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Work Seated figures of two men, each holding a sword: Saint Paul and Saint Julian (?)

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Deux hommes assis, tenant chacun une épée: saint Paul et saint Julien (?)

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

This drawing depicts two seated male figures facing each other on a dais, each holding an attribute that appears to be a sword. The iconography remains a mystery. The authorship of the work is controversial: it was formerly attributed to Gentile Bellini, later Spinello Aretino and Niccolo di Pietro Gerini. It is most often attributed to Maso di Banco or Giotto. Whatever the truth of the matter, the style indicates a date towards the middle of the Trecento.

Mysterious iconography

Although they do not have haloes, the two figures appear to be saints. The figure on the left holding the unsheathed sword is thought to be Saint Paul. The figure on the right holding the lowered sword still in the scabbard in his left hand is thought to be Saint Julian. His right index finger is lifting the scabbard strap. While the outline of the first figure, drawn straight on the preparation, is hazy, the outline of the second, partly etched into the paper, remains clear, and the white highlights are more prominent. The representation of Saint Paul seated could figure in a painting of the Last Judgment or a Glorification of Saint Thomas Aquinas, although the presence of the second figure suggests a different use such as a painting of the Virgin flanked by two saints.

Maso di Banco

This drawing is a supreme example of the style, manner, and formulations of Giotto. Nevertheless, some experts attribute it to his pupil Maso di Banco. It is true that certain aspects of the work, such as the style of the figures, the way of defining the outlines, the restrained plasticity of the drapery, the style of the heads, eyes, and hands, and the lengthening and the positioning of the bodies in the space of the page are reminiscent of the few works by Maso di Banco to have been identified with certainty. Among these works are the Saint Julian on the retable in Santo Spirito, Florence, and the Saint Anthony of Padua in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The similarity of the style to that of Giotto suggests a date of about 1329 to 1332, when Maso was still working with his master at the Castelnuovo in Naples.

Or Giotto?

The authorship of this drawing has long been in question. To begin with, the fact that Saint Paul is not bald and that Saint Julian is not wearing apostolic garb has thrown the identity of the two figures into doubt. It has been suggested that they are simply two allegorical figures drawn for the decoration of the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, since destroyed. The drawing has been attributed to Giotto based on obvious similarities to certain figures in the Scrovegni chapel, also in Padua, which dates from 1303-5. Further evidence is given by Cennini, who claims that the technique of using a metal point to etch a drawing on prepared and colored paper touched up with white was invented by Giotto himself. Finally, there are differences in style between the work of the master and his pupil. Maso di Banco generally used clear-cut outlines and shapes simplified to the point where they looked nearly flat, whereas in this work, the outlines are barely there and, while they are very simple, they also have a natural elegance. The stylus etched the bodies slowly but in one flowing movement. The remarkable finesse of the execution, the white highlighting, and the darkening of the shadows are carefully handled so as to make the figures stand out in a manner that is both intense and gentle. The gravity and finesse, balance and freedom, elegance and bearing, humanity and conviction of the work all tend to tip the scales in favor of Giotto, particularly during his time in Padua, when he was working on the Scrovegni Chapel.

Bibliography

Bean Jacob, Bouchot-Saupique Jacqueline, Dessins de la collection de Filippo Baldinucci (1625-1696), cat. exp. musée du Louvre, Éditions des musées nationaux, 1958, p. 15, n 2.
Degenhart Bernhard et Schmitt Annegrit, Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen 1300-1450, Berlin, 1968, vol. I, pp.66-68, vol. 3, cat. 24, pl. 49.
Bellosi L., "Su alcuni disegni italiani a la fine del due e la metà del quattrocento", in Bolletino d'Arte, 1985, n 30, pp. 1-15, 41.
Castelfranchi Vegas Liana, L'arte medievale in Italia e nell'Occidente europeo, Milan, Jaca Book, 1993, pp. 94-96.
F. F. d'Arcais, Giotto, Paris, 1996.
Ragionieri G., Giotto. Bilancio critico di sessant'anni di studi e richerche, cat. exp. Florence, Galleria dell'Academia, 2000, pp. 133-134, n 11, pl. XI.

Technical description

  • Maso di Banco (before 1320-after 1350)

    Seated figures of two men, each holding a sword: Saint Paul and Saint Julian (?)

    c. 1303-5 or c. 1329-32

  • Metal point, white heightening, on prepared paper

    H. 20.9 cm; L. 18.7 cm

  • Filippo Baldinucci collection (volume one, folio 45); collection of Francesco Saverio Baldinucci, his son; Pandolfo Pandolfini collection; Camillo Pandolfini collection; Roberto Pandolfini collection; Angiolo Pandolfini collection; collection of Anna Eleonora Pandolfini (Filippo Strozzi's wife); Eleonora Teresa Pandolfini collection; purchased after negotiation with Filippo Strozzi, acquisition recommended in a report by the artist François-Xavier Fabre, 1806

    392664

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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