Branchini Madonna
Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, 1403-1482)
On View

Surrounded by multi-winged seraphim, the Virgin Mary is presented holding the infant Jesus who reaches tenderly for his mother and slightly touches her diaphanous veil. God the Father is also surrounded by a heavenly host above and gestures in both blessing and judgment. The dove representing the Holy Spirit radiates divine light. A variety of luminous effects were achieved with stamping and tooling gold, and as a result of the inclusion of glass gems set within Mary’s crown. Seen in candlelight, the whole ensemble would have been spectacularly spiritual. Attention to such natural details as the flowers strewn beneath Mary and the sumptuous fabrics contributes to the overall splendor and the theological message. Roses, carnations, marigolds and corn-flowers, for example, are symbols associated with the Holy Family and the Trinity and interestingly are also elements woven into the textiles. The painting is in a fine state of preservation. It is rare for a panel of this scale to have survived almost completely intact. The artist inscribed on the bottom of the frame in Latin “Giovanni of Siena son of Paolo painted [this in] 1427." Additional inscriptions include the opening lines of the Ave Maria and a poignant petition written within Mary’s halo: “I painted this for you. Virgin, Protect this man.”


  • Artist Name: Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, 1403-1482)
  • Title: Branchini Madonna
  • Date: 1427
  • Medium: Tempera and gold leaf on panel
  • Dimensions: 72 x 39 in. (182.9 x 99.1 cm)
  • Credit Line: The Norton Simon Foundation
  • Accession Number: F.1978.01.P
  • Copyright: © The Norton Simon Foundation

Object Information

Church of San Domenico, Siena, by 1427 (second altar on left of entrance);
Convent of San Domenico, Siena, Refectory, by 1649.
Galgano Saracini (d. 1824), Palazzo Saracini, Siena, by 1819, bequeathed to one of two sons;
Marcantonio Saracini (1805-1848) or Alessandro Giulio Saracini (1807-1877), by inheritance to;
Prince Chigi-Saracini, Siena, inventory no. 1263, sold c. 1922 to;
Robert von Hirsch (1883-1977), Frankfurt and Basel (sale, London, Sotheby’s, 21 June 1978, lot 103);
The Norton Simon Foundation.

Austellung von Meisterwerken alter Malerei aus Privatbesitz

  • Frankfurt am Main, Städlisches Kunstinstitut, 1925 to 1925

[on loan]

  • Princeton University Art Museum, 1978-07-18 to

[on loan]

  • Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 1979-06-14 to

The Shimmer of Gold: Giovanni di Paolo in Renaissance Siena - The Branchini Altarpiece

  • J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016-10-11 to 2017-01-08

[on loan]

  • Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 1980-11-18 to 1981-05-20
  • Sigismondo, T., Historiarum Senesium, p. 9 ; p. 207
  • Pope-Hennessy, John, Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby Parke Bernet 1977-78, pp. 18-21
  • Brandi, Cesare, Quattrocentisti Senesi, pl. 124 pp. 258, 286
  • Brandi, Cesare, Giovanni di Paolo, fig. 15 pp. 10
  • Pope-Hennessy, John, Giovanni di Paolo, pl. 1B pp.9, 10, 46
  • Berenson, Bernhard, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, p. 211
  • Berenson, Bernhard, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, p. 246
  • van Marle, Raymond, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, fig. 251 pp. 334, 390, 394-395
  • Delado, p. 201-202
  • Crowe, J.; and G. Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy, p. 178
  • Berenson, Bernhard, The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance, pp. 180, 320
  • Romagnoli, E., Bellartisti Senesi, p. 4; pp. 314, 328-329
  • Monsignore E. Bossio, Visita Pastorale, 1575, p. 680
  • Ugurgieri Azzolini, I., Le Pompe Sanesi, 1649, p. 346
  • Heywood, W.; and L. Olcott, Guide to Siena, 1903, p. 224
  • Jacobsen, Emil, Das Quattrocento in Siena, 1908, pl. XIII, fig. I p. 42
  • Weigelt, C., Thieme Becker: Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstlern, 1921, p. 134
  • Götz, O.; and G. Swarzenski and A. Wolters, Austellung von Meisterwerken alter Malerei aus Prvatbesitz, 1926, no. 80, pl. XIII
  • Edgell, George Harold, A History of Sienese Painting, 1932, fig. 300 pp. 215, 217
  • Carli, E., Capolavori dell'Arte Senese, 1946, p. 66
  • Carli, Enzo, La Pittura Senese, 1955, p. 222
  • Salmi, M., Il Palazzo e la Colleczione Chigi-Saracini, 1967, pp. 40, 45, 50
  • Berenson, Bernard, Italian Painters of the Renaissance: The Central Italian and North Italian Schools, 1968, pp. 175, 463
  • Pope-Hennessy, John, DU, 1975, p. 36
  • No Title, 1977,
  • Masterpieces from the Norton Simon Museum, 1989, p. 14
  • Boskovitis, Miklos, Brown, David Alan, et al., Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century, 2003, p. 331
  • Mazza, Miriam Fileti and Giovanna Gaeta Bertela, Collezione Chigi Saracini nel Palazzo di Siena, Inventario Generale, 2005, pp. 26, 87
  • Campbell, Sara, Collector Without Walls: Norton Simon and His Hunt for the Best, 2010, cat. 1531 p. 417
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Additional Artwork by Artist

Baptism of Christ Giovanni di Paolo early 1450s

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