SIMONE MARTINI (ca. 1284 - 1344)
Two Singing Choir-Boys, 1315-18

While an echo of Giotto can be felt in the foreshortened faces and the architectural setting divided by spiral columns, the overall effect is that of an enchanted, courtly world. In the Chapel of St. Martin, like a jewel casket dominated by the blue lapislazuli, Simone narrates with lyrical detachment the life of the chivalrous saint born in Pannonia in the 4th century.


In a sonnet by Francesco Petrarch, Simone flies up to Paradise to paint the "lovely face" of the mythical Laura beloved by the poet. Nothing is known of that portrait on parchment, which would be the first example of portrait painting in the history of the western world. Certainly, the friendship of Petrarch contributed significantly to the immediate fame of the refined Sienese artist. For the poet Simone also illustrated an erudite Virgilian Allegory in the fronstispiece of a codex now at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Expert in both large and small formats, Simone, who with several "chompagni" had a shop in Siena, worked also in Pisa, Orvieto, Assisi and the Angevin court of Naples. While in the Assisi frescoes he almost seems willing to compete with Giotto, more often he remained faithful to a personal, aristocratic language, where color plays a primary role in conferring luminosity and depth.