FILE : Pieve di S. Stefano 1
TITLE : The miracle of the Sacred Belt


The orientation of the building is shifted if compared to the traditional one, with an eastern apse which C.V.M.A. refers to for its numeration

LOCATION: Pieve di S. Stefano [Duomo], high chapel

DIMENSIONS: 940 X 310 cm

PROVENANCE: original location

CHRONOLOGY: 1452 (commission) - 1459 (December 17). Installment of window – 1460 (May). Completion of the frescoes – 1464.

AUTORE: Filippo Lippi – designs (documented). Lorenzo di Antonio da Pelago – execution (documented).

PATRON: Comune di Prato, Ceppo vecchio del Datini, l’Opera del Sacro Cingolo

SUBJECT/S: The stained glass window is composed of 9 rectangular panels and, forming the apex, a panel in the shape of a pointed arch. The composition’s main image, that is, the Miracle of the Sacred Belt (Sacro Cintolo, Cintola, o Cintura), depicts the Virgin whom, while being assumed, gives the "sacra cintola" to St. Thomas. That belt is conserved in the Cappella of the Sacro Cintola and is venerated as a precious reliquary. In the lower registers there are nine saints in niches: a 1) Saint; b 1) Saint; c 1) Saint; (three modern panels: a 2) St. Paul; b 2) St. Peter; c 2) St. Andrew); a 3) St. John the Baptist [co-titular saint of the church and protector of the Florentine dominion]; b 3) St. Stephen [titular saint of the church]; c 3) St. Lawrence; abc 4 The Assumed Virgin gives the Sacred Belt. The iconography chosen for the stained glass window is closely correlated to the iconographic program carried out for the frescoes, which are dedicated to the Stories of St. Stephen (right wall) and the Stories of St. John the Baptist (left wall). To the sides of the window are frescoed St. Albert, founder of the Carmelite Order, and St. John Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosian Order.

CRITICAL NOTES: Scholarly interest in this window has been overshadowed by attention drawn to the celebrated fresco cycle carried out by Lippi to decorate the entire chapel, and there are not many specific critical discussions of the window itself.

The history of the chapel’s decoration has been reconstructed by various contributions, both critical and documentary. Among these, the conclusive work of Borsook (1975)—the culmination of a systematic research—which redefined the relationships between artists and patrons. The scholar demonstrated, in fact, that the numerous delays in completing the project were not attributable only to technical and administrative setbacks, but to new, demanding undertakings.

The commission of the cycle, initially offered to Angelico (who refused it), was entrusted to Lippi who, in 1442, was contemporaneously given the commission of the frescoes as well as the stained glass window. The various successive location of the scaffolding inside the chapel, as indicated by the documents, allows a reconstruction of the phases of the work: in 1456 the platform of the scaffolding was for the first time lowered to the level of the middle register, an obvious indication that the painting of the upper pictorial fields had been completed. The work having halted (caused, according to official justification, by a lack of funds, but perhaps caused by the artist’s dramatic personal affairs), Lippi worked on other commissions. Two other re-positionings of the scaffold were registered in 1461 and 1464; and in the following year, until the end of 1465, the scaffold was definitely disassembled.

The stained glass window replaced one representing a Maiestas Domini which was commissioned in 1413 to Niccolò di Piero Tedesco on designs by Lorenzo Monaco. The execution of the new window, on Lippi’s designs, was entrusted to Ser Lorenzo di Antonio da Pelago, "cappellano di San Pier Maggiore a Firenze", a master glazier quite esteemed in the Florentine ambient and collaborator in previous years on the glazing of the "tribuna" of S. Maria del Fiore (see Firenze cattedrale 24). A payment of 1452 refers to a design for the figure of St. Stephen that was brought from Prato to Lorenzo di Antonio who resided in Florence: "Et adì 16 luglio [sic] per uno dì [Bernardo di Bandinello] andò a Firenze a Ser Lorenzo a portarlgli [sic] il disegnino di Santo Stefano per soldi […] il dì L. --- S. 16." And then, the documents confirm that the master glazier was paid 1964 lire, at the rate of 14 lire per braccia for 76 braccia quadre equivilent to the entire area of the stained glass window; payment that authorizes us to attribute to him the entire window.

Marchini, who had confirmed Lippi’s authorship of the window in his book on Italian stained glass windows (1955), twenty years later, in 1975, in his monograph on the artist, though pausing to note the iconographic importance of the window, directed his attention to the iconographic program of the chapel and only considered the window as figuring into that program. Therefore, without further clarification, the scholar concluded by stating "montata la vetrata alla fine del 1459, da allora in poi il pittore [F. Lippi] lavorerà con luce assai scarsa."

It seems quite certain that the ideation of the large, arched Assumption panel can be traced to Lippi, though it depends upon celebrated precedents (Tabernacle of Orsanmichele, Porta della Mandorla). In fact, there are compositional and stylistic analogies between the window and the panel painting of the same subject carried out around 1460 by Lippi’s workshop, probably for S. Margherita di Prato. The artistic language of Lippi is encountered even in the figure of St. Lorenzo (quite close to St. Girolamo in the panel painting in Torino) and of St. Stephen. Both are characterized by a treatment peculiar to Lippi’s figures. However, there are stylistic disparities with the other figures of saints: slender, wrapped in undulating mantles typical of late-Gothic taste, and attributable therefore to Lorenzo di Antonio. Neither do the baldichins belong to the framings of Lippi. The hypothesis advanced by Badiani, that Lorenzo may have reused parts of the preceding gothic window, does not convince Martin, who justly attributes that stylistic disparity to Lorenzo’s reuse of cartoons possessed by his workshop. In following the evolution of the baldachino in iconic stained glass windows, Del Nunzio points to Lorenzo’s role in that evolution:…" I baldacchini di Lorenzo…già palesano I sintomi di modificazioni strutturali: sebbene ancor memori di quelli del Ghiberti, i tabernacoli mostrano un’enumerazione degli elementi del lessico gotico più ridotta, non esuberante e limitata alle strutture primarie verticali". As to the foliate borders of the central panels, which Martin finds to be outside of the Lippesce context, their typology belongs to "Type C" singled out by Burnam (R.K. BURNAM Le vetrate del Duomo di Pisa, Scuola Normale Superiore, 2003). The comparisons made by Burnam in the pages devoted to the Pisan and Florentine borders are illuminating with regard to the circulation of ornamental motifs among various Tuscan workshops and the complex web of borrowings and exchanges that occurred between master glaziers who often alternated in the various "cantieri". Florentine borders, a theme already addressed by Burnam in her text on the Pisan windows, is an open and exciting problem for the work of attribution, and one awaits further proposals on this subject in this scholar’s latest study, in progress.

CONDITION: In fair condition, the window underwent conservation in 1975, on the occasion of the restoration of the frescoes in the chapel. From Marchini’s summary (1976), it appears that the figure of the assumed Virgin showed extensive deterioration of the grisaille, the rays of the mandorla were covered with microcraters, the rays were "ripassate" with graphite applied by hand and affixed with varnich ("vernice") [sic].


PHOTOGRAPHIC REF.: Foto Nicolò Orsi Battaglini, Florence

EDITOR : Caterina Pirina January 2003.