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Saint Cecilia of Rome and Her Husband, Valerian, Being Crowned by an Angel

Panel from an altarpiece

Master of the Pesaro Crucifix, Italian (active Venice), active late 14th century

Made in Venice, Italy, Europe

c. 1375-1380

Tempera and gold on panel with vertical grain

20 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches (51.4 x 36.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 211, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John D. McIlhenny Collection, 1943

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An angel crowns Cecilia and Valerianus in their bedroom after Valerianus has converted to Christianity and agreed to respect Cecilia’s youthful vow of chastity. Although the story took place in ancient Rome, this artist set the scene in a typical fourteenth-century building of his native Venice.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    In a bedroom an angel is shown crowning Saint Cecilia, who holds a palm of martyrdom, and her husband, Saint Valerian. An ermine-lined curtain is thrown open to reveal an untouched bed. The household is undisturbed by the miraculous event: a maid looks down from a second-story window while outside a worker carries a basket of bread to the front door; this is an unusual detail also present in the scene of the Virgin's birth in an altarpiece by the so-called Master of Sant'Elsino (see London, National Gallery, no. 4250).1 In the Johnson panel the man's legs are foreshortened in order to show the strain of his burden. Features such as the wood deck on the roof, the clay chimneys, the row of Gothic windows with flowerpots on the sills, and the doorway reached by a bridge set the scene in Venice. Great attention was placed on the precise depiction of architectural details: the tiles of the roof and the supporting beams recede toward the center, nails are depicted in the intersections of the ceiling rafters, and the framing of the doorway and the window above it is carefully drawn to reflect a vantage point from the left.

    Cecilia and Valerian were third-century Roman nobles who had been promised to each other in marriage, but she had secretly converted to Christianity and was dedicated to chastity. The pagan Valerian knew nothing of this before the wedding night. According to the account given by Jacopo da Varazze in The Golden Legend of about 1267-77 (Iacopo da Varazze. The Golden Legend. Translated and adapted from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger. 2 pts. London, 1941, p. 691), on the wedding day Cecilia wore a hair shirt concealed by a splendid gold garment. Before the ceremony, she entrusted her maidenhood to God, and that night informed the groom that an angel, who guarded her body with "exceeding zeal," was her lover. Valerian was also told that he could meet this rival if he agreed to be baptized. As his bride instructed, he immediately sought out Pope Urban I, who performed the ceremony. On his return home he found Cecilia with the angel, who "held two crowns fashioned of roses and lilies, of which he gave one to Cecilia and the other to Valerian, saying: 'Guard these crowns with spotless hearts and pure bodies, because I have brought them from God's Paradise to you, nor will they ever fade; and none can see them, save those who love chastity!'" The couple were later martyred for their refusal to renounce their faith.

    Henri Marceau (1944) published this picture as a work of Jacobello del Fiore, based on a suggestion of Evelyn Sandberg Vavalà. Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri (1972) listed it as fourteenth-century Paduan. In 1976 Michel Laclotte and Élisabeth Mognetti cited Miklós Boskovits's opinion that it was by the so-called Master of the Pesaro Crucifix.

    The Museum's panel relates in size and format to several others by the Master of the Pesaro Crucifix: the Mocking of Christ (see Panel of an Altarpiece, England, private collection), the Flagellation of Christ (see Athens, National Art Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Bequest of Athanasiadis-Bodosakis, no. 6989), the Pentecost (see Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts, no. 18), and the Stoning of Saint Stephen (see Ferrara, Pinacoteca Nazoinale, no. 318). These paintings and others that are missing could have formed part of the same complex. Several reconstructions are possible. For example, they could have been grouped in two rows around a central image such as a Crucifixion, as seen in Antonio Vivarini's and Francesco de' Franceschi's much later altarpiece from the convent of Corpus Domini in Murano (see Venice Gallerie dell'Accademia, inv. 1084, cat. 874). If this were the case, the Crucifixion in Avignon (see Avignon, Musée du Petit Palais, no. M.I. 420) might be a candidate for the central section, as it is double the height of the smaller panels. However, the rectangular format of the Master of the Pesaro Crucifix's panels is unusual in Venetian fourteenth-century altarpieces, whose panels most often have trefoil tops. Indeed, the complex hypothetically reconstructed here may not have formed an altarpiece at all, but instead could have been the cover of a relic, the decoration of a rood screen, or an antependium of an altar. For instance, the panels by Paolo Veneziano and his sons that form the cover painted in 1345 for the Pala d'oro in San Marco in Venice are rectangular.2 It is also possible that the Johnson panel was a valve of a diptych. A model for such an arrangement is an early trecento diptych in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with the Coronation of Saints Cecilia and Valerian and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis of Assisi.3 Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian Paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 303-307.


    1. See also a panel of about 1400 in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg (inv. 449; Esther Moench. Les primitifs italiens du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. Strasbourg, 1993, color repro. p. 79).
    2. Michelangelo Muraro. Paolo da Venezia. University Park, Pa., 1970, plates 41-63 (color and black-and-white).
    3. No. 86.PB.490; Carl Brandon Strehlke. "A Celibate Marriage and Franciscan Poverty Reflected in a Neapolitan Trecento Diptych"; The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal (Malibu), vol. 15 (1987), pp. 79-96, figs. 1a-c. For an attribution of this diptych to the Ligurian painter the Master of the Cross of Piani d'Ivrea, see Andrea De Marchi in Italies: Peintures des musées de la région Centre. Paris, 1996, p. 49.


    Henri Marceau. "The McIlhenny Collection: Paintings." Philadelphia Museum Bulletin, vol. 39, no. 200 (January 1944), pp. 54, 59 (Jacobello del Fiore);
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957, p. 94;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Check List of Paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1965, p. 35 (Jacobello del Fiore);
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 235 (Padua, fourteenth century);
    Miklós Boskovits in Michel Laclotte and Élisabeth Mognetti. Avignon-Musée du Petit Palais: Peinture italienne. Inventaire des collections publiques françaises, 21. Paris, 1976, no. 132;
    Mirella Levi D'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Arte e archeologia, studi e documenti, 10. Florence, 1977, pp. 344-45, 354;
    George Kaftal and Fabio Bisogni. Saints in Italian Art: Iconography of the Saints in the Painting of North East Italy. Florence, 1978, col. 205, fig. 247;
    Miklós Boskovits cited in Michel Laclotte and Élisabeth Mognetti. Avignon-Musée du Petit Palais: Peinture italienne. Rev. ed. Inventaire des collections publiques françaises, 21. Paris, 1987, p. 138;
    Carl Brandon Strehlke. "A Celibate Marriage and Franciscan Poverty Reflected in a Neapolitan Trecento Diptych." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal (Malibu), vol. 15 (1987), p. 86, fig. 3;
    Milvia Bollati in Pinacoteca di Brera: scuola veneta. Musei e gallerie di Milano. Milan, 1990, p. 172;
    Rosalba D'Amico in Jadranka Bentini, ed. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Ferrara: catalogo generale. Introduction by Andrea Emiliani; scholarly consultation by Federico Zeri. Bologna, 1992, p. 10;
    Mauro Lucco in Mauro Lucco, ed. La pittura nel veneto: il trecento. 2 vols. Milan, 1992, p. 531;
    Esther Moench. Les primitifs italiens du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. Strasbourg, 1993, p. 42;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 217;
    Marina Lambraki-Plaka, ed. National Gallery, 100 Years: Four Centuries of Greek Painting from the Collections of the National Gallery and the Euripidis Koutlidus Foundation. Athens, 1999, plate 1 (color)

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