(b. 1280/85, Siena, d. 1344, Avignon)
St Martin is Knighted (scene 3)1320-25
Fresco, 265 x 200 cm
Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi
The stories of the life of St Martin that Simone could have used as sources, although none of them mention an actual investiture, do contain references to his military promotions. We can therefore suppose that our painter, surrounded by a world of tournaments and hunting expeditions, pictured a Roman soldier rather like a mediaeval miles and simply transposed a ceremony typical of his times to the late classical world. It is not merely a matter of Panofsky's "theory of distance," according to which mediaeval painters made characters from the past appear more immediate and closer to their public by placing them in Gothic architectural settings and dressing them in 13th-century costumes. Simone (and even more so his patrons who had commissioned the frescoes) used the scene of Martin's investiture to focus attention on courtly and aristocratic customs.
Musicians, singers, equerries with weapons and falconers all witness the scene taking place inside a palace with loggias and wooden ceilings. Nothing could be more secular than the figure of the Roman Emperor fastening the sword, the symbol of his newly acquired dignity, around the knight's waist. The Emperor's immobile profile, with his half-open mouth and fixed gaze, is reminiscent of the portraits carved on ancient Roman coins, which Simone probably used as a model: even though it must be Julian the Apostate (and historically it could not be any other emperor), it has been suggested that the features are actually those of Constantine the Great.