The “Stories from the New Testament” in San Gimignano
The frescoes known as “Stories from the New Testament”, in the right-side aisle of San Gimignano’s Collegiate Church of the Assumption of Mary (Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta), have only recently been attributed to Lippo Memmi (Siena, end of the 13th century-1356) and his atelier.
For centuries, they were thought to be the work of Barna of Siena due to a mistake in Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects”.
Lippo Memmi was Simone Martini’s brother-in-law, as well as his student and later partner in a prolific workshop in Siena.
“Although he didn’t have Simone’s talent, he was able to imitate his way of painting wonderfully; guided by his drawings, he painted works that would have been taken for his teacher’s, had he not signed them with his name” (translated from l. A. Lanzi, “Storia pittorica dell’Italia”, Florence 1834).
The “Stories” in the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano – one of the most beautiful towns in the province of Siena – were painted by a group “in which different masters stand out: Lippo Memmi, probably, in the figures of Christ in the ‘Crucifixion’ and of the soldier in the ‘Annunciation’; another fine master [painted] the ‘Flagellation’; while the evil thief in the ‘Crucifixion’ is the result of plastic studies that make it one of the most interesting figures in Siena’s 14th-century art.”
“Barna was probably one of these masters. Indeed, a Barna di Bertino is mentioned in a 1340 record, not as an independent artist but as one of Lippo Memmi’s employees, so his name could not appear on contracts or payment receipts” (translated from L. Castelfranchi Vegas-A. Conti, “L’arte medievale in Italia e nell’Occidente europeo”, Jaca Book, Milan 1993).