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Pietro Orioli, The Nativity with Saints

Key facts
Full title The Nativity with Saints
Artist Pietro Orioli
Artist dates 1458 - 1496
Group The Nativity with Saints Altarpiece
Date made probably about 1485-95
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 187.5 × 155 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1901
Inventory number NG1849.1
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
The Nativity with Saints
Pietro Orioli

The Christ Child, naked but with a gilded halo, lies on a bed of straw. Golden rays shoot out around him. Kneeling around Christ in adoration are his parents and four saints. God the Father appears above, and more saints stand in the pilasters to the sides of the main scene. On the far left the face of one of the shepherds is visible peering around the frame.

This is the main panel of an altarpiece by Pietro Orioli, and in it we see his interests in spatial depth and naturalistic representation that set him apart from many of his Sienese contemporaries. He has set the story in a believable landscape, with blue sky above and trees and buildings in the distance; the frame of the roof recedes along diagonals and the composition is carefully structured around an underlying geometry. The saints, chatting casually, have a variety of gestures and expressions quite different from the graceful but more static figures of much late fifteenth-century Sienese painting.

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The Nativity with Saints Altarpiece


The Christ Child lies naked and glowing in the centre of the main panel of this arched altarpiece, adored by his parents and four saints. More saints stand in the pilasters. Recent research has identified the original location of this altarpiece as a small chapel in the castle of Cerreto Ciampoli, around 13 km to the north of Siena.

In the late fifteenth century, the patronage of the chapel was in the hands of the Cerretani, who took their name from the castle; the coats of arms of a particular branch of the family appear on the predella (the part of an altarpiece below the main level). The saints included reflect the dedication of the chapel and the interests of the family.

For many years this painting was thought to be by Giacomo Pacchiarotto (who died in 1539/40), but is now attributed to Pietro Orioli, one of the most progressive of Sienese Renaissance painters.