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Saint Thomas Aquinas Submitting His Office of Corpus Domini to Pope Urban IV

Predella panel of an altarpiece; other panels from the altarpiece are in the Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts (1958.38); the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas (1955.11); and the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena (129)

Taddeo di Bartolo, Italian (active Siena and environs, Perugia, Pisa, and Genoa), first documented 1383, died 1422

Made in Siena, Italy, Europe

c. 1403

Tempera and tooled gold on panel with vertical grain

16 x 14 1/8 inches (40.6 x 35.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 310, European Art 1100-1500, third floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 101

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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In 1264, Pope Urban IV asked Thomas Aquinas to write a special liturgy for Corpus Christi, a new holiday that celebrated Christ's bodily presence in the bread and wine of the Roman Catholic Mass. Here Thomas kneels, with his manuscript in his hands, before the pope.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    In August 1264 Pope Urban IV Pantaleon asked Thomas Aquinas to compose a liturgical office for the feast of Corpus Domini or Corpus Christi, which the pope had established in a bull issued on the eleventh of that month. Urban IV had been inspired to institute the feast after a miraculous occurrence in nearby Bolsena: While celebrating mass, a priest from Prague named Peter had had his doubts about the doctrine of transubstantiation allayed when the wafer dripped blood on the corporal, the cloth on which the eucharistic elements are placed. This doctrine, which maintains that during the sacrament of the Eucharist the wafer is transformed into Christ's body, was much discussed in the mid-thirteenth century, and thus on June 19, 1264, soon after the priest had revealed the mystery, the corporal was carried to the pope in Orvieto. Aquinas compiled the office in record time and presented it to Urban IV, who is known to have circulated at least one copy before his death on October 2 in Perugia.

    Previously identified (Berenson 1913) as Saint Dominic appealing to a king, the Johnson panel was correctly recognized as the presentation of Aquinas's office by Reverend Charles M. Daley, O.P. (letter to the John G. Johnson Collection, dated Oak Park, Illinois, February 7, 1935).

    The scene is set in a hall consisting of two bays, whose vaults are painted blue with golden stars. The pope, wearing a tiara with one crown, is seated on a raised faldstool. Kneeling before him is Saint Thomas Aquinas in a Dominican habit, holding the manuscript of his office, from which golden rays shine. Six cardinals view the scene. The one closest to the pope holds a gilt chalice with a paten and a host in one hand and a chalice veil in the other; the cardinal in the center, who points toward the pope, wears a Dominican habit.

    The scene of Thomas presenting the office of Corpus Domini to the pope was depicted on the reliquary of the corporal in 1337-38,1 by Ugolino di Vieri, in the cathedral of Orvieto and in the mural cycle of 1357-64, by Ugolino di Prete Ilario and Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello, decorating that same reliquary's chapel. In both of these representations the audience hall is depicted frontally, and the emphasis is on the pope, not Aquinas. By contrast Taddeo di Bartolo chose an arrangement by which the viewer looks into the hall from the side and can thus see the action in full. Berenson (1913) noted that Taddeo's composition was derived from Ambrogio Lorenzetti's mural Boniface VIII Receives Saint Louis of Toulouse as a Novice of about 1325 in San Francesco in Siena.2 Variants are also found in two scenes of the predella of Pietro Lorenzetti's (q.v.) altarpiece of 1329 from San Niccolò al Carmine in Siena.3

    The Johnson panel seems to have been part of a predella to an altarpiece. Solberg (1991) suggested three other panels came from the same predella: Death of Napoleone Orsini and His Revival by Saint Dominic (see San Antonio, Texas, McNay Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Frederic G. Oppenheimer, no. 1955.11); Crucifixion (Private collection); and Death of Saint Peter Martyr (see Northampton, Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art, no. 1958.38). The provenance of the first two panels can be traced to the collection of Johann Anton Ramboux, and it is likely that the third, which has a German provenance, also came from that collection. It is known that Ramboux purchased a large number of paintings in Siena in 1838,4 although the Johnson panel cannot be traced back that far. The architecture in the Philadelphia painting, which is oriented to the right, suggests that the scene was set on the far left of the predella; its opposite on the right is missing. The two scenes showing stories from Saints Dominic and Peter Martyr's lives were respectively to the left and right of the center panel, which represented the Crucifixion. The main sections of the altarpiece would have probably depicted the Virgin and Child with saints. Solberg (1991, p. 568) has suggested that a fragment in Siena showing the head of Saint Peter Martyr (see Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, no. 129) was one of those saints.5

    The Johnson panel is the only scene in the group that does not have horizontal wood grain. However, a shallow rabbet cut into the right edge (see reverse of Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cat. 101) is certainly proof that the panel was inserted into a larger structure. If it was in fact part of the predella, it may have been at the bottom of an end pilaster, as in Taddeo di Bartolo's high altarpiece of 1401 for the cathedral of Montepulciano, where the end scenes of the predella have vertical grain and support pilasters.6 While historiated predella panels under pilasters are not rare, they usually form part of a cycle dedicated to a single subject, such as the life of Christ, like the Montepulciano altarpiece, or a single saint.7

    As it is most likely that the Johnson panel was positioned below an image of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the main section of the altarpiece, rather than being below a pilaster, it and its now-lost opposite on the other end of the predella could have been slightly raised with respect to the other scenes. A comparison can be made with Giovanni di Paolo's (q.v.) dispersed predella of about 1461 representing the life of Saint Catherine of Siena, a rare example of a Sienese predella not painted on a single plank of horizontally grained wood, and one in which several scenes, including those at the ends, jutted out from the sequence.8

    Sibilla Symeonides (1965, pp. 99-100) proposed dating the Northampton panel to about 1403.9 Solberg (1991, p. 568) concurred, based on comparison with the scenes of Taddeo's dispersed predella for the Perugian church of San Francesco al Prato in 1403.10 This dating is probably correct, but analogies can also be made with his later works, such as the predella scenes of the 1411 altarpiece in Volterra.11 Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 408-412.


    1. Elisabetta Cioni. Scultura e smalto nell'oreficeria senese dei secoli XIII e XIV. Florence, 1998, p. 468, fig. 1 (color).
    2. Giulietta Chelazzi Dini, Alessandro Angelini, and Bernardina Sani. Pittura senese. Milan, 1997, color repro. p. 149.
    3. Honorius IV Approves the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert and Honorius IV Confers the New White Habit to the Carmelites; Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, no. 84; Carlo Volpe, Pietro Lorenzetti. Edited by Mauro Lucco. Milan, 1989, figs. 112-13.
    4. Hans-Joachim Ziemke. "Ramboux und die sienesische Kunst." Städel-Jahrbuch (Frankfurt), n.s., vol. 2 (1969), pp. 287-88 n. 8.
    5. Solberg noted that Niccolò Catalano (Niccolò Catalano. Fiume del terrestre paradise. Florence, 1652, p. 451) recorded in an engraving an untraced painting of Saint Francis by Taddeo di Bartolo that was then in San Domenico in Siena, which suggests that he painted an altarpiece for that church. It is possible that the present altarpiece came from San Domenico, because the predella shows stories of Dominican saints. If the lost Saint Francis was from this altarpiece, the missing predella panel may have depicted the Meeting of Saints Dominic and Francis.
    6. Sibilla Symeonides. Taddeo di Bartolo. Preface by Enzo Carli. Accademia Senese degli Intronati, Monografie d'arte senese, 7. Siena, 1965, plates xx-xxvi.
    7. Two examples are the predella depicting the life of Christ in Sano di Pietro's (q.v.) Santa Bonda altarpiece in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (no. 226; Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: i dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, fig. 318); and Giovanni di Paolo's (q.v.) predella with the life of Saint Stephen in Santo Stefano, Siena (mid-1400s; Henk W. van Os. Sienese Altarpieces, 1215-1460: Form, Content, Function. Vol. 2, 1344-1460. Groningen, 1990, fig. 9).
    8. See the reconstruction and discussion by Carl Brandon Strehlke in Keith Christiansen, Laurence B. Kanter, and Carl Brandon Strehlke. Painting in Renaissance Siena, 1420-1500. New York, 1988. Exhibition, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 20, 1988-March 19, 1989, pp. 218-42 n. 38, as well as Keith Christiansen. "Notes on Painting in Renaissance Siena." The Burlington Magazine (London), vol. 132, no. 1044 (March 1990), pp. 210-11; Miklós Boskovits with Serena Padovani. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Early Italian Painting 1290-1470. Translated by Françoise Pouncey Chiarini. London, 1990, pp. 104-13; and Lugano-Castagnola, Villa Favorita, Fondazione Thyssen-Bornemisza. "Manifestatori delle cose miracolose": arte italiana del '300 e '400 da collezioni in Svizzera e nel Liechtenstein. Exhibition, April 7-June 30, 1991. Catalogue by Gaudenz Freuler. Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 1991, pp. 94-98 n. 31.
    9. She suggested that it was made for an altarpiece in San Domenico in Perugia. Vasari had said that Taddeo executed now-lost murals for that church, but there is no evidence that he painted an altarpiece there.
    10. Symeonides 1965, plates xxxviii-xliii. Six predella panels are in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Landesgalerie, in Hanover, and a seventh one was last recorded in the 's Heerenberg Collection in Amsterdam. See also the reconstruction in Gail E. Solberg. "A Reconstruction of Taddeo di Bartolo's Altar-Piece for S. Francesco a Prato, Perugia." The Burlington Magazine (London), vol. 134, no. 1075 (October 1992), pp. 646-56.
    11. From the cathedral, now in the Pinacoteca e Museo Civico di Palazzo Minucci Solaini; in Franco Lessi. Volterra: la Pinacoteca e il Museo Civico di Palazzo Minucci Solaini. Milan, 1986, color repro. pp. 14-15.


    Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, p. 56;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932, p. 552;
    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol. 2. The Hague, 1934, p. 622 n. 11;
    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated from the English by Emilio Cecchi. Collezione "Valori plastici." Milan, 1936, p. 475;
    F. Mason Perkins in Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. vol. 32. Edited by Hans Vollmer. Leipzig, 1938, p. 396;
    John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941, p. 16;
    Sibilla Symeonides. Taddeo di Bartolo. Preface by Enzo Carli. Accademia Senese degli Intronati, Monografie d'arte senese, 7. Siena, 1965, pp. 134, 248, plate xcii;
    [Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 75, repro. p. 102;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Central Italian and North Italian Schools. 3 vols. Rev. and enlarged ed. London, 1968, p. 421;
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 194;
    Gail E. Solberg. "Taddeo di Bartolo: His Life and Work." Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1991, pp. 699-703, fig. 54;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 233;
    Perri Lee Roberts. Sacred Treasures: Early Italian Paintings from Southern Collections. With essays by Bruce Cole and Hayden B. J. Maginnis. Athens, Georgia, 2002. Exhibition, Athens, Georgia Museum of Art, October 12, 2002-January 5, 2003; Birmingham Museum of Art, January 26-April 13, 2003; Sarasota, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, May 31-August 10, 2003, p. 116.

    Companion panels for Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cat. 101:
    A. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Death of Napoleone Orsini and His Revival by Saint Dominic. San Antonio, Texas, McNay Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Frederic G. Oppenheimer, no. 1955.11.
    B. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Crucifixion. Private collection.
    C. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Death of Saint Peter Martyr. Northampton, Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art, no. 1958.38.
    D. Fragment: Saint Peter Martyr. Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, no. 129.

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