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.
The Christ Child lies naked and glowing in the centre of the main panel of this arched altarpiece. In this nativity scene, Christ is adored not only by his parents, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, but by four saints, none of whom could have been present at the biblical event. More saints stand in the pilasters, and in the predella below are five scenes from the Passion of Christ.
For many years this painting was attributed to a young Giacomo Pacchiarotto (who died in 1539/40) and was thought to have been a charming but old-fashioned work of the first third of the sixteenth century. It is now recognised as a major work by one of the most progressive of Sienese Renaissance painters, Pietro Orioli, and is dated to about 1495 on the basis of its similarity to the Visitation with Saints (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), one of his last works. The towers in the background are very close to those seen in his Nativity in the Bichi chapel (Sant'Agostino, Siena) of 1490–94.
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. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Stephen, who stands on the left side, and Saint Nicholas of Bari, who appears on the right. In the late fifteenth century, the patronage of the chapel was in the hands of the Cerretani, who took their name from the castle; their coat of arms appear at the left end of the predella. One particular branch of the family seems to have been responsible for the altarpiece: the descendants of Aldobrando di Pietro Cerretani and Bartolomea di Jacopo di Pietro Piccolomini (the arms at the right end of the predella are those of the Piccolomini–Salmoneschi). The saints chosen reflect the devotional interests of Aldobrando’s heirs. Many of the family were named after Saint Jerome, who kneels in the front row here facing Saint John the Baptist, his regular companion in Sienese art. Versions of the name Peter were also popular in the family, and here Saint Peter stands in the left pilaster facing his traditional counterpart, Saint Paul.
The altarpiece was described in various documents associated with the chapel from the early sixteenth century up to 1786. In 1794 it was sold to the Cerretani family, in whose collection it was recorded in 1835. Although attributing it to Baldassare Peruzzi, the 1835 description unexpectedly also mentions two other artists: Pietro di Francesco Giovanelli and Pietro di Francesco Orioli, both at that time known only as names. Perhaps an inscription (now lost) was still visible at that time, naming one Pietro di Francesco as the painter.