Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The Annunciation and Two Saints
  • Creator: Simone Martini, painter; Lippo Memmi, painter
  • Description:

    This image shows the centerpiece of a triptych that comes from the altar in Sant’Ansano’s cathedral in Siena. An inscription on the triptych indicates that it was painted by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi in the year 1333. Memmi was Martini’s brother-in law. It was not uncommon for artists to marry into each other’s families and then open joint studios where they either worked together on paintings, or jointly pooled the money from the work each did. Although we have an inscription that credits both artists for this work, scholars still have trouble identifying which parts of the painting were done by which painter. Some scholars have suggested that Memmi did not even contribute to the painting, and simply benefited from its sale. Both Martini and Memmi painted in the Sienese Gothic tradition, which explains why there are no obvious distinctions between their painting styles.

    The center panel of the triptych depicts the scene of the Annunciation. This is an important image for Christians because it depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel told Mary of God’s plan for human salvation. Mary’s startled reaction is followed by acceptance of her role (“Ecce, ancilla Domini” (“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord”) as the conduit for redemption. Interestingly, although the scene is primarily about the Virgin Mary, the archangel Gabriel takes up the majority of the space with his wings and billowing cloak. The flowing nature of Gabriel’s cape, in addition to the dove flying at the top of the image, indicate the presence of wind. Wind is very commonly present in paintings of the Annunciation – it is seen as a manifestation of God’s impregnating breath. Another important piece of this image is the inscription written between Gabriel and Mary. The inscription reads “Ave Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum,” (“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”) This is the first part of the Ave Maria prayer, which honored the Virgin Mary. This inscription would have encouraged viewers to say the words out loud, thus addressing the Virgin Mary directly.

    The artistic style of the Sant’Ansano triptych is very much in keeping with the Sienese Gothic style which was known for being elegant, elaborate and highly decorative, which explains the extensive amounts of gold and Gabriel’s rich clothing. Martini and possibly Memmi – though they obeyed the guidelines set out for them – added their own stylistic flair to the piece. Gabriel’s cloak imitates a luxurious fashion style from Mongolia. This inclusion of plaid and other designs made the centerpiece of the triptych unique, and situated it within the real world since the golden background suggested the supernatural. Interestingly, although Gabriel is dressed in such ornate clothing, the Virgin Mary is dressed humbly in a dark cloak that covers most of her body.

    This triptych was commissioned for an altar dedicated to Saint Ansano, the fourth-century martyr who converted the inhabitants of Siena to Christianity. He is depicted on the side panel on the viewer's left carrying Siena's colors while his godmother, Massima, appears on the right. The altarpiece is one of four commissioned for the cathedral's altars dedicated to the saints of Siena. All four altarpieces captured scenes important to the life of the Virgin Mary and corresponded to major liturgical feasts. Thus, while Ansano is honored, the scene of the Annunciation takes center place. Although Gabriel is dressed more ornately, Mary is the central figure in the scene, and in the story of the Annunciation. The Virgin Mary had a further role in this instance because she was the patron and protector of Siena. In this scene, Mary is shown reading a book, a trend which became popular in the twelfth century. Before this period, scenes of the Annunciation depicted Mary with a spindle and thread or a basket of wool. Initially, books were primarily associated with monks and other religious men. In the twelfth century, books also became an important element in images for religious women. Even though it was not described by Luke in the Bible, the inclusion of Mary’s self-reflective reading was an important image, particularly in the West. It legitimized religious women’s claim to reading – particularly reading the Bible. If Mary could read books and be the perfect religious woman, then they too could and should read.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Angels Books Mary, Virgin, Saint- Annunciation Readers Simone Martini, Painter
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1333
  • Related Work: Close up of the Virgin Mary from the Annunciation;
    Close up of the angel Gabriel from the Annunciation (Source: Wikimedia Commons);
    Virgin Annunciate by Bartolo di Fredi, end of the 14th century, Avingon. Small image for personal devotion which demonstrates the impact of Simone Martini's interpretation.
  • Current Location: Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv. 451-453
  • Original Location: Siena, St. Ansanus chapel in the Duomo of Siena
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Tempera paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 210/184 (central panel)/
  • Inscription: Inscription between the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary: “Ave Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum” (Hail [Mary], full of grace. The lord is with thee.)
    Inscription at the base of the central panel: "SIMON MARTINI ET LIPPVS MEMMI DE ANN0 DOMINI MCCCXXXIII SENIS ME PINXERVNT -Present order of the inscription. Should read-"SIMON MARTINI ET LIPPVS MEMMI DE SENIS ME PINXERVNT ANN0 DOMINI MCCCXXXIII" (Simone Martini and Lippo Memmo of Siena painted me in the year of our lord 1333.)
  • Related Resources: Baert, Barbara. “The Annunciation Revisited: Essay on the Concept of Wind and the Senses in Late Medieval and Early Modern Visual Culture." Critica d’arte 47/48 (2011): 57-68;
    Miles, Laura Saetveit. "The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation." Speculum 89, 3 (2014): 632-669;
    Norman, Diana. "Sacred in Secular, Secular in Sacred: The Art of Simone Martini." In Art & Visual Culture 1100-1600: Medieval to Renaissance. Edited by Kim W. Woods. Tale Publishing in association with the Open University, 2012. Pages 92-127;
    Os, Hendrik Willem van. "Simone Martini's Annunciation Revisited." Kunstchronik 63 (2010): 156-165;
    Scaff, Susan von Rohr. "The Virgin Annunciate in Italian Art of the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance." College Literature 29, 3 (2002): 109-123;
    Simone Martini e l'Annunciazione degli Uffizi. Edited by Alessandro Cecchi. Silvana, 2001.