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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Virgin and Child with Saints Paul and Peter

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Virgin and Child with Saints Paul and Peter

1310 - 20

Pietro Lorenzetti

Italian, Siena, active by 1306, died ca. 1348

This painting would have originally been placed above an altar in a dimly lit Christian church in the town of Siena, in central Italy. To help worshippers meditate on the sacred figures, the artist strikes a delicate balance, creating recognizably human figures but situating them in a divine realm. The holy figures have human emotions, and their eyes seem to dart around the altarpiece; at the same time, they remain behind the frame, and the gold background surrounding them signifies a sacred space.
Egg tempera and gold on wood
48 7/8 x 50 3/8 in. (124.1 x 128 cm)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Provenance: Achillito Chiesa, Milan; [Achillito Chiesa sale, American Art Association, New York, April 16 1926, no. 48 of catalogue, as Pietro Lorenzetti; bought by [Ercole Canessa* (1868-1929), Paris and New York)]; Private collection, Rome, 1930; Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi (1878-1955), Florence; sold to Samuel H. Kress (1863-1955), New York, February 12, 1934; gift from Kress to National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1939 - deaccessioned 1952; returned from NGA to Kress; gift from Kress to Seattle Art Museum, since 1952, accessioned 1961 *Note from National Gallery of Art: "Ercole and his brother Cesare formed the antiquarian firm E.& C. Canessa, active in Naples, Paris and New York. Following the death of Cesare c. 1923, the partnership was dissolved. E.& C. Canessa contiued to operate in Naples and Ercole Canessa operated the New York and Paris businesses under his own name. Following Ercole's death in there was an estate sale held at the American Art Association Anderson Galleries, New York, 29 March 1930 but this painting was not included."
Photo: Nathaniel Willson
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

Intercessory Figures and Other Devotional Images at SAM

Guanyin (Avalokitesvara), 8th century, Chinese, 53.79
Kwan-yin, 1573-1619, Chinese, 66.7
Bodhisattva, ca. 2nd-3rd centrury, Indian, 44.63

Other Images of the Virgin and Child at SAM

Virgin and Child with Donor, late 1340s, Bernardo Daddi, 61.151
Virgin and Child, ca.1490, Bartolomeo Vivarini, 61.175

Symbolic Meaning in the Altarpiece

Altarpieces and holy figures functioned on several symbolic levels. The four central figures occupy a common sacred realm that defies their historical conditions: Paul never met Jesus and Mary, and Peter first met Jesus when both were adults.

Why then were they brought together here? Peter and Paul were considered to be the founders of the Christian church and are frequently paired. During this period, the Virgin Mary was also identified with the church. The format of the altarpiece itself resembles a cross-section of a church, with the central panel serving as the nave and the two side panels as side aisles. At the center of the "church" is the body of Christ, which worshippers received symbolically in the sacrament of the Eucharist, enacted before the altarpiece during the mass.

The altarpiece thus gathers important religious personages who are significant individually, but who, when shown together, make a larger point about how the teachings of Christ continue in the activities of the living church. These layers of meaning resonate through the imagery.
Detail of central figures, 61.157
Photo: Paul Macapia

Who Are the Figures Portrayed in the Altarpiece?

Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of Saints Paul and Peter, 61.157
Saint Paul, carrying the sword with which he was beheaded, is shown in the left panel. He holds the place of honor to the Virgin's right. This position tells us that the altarpiece may have come from a chapel or church dedicated to Saint Paul or that he was particularly revered by the work's patron, who may have shared his name. Paul is commonly paired with Saint Peter, who is shown in the right panel. Peter carries the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, given to him by Christ.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of pinnacles, 61.157
In the pinnacles are three more figures. At the center, wearing a red robe with gold striations (a Byzantine convention for triumph over death), is the resurrected Christ. At the left, wearing a red robe and holding the ointment jar with which she anointed Christ's feet, is Mary Magdalene. On the right is the Archangel Michael.

Mother and Child Groupings in SAM's Collection

Female Farming Animal Headdress (Ci Wara), n.d., Malian, Kala Region, Segou Master Style, Bamana, 81.17.23
Leda and the Swan and Her Children, ca. 1540, Vincent Sellaer, 2004.31
Gold weight: mother and children, n.d., Akan, 81.17.392
Bamako Family with Car #266, 1951-1952, Seydou Keita, 97.35
Seydou Keita did not record the names of his clients; hence this work is just titled Family with Car no.266. He owned two cars that were often requested to serve as backdrops for group portraits. In this assembly, three women are dressed in a line up of patterns, polka dots and wax prints. Their faces offer a study in the various ways to respond to a camera: knit eyebrows with reserve, stare it down with confidence or offer youthful eagerness to please. 
Madonna and Child, ca. 1514, Albrecht Dürer, 52.23
Photo: Paul Macapia
Mother and Child Figure for Sango, 19th century, Nigerian, Yoruba, 81.17.594


Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Seattle Art Museum, talks about her installation of Medieval art at SAM
Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Seattle Art Museum, talks about the altarpiece by Lorenzetti


Exhibition HistoryWashington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1941-1951.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Italian Art: Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952. Text by William Suida and Sherman Lee. Cat. no. 3, pp. 5, 9, 11-12.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Renaissance Art in Focus: Neri di Bicci and Devotional Paintings in Italy, Mar. 25, 2004 - Dec. 31, 2005. Text by Elizabeth Darrow and Nicholas Dorman. No cat. no., pp. 9, 22, 51-53, figs. 1-5.
Published ReferencesCeccchi, Emilio. Pietro Lorenzetti. Milan: Fratelli Treves Editori, 1930; pp. 7-8, figs. 10-12.

Preliminary Catalogue of Painting and Sculpture: Descriptive List with Notes. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1941; p. 110.

Suida, William, and Richard Fuller. European Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1954; p. 16, reproduced p. 17.

Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Italian Schools XIII-XV Century. London, England: Phaidon Press for the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1966; pp. 51-52, fig. 130.

Zeri, Federico, and Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian paintings: Sienese and Central Italian Schools a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980; p. 31.

Ishikawa, Chiyo. The Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1997; pp. 29-30, fig. 13.

Brennan, Robert. Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy. Turnhout: Brepols, 2019; p. 136, fig. 44.

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