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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery

Sarcophagus of Santa Giustina

Sarcophagus
ca. 1476 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This sarcophagus appears to have been made for the church of Santa Giustina at Padua and is perhaps identical with a marble shrine commissioned in 1476 to contain the body of the saint. The body was not, however, transferred to the new sarcophagus. On the front of the sarcophagus the body of the saint is carved in relief, lying on a bier and covered with a cloth. At the ends are reliefs of angels swinging censers. The sarcophagus is closely related in style to the monuments of Gianantonio and Erasmo da Narni (known as Gattamelata) in the basilica of Sant’Antonio at Padua, which were constructed from 1457 to 1458 by the Paduan sculptor Gregorio di Allegretto, perhaps assisted by Giovanni (Nani) da Firenze.

St Giustina was a popular saint in the Veneto and an early patron saint of Padua. She was believed to have been the Christian daughter of King Vitaliano of Padua. When she refused marriage to the pagan Roman Emperor Maximus in 304 she was killed with a sword on Ponte Corvo. Her cult dates back to about the 4th century. The Venetians credited her with helping them win the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 because their victory occurred on her feast day (October 7).


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Marble
Brief Description
Sarcophagus, marble, of Santa Giustina, ascribed to Gregorio di Allegretto, Italy (Padua), about 1476
Physical Description
Sarcophagus of Santa Giustina, marble. The sarcophagus is carved on the front and the two ends; the top is open, and the back is uncarved. The front relief is surrounded by a water-leaf moulding; a water leaf moulding also runs round three of the four sides of the lateral reliefs. On the front, on a bed or bier covered with a cloth, lies the body of the saint. Her head, to the left, rests on a cushion with two tassels; beneath her nimbus and diadem her hair falls in long tresses at either side. Her loose flowing cloak is joined by a buckle on the chest, and the dress beneath is drawn in by a girdle round the waist. Her hands are crossed over her thighs, and on the right her feet protrude beyond the receding edge of the bier. The lateral reliefs show (right) an angel in full length turned to the left in an alb swinging a censer, and (left) a second angel, also vested, with flowing hair, turned to the right swinging a censer of which only the base is preserved.
Dimensions
  • Front relief height: 65.4cm
  • Front relief width: 197.5cm
  • Side reliefs height: 65.4cm
  • Side reliefs width: 47.6cm
  • Depth: 48cm
  • Weight: 607kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Object history
Purchased in London at the behest of John Charles Robinson, through Mr. Pinti, an antiques dealer and adviser to the South Kensington Museum. Robinson stated in a letter to the Times (3 May 1879) that he was shown a photograph of the sarcophagus and told that it was “…in the hands of a dealer in antiquities in Venice.” He also stated that he immediately recognized it as a work of Donatello, and was encouraged in this belief by the idea that the most recent owner bought the sarcophagus in Padua, where it had been used as a water trough for the past two centuries, as evidenced by a large hole (now filled) in the left hand side. The weathering is more severe on the right hand side around the head of the angel, which could indicate that the relief was outside. The sculpted relief of the saint was probably protected by being placed face down on the ground when the sarcophagus was used as a trough.



The provenance and the crown and halo worn by the woman in the relief convinced Robinson that it was the sarcophagus of St Giustina, an early Christian martyr and one of the patron saints of Padua. Robinson thought that the sarcophagus was removed from the Paduan church dedicated to her when a new altar was constructed in 1627.



Zampieri suggested that this was originally an unadorned Roman sarcophagus that had been recarved. (Zampieri, 2006, p.153). The side with the female figure would originally have been the bottom of the plain sarcophagus. Zampieri also proposed that it may have been used as an altar as traces of wax remain on the top. The date 1749 was carved into the top; the significance of this date is not clear.



Historical significance: Robinson was the first to claim that the sarcophagus was that of St Giustina and was removed from the church during the 1627 renovations to the altar. Pope-Hennessy disagreed because he noted that the translation of the saint’s body could only occur in the presence of city officials, who were not mentioned in the 1627 documents. Studies of the sculpture include attempts to explain its original location and function in the church of Santa Giustina and no one has questioned whether that was in fact its original location, even though Tonzig, Pope-Hennessy and Zampieri all note that there is no documentary evidence in support of this.



Tonzig proposed that the V&A sarcophagus was commissioned by the monks in 1476, when a document noted that a new tomb for the body of St Giustina was to be made. However, for an unknown reason the monks decided not to use this new sarcophagus and instead transformed it into an altar. She did not provide documentation for her statement that the sarcophagus was then at some point removed to the courtyard of the monastery where it was used as a water trough for animals. (Tonzig, 262-265)



Zampieri, in part following Tonzig, also suggested that the V&A sarcophagus was used as an altar, noting that remnants of wax were found on top during examination in 2005. He suggested that it was probably removed from the church at some point during the upheavals in monasteries and churches across Italy during the Napoleonic, Austrian and Italian suppressions of religious buildings.



However, 17th century guidebooks to Padua do not mention or describe this sarcophagus in the church of Santa Giustina. The descriptions of her tomb do not correlate to this sarcophagus, and the photograph of the tomb included by Tonzig in her 1932 study shows a simple rectangular tomb on four columns in the crypt. The chronicles of the monks of Santa Giustina do not mention the commission of a sarcophagus, nor describe anything similar to this one. It is possible that the sarcophagus was removed prior to the 17th century, but the good condition of the angel on the left side of the sarcophagus belies Robinson’s claim that the sarcophagus was outside for “a century or two.”



Notwithstanding the lack of documentation, the style of the sarcophagus suggests that it was made in Padua. It has been compared to the tombs of Erasmo da Narni and his son Giovan Antonio da Narni (the Gattamelata monuments) in the Santo in Padua. (Tonzig, 267, Pope-Hennessy, 333-335). Tonzig attributed the tombs and the V&A sarcophagus to Bertoldo di Giovanni. (Tonzig, 267-273). Pope-Hennessy attributed the sarcophagus to Gregorio di Allegretto (active 1442-1476) based on documentation published by Vittorio Lazzarini that identified the artist as the maker of the tombs. (Lazzarini, 228-233).



As noted by Tonzig, Pope-Hennessy and Zampieri, the wings, heads, and positions of the angels on the front of the Gattamelata tombs are very similar to those on the sides of the V&A sarcophagus. However, the angels on the V&A sarcophagus are more finely carved and delicate. They also exhibit a greater command of movement and foreshortening than the angels holding the inscriptions on the lower section of the Gattamelata tombs.



The figure of Giovan Antonio da Narni, as noted by Tonzig, presents many similarities with the figure on the V&A sarcophagus. The faces, in particular the chin, eyes, eyebrows, lower lips and angle of both of the heads seem to come from the same hand. The hands and their crossed positions are also very similar. The pillows under the figures’ heads share the same detail of three openings to indicate gathered material.



Even in the absence of documentation, the similarities with Gattamelata tombs in the Santo indicate that the V&A sarcophagus is by Gregorio di Allegretto, and was created in Padua. The female figure, clearly a royal saint, may therefore be St Giustina; thought the lack of evidence surrounding its commission is puzzling. Alternative orgins for the sculpture have not been fully explored, though it is worth noting that Padova had two other churches dedicated to "royal" female saints, including St Sofia and St Catherine of Alessandria, and the Scuola di San Giorgio included St Catherine of Alessandria among its patrons. It is possible that the sarcophagus came from one of these churches or oratories and does not represent St Giustina.
Historical context
St Giustina was a popular saint in the Veneto and an early patron saint of Padua. She was believed to have been the Christian daughter of King Vitaliano of Padua. When she refused marriage to the pagan Roman Emperor Maximus in 304 she was killed with a sword on Ponte Corvo. Her cult dates back to about the 4th century. The Venetians credited her with helping them win the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 because their victory occurred on her feast day (October 7).



There has been a church on the site of the present-day Basilica of Santa Giustina since the 5th or 6th century. In the 10th or 11th century the basilica became a Benedictine monastery, though it is unclear when the monks arrived The church’s importance was emphasized in 1177 when the relics of Sts Luke, Matthew and Giustina were found in the crypt of the church. The church was rebuilt from 1521-1587, and renovated in the 1600s.



A new tomb monument for St Giustina was commissioned in 1476 to replace the medieval tomb. Tonzig associated the V&A sarcophagus with this commission, and has been followed by subsequent scholars, though the tomb was never described in the documents. The tomb of St Giustina was opened and examined in 1502, 1562, and 1627. (Zampieri, 2006, 48). In 1562 her relics were moved to a simple tomb monument on four columns in the crypt under the high altar. 17th century guidebooks describe her relics as under the high altar, though no tomb monument is described.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This sarcophagus appears to have been made for the church of Santa Giustina at Padua and is perhaps identical with a marble shrine commissioned in 1476 to contain the body of the saint. The body was not, however, transferred to the new sarcophagus. On the front of the sarcophagus the body of the saint is carved in relief, lying on a bier and covered with a cloth. At the ends are reliefs of angels swinging censers. The sarcophagus is closely related in style to the monuments of Gianantonio and Erasmo da Narni (known as Gattamelata) in the basilica of Sant’Antonio at Padua, which were constructed from 1457 to 1458 by the Paduan sculptor Gregorio di Allegretto, perhaps assisted by Giovanni (Nani) da Firenze.



St Giustina was a popular saint in the Veneto and an early patron saint of Padua. She was believed to have been the Christian daughter of King Vitaliano of Padua. When she refused marriage to the pagan Roman Emperor Maximus in 304 she was killed with a sword on Ponte Corvo. Her cult dates back to about the 4th century. The Venetians credited her with helping them win the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 because their victory occurred on her feast day (October 7).

Bibliographic References
  • Zampieri, Girolamo, I sepolcri Padovani di Santa Giustina: Il sarcofago 75-1879 del Victoria and Albert Museum di Londra e altri sarcofagi dall Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padova, Rome: L'erma di Breschneider, 2006
  • Curtis, Penelope (ed.) Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello, exh. cat Henry Moore Institute, 2006
  • Pope-Hennessy, John, and Lightbrown, Ronald, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1964, vol. 1, pp. 332-335
  • Tonzig, Maria "La basilica romanico-gotica di Santa Giustina in Padova," in Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova, v, 1929 (1932), pp. 262-278
  • Vittorio Lazzarini, "Gli autori della cappella e dei monumenti Gattamelata al Santo," Il Santo, iv, 1931-32, pp. 228-33
  • List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired in the Year 1879. London, 1880, p. 7
  • Raggio, Olga. 'Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum' Art Bulletin vol. L, 1968, p. 101
  • MacLagan, E, and Longhurst, Margaret, H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. London: V&A, 1932, p. 37
  • Bresc-Bautier, G, ed. Germain Pilon et les sculpteurs francais de la Renaissance. Paris, Actes du colloque, Musee du Louvre 26-27 Oct. 1990, 1993, fig. 44, p.167
  • Bode, 'Lo scultore Bartolomeo Bellano da Padova' in Archivio Storico dell' Arte IV, 1891, p. 408
  • Seymour,Charles, Jr. Sculpture in Italy 1400-1500. Harmondsworth: The Pelican History of Art, 1966, p. 239, note 9
  • Burmeister. Der bilderishce Schmuck des Tempio Malatestiano 1891, p. 33
  • Venturi. Storia dell arte. VI, 1906, pp. 500-504
  • Pointer. Die Werke des florentinischen Bildhauers Agostino d'Antonio di Duccio. Strasburg, 1909, pp. 22-24
  • Balcarres. Donatello. London: Duckworth and Co, 1903, pp. 171-2
  • Schubring. Kunstwissenschaftliche Beitrange August Schmarsow gewidmet. 1907, pp. 105-6
  • Planiscig. 'Ein Relief des Agostino di Duccio in der Markuskirche zu Venedig' in Zeitschrift fur bildende Kunst xxxii, 1920-1, p. 145
  • Andrea Riccio. Vienna, 1927, p. 21-2
  • Moschetti, Thieme. iii, p. 235
  • Lazzarini. 'Gli autori della cappella e dei monumenti Gattamelata al Santo' in Il Santo. iv, 1931-2, pp. 228-33
  • Fiocco. Rivista di Venezia. ix, 1930, p. 274
  • Balogh. Eine unbekannte Madonna Agostino di Duccios, Hommage a Alexis Petrovics. Budapest, 1934, pp. 198-203
  • Ragghiant. 'La mostra di scultura italiana antica a Detroit' in La Critica d'Arte iii, 1938, p. 179
  • Brunetti. 'Il soggiorno veneziano di Agostino di Duccio' Communtari I, 1950. pp. 84-5
  • Schottmuller. Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen Berlin, 1913
Collection
Accession Number
75-1879

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record createdFebruary 20, 2004
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