Lisa Corinne Davis on Niccolo di Pietro

Niccolo di Pietro, Saint Ursula and Her Maidens, c. 1410, tempera and gold on wo
Niccolo di Pietro, Saint Ursula and Her Maidens, c. 1410, tempera and gold on wood, 37 x 31 inches (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lisa Corinne Davis considers Niccolo di Pietro's Saint Ursula and Her Maidens (c. 1410) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Davis writes: "Unfolding within the painting’s rectangle is a figure that acknowledges the plane while suggesting but never becoming a volume. Ursula is unable to move forward or back, in or out. The banner poles, shoulders, arms, legs and 12 virgins, six on each side, function as barriers and boundaries to keep her fixed to the center. Pattern and shape assure her adhesion to the picture plane. All elements seem to function towards this end. The rendered textiles provide the use of geometric pattern that remains firmly flat rather than conforming to the spatial fold of the garments. The black and white patterns at the bottom of her robe have no connection to their Middle Eastern source at all, but instead exist solely for their own material density. Her embellished hood-cum-halo not only covers but also circles and firmly contains her head. Its visual weight alone assures her entrapment. Di Pietro’s formal decisions secure the painting’s position in grappling with the larger issue – the visual manifestation of martyrdom. Ursula’s depiction has pushed the development of the painting to a form that becomes the embodiment of the subject."