Italian, Late Gothic
early 15th century
206.06 cm x 43.18 cm x 43.18 cm (81 1/8 in. x 17 in. x 17 in.)
This pair of exceptionally well-preserved painted wood torchères is from late Gothic–Early Renaissance Siena. Of octagonal shape, the bases are painted with saw-tooth, geometric, and stylized floral motifs and the shafts are ornamented with a chevron motif and are interrupted by a rhomboid enlargement centered by four diamond fields. On these fields are painted heraldic motifs representing the city of Siena (black and white shield), the Sienese hospital of S. Maria della Scala (rampant griffin with spread wings), and the Sienese Pacinelli family (ladder with cross). The bobèches are carved with a Gothic arch frieze and polychromed with stylized floral and pelta-frieze motifs.
The heraldic motifs found on these torchères strongly suggest that the Pacinelli family gave them to the Ospedale di S. Maria della Scala. This hospital, begun in 1200, was used not only to serve the sick, but also as a large, well-appointed hospice for pilgrims. The most notable interior room is the pilgrims’ great hall, which, until the 1970s, continued in use as an infirmary. The Dumbarton Oaks torchères may have been located in this room, since in the fifteenth century it was completely redecorated, with a new series of frescoes by Domenico di Bartolo, which depict how the hospital functioned and its importance to the Sienese people.
The Blisses acquired these torchères in 1936 as a late addition to their Music Room. Although they were already negotiating to give Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University, it is instructive that they continued to want to improve the ambiance of the Music Room, the most important of the “public” rooms of the institution-to-be. The Blisses also acquired their El Greco and Riemenschneider for the room at this time.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 300f, ill.
Hospital of S. Maria della Scala, Siena.
Reportedly in the Bardini Collection, Siena, late 1890s.
Purchased from Adolfo Loewi Inc., Venice (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 12/10/1936.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 12/10/1936-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.