What remains of the 14th-century mural paintings in the main chapel of the Church of San Domenico in Urbino, which were already known to Luigi Serra in 1932 and were removed and transferred to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in 1954 (Mazzini 2000), has been the subject of an interesting historical and artistic debate that fully developed in the second half of the 20th century.

In these paintings, Serra saw a reference to the Sienese painting of the Lorenzetti; Franco Mazzini (1952) linked the works to a personality in Umbrian painting with Sienese tradition, within the circle of Luca di Tommè; Superintendent Giuseppe Marchini (1960) attributed them to the Catalan painter Ferrer Bassa. Ferdinando Bologna (1961), building on Marchini’s study, dated the works to the seventh decade of the 14th century and attributed them to the non-existent “Antonius Magister,” whose name was read in the 15th-century invocation inscription of the Madonna dell’Umiltà in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (later removed). Millard Meiss, after previously attributing the polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin in the church of Sant Nicolau in Bellpuig d’Urgell in Catalonia (1941) to Ferrer Bassa, returned on his stance in 1967, recognizing that the same hand had created both the Catalan work and the Urbino paintings in San Domenico, which he attributed to the Master of the Coronation of Bellpuig.

Miklòs Boskovits (1969), while dating the paintings to the 1330s, confirmed the attribution to this latter artist and expanded the catalog with the Madonna dell’Umiltà from the Kisters collection in Kreuzlingen, previously thought to be by Lippo Memmi, and the large painted Cross from the Sanctuary of Beato Sante in Mombaroccio (PU), as well as the Madonna dell’Umiltà from the Galleria in Urbino. The same scholar, in 1999, further expanded the corpus and even suggested that the anonymous painter active in Urbino might be Ferrer Bassa.

In 2014, Mauro Minardi, attributing the paintings to the Master of the Cross of Mombaroccio, identified with the Master of the Coronation of Bellpuig, managed to provide hypothetical answers to questions regarding the iconography of the entire pictorial program, its chronology, and the patronage. The scholar places the creation of the cycle in the 1340s, based on stylistic relationships with Sienese painting of the same period or slightly earlier. This dating is also supported by the fashion of the time, as evidenced by the wide neck openings of the angels’ garments. More specifically, Minardi also mentions the year 1343, found in a lost inscription during the modernization of the Dominican convent, which began in the 18th century, located at the entrance to the refectory and related to works or events connected to the period when the Dominican Fra Marco Roncioni da Pisa (1342-1347) was the bishop in Urbino. The prelate could have commissioned the cycle or “encouraged the Dominican fathers to promote such a monumental work,” possibly requesting the services of an artist from Siena, as he was not new to the Pisan artist, having been the prior of the Convent of Santa Caterina in Pisa before his appointment in Urbino, a “center of patronage that had seen the work of prominent Sienese painters,” such as Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi (Minardi 2014).

Most of the paintings in the cycle were destroyed during the 18th-century transformation of the church, and today, only the parts that appeared in the upper part of the chapel can be admired. From what remains, with the lunette of the Coronation of the Virgin placed on the back wall, and the very fragmentary one that likely depicted the Assumption of Mary on the left side of the Coronation, it is clear that the iconographic program of the cycle is dedicated to the Madonna, a choice often made by the mendicant orders. Of the four sails of the chapel, only one, albeit not entirely, has been preserved, featuring Saint Matthew the Evangelist with an angel and Saint Jerome, possibly placed above the Assumption of the Virgin, which included another saint on the right side, no longer visible. In addition to these representations, there is also the isolated figure of Saint Gregory the Great, whose original location is unknown but certainly appeared in one of the sails, which typically presented an association between an evangelist, a doctor of the Church, and a third saint.

Stylistically, the paintings show the influence of the works executed by the Lorenzetti around 1340-1345. The painter is influenced by Pietro Lorenzetti’s portrayal of faces, characterized by long noses ending in a prominence and framed by “hair divided into wavy locks falling over the shoulders,” although the artist of the Dominican cycle prefers “round and fleshy physiognomies” (Minardi 2014). The face of Saint Matthew, like that of some saints in the lost Coronation of Bellpuig, probably to be attributed to the Master of the Cross of Mombaroccio, recalls certain prophets painted by Pietro Lorenzetti in the Lower Basilica of Assisi. The face of the Virgin, “with a prominent chin like a small peak, plump and creased lips,” echoes other female faces painted by the Sienese, such as the Madonna and Child from Montichiello, now in Pienza, the handmaidens in the Nativity of the Virgin in Siena, and the Madonna Loeser in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. From the latter, the painter of San Domenico also learns how to paint the shadows on the chin and neck in the figures of the Coronation and in that of Saint Gregory the Great (Minardi 2014).

Apart from the angel placed frontally to the right of the Virgin, which again quotes Pietro Lorenzetti in the Saint Margaret formerly Perkins, originally part of a polyptych along with the Madonna Loeser, “the other angels, with more pointed profiles, turned towards the central group” of the Coronation, almost literally follow the repertoire of Ambrogio Lorenzetti (see the saints in the Maestà of Sant’Agostino in Siena and those in the fresco of the Madonna and Child on a throne among angels and saints in the Oratory of San Galgano near Montesiepi). However, our artist tends to “mitigate any graphic harshness and acutely angular forms in favor of loose and curvilinear contours.”

The musical angels of the Assumption obey the elegance of Simone Martini in his unfinished and lost Assumption of the Virgin from the antiporch of Camollia in Siena, started in 1333 and replicated in various Sienese panels, such as those by Lippo Memmi in Munich, by Bartolomeo Bulgarini in the Pinacoteca of Siena, or in the Berlin one by Sassetta, destroyed in the Second World War. Under this aspect, the Urbino painting “must, therefore, be included in the lineage of the lost painting from Porta Camollia, in an entirely original interpolation and a context very distant from Siena of Lorenzettian and Martinian elements” (Minardi 2014).

Author: Maestro della Croce di Mombaroccio
Realization date: 1343 circa
Storage location: Urbino, Palazzo Ducale
Place of originChurch of San Domenico in Urbino
INV COD:DE 221
Dimensions: 270 × 651 cm; 238 × 659 cm; 444 × 360; h 322 cm
Technique: Detached wall paintings

Author: Maestro della Croce di Mombaroccio
Realization date: 1343 circa
Storage location: Urbino, Palazzo Ducale
Place of originChurch of San Domenico in Urbino
INV COD:DE 221
Dimensions: 270 × 651 cm; 238 × 659 cm; 444 × 360; h 322 cm
Technique: Detached wall paintings


What remains of the 14th-century mural paintings in the main chapel of the Church of San Domenico in Urbino, which were already known to Luigi Serra in 1932 and were removed and transferred to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in 1954 (Mazzini 2000), has been the subject of an interesting historical and artistic debate that fully developed in the second half of the 20th century.

In these paintings, Serra saw a reference to the Sienese painting of the Lorenzetti; Franco Mazzini (1952) linked the works to a personality in Umbrian painting with Sienese tradition, within the circle of Luca di Tommè; Superintendent Giuseppe Marchini (1960) attributed them to the Catalan painter Ferrer Bassa. Ferdinando Bologna (1961), building on Marchini’s study, dated the works to the seventh decade of the 14th century and attributed them to the non-existent “Antonius Magister,” whose name was read in the 15th-century invocation inscription of the Madonna dell’Umiltà in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (later removed). Millard Meiss, after previously attributing the polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin in the church of Sant Nicolau in Bellpuig d’Urgell in Catalonia (1941) to Ferrer Bassa, returned on his stance in 1967, recognizing that the same hand had created both the Catalan work and the Urbino paintings in San Domenico, which he attributed to the Master of the Coronation of Bellpuig.

Miklòs Boskovits (1969), while dating the paintings to the 1330s, confirmed the attribution to this latter artist and expanded the catalog with the Madonna dell’Umiltà from the Kisters collection in Kreuzlingen, previously thought to be by Lippo Memmi, and the large painted Cross from the Sanctuary of Beato Sante in Mombaroccio (PU), as well as the Madonna dell’Umiltà from the Galleria in Urbino. The same scholar, in 1999, further expanded the corpus and even suggested that the anonymous painter active in Urbino might be Ferrer Bassa.

In 2014, Mauro Minardi, attributing the paintings to the Master of the Cross of Mombaroccio, identified with the Master of the Coronation of Bellpuig, managed to provide hypothetical answers to questions regarding the iconography of the entire pictorial program, its chronology, and the patronage. The scholar places the creation of the cycle in the 1340s, based on stylistic relationships with Sienese painting of the same period or slightly earlier. This dating is also supported by the fashion of the time, as evidenced by the wide neck openings of the angels’ garments. More specifically, Minardi also mentions the year 1343, found in a lost inscription during the modernization of the Dominican convent, which began in the 18th century, located at the entrance to the refectory and related to works or events connected to the period when the Dominican Fra Marco Roncioni da Pisa (1342-1347) was the bishop in Urbino. The prelate could have commissioned the cycle or “encouraged the Dominican fathers to promote such a monumental work,” possibly requesting the services of an artist from Siena, as he was not new to the Pisan artist, having been the prior of the Convent of Santa Caterina in Pisa before his appointment in Urbino, a “center of patronage that had seen the work of prominent Sienese painters,” such as Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi (Minardi 2014).

Most of the paintings in the cycle were destroyed during the 18th-century transformation of the church, and today, only the parts that appeared in the upper part of the chapel can be admired. From what remains, with the lunette of the Coronation of the Virgin placed on the back wall, and the very fragmentary one that likely depicted the Assumption of Mary on the left side of the Coronation, it is clear that the iconographic program of the cycle is dedicated to the Madonna, a choice often made by the mendicant orders. Of the four sails of the chapel, only one, albeit not entirely, has been preserved, featuring Saint Matthew the Evangelist with an angel and Saint Jerome, possibly placed above the Assumption of the Virgin, which included another saint on the right side, no longer visible. In addition to these representations, there is also the isolated figure of Saint Gregory the Great, whose original location is unknown but certainly appeared in one of the sails, which typically presented an association between an evangelist, a doctor of the Church, and a third saint.

Stylistically, the paintings show the influence of the works executed by the Lorenzetti around 1340-1345. The painter is influenced by Pietro Lorenzetti’s portrayal of faces, characterized by long noses ending in a prominence and framed by “hair divided into wavy locks falling over the shoulders,” although the artist of the Dominican cycle prefers “round and fleshy physiognomies” (Minardi 2014). The face of Saint Matthew, like that of some saints in the lost Coronation of Bellpuig, probably to be attributed to the Master of the Cross of Mombaroccio, recalls certain prophets painted by Pietro Lorenzetti in the Lower Basilica of Assisi. The face of the Virgin, “with a prominent chin like a small peak, plump and creased lips,” echoes other female faces painted by the Sienese, such as the Madonna and Child from Montichiello, now in Pienza, the handmaidens in the Nativity of the Virgin in Siena, and the Madonna Loeser in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. From the latter, the painter of San Domenico also learns how to paint the shadows on the chin and neck in the figures of the Coronation and in that of Saint Gregory the Great (Minardi 2014).

Apart from the angel placed frontally to the right of the Virgin, which again quotes Pietro Lorenzetti in the Saint Margaret formerly Perkins, originally part of a polyptych along with the Madonna Loeser, “the other angels, with more pointed profiles, turned towards the central group” of the Coronation, almost literally follow the repertoire of Ambrogio Lorenzetti (see the saints in the Maestà of Sant’Agostino in Siena and those in the fresco of the Madonna and Child on a throne among angels and saints in the Oratory of San Galgano near Montesiepi). However, our artist tends to “mitigate any graphic harshness and acutely angular forms in favor of loose and curvilinear contours.”

The musical angels of the Assumption obey the elegance of Simone Martini in his unfinished and lost Assumption of the Virgin from the antiporch of Camollia in Siena, started in 1333 and replicated in various Sienese panels, such as those by Lippo Memmi in Munich, by Bartolomeo Bulgarini in the Pinacoteca of Siena, or in the Berlin one by Sassetta, destroyed in the Second World War. Under this aspect, the Urbino painting “must, therefore, be included in the lineage of the lost painting from Porta Camollia, in an entirely original interpolation and a context very distant from Siena of Lorenzettian and Martinian elements” (Minardi 2014).