CECCO DI PIETRO
The San Ranieri altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in Pisa
THE SAN RANIERI ALTARPIECE
For the church of San Francesco in Pisa
The polyptych was originally composed with the Madonna and Child (inv. KMS3378)[in the center, now preserved at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and with two pairs of saints on each side. Saint Rainerius, patron saint of the altar, was located to the left of the Virgin, while the Saint Bishop was located on the right side. At the extreme sides there were two other saints, Saint Simon and Saint Peter, now in a private collection.
The Madonna and Child in the center of the polyptych bears the date A.D. MCC [C] LXXVIIII, mentioned by the sources, and still partially the signature [CECCHU] S [P] ETRI. This panel is one of the highest points of Cecco di Pietro’s artistic production which re-proposes the theme of the Child holding a lively goldfinch in his left hand tied by the paw by a thread held by his right hand.
SAINT RAINERIUS FROM PISA
Tempera on panel, cm 93.2 x 34
The panel depicting saint Rainerius portrays him as a young man, blond with his face covered by a light beard, dressed in hermit skins over a blue tunic, made of lapis lazuli, edged in gold and with the attributes of the pilgrim: the stick and the shoulder bag on which the patent cross stands out. On the richly punched halo, the inscription SANTUS RANERIUS PISANUS is legible. Scion of a family linked to maritime trade in the period of greatest momentum of the expansion of Pisa, Rainerius, converted from a Corsican, went to Jerusalem initially to trade, although already during the journey he decided to leave the market and devote himself to prayer. In the Holy City he leads the life of a pilgrim and a hermit. After a certain period of time he returns to his homeland and, once in the city, makes several miraculous intercessions. saint Rainerius is one of the first and most interesting cases of a lay saint in Italy of those municipal times, in which almost all the attributes of the genre are reflected: belonging to a popular class, in our case to the social sphere linked to maritime trade, dimension of asceticism and pilgrimage, the strong link with the city and therefore with its primary activities.
It is important to note that this panel is among the very first works depicting San Rainerius, which began to spread in Pisa from the beginning of the fourteenth century. The first, from 1305, is the altar by Tino di Camaino for the Cathedral of Pisa, followed by the panel by Giovanni di Nicola painted around 1350 (Museum of the Treasury of the Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi). After 1370 we have the Stories of San Rainerius in the Monumental Cemetery of Pisa; the processional banner, probably made for the Confraternita dei Battuti di San Simoncino di Porta a Mare, in 1373 by Cecco di Pietro (Museum of San Matteo, Pisa) and the one painted by Antonio Veneziano around 1383-85 (also at the Museum of San Matteo).
SAINT AMBROSE (?)
Tempera on panel, cm 93.2 x 34
The other panel depicts a Saint Bishop, older than Rainerius, portrayed with a thick curly beard and a solemn gaze. The white tunic he wears is covered by a red cope, edged in gold and richly decorated with damask motifs made of lapis lazuli, a material also used for the colouring of the inside of the mantle itself and for the book with the Scriptures that he holds in his left hand.
In the right hand he holds the bishop's crosier, whose staff was made of silver leaf. In the partial punching of the halo, the first and only legible letter of the name, after the word SANTUS, appears to be an A which leads us to think that the depicted character may be Saint Ambrose bishop. The church of Sant'Ambrogio in Castelletto in Pisa, which was the main venue of the veneration of the saint, no longer existing today, was, in fact, located in the area where the chancellery, the Palazzo del Podestà, the mint, the archive of acts and the Town Hall were, an area with a strong mercantile value that is well suited to a family like that of the Sancasciani, making the presence of this saint in their altarpiece plausible.
A PISAN MASTER
OF THE 14TH CENTURY
Cecco di Pietro (Pisa, 1330 ca. - before 1402)
One of the first documents we have of Cecco di Pietro dates back to 1371 when in Pisa he appears among the collaborators of Francesco da Volterra for the reconstruction of the Stories of Job in the Monumental Cemetery. A decisive contribution in the reconstruction of our painter's career was given more recently by Andrea De Marchi and Lorenzo Sbaraglio in a study that identified the initial phase of Cecco di Pietro with the activity of Giovanni da Milano in Pisa in 1364. The studio claims that the career of the painter Cecco di Pietro began ten years before the collaboration with Francesco Neri da Volterra documented in 1372, when he is mentioned as his collaborator for the restoration of the frescoes of the cycle of Job by Taddeo Gaddi in the Camposanto in Pisa. A similar task at the Camposanto was again entrusted to him in 1379: he had to restore the frescoes by Buonamico Buffalmacco which had apparently been damaged by inexperienced apprentices in a previous attempt of restoration. In this decade we find various altarpieces painted by him, dated (1374, 1377) and signed. In 1385 he received a commission to paint a banner for the Cathedral of Pisa and in 1386 he signed a dated (now lost) altarpiece for San Pietro in Vincoli, and the Madonna and Child now in the Portland Museum of Art (inv. 61.44).
FROM THE CHURCH OF
SAN FRANCESCO IN PISA
A unique provenance
The two paintings by Cecco di Pietro were originally part of the polyptych of San Rainerius in the church of San Francesco in Pisa and were painted for the chapel under the patronage of the powerful Pisan family of bankers and merchants of the Sancasciani.
The first mention of the polyptych comes from a document preserved in the State Archives of Pisa which handed down to us the testamentary will of Raniero Sancasciani who in 1348 left four hundred Pisan lire for the construction of a "painted table" and the purchase of the related furnishings for an altar at the church of San Francesco in Pisa.
The choice of the destination of such a large amount of money for the construction of a polyptych in the church of San Francesco reflects the importance of the family and of the church itself, which had been chosen by the most important Pisan families of the time as a place of devotion and burial.