The Madonna of the Cat Flap – an unusual 15th century painting

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The Church of San Giorgio at Montemerano is best known for a polytych by Sano di Pietro (1406-1481) – The Madonna and Child with Saints (below). But to the right of the high altar is another painting that is often overlooked but is worthy of attention. Now known as “La Madonna della gattiola” (Madonna of the Cat Flap), this panel was painted around 1450 by a pupil of Sassetta’s (1392-1451), who would become known as Il Maestro di Montemerano.

Originally this panel was part of a diptych known as The Annunciation, however, when the door to the cellar in the presbytery broke, the parish priest decided to replace it with this panel. which happened to be the same size. The problem was that he kept salami, cheese and fruit in his cellar, so he needed a cat down there to keep off the rats and mice. To make it possible for this feline guard to come and go, he had a round hole cut in the panel. It is still there, perfectly visible, and has given the work its present nickname.

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