THE BISHOP AND THE POPE: GIOVANNI CINUGHI, POPE PIUS II PICCOLOMINI, and 'PIESCHI' in MATTEO DI GIOVANNI's ALTARPIECE FOR SANTA MARIA DELLE NEVI
As Pope Pius II, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini's first bishop for his magnificent new cathedral in his new little city of Pienza was Giovanni Cinughi, appointed almost simultaneously with the cathedral's consecration in 1462. Eight years later, shortly before his death in 1470, Cinughi founded his own church, Santa Maria delle Nevi (or the Saint Mary of the Snowfall) in Siena. The high altarpiece for the church was painted by one of Pope Pius' primary artists in Pienza, Matteo di Giovanni, in 1477, and remains in Santa Maria delle Nevi today. A recent book by Gabriele Fattorini with Benedetta Drimaco draws deserved attention to both church and altarpiece, and suggests elements of a "piccolominean" interpretation of the altarpiece (Santa Maria delle Nevi a Siena: La chiesa di Giovanni Cinughi, Il Leccio 2014) -- but I suggest more can be discerned, both in the main panel and in its predella, memorializing Pope Pius Piccolomini, Cinughi as Pope Pius' loyal servant, and Pope Pius' closest allies as pope and loyalists after his death, the 'pieschi' cardinals.
With thanks to Gabriele Fattorini and Benedetta Drimaco for stimulating my thinking. The principal images are the two below, of the altarpiece as a whole and a detail of the foundation and consecration scenes of the predella, illustrating at one and the same time both the legend of the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and Pope Pius' founding and consecration of his new church, the cathedral of Pienza, as well as Cinughi's Santa Maria delle Nevi.
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