Key to Umbria: Orvieto

This room is in the rib-vaulted space in the square tower to the right of the far wall of the palace of Pope Martin IV.  It is usually referred to as the chapel, although there is no evidence that it performed this function.  It is more likely that the tower was conceived as a defensive bastion for the palace.

Traces of decorative frescoes (1290s) survive above the entrance, in some of the windows and along the top of some of the walls.  These frescoes employ a repetitive grey and white pattern [punctuated with the papal insignia of crossed keys ??]

[?] Reliquary of St Sabinus (ca. 1340)

This magnificent reliquary, which contained the skull of St Sabinus of Canosa, bears the inscription “Vgolinus et Yiva de Senis fecierunt istum tabernaculum” (Ugolino di Vieri and Viva di Lando have made this tabernacle).  It was originally in San Giovenale: this church is referred to as SS Giovenale e Sabino in a document of 1314.  The chapel to the left of the apse was dedicated as the Cappella di San Sabino, and other relics of the saint are said to rest under the tufa altar.  The parish priest of San Giovenale sold the reliquary to the Opera del Duomo in 1845.  

The cranium of the saint is housed under the cupola above the hexagonal base of the reliquary.  Three golden figures adorn the higher registers::

  1. the Madonna and Child stand above the cupola;

  2. St Sabinus stands in the register above it; and

  3. an angel at the top, which was added in the second half of the 19th century to replace an earlier figure.

The six enamels in the base depict scenes from the life of St Sabinus. 

[?] Panel from a Diptych (ca. 1350)

This panel from San Francesco, which is probably by a Sienese artist, depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS Agnes, Paul, Peter and Lucy against a golden background.  It  has been cut at the top and damaged along the right side where it was attached to a second panel (now lost). 

[5] Two Apostles (ca. 1280)

This detached fresco, which probably came from the Abbazia di SS Severo e Martirio, depicts two half-length Apostles (probably SS John the Evangelist and Paul).  Both figures face to the right, suggesting that they formed part of a larger composition.

[6] Two censing angels (13th century)

These two marble figures, both of which have lost their heads, are first documented in the museum in 1913.  They can be attributed on stylistic grounds to Arnolfo di Cambio, and might have come from the monument to Cardinal de Bray in San Domenico.  However, the balance of probabilities is against this hypothesis, and they have been omitted from the recent reconstruction of that monument. 

[Could they have come from the other two Cardinals’ monuments in San Domenico of 1272-3 ???]

[9, 10] Coronation of the Virgin and a Virtue (ca. 1349)


These small figures, which are attributed to the workshop of Andrea Pisano, are unfinished.  They were probably intended for the Duomo.

[13] Madonna and Child (ca. 1347)

This marble figure of the Madonna and Child, which is a documented work by Andrea Pisano, was made in Pisa and translated with much ceremony to the Duomo when Andrea became capomastro.   It is superbly finished, and intended to be seen in the round.  It show no sign of weathering, and so was presumably installed on an altar inside of the church. 

[8, 15, 16] Other Figures of the Standing Madonna and Child 


               From:        Santa Lucia                 SS Severo e Martirio      San Giovanni Evangelista

This group includes three works of known provenance:

  1. A small wooden figure (ca. 1300) of the Virgin is from Santa Lucia dei Canonici.  This figure originally depicted the standing Madonna and Child, but it was subsequently modified to represent St Lucy, at which point the figure of the baby Jesus was replaced by lamp.  This figure of the baby Jesus has since been lost. The female figure has been returned as far as possible to its original form, but the arms have been destroyed. [15] 

  2. An originally polychrome statue (ca. 1300), which is carved from pear wood, came from the Abbazia di SS Severo e Martirio.  It has been badly damaged by an infestation of insects.  The baby Jesus holds a robin, as a symbol of His future sacrifice. [8] 

  3. A large wooden statue (ca. 1335) came from San Giovanni Evangelista.  The baby Jesus holds an orb and raises His right hand in blessing.  The Madonna holds [a broken staff ??]  [16]

[17] Christ and Angels (1347-8)

These figures came from an altar in the left of the nave of the Duomo that might have housed the Sacro Corporale while the Cappella del Corporale was in construction.  They were moved from the Duomo to the plinths in the exterior lunette of the Porta del Corporale in 1890, and the angels were subsequently badly damaged.  They were removed from this location in 1985. 

  1. The figure of Christ is attributed to Nino Pisano.  He is seated and holds a chalice in His right hand: the wafer that was originally in His left hand has been lost. 

  2. The two angels (both of which have been damaged) were probably those that were made from the marble that Andrea Pisano (see above) sent to the Duomo in ca. 1347.  They are of inferior quality and are attributed to Tommaso Pisano.

[18] Madonna and Child Enthroned (ca. 1270)

The Societas Gloriosae Virginis Marias, a lay confraternity dedicated to the Virgin, commissioned this altarpiece for Santa Maria dei Servi.  It was probably placed on the high altar, in line with the prescriptions of the Servite Order, in the 13th century.  It  is traditionally attributed to the Florentine Coppo di Marcovaldo.  While some scholars scholars doubt this attribution, it is supported by similarities between this work and the the signed Madonna di Bordone (1261), which Coppo painted for the Servants of Siena.  The work in Orvieto is unusual for its time in terms of the naturalness of the Madonna’s protective holding of the Child, and the fact that she holds the baby Jesus to her right.  

The altarpiece was moved to the counter-facade at some point (probably in the 1320s to make way for what is now called the Gardner Polyptych - see below).  However, it was translated back to the high altar in 1733 after a miracle in which the Madonna was seen to weep tears of blood.  It was documented on the high altar of the new church in 1861, at which point the Madonna and Child each wore a golden crown that had been affixed as a votive offering and the altarpiece was covered by another painting (presumably for protection).  The panel, which has been slightly spoiled by repainting and is cropped at the bottom, was restored in 1927-8. 

The altarpiece was stolen in 1953 and the thieves tried to sell it to the National Gallery, London.  The authorities were alerted and the altarpiece was recovered.  It was restored againin 1965-70, when some of the repainting was removed.  The traditional attribution to Coppo di Marcovaldo was reinforced at this point, although still not to the satisfaction of all scholars.  The altarpiece finally found way back to Orvieto in 1984 and was returned to Santa Maria dei Servi before being transferred to the museum for security reasons.  

 [19] Crucifix (13th century)

This painted wooden Crucifix, which came to the museum from San Lodovico, probably belonged originally to the Poor Clares of San Lorenzo delle Vigne.   It is attributed somewhat tentatively to the Spoletan artists Simeone and Machilone or their followers.  The dead Christ is depicted on the cross, with the grieving Virgin and St John the Evangelist to the sides and Christ the Redeemer in a mandorla at the top.

[20] Madonna and Child (13th century)

This early icon, which is more confidently attributed to Simeone and Machilone, was transferred from the Confraternita del Carmine and was included in the catalogue of the museum in 1888.    It was probably moved from the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. during its remodelling in ca. 1559.

The icon depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned.  The "Child" is represented as an adult wearing a toga: He holds the Gospel in His left hand and raises His right hand in blessing.

Proceed to Room IV.

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Return to Walk I.


Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo: Room III

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Museum: Introduction; Sale degli  Affreschi & della Maestà (Rooms I and II);

Room III; Room IV; Room V; Sala delle Sinopie (Room VI)