The prince and the bishop: A new hypothesis for Tabernacle 35 in Siena’s Pinacoteca Nazionale

Norman, Diana (2009). The prince and the bishop: A new hypothesis for Tabernacle 35 in Siena’s Pinacoteca Nazionale. Studies in Iconography, 30 pp. 96–125.



This essay analyses in detail the subject matter and imagery of a small-scale painted triptych in the principal art gallery of Siena and known by its acquisition number and type as ‘Tabernacle 35’. Acknowledging previous debate on the authorship and dating of this small devotional painting, it suggests that the painter was a talented member of the workshop of the fourteenth-century Sienese master, Duccio, and suggests a date of 1301-2 for the painting’s execution. The principle focus of the essay is, however, the issue of who is represented as the crowned figure kneeling at the foot of the Virgin. Noting a number of earlier suggestions for the identity of this figure, the proposal made here is that he represents Charles of Valois, a French prince who visited Siena in the summer of 1301 and the spring of 1302, and whose daughter Catherine was born during the first of these visits. Drawing on unpublished archival evidence that documents the nature and political context of this royal visit, it is proposed that the triptych was commissioned by Charles of Valois, as a pious offering to the Dominican church of San Domenico in thanksgiving for, and in celebration of, the birth of his daughter Catherine. At the same time, it is argued that the painting also acted as a commemoration of Charles of Valois’ role as papal Guelph champion and his political and diplomatic ties with Siena. In short, Charles of Valois’ brief sojourn in Siena between 1301 and 1302, the personal circumstance of his daughter’s birth, and his official role as papal pacifier and vicar of Tuscany, provide the most plausible context and explanation for the commissioning of this small-scale triptych and its highly distinctive programme of religious imagery.

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