Sepulchral Effigy of a Lady

1500-1530 (made)
Sepulchral Effigy of a Lady thumbnail 1
Sepulchral Effigy of a Lady thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery
Place Of Origin

This woman was probably buried in the dress of a tertiary (a religious woman who has not taken the full vows of a nun) as indicated by her effigy. Funeral monuments for women were popular in 16th century Naples; probably because of the presence of earlier tombs of the royal Angevin women.

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved marble
Brief Description
Figure in relief of a Sepulchral Effigy of a Lady, Neapolitan, ca.1500-50
Physical Description
This unknown woman lies on her left side and holds a book in her right hand. She is dressed in the habit of a religious order, with a veil, wimple and belted dress under a mantle. Her legs are largely hidden under the folds of her dress. Her left hand rests on the edge of the two tasseled pillows under her head. Crows’ feet to indicate her age can be seen around her eyes, the furrows of caliper lines indicate jowls, and her mouth and nose are delicately carved.

The sculpture has been damaged, especially on the left-hand side. The tassels on the left- hand side of the pillow and the left-hand corner of the slab have broken off, with the latter made up in plaster. Only one foot is visible, it is possible that the other foot was broken off as the edge of the dress where the foot should be is also rough. The rough edge under the hem of her dress also indicates that the end was broken off, perhaps during the removal of the slab. The face shows damage with several holes around her nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Height: 35cm
  • Width: 71.2cm
  • Depth: 187.2cm
Object history
Purchased in Naples, for 6 lire 4 soldi 5 denari from an unnamed mason in 1860.

Historical significance: This effigy is one of the few sixteenth-century Neapolitan tomb sculptures to be found outside of Naples or Spain. (Caglioti, p.53)

Pope-Hennessy noted the similarities between this work and other female effigies by Giovanni da Nola and Tommaso Malvito. Giovanni da Nola and Tommaso worked together in the early 1500s. Based on a conversation with Morisani Pope-Hennessy suggested that this effigy may have come from Giovanni da Nola’s workshop. Morisani noted similarities with a female effigy executed by Giovanni da Nola in the Chapel of the Sanseverino family in Santi Serverino e Sossio (Pope-Hennessy, 496). Pane made reference to Pope-Hennessy’s attribution but assigned the work directly to the master (Pane, 184, 193). None of these scholars reproduced the Sanseverino effigy, though Venturi included it in his Storia dell'Arte Italiana.

The fairly deep undercutting of the drapery has some similarities with that of Girolamo Santacroce’s sculpture of St. Benedict (c.1502-37) formerly in the church of Saint Benedict, Capua (until 1806-1815) and now in a private gallery (Caglioti, 50). However, the carving of the Saint Benedict both appear to be of a higher quality than the V&A effigy.

The damage to the surface of the work, as well as a lack of clear provenance make a secure attribution difficult, but it is likely that this effigy came from the workshop of one of the major sculptors of the day. This woman was probably commemorated in a monument along with her husband.

Yoni Ascher, in an email communication of 25.7.2008, based on stylistic considerations, suggested a date of the first decade of the sixteenth century. "The long and paraellel folds that are organized in straight lines, especially visisble in the veil and the dress, are typical of Tommaso Malvito and possibly, Jacopo della Pila. This will make [the tomb], together with the Vitaliano woman, one of the first instances of this iconography in Naples."
Historical context
The tomb relief of this unknown woman probably reflects the dress in which she was buried. She wears the wimple, veil and simple belted dress of a tertiary (a member of the Third Order, who has promised him/herself to God but has not taken the full vows of a monk, friar or nun). Since the thirteenth century in Italy, both men and women requested burial in the habit of a religious order for the spiritual benefits that this was believed to bring. It was not unusual for widows to be buried dressed as tertiaries, as many joined convents upon the death of their husband, and/or became tertiaries.

The belt around her waist could indicate that she was a Dominican tertiary, as Franciscan tertiaries seem to have worn a knotted cord around the waist in the style of Franciscan friars and nuns. However, in the absence of documentation it is impossible to be sure.

Full length effigies of women in funerary monuments were popular in Naples though rare in the rest of Italy. Their popularity in Naples is likely due to the presence of tombs commemorating that city’s royal women associated with the Angevins including Catherine of Habsburg, Queen Mary of Hungary, Mary of Valois, Queen Sancia and Queen Margaret of Durazzo.

Although tomb slabs were often set in the floor, in Naples it was more typical to have the wife’s effigy set into a slab below that of the husband’s image in a joint monument. Robinson stated that in 1862 many tombs were still in their original placements and could be seen “...against a wall, slightly raised on a plinth or dais above the floor,” often in an inclined position. He noted that this contrasted with the typical horizontal placement of tomb effigies. (Robinson, 112).

The recumbent female effigy holding a book was particularly popular in Naples. The type can be divided into two groups – the “accumbent reader” and the recumbent reader. (Ascher, 13). This refers to those who are presented as actually reading, such as the effigy of Caterina Pignatelli. (As per Yoni Ascher, in email communication of 25.7.2008, who suggested comparison with the article in Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte, vol. 69, 2006, p. 145-167, fig.3. He also noted that "Piganetlli's effigy was cleaned and is now one of the jewels of the small sculpture collection in the Galleria Nazionale of Capodimonte, Naples.2)

According to Ascher, "the much more common type was the representation of a reclinging effigy who holds a book, either open or closed, without readings, as if "caught" in sleep." In Naples around 1520, elements of the two types were combined, resulting in sleeping figures holding books. (Ascher, 15). Ascher further commented that "this type developed prior to the reading type, and as much as [I] can tell, did not stem from it." All of the leading sculptors of the city created variations on the form. Some examples include the Algaro monument (c.1520s) in San Domenico Maggiore, the tomb of Santo Vitaliano and Porzia Tomacelli in Santa Maria Nuova, and the tomb of Caterina della Ratta (c.1520s) in San Francesco delle Monache. It is unclear who executed these works, though the workshop of the Malvito family is a possibility. See also the de Cuncto tomb with the effigies of Lucrezia Candida and her husband in Santa Maria a Caponapoli. Giovanni da Nola executed the effigy of Antonia Gaudino for her tomb in the church of Santa Chiara. Her effigy (now destroyed) belonged to the type of reclining efffigy with a book, who does not appear to be reading it.( Yoni Ascher, email communication of 25.7.2008)
Subjects depicted
This woman was probably buried in the dress of a tertiary (a religious woman who has not taken the full vows of a nun) as indicated by her effigy. Funeral monuments for women were popular in 16th century Naples; probably because of the presence of earlier tombs of the royal Angevin women.
Bibliographic References
  • Ascher, Yoni, "The Tomb of Caterina della Ratta and the Iconography of the Reclining Reader in Renaissance Sepulchral Art," Source, xiv, no. 2, winter 1995, 11-18.
  • Abbate, Francesco, La scultura napoletana del Cinquecento, Rome: Donzelli Editore, 1992.
  • Muñoz, Antonio, "Studi sulla scultura napoletana del rinascimento," Bolletino d'Arte, iii, 1909, pp.83-101.
  • Pane, Roberto, Il Rinascimento nell'Italia meriodionale, Milan: Edizioni di Comunità, 1977, p. 184, 193, fig.195
  • Caglioti, Francesco, "Girolamo Santacroce, St. John the Baptist and St. Benedict," in Andrew Butterfield, (ed)., Italian Renaissance Sculpture, New York: Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, 2005, pp. 50-60.
  • Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1861 In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 17
  • Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 124
  • Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume II: Text. Sixteenth to Twentieth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, p. 496
Accession Number

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record createdAugust 23, 2006
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