Saint Ambrose, possibly
- Place of origin:
Verona, Italy (made)
ca. 1320 (carved)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by Sir Henry Howorth, Mr Sigismund Goetze, the Rt. Hon. F. Leverton Harris, and Mr F. A. White
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 64b, case FS
These figures are from the Abbey of SS. Nazaro e Celso in Verona. In the fourteenth century, this abbey was run by the Knights Hospitaller. They probably represent two of the four Fathers of the Church - Saints Ambrose and Gregory. There would originally have been two other figures. It is not certain how they were originally intended to be displayed. Although they may have been intended for a church facade, the figures are unweathered, suggesting that they have spent most of their lives indoors.
The figure is shown seated in the act of composition, wearing a green dalmatic and a red cloak. Before him are an open book and inkwell supported on a panel which is fastened by a hinged bar to the richly carved seat.
Place of Origin
Verona, Italy (made)
ca. 1320 (carved)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 150 cm, Width: 66.5 cm, Depth: 59.5 cm, Weight: 1000 kg Estimate
Object history note
A drawing has come to light showing these two figures. The drawing is part of a group of leaves probably from the studio of the Cristofoli family of architects, although it is unclear whether they were produced in the late eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century. A different hand, probably before 1812, has added in Italian, 'two doctors of the church, which are in the Chapter of SS. Nazaro e Celso'. The monastery of SS. Nazaro e Celso was in the fourteenth century the church of the Knights Hospitaller in Verona. It was a large complex on the outskirts of the town. The present building was constructed in the second half of the fifteenth century at which time the precinct was transfered to the monks of nearby Santa Giustina.
The monastery was first suppressed in 1770. It was then taken over by a group of Benedictine monks, who remained there until the Napoleonic suppressions of 1806-1810. At this time, the church took over the functions of a parish church. The transfer of the V&A figures out of the church probably happened at this time, although it is possible that they were moved slightly earlier. A comprehensive survey of the sculpture and paintings in Veronese churches was compiled by Saverio della Rosa in 1803-4, immediately prior to the suppressions, but it only lists the paintings in SS. Nazaro e Celso, not the sculpture, and so it is impossible to say for certain whether the figures were in the church at that point. G. Biancolini's eighteenth century history of Veronese churches also only describes the paintings of SS. Nazaro e Celso, not the sculpture. It is not known how the pieces came to leave Verona.
Historical significance: This is an important survival of monumental sculpture from Verona. The fourteenth century sculpture from this area is of interest because in terms of style, the legacy of romanesque carving is still obvious even at this late date. It is also typical of the sort of sculpture which one would expect to find adorning an Italian church at this date. The medieval sculptural programmes of Northern and Central Italian churches were often left unfinished, and it seems likely that these figures were never installed in their intended positions.
Historical context note
The identification of this object and its companion piece as Saints Ambrose and Gregory is a reasonable hypothesis. Both figures are ecclesiastics, as they seem to be wearing dalmatics under their cloaks. The unusual headgear of the 'Gregory' figure may be intended to represent a papal tiara, and a similar type of headgear is worn by the figure of St Augustine in San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro at Pavia. However, there are also some uncertainties in identifying the figures in this way - the headgear worn by 'St Gregory' does not look much like fourteenth century papal tiaras, and can also be exactly paralleled in representations of medieval emperors, such as the figure of Henry VII, in the Campo Santo, Pisa. Nevertheless, the headpiece combined with ecclesiastical dress makes it extremely likely that this figure is Saint Gregory. Saint Ambrose is usually represented in a bishop's clothing, complete with mitre. This figure is ambiguous enough to have also been plausibly identified as Saint Luke.
The identification of the figures as Saints Ambrose and Gregory also helps to make sense of them as a pair, as they were two of the usual members of the group known as the Fathers of the Church. If the V&A's figure of 'Saint Ambrose' is instead identified as Saint Luke, then the statues would most likely have come from a set of eight, representing the four evangelists, and four Doctors of the Church.
As monumental carved figures, possibly from a sculptural programme representing the Fathers of the Church, the most likely original situation for these objects would have been on the facade of a church building. In the past, it has been suggested that they may have formed part of an intended sculptural programme for the Dominican church of Sant'Anastasia, Verona, but a drawing shows that they were from the monastery of SS. Nazaro e Celso. When recorded in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries, they were inside the Chapter House, although whether they were simply being stored there or were mounted on the walls is not clear. Both figures are conspicuously unweathered, and this suggests that they have spent most of their lives indoors. At the time they were drawn in SS. Nazaro e Celso they appear to have been only a pair, rather than part of a larger group. This may suggest that the Chapter House was not their original situation. Any speculation is complicated by the fact that the church was substantially rebuilt in the second half of the fifteenth century. It is therefore conceivable the figures could have been moved from their original situation at that time. Indeed, it may still be possible to reconcile the provenance from SS. Nazaro e Celso with the older idea that the figures may have been intended for the facade of the church of S. Anastasia, but never installed.
Painted limestone figure of Saint Ambrose (?), made in Italy (Verona), ca.1350
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
J. Pope Hennessy assisted by R. Lightbown, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum London, 1964. cat. no. 44.
L. Magagnato. La Sculpture du trecento a Verone. L'Oeil. no. 145, 1967, pp. 2-9
G.L. Mellini, Scultori Veronesi del Trecento Venice, 1971. pp. 25-26
S. Marinelli., ed. Catastico: delle pitture e scolture esistenti nelle chiese e luoghi pubblici situati in Verona di Saverio della Rosa. Verona, 1996
S. Marinelli. Note sulle stoffe dell'Arca di Cangrande e il Trecento veronese. In: L. Magagnato, ed. Le Stoffe di Cangrande: ritrovamenti e ricerche sul 300 veronese Verona: Alinari, 1983. pp. 239-257.
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. London, 1932. p. 9.
Pope-Hennessy. J. Two Veronese Angels. In: Kosegarten, Antje Middeldorf, ed. Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1968. pp. 39-41. pls. XXIII-XXIV.
There are obvious stylistic similarities between this object, its pair, a group of sculptures now in the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona, and the parish church of Cellore d'Illasi. It is likely that these objects were all made in the same Veronese sculpture workshop.
Book; Robes; Ambrose (Saint)