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Saint Catherine rests her hand on a wheel studded with metal spikes – the instrument on which she was tortured for her Christian faith, according to legend. Saint Bartholomew holds a knife, the symbol of his martyrdom: he was flayed alive.
The panel probably formed the right-hand side of a triptych (a picture with three parts). The saints look to their right, where the central panel – most likely an image of the Virgin and Child – would have been.
The painting has been connected with the workshop of Allegretto Nuzi on the basis of the decoration of the haloes, though the style of painting and the lettering in the inscriptions resemble works by Francesco Ghissi. Saints Catherine and Bartholomew had churches dedicated to them in Nuzi’s hometown of Fabriano, where he returned after leaving Florence in 1348. In Fabriano he collaborated with Ghissi on several works, and it seems likely that this painting was made there.
Saint Catherine rests her hand on a wheel studded with metal spikes – the instrument on which she was tortured for her Christian faith, according to legend. She survived, but was eventually beheaded. Her crown indicates her royal status: she was a princess from the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Saint Bartholomew holds a knife, the symbol of his martyrdom: he was flayed alive.
The panel probably formed the right-hand side of a triptych. It once had an arched top but this was cut off before the painting entered our collection. The saints look to their right, where the central panel – most likely an image of the Virgin and Child – would have been.
The saints appear weighty and solid, partly because of the way the artist has painted the cloaks: the folds are shaded but their edges, where they catch the light, are highlighted, making them look three-dimensional. The sturdiness of the figures recalls the work of Florentine artists like Giotto, who pioneered this style of painting in the early fourteenth century. Allegretto Nuzi was from the town of Fabriano in the Italian Marches, but also worked in Florence; he was registered in the painters‘ guild there in 1346. The saints’ decorative cloaks, painted to look as though they are embroidered with gold thread, reflect Sienese artists' love of pattern; Nuzi may have worked there too.
This picture is unsigned, and is an interesting example of the methods used to associate an unsigned work with an artist. It has been connected with the workshop of Allegretto Nuzi on the basis of the decorative marks, called punch-marks, made in the gold leaf and which we see in the haloes and the border; they are also found in other pictures by the artist. Each workshop had its own punching tools, so punch-marks can often be used to identify where a picture was made. The style of painting and the lettering in the inscriptions, however, resemble works by Francescuccico Ghissi. Nuzi and Ghissi had collaborated on other works and so it’s possible that Nuzi designed the picture and Ghissi painted it in his workshop, using his tools.
A roundel showing Christ Blessing (Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine) has been connected with this panel on the basis of its condition. It appears to have been painted by Nuzi and was probably placed above the central panel. This suggests that Nuzi might have painted the central panel while Ghissi worked on the side panels.
Saints Catherine and Bartholomew both had churches dedicated to them in Nuzi’s hometown of Fabriano, where he returned after he left Florence in 1348. In Fabriano, he collaborated on several works with Ghissi; it seems likely, then, that this work was made there.
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