Sano di Pietro's Assunta polyptych for the Convent of Santa Petronilla in Siena

Norman, Diana (2005). Sano di Pietro's Assunta polyptych for the Convent of Santa Petronilla in Siena. Renaissance Studies, 19(4) pp. 433–457.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2005.00112.x

Abstract

Since its incorporation into Siena's first public art collection early in the nineteenth century, the provenance of Sano di Pietro's polyptych of "The Virgin of the Assumption with Saints" has been recognised as the Clarissan convent of Santa Petronilla. To date, however, there has been very little comment as to the significance of the provenance of the altarpiece, particuarly in relation to the choice of subject matter. This essay explores the complex history of this major Clarissan foundation in Siena, identifying its first location beyond Siena's principal northern gate of Porta Camollia and then describing its subsequent removal during the sixteenth century into the safety of the city itself and to the church were the altarpiece was discovered in 1810. Recognising that the presence of a Clarissan donor figure on the central painting of the polyptych provides plausible evidence that the altarpiece was commissioned for the original covent church, the essay further demonstrates how the circumstances of the foundation of Santa Petronilla in the second decade of the thriteenth century provide a key for the principal subject matter of the altarpiece. The remaining imagery of the altarpiece is then discussed in terms of its general relevance for a fifteenth-century community of Clarissan nuns and for the particuar devotional concerns of the nuns of Santa Petronilla. It is argued that this fifteenth-century Sienese altarpiece offers a revealing example of the way in which art commissioned by enclosed orders of female religious within Reanissance Italy could be closely related to their own concerns and priorities.

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