Listed in the 'Estate of Charles Somers, Earl Somers, deceased. Inventory of Heirlooms, 7 December 1883', p. 11 (as in the Vestibule, £20.0.0d; Unknown, An Altar Piece with St Catherine enthroned attended by Six Saints and Angels);
Still at Eastnor Castle in 1889 but sold by 1898 as not listed in the inventory of that date;
Arthur Ruck, London, 1919;
Eliot George Bromley Martin (1866–1946), Ham Court, Upton-on-Severn, Worcester, until 1925;
His sale et al., London, Christie's, 4 December 1925, lot 92 (as early Florentine school), for £183.15s.0d. to 'Belust';
Giuseppe Bellesi (1873–1955), London;
Baron Detlev von Hadeln (1878–1935), Florence, by 1930;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 9 July 1937, lot 145 (as Lorenzo di Bicci), for £29.8s.0d. to 'Morson';
Anonymous sale, Lucerne, Fischer, 18–22 June 1963, lot 1116, reproduced pl. 18 (as Bicci di Lorenzo);
Acquired at the above by the father of the present owner;
Thence by descent.
B. Berenson, ‘Quadri senza casa. – Il Trecento fiorentino, III.’ , in Dedalo. 1930–1931, XI, XVIII, pp. 1292 and 1294, reproduced on p. 1298 (as perhaps by a follower of Giovanni del Biondo);
H.D. Gronau, 'Lorenzo di Bicci, ein Rekonstruktionsversuch', in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, January–July 1933, vol. IV, pp. 105–07, reproduced on p. 106, fig 3 (as attributed to Lorenzo di Bicci);
F. Antal, Florentine Painting and its Social Background, London 1948, reprinted Cambridge, MA, 1986, p. 229, n. 178, reproduced pl. 76a (as Lorenzo di Bicci; probably painted in the 1380s);
B.A. Jones, Bob Jones University. Supplement to the Catalogue of the Art Collection. Paintings acquired 1963–68, Greenville 1968, p. 9, nos. 214 and 215 (as Lorenzo di Bicci);
B. Berenson, Homeless Paintings of the Renaissance, London 1969, pp. 118–19, reproduced fig. 194;
M. Boskovits, Pittura Fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370–1400, Florence 1975, p. 334 (as Lorenzo di Bicci);
R. Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting, A Legacy of Attributions, H.B. Maginnis (ed.), New York 1981, p. 40 (as Lorenzo di Bicci);
G. Freuler in "Manifestatori delle cose Miracolose": arte italiana del '300 e '400 da collezioni in Svizzera e nel Liechtenstein, exh. cat., Fondazione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Villa Favorita, Lugano, 7 April – 30 June 1991, pp. 214–16 and p. 278, no. 82, reproduced in colour on p. 215 (as Lorenzo di Bicci).
The altarpiece was originally conceived as a triptych, this central panel flanked by those at the Bob Jones Museum.2 In a fitting hierarchy of importance the saints are depicted on a smaller scale than the central seated figure of Saint Catherine: on the left Saints Lucy and Mary Magdalene, with Saint James the Greater in the pinnacle trefoil above; and on the right Saint Luke and Saint Christopher, with Saint Francis of Assisi above. The plausibility of this reconstruction is attested not only by the panels’ correspondence in shape and structure but also, as Gaudenz Freuler has pointed out, by the matching pastiglia decoration on all three pinnacles, each inset with a tri-lobed painting. Furthermore all three panels were once at Eastnor Castle in the collection of Earl Somers. The altarpiece’s predella panels have not yet been identified.
The six figures of the Virtues depicted here have in the past been described as (clockwise from left to right): Prudence with her attribute of a mirror; Hope; Obedience wearing a yoke; Fortitude holding a pillar; Faith with chalice and host; and Charity with a tower.3 However this iconography does not quite accord with that of the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance) and the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity). Here Obedience has replaced Justice; and since the tower is more commonly the attribute of Temperance, the figure at the lower right is more likely to represent that virtue, not Charity. Charity – the foremost of the theological virtues – is embodied in Christ, who nourishes wisdom. In his analysis Freuler discusses this fundamental precept of Augustinian theology and the important part played by Saint Catherine in Augustinian iconography, reinforcing the order’s emphasis on theological learning. His arguments support the idea that this was an Augustinian commission. Accordingly, in this panel, Saint Catherine, mother of science and the embodiment of wisdom, guided by Christ, leads the virtues to the benefit of all.
Hans Gronau was the first in the literature to recognize Saint Catherine with six Virtues as a work by Lorenzo di Bicci, an attribution with which all subsequent scholars have concurred.4 In particular Gronau compares it in terms of its stylistic traits and colouring to Saint Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar, the predella of a work commissioned in 1380 by the wine-merchants’ guild for Orsanmichele, today at the Accademia, Florence. Frederick Antal suggests the Saint Catherine was painted in the 1380s. Subsequent authorities, however, have favoured a later dating: Miklòs Boskovits dates the panel to about 1390–95, while the wings he considers to be slightly later, c. 1400–05. Most recently Freuler has argued for a dating around 1400 on the basis of the panel’s stylistic similarity to his triptych for the altar of the church of Sant’Andrea at Empoli, where Lorenzo is documented in about 1399.5
1 Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy and Dialectics.
2 Inv. nos 7.1 and 7.2; Jones 1968, p. 9, nos 214 and 215, reproduced in black and white on p. 71. The side panels were acquired from Wildenstein in 1963.
3 Maginnis (ed.) Offner 1981, p. 40.
4 Berenson expressed a considerable degree of uncertainty over his attribution of the work to Giovanni del Biondo, wavering between the possibility of it being an early work or the work of a follower; Berenson 1930–31, pp. 1292, 1294.
5 Fondazione Zeri, Fototeca, no. 4701.
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