BARTOLOMEO DI DAVID
(Siena, 1482 – 1545/6)
Holy Family with St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Siena
Oil on panel
24 ¼ x 16 inches
(61.6 x 40.4 cm)
Private Collection, Massachusett
Until the last decades of the twentieth century the Sienese artist Bartolomeo di David remained unmentioned in studies of Italian Renaissance painting. Then, as documentation emerged from archival research, scholars began to associate the facts of his life with his artistic legacy. It is only recently that the two have been brought together, a fuller understanding of his career established, and the painter revealed as one of the most important working in Siena in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Bartolomeo di David was born in Siena in 1482 and received his first major commission at the age of twenty-four, when he was entrusted with a large decorative mural cycle (now lost) at the Certosa di Pontignano (currently, the Congress Center for the University of Siena). Documents record various artistic projects and personal milestones: the commission for a standard for the Campagnia del Corpus Domini di Capalbio in 1510; frescoes painted together with Domenico Beccafumi of the Cappella del Manto in 1513; decorations for the Church of the Ospedale in 1519, and among the personal, the purchase of various houses and properties, two marriages, tax payments, the payment of loans, and his last will and testament. Although his artistic education is not known, Bartolomeo, on the basis of his style, clearly drew much from both Sodoma and Beccafumi. He worked side by side with Sodoma at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, where he was responsible for the fresco of the Battle of Issus in the same room dedicated to the life of Alexander decorated by Sodoma. And, as documents confirm, Bartolomeo was both a professional colleague and a personal friend of Beccafumi.
Scholarship in recent years has reestablished Bartolomeo’s authorship of several significant works. Chief among these is the Altarpiece of the Immaculate Conception with Prophets and Saints in the Museo d’Arte Sacra in Buonconvento (located south-east of Siena). This painting had been the principal work associated with an anonymous artist --called the Maestro della Pala di Buonconvento, or the Master of the Buonconvento Altarpiece—towhom several paintings had been given. That the author of the Buonconvento altar is indeed Bartolomeo di David has led to the attribution of several other paintings to him, including the Apollo and Marsyas (long attributed to Michelangelo Anselmi) in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, frescoes in the Villa Francesconi in Castellina in Chianti, and a St. Benedict at the Abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore.
In 1532 Bartolomeo was commissioned to paint a cataletto (funeral bier) for the Compagnia di Sant’Onofrio, one of several lay charitable groups in Siena dedicated to the burial of their members. Typically, cataletti featured paintings on either end, on the inside and outside of both headboard and footboard. The four panels of the Sant’Onofrio cataletto survive and are now in the Museo Civico of Siena; they represent the Madonna and Child with St. John, the Pietà, St. Onofrius and St. Andrew. These four are, unusually, tondi. More typically such panels are of a distinctive shape, rectangular at the bottom and curved or lunette-shaped at the top. Examples are known by Girolamo Genga (Siena, National Gallery), Domenico Beccafumi (Siena, Arciconfraternità della Misericordia), Giorgio di Giovanni (Siena, National Gallery), and Marco Bigio (Siena, San Sebastiano in Camollia).
The Holy Family with St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Siena is of the typical cataletto shape and size and seems likely to have served as a headboard of a now dispersed example. Like the figure of St. Catherine of Siena, who appears at the right, symmetrically paired with Joseph, the cataletto is specifically Sienese. In style the figure of the Virgin is perhaps closest to that in the 1532 tondo in the Museo Civico --there with more downcast eyes but in an analogous pose and with a similar gentle and warm demeanor. Both Joseph and Catherine seem focused on the Madonna, while the young John the Baptist holds out a banderole with the inscription “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Behold the Lamb of God) toward the Christ Child, who bears a reed cross.
The attribution of the painting to Bartolomeo di David has been confirmed by Dr. Everett Fahy.