Key to Umbria: Orvieto

This room was the main room of the palace of Pope Martin IV. 

[22] Panel from a Polyptych (ca. 1325)    

This composite panel, which is attributed to Simone Martini, was first documented in the 19th century.  At that point, it belonged to the Opera del Duomo, but it was thought to have come from San Francesco
  1. The scene in the pinnacle depicts Christ the Redeemer, with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a closed book.  Each of the smaller gabled fields to the side contains an angel.  Inscriptions below identify Christ as ALPH- & O (Alpha and Omega) and the angels, respectively as ..RAP-YM (Seraphim) and CERUB-M (Cherubim).

  2. The main part of the panel below depicts the Madonna and Child.  The angels in the tondi in the spandrels are identified as TRONE (Thrones).

The types of angels depicted here (Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones) form the highest order of the hierarchy of angels.  It is likely that angels depicted in the lost panels were also taken from the defined orders of angels.

This panel almost certainly came from a polyptych, but the other components have been lost.  A panel of St Catherine of Alexandria that is now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa is thought to have been among them.

[23] Crucifix  (ca. 1400)

This small altarpiece, which is attributed to Spinello Aretino, came from the Cappella di Santa Lucia, Palazzo Comunale.  It depicts the dead Christ on the cross with the Virgin and SS John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalen.  The last of these kneels with her arms around the lower part of the cross. 

The frame, which seems to be largely original, nevertheless has an inscription that is more appropriate for an Annunciation: "Ave Maria Gratia Plena".  The devices of an eagle and a lion to the sides symbolise the Commune.

[21, 24] Remains of the Choir (1330-70)


A group of Sienese artists carved the wooden choir stalls for the choir of the Duomo, which then stood in the first bay of the nave.  This was one of the earliest marquetry structures of its type, although documents record numerous additions and restorations in the 15th century. In 1536, Pope Paul III paid for it to be moved to the apse  so that the congregation in the nave could participate more directly when Mass was celebrated at the high altar.  The structure restored in 1859, when many of its components were transferred to the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and replaced in the tribune by copies. 

The largest surviving fragments are:

  1. the pulpit and lectern (ca. 1330)

  2. Marquetry figures of the Apostles adorn the revolving pulpit.  The lectern incorporated into it  has a semi-circular indentation on its lower edge to allow the ribbon of what must have been a huge Bible to hang vertically.

  3. figures of the Annunciation (ca. 1350)

  4. These initially polychrome figures were moved from the choir when it was moved from the nave to the apse in 1536. 

  5. the panel of the Coronation of the Virgin (ca. 1370)

  6. This large triangular marquetry tympanum came from the centre of the choir screen.  The depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin with a choir of musical angels is achieved solely by relying on the different grains of small wooden tesserae.   This composition was intended to replicate the mosaic planned (but not executed) for the central tympanum of the facade.  It therefore gives an important indication of how this tympanum was originally conceived.

[27] Panels from the San Domenico Polyptych (ca. 1321)

These five panels are the only ones that survive from a polyptych from San Domenico, Orvieto.  The central panel bears the signature of Simone Martini and the date MCCCXX... (1320 or soon thereafter).   The polyptych also probably had panels in an upper register and a predella below, but these have been lost. 

The gallery displays the surviving panels thus:

  1. SS Mary Magdalene, Dominic and Peter on the left; and

  2. St Paul on the right. 

If (as seems likely) this is their original disposition, there must have been two other panels in this register depicting saints (probably of SS Peter Martyr and Catherine of Alexandria, to the sides of St Paul) looking to the left.  The lovely figures of SS Peter and Paul are markedly more lifelike than the others, which have suffered from over-restoration and may in any case have been workshop productions. 

A kneeling bishop, presumably the donor, is depicted in the panel of St Mary Magdalene.  The chronicle of the church says that  Trasmondo Monaldeschi, Bishop of Sovana, who was devoted to St Mary Magdalene, paid for the high altar of the church, and it is reasonable to assume that he also commissioned this polyptych.


[29, 30] SS Jerome and Ambrose (1388) 


St Jerome                      Present replacement                     St Ambrose

These documented mosaics belong to a set of the four Doctors of the Church that Pietro di Puccio executed to surround the rose window on the facade of the Duomo.   They were detached and replaced by copies in the 19th century, and only these two fragments survive.

[33] St Mary Magdalene (1504)

In May 1504, shortly after St Mary Magdalene had been adopted as a patron saint of Orvieto, the Opera del Duomo decided to commission an altarpiece depicting her.  Two months later, it was decided that this would be placed in what became the Cappellina di Santa Maria Maddalena of the Cappella Nuova in the Duomo.  It remained there until the chapel was remodelled in 1653.

This altarpiece, which is by Luca Signorelli, depicts St Mary Magdalene standing in a landscape.  It is painted on wood and might have been originally conceived as a processional banner.   The inscription along the bottom of the panel records that the Conservatori della Pace (the elected officials who were charged with maintaining peace between the city’s factions) commissioned the work, which was dedicated to “she who keeps the peace”, and gives the date 1504.  The lintel of the frame bears the names of two of the commissioning magistrates, “CECCARELLUS DE ADVIDVTIS ET RVFINVS ANTONII, together with their arms and those of the Commune.

[42] Wooden tabernacle (early 17th century)

This wooden tabernacle by a follower of Ippolito Scalza came from San Lorenzo delle Vigne.  It was probably based on the tabernacle (now lost) by Ippolito Scalza in the Duomo.

[43] Panels for the Sacramental Tabernacle (1563)

In 1563, Cesare Nebbia was commissioned to execute eleven panels for the new tabernacle for the consecrated host that formed part of the remodelling of the Duomo.   Raffaello da Montelupo had completed its design in 1558 and Ippolito Scalza had executed it in 1558-60.  It had been installed on the high altar in ca. 1560 and gilded in 1563.  The tabernacle, which was moved from the high altar to the back of the tribune in 1629, was destroyed in the late 18th century. 

The eleven panels, which were the earliest works for the Duomo by Cesare Nebbia, were re-discovered recently and restored: they are now the Museo del Opera del Duomo.  They depict prophets and sibyls as well as five Eucharistic scenes:
  1. the miracle of manna in the desert;

  2. the feast for the prodigal son;

  3. Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac;

  4. Melchizedek blessing of Abraham, when "King Melchizedek brought out bread and wine" (Genesis 14:18); and

  5. the Last Supper (illustrated here).

[47] Christ and the Apostles (1611-12)

This altarpiece was one of two by Cesare Nebbia that were commissioned for the walls of the nave of the Duomo.  They were removed in 1890 and moved to the Museo del Opera del Duomo:
  1. In the altarpiece that is still exhibited, Christ sends the Apostles from Jerusalem on missions of evangelisation.

  2. The second altarpiece, which depicted Christ in the house of Simon, is too badly damaged to be displayed.

[?] Resurrection of Christ (1584)

This Opera del Duomo commissioned this preparatory cartoon from Cesare Nebbia for the mosaic in the tympanum of the the facade of the Duomo.  It was recently been rediscovered and restored.  This scene was probably conceived as the finale to the series of scenes from the Passion of Christ in the altarpieces along the right wall of the church. 

Work on the mosaic itself extended over the period 1584-7, and Nebbia was still complaining in 1591 that neither he nor his collaborators had been paid for it, because of doubts about the its stability.  This mosaic was replaced in 1713 and subsequently lost.

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Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo: Room IV

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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)