SIMONE MARTINI
(b. 1280/85, Siena, d. 1344, Avignon)

Altar of St Louis of Toulouse (without predella)

c. 1317
Tempera on wood, 200 x 188 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

The altarpiece represents St Louis of Toulouse seated with his brother, Robert the Wise, kneeling before him.

Louis of Anjou was born in 1274, the second son of Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples, and was the designated heir to the throne. However, he felt called to a spiritual life, and renounced his claim to the throne in 1296. Now his younger brother Robert became heir apparent, Louis was appointed bishop of Toulouse by Pope Boniface VIII, but at the same time asked for permission to enter the Franciscan order. However, as early as 1297 he died on his way to Rome. The attempts to have him canonized were beset with complications, and the process lasted through three pontificates, although numerous miracles had already been ascribed to him. It was not until 7 April 1317 that he was eventually canonized by Pope John XXII, who was close to Robert of Anjou.

Robert, who had become king of Naples in 1309, donated the altar retable probably to the church of Santa Chiara in Naples. The large retable is framed with the heraldic lilies of Anjou.

In accordance with his importance, St Louis of Toulouse is depicted seated in majesty with the appurtenances of a bishop (mitre, crosier, cope and glove), while wearing the Franciscan habit, on a backless chair, crowning his younger brother Robert. Louis himself is being crowned by two hovering angels, so that we are present at a dual occurrence: the saint is being crowned by divine decree, the king by the hand of the saint. In this way it is made clear that the divine will is transmitted to Robert too. It is a symbolic act of installation in office which seeks God-given legitimacy through the now canonized brother.