Pisa, church of San Francesco, altarpiece of San Ranieri
Munich, E. Meier gallery
Florida, private collection
The two paintings by Cecco di Pietro were originally part of the polyptych of Saint Rainerius in the church of San Francesco in Pisa and were painted for the chapel under the patronage of the powerful Pisan family of bankers and merchants of the Sancasciani.
The first mention of the polyptych comes from a document preserved in the State Archives of Pisa which handed down to us the testamentary will of Raniero Sancasciani who in 1348 left four hundred Pisan lire for the construction of a “painted table” and the purchase of the related furnishings for an altar at the church of San Francesco in Pisa.
The choice of the destination of such a large amount of money for the construction of a polyptych in the church of San Francesco reflects the importance of the family and of the church itself, which had been chosen by the most important Pisan families of the time as a place of devotion and burial.
The polyptych was still in San Francesco in 1728 when Father Mariottini recorded it in the third chapel of the transept, adjacent to the sacristy, once belonging to the patronage of the Sciancati and Vernagalli family and is then mentioned by Da Morrona in 1787.
Linda Pisani, who was the first to reconstruct the composition of the polyptych of San Francesco, has recently published the two panels as autographs. The polyptych was originally composed with the Madonna and Child in the center, now preserved at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and with two pairs of saints on each side. Saint Rainerius, patron saint of the altar, was located to the left of the Virgin, while the Saint Bishop was located on the right side. At the extreme sides there were two other saints, Saint Simon and Saint Peter, now in a private collection.
The Madonna and Child in the center of the polyptych bears the date A.D. MCC[C]LXXVIIII, mentioned by the sources, and still partially the signature [CECCHU]S[P]ETRI.
The panel depicting Saint Rainerius portrays him as a young man, blond with his face covered by a light beard, dressed in hermit skins over a blue tunic, made of lapis lazuli, edged in gold and with the attributes of the pilgrim: the stick and the shoulder bag on which the patent cross stands out. On the richly punched halo, the inscription SANTUS RANERIUS PISANUS is legible. It is important to note that this panel is among the very first works depicting Saint Rainerius, which began to spread in Pisa from the beginning of the fourteenth century.
The other panel depicts a Saint Bishop, older than Rainerius, portrayed with a thick curly beard and a solemn gaze. The white tunic he wears is covered by a red cope, edged in gold and richly decorated with damask motifs made of lapis lazuli, a material also used for the colouring of the inside of the mantle itself and for the book with the Scriptures that he holds in his left hand. In the right hand he holds the bishop’s crosier, whose staff was made of silver leaf. In the partial punching of the halo, the first and only legible letter of the name, after the word SANTUS, appears to be an A which leads us to think that the depicted character may be Saint Ambrose bishop.
Archivio Diocesano, Pisa, Cancelleria 1, 1.1, Executiones testamentorum, 1350-1417, f. 62v
Archivio di Stato, Pisa, Comune D, Opera di S. Francesco (n. 1386), Inventari, ricordi, et altro attenenti all’Opera di S. Francesco, 1344-1572, ff. 37r, 43r, 50r, 55r, 59v, 63r, 74v
Mariottini, Memorie spettanti alla religione, al convento e alla chiesa, al Terz’ordine ed all’Opera dei Padri Minori Conventuali di San Francesco di Pisa, 1728, typewritten copy at Biblioteca di Storia e Filosofia dell’Università di Pisa, p. 26
Da Marrona, Pisa illustrata nelle arti del disegno da Alessandro Da Morrona patrizio pisano, Livorno 1812, III, p. 52
Cooper, Redefining Altarpiece Early Renaissance Italy: Giotto’s Stigmatization of Saint Francis and its Pisan Context
Pisani, Nuove Proposte Per Il Polittico Di Agnano Di Cecco Di Pietro, in “Predella. Primitivi pisani fuori contesto”, 1, Pisa 2010, p. 21
Pisani, Francesco Traini e la pittura a Pisa nella prima metà del Trecento, Cinisello Balsamo 2020, p. 256
Price upon request