Taddeo di Bartolo, « Saints Cosmas and Damian awaiting decapitation »

Taddeo di Bartolo (Sienne, v. 1362 – 1422)

Saints Cosmas and Damian awaiting decapitation (Saints Côme et Damien dans l’attente de leur décapitation), 1409.

Tempéra sur panneau, 29,2 x 38,1 cm.

Provenance :

Marché de l’art new-yorkais (Christie’s, New-York, Renaissance, 30 janvier 2013, lot 103).

Selon Gail Solberg, ce panneau de la prédelle pourrait avoir été séparé des trois autres à peu près au moment où l’abbé Ciaccheri a fait sortir le retable de l’abbaye (1785), et avant que les autres éléments ne soient répertoriés ensemble par De Angelis [1]L. De’ Angelis, Prospetto della Galleria da farsi in Siena, presentato dall’ab. Luigi de’ Angelis conservatore della pubblica Biblioteca e del Gabinetto delle Belle Arti al. Sig. Marie ed al Consiglio municipale de detta citta, ms., 1812 (BCS ms. AVIII.5, n. 8), no. 35, cité par G. Solberg. en 1812. […] C’est une grande satisfaction que ce tableau magnifiquement peint, original et émouvant, si longtemps relégué en dehors de l’histoire, ait été révélé. Maintenant, ne serait-ce que dans l’esprit, un important retable documenté de la meilleure période d’un peintre clé peut être presque complètement reconfiguré [2]Gail Solberg, notule du site Artsy, https://www.artsy.net/artwork/taddeo-di-bartolo-saints-cosmas-and-damian-awaiting-decapitation, consulté le 13.01.2022..

Dans la Pinacothèque de Sienne, un troisième récit décrit comme « La Crocefissione » et plus tard comme « Il Martirio dei Santi Cosimo e Damiano » a été répertorié dès le début avec les deux histoires d’Adoration. Compte tenu de ses dimensions, le présent panneau est de hauteur équivalente à celle des autres récits, et sa largeur est en accord avec les saints latéraux (env. 44,5 / 45 cm.) lorsqu’on tient à nouveau compte des éléments d’encadrement. Chacun de ces panneaux semble avoir été légèrement rogné latéralement.

Les saints frères Côme et Damien, se tenant respectivement à gauche et à droite de l’Annonciation, étaient des docteurs d’Arabie à l’époque de Dioclétien. Volontairement, ils se sont livrés au proconsul Lysias qui les a persécutés et finalement martyrisés. Jacques de Voragine (1298) a inclus leur récit de tribulations dans la Légende dorée, source évidente pour Taddeo et son commanditaire. L’histoire des saints, rarement racontée en images, est inconnue à Sienne à l’époque de Taddeo. Leur inscription sur le retable est donc exceptionnelle. L’apparition du panneau actuel, jusqu’ici perdu, montre clairement que ces circonstances ont produit de nouveaux résultats entre les mains de Taddeo.

After ordering that the doctors be tortured at their hands and feet, thrown into the sea, placed in an oven, and tied to the rack, Lysias had them crucified and stoned. Taddeo’s Siena panel, properly The Crucifixion and Lapidation of Cosmas and Damian, shows the doctors sorely tried on their crosses, but the stones launched at them were miraculously turned back on their aggressors. Clearly the Pinacoteca panel took its place under one of the two lateral saints, but until the new present picture came to light it was not clear that it occupied the left side of the predella, under ‘Sanctus Chosme,’ the name inscribed in the socle below the standing saint.

The present, recently rediscovered panel […] ends speculation on the subject of the scene from the saints’ lives that would balance and complete the predella and so reconstitute the 1409 altarpiece. As partner to the Crucifixion and Lapidation, this end-piece to the predella concludes the saints’ prolonged martyrdom. Taddeo devised an unusual decapitation scene, one as quiet and restrained as the opening event in the doctors’ persecution is loud and violent. This is the poignant moment prior to the ultimate sacrifice by decapitation, and it is rendered with compelling emotive force. The first man to go to his death has dropped to his knees, his mantle has fallen to the ground as he prays. His brother, sometimes (but not in the Golden Legend) described as his twin, is robed identically in rose and blue. Enfolded within the crowd that leads the men to their doom, he gasps as he watches his brother prepare to meet his fate. Foremost is the executioner who advances, sword at his belt. This slender henchman walks light-footed, apparently tentative about his gruesome task. Numerous witnesses, mostly Roman soldiers, press in from the right, their lances in hand. The bare-headed man with red hair, also with an anguished expression, is probably another brother (they were five). A pivotal figure is the agent in a brilliant carmine mantle who pushes the doctor forward while he looks back to the directing judge of De Voragine’s story, robed in saffron and violet. Progress to the left, and the orientation of the victim in that direction, toward what was the center of the altarpiece, provide a fitting compositional closure to the entire predella.

Taddeo’s moving scene of the moments before the decapitation bears many features common to the other elements of the predella. The gently lit grey ground appears to be a high plateau. It is bound at the front by a sharp edge and at the horizon by the painter’s trademark landscape. Across the predella cliffs descend in sharp Vs to provide dark backgrounds that throw his colors and the poses of his animated figures into relief. Between adjacent scenes the mountains suggest a continuous range and so reveal Taddeo’s sense for spatial values. Here in the denouement to the tale, the landscape opens. Efforts at chromatic continuity are another binding element. For example, the brilliant vermillion of a mantle in the Decapitation reappears across the predella and in the upper compartments. The open pose and the torsion of the red-robed agent are less agitated, but suggestive of the same anatomical exploration demonstrated in the stone-throwers. Here, the fervently praying Damian has already won a special halo. It is worked with punched circles in a stippled ground like the haloes on other components of the predella, but this one is more elaborate. An extra point-punch fills the circles in the main halo zone, and a thin perimetral ring was added. The upper border of the present panel has suffered somewhat (which explains its lesser height) leaving the punched decoration less than fully intact. At tracts, however, the principal punchmark is visible — a trilobed arch, which appears on the other elements. Yet here four points replace a single point at the tips of the arches. These minor but distinguishing anomalies suggest that a separate hand executed this final scene and lavished on it special care. Judging by the intuitive sense for carefully cogitated pictorial narrative, the fine drawing (note the brothers’ expressions), and sensitivity to chromatic values that vary between victims and perpetrators, Taddeo di Bartolo, master of the shop, painted this particularly fine and unusual narrative himself. Indeed, the panel’s special qualities within a uniformly high standard altarpiece, may explain why the panel was separated from its group.

The patron Mariano di Paolo de Rosso almost certainly came from the noted Sienese Rossi family. Evidently they privileged San Michele al Poggio San Donato which sits a short distance off the Via dei Rossi from their palaces and near their parish church of San Pietro Ovile. (They also had altars in San Francesco.) Since Mariano di Paolo cannot be found in cathedral records, reference in his painting to the tax office Annunciation opens other possible associations. Perhaps Mariano or someone of his line was a doctor to whom the medical saints appealed. At present, a clear rationale for the patron’s focus on Cosmas and Damian remains unknown.

A tantalizing possibility is that the picture records a historical event of the year it was signed. At noon on the feast of the Annunciation in 1409 the council to end the schism in Christendom opened at Pisa. One of the rival popes, Gregory XII, had spent months with his court in Siena at the end of 1407 to organize a meeting with his antagonist Benedict XIII. The Sienese labored to see their city become the venue. After much delay, the Council finally opened at Pisa, but Mariano di Paolo’s painting may nonetheless record Sienese interest in the conflicted situation and their hopes for its end. Across the altarpiece various figures are painted over gold which is revealed by sgrafitto to particularly luxurious and luminous effect. Note on the present panel the executioner’s armor, the soldiers’ helmets, and the folds of the carmine mantle, and elsewhere in the altarpiece Gabriel’s wings and the magis’ tunics. Such a costly technique is a testament to the stature of the patron and to his commemorative effort with the painting.


1 L. De’ Angelis, Prospetto della Galleria da farsi in Siena, presentato dall’ab. Luigi de’ Angelis conservatore della pubblica Biblioteca e del Gabinetto delle Belle Arti al. Sig. Marie ed al Consiglio municipale de detta citta, ms., 1812 (BCS ms. AVIII.5, n. 8), no. 35, cité par G. Solberg.
2 Gail Solberg, notule du site Artsy, https://www.artsy.net/artwork/taddeo-di-bartolo-saints-cosmas-and-damian-awaiting-decapitation, consulté le 13.01.2022.