Miklós Boskovits and Andrea De Marchi.
1. Private written communication, dated 6 December 2015.
2. The altarpiece is now in the Museo dell’opera del Duomo, Siena; the frescoes are now lost.
3. A. Labriola, under Literature, p. 168.
4. Ibid., pp. 168 and 170.
5. Ibid., p. 168.
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