Our Lady of the Belt is not one of the many works present in Santa Maria Novella. It is part of a whole series of masterpieces that probably you will never see in the complex, but not less worthy of being known. Around this beautiful altarpiece have being alternated the interpretations of scholars who have given first attribution to Fra 'Bartolomeo, then to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.
Today, unanimously, all attributions converge on a single artist: Francesco Granacci, a former pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio (the master painter who painted the frescoes in the chapel Tornabuoni and also mentor of a young Michelangelo).
If you wonder about the the belt it is important to know that since ancient times this item had already symbolic references. Amongst the Greeks and Romans the belt was worn symbolically by virgins before marriage. A symbol of either virginity and purity. According to tradition, the Holy Belt was delivered by the Virgin Mary, at the time of his engagement, to St. Thomas as a sign of his good will. The Holy Belt, also called Holy Girdle, is now a relic of the Cathedral of Prato, and it is kept in the chapel frescoed by Agnolo Gaddi.
87 cm long the belt is made of woven from the finest goats wool, greenish colored, brocaded with gold thread, while the details are hidden by a tassel on one side and a bend on the opposite side.
The theme of the gift of the girdle to St. Thomas is a very popular iconography of the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, especlially in Tuscany and central Italy.
The first document that mentions the painting of Granaccci dates back to 1505 in an act of commission by the Congregation of Saints Benedetti Bigio and in Palco which use to meet in the so-called Cloister of the Door within the complex of Santa Maria Novella. It is plausible to think that the work was kept inside the Cloister.
At Uffizi Gallery are kept only some preparatory sketches of the work (the head of St. Francis and of St. Thomas's hand).
Our Lady of the Belt with the Saints Benedict of Norcia, Tommaso, Francesco and Julian the Hospitaller. Oil on board, 216 x 180 cm