The Polyptych

Our first project:

Art Angels Arezzo is proud to contribute to the raising of funds that will allow the restorers of R.I.C.ER:C.A to complete the restoration of Pietro Lorenzetti’s Polyptych, the main altarpiece in the Pieve di Santa Maria in Arezzo, and one of the major works of 14th century Italian art. The Polyptych was commissioned by Bishop Guido Tarlati and was realized by Lorenzetti between 1320 and 1324 when his and the city’s fame were at their peak. After nearly 700 years the altarpiece remains one of the most important works of art of the territory, continuing to inspire and enrich the lives of all those who have the fortune of viewing the masterpiece.

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Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the polyptych celebrates the dual nature of the Mother of Jesus – human and divine – and her role as an intermediary between humans and God, a recurrent theme in the artworks of the Fourteenth Century. The altarpiece, painted by Pietro Lorenzetti between 1320 and 1324, depicts in its center panel the Madonna and the Child surrounded by Saint Donatus – the patron saint of Arezzo – and Saint John the Evangelist (on the left); Saint John the Baptist and Saint Matthew (on the right), and other saints framed by double mullioned windows set within round arches. On top there are four medallions with the heads of prophets. Above the Virgin there is a depiction of the Annunciation, and, in the central pinnacle, the Assumption. The four lateral panels depict figures of martyred saints. Although it has lost its monumental frame and its predella – which Giorgio Vasari recalls as containing many small and beautiful figures – and its two support columns which made it a self-supporting structure, this beautiful altarpiece is noteworthy for having remained in its original location to this day.

History: In Santa Maria della Pieve for almost 700 years
This artwork was commissioned to Sienese painter Pietro Lorenzetti by Bishop Guido Tarlati, with a contract dated 17 April 1320, still to be found in the archives. The contract did not specify a maximum budget, and asked Lorenzetti to paint beautiful figures with precious colors on gold leaf backgrounds, priced at a hundred sheets per florin. While setting very high quality standards and requisites for the commissioned work, the uncompromising Bishop Tarlati and the Canons of Santa Maria della Pieve reserved the right to approve the finished work, for which they had negotiated a price of a hundred sixty Pisan lire, paid in three installments. The painter, according to the contract, needed to devote himself to the project full time, and without accepting other commissions, until the work had attained “perfection.”
The work was funded by donations and possibly also indulgences, and continued until about 1324. We do not know if Pietro Lorenzetti, who came from a renowned family of painters from the Sienese School, lived in Arezzo that entire time. In spite of the documented presence in Arezzo at the time of two unknown Sienese assistants, there is no doubt that he is the painter of the Altarpiece. Giorgio Vasari described and praised the work, installed on the main altar of Santa Maria della Pieve, but it was Vasari himself who in 1563 had it moved to the altar of Saint Cristofano, at the foot of the church, to make room for his own family’s altar. The loss of the significant structural parts of the altar may be linked to this move, and include: two side columns with six figures painted on each one, the predella, and the pilasters ending in pinnacles that divided the three parts of the altarpiece. These elements conferred a monumental quality to the work, which is unfortunately lost to us today, but which we hope to suggest with an appropriately reconstructed frame.