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Communion of Saint Catherine of Siena

Fungai Bernardino

(Siena 1460 - 1516)

First identifiable in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, where it is listed as by an unknown artist, this panel has since been attributed by critics to the Tuscan painter Bernardino Fungai. The subject of the work is the mystical communion of Catherine of Siena. It represents an uncommon image of the Dominican tertiary, whom the artist depicted on a number of occasions. Bernardino was indeed active in decorating the Sanctuary of Saint Catherine in Siena from the 1490s.

The work portrays the Tuscan mystic dressed in white with the black mantle of the Dominican order; kneeling, she awaits the Eucharist from an angel in flight, which has miraculously appeared to her.


Object details

Late 15th century
tempera on panel
cm 35 x 25

Salvator Rosa, 42 x 32 x 5.8 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 38; Della Pergola 1959). Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Conservation and Diagnostic
  • +1903 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control) +1913 Lorenzo Cecconi Principe (pest control) +1996-97 Carlo Ceccotti (pest control; restoration of the frame)


Of unknown provenance, this panel is believed to correspond to the brief description in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833 that reads, ‘Saint, artist unknown (Inv. Fid. 1833; Della Pergola 1959). Although at first ascribed by Friedrich von Ramdhor (1787) to Vanni, this name was soon forgotten. While Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) listed it as by an anonymous painter in his profiles, Adolfo Venturi (1893) proposed the little-known painter Sinibaldi Ibi of Perugia, after discarding his previous idea of Mazzolino (see Della Pergola 1959).

On the occasion of the issue of the catalogue of paintings of the Galleria Borghese in 1959, Paola della Pergola published the work under the name of the Sienese artist Bernardino Fungai, known for having frescoed the dome of the Siena Cathedral in the late 15th century. In her view, this attribution was confirmed by not only a small panel published in Burlington Magazine in 1954 (formerly in London in the M. H. Drey collection) – with which the Borghese painting, although stylistically weaker, shares several elements – but also and more importantly with other works by the artist, including the Assumption of Mary in the Accademia in Siena. According to Della Pergola, these three works show a number of similarities, from the imitative rendering of the landscape to the immobility of the faces of the figures.

Her opinion was confirmed by Lada Nikolenko (1966) and has not been challenged by critics since (see C. Stefani in Galleria Borghese 2000; Herrmann Fiore 2006).

Antonio Iommelli