Description This panel was originally the crowning element of a monumental altarpiece painted around 1490 by Matteo di Giovanni, one of the most important artists of Renaissance Siena. The subject is a biblical episode known as the Pentecost: as told in the New Testament, after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit descended on the Virgin Mary and the twelve apostles in the form of a flame (note the tongues of fire atop the figures' heads) and provided them the ability to speak in different languages so they could travel the world and continue Christ’s preaching. Originally shaped like a lunette (a half-moon with a rounded top) the panel was probably cut into its present shape in the 1800s or earlier, when collectors favored paintings with rectangular formats. Before it was cut down, the Virgin would have appeared at the direct center of the composition—beneath the apex of the arch—and flanked by six apostles on each side. As in most images of the Pentecost, the dove of the Holy Spirit probably hovered above the figures; here, they seem to react to its appearance with a variety of animated gestures and expressions. The altarpiece to which the lunette belonged remains unidentified.
Provenance Don Marcello Massarenti Collection, Rome [date and mode of acquisition unknown] [1897 catalogue: no. 53, as Lorenzo Monaco]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1902, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters with the Massarenti Collection, 1902
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