Frescoes in San Clemente, Rome (1425-31)
by MASOLINO da Panicale

Branda da Castiglione (1350-1443) was an early Italian humanist, a papal diplomat and a Roman Catholic cardinal. He was given the title to San Clemente in Rome at the time he was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1411. In Florence he came to know the work of Masolino, occupied with the Brancacci Chapel and commissioned him to carry out frescoes for his Capella Castiglione (generally referred to as St Catherine Chapel) in his titular church of San Clemente. Decoration of the chapel is dated to the period between 1425 and 1431, when the cardinal spent much of his time in Rome. A few years later, in 1435, the cardinal awarded another commission to Masolino, the painting of the baptistery and Collegiate at Castiglione Olona.

The chapel is most noted for its eight scenes from the legend of St Catherine of Alexandria on the left-hand wall. Four episodes from the life of St Ambrose are presented on the right-hand wall. The end wall of the chapel is filled with a multifigured Crucifixion. The vaulting paintings follow the pattern that had been traditional since the fourteenth century, only here each of the evangelists is paired with one of the Church fathers.

The paintings on the outer wall of the chapel are in better condition than those inside. The key scene on the entry wall is the Annunciation, depicted above the arch. In the centre there is a circular medallion in which a bust of God the Father is giving benediction while looking at the figure of Mary. In the quatrefoils on the face of the entry arch are well-preserved busts of the apostles, each identified by name. On the left-hand pillar a portrayal of a huge St Christopher wading through the water, Christ on his shoulder, and gazing up at the Annunciation above, is presented.

The authorship and the dating of the decoration of the Castiglione Chapel was the subject of heated scholarly dispute until well into the twentieth century. Vasari ascribed the paintings to Masaccio, based on confused life dates of Masaccio and Masolino. Later writers deduced from this that the chapel in San Clemente represents Masaccio's early style, and the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, by contrast, that of his maturity. It was recognized only at the end of the nineteenth century that what was presumed to be the early style of Masaccio was in fact Masolino's. It cannot be excluded, however, that Masaccio began the decoration before his death in June 1428, but it is more probable that Masolino was solely responsible for the chapel, aided by assistants.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Guillaume Dufay: Hymn for Easter

Preview Picture Data Info
View of the Chapel
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Scenes from the Catherine Legend (left wall)
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


St Catherine Refusing to Worship Idols
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Conversion and Beheading of Empress Faustina
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


St Catherine Disputing with Scholars
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


St Catherine Disputing with Scholars (detail)
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Miracle of the Wheel
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Scenes from the Life of St Ambrose (right wall)
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Crucifixion (altar wall)
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Crucifixion (altar wall)
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Vaulting of the Chapel
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


Vaulting of the Chapel
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome


St Christopher
1425-31
Fresco
Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome



Paintings by MASOLINO da Panicale
Frescoes in the Cappella Brancacci in Florence (1426-27)
Frescoes in San Clemente, Rome (1425-31)
Frescoes in Castiglione Olona (1435)
Various paintings (mainly panels)



© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.