Saint Nicholas of BariNicholas of Bari is a popular saint about whom very little is known with any certainty. He is thought to have been a bishop at Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century. Seven hundred years later his remains are said to have been taken to Bari in Italy, hence his name. The saint is usually depicted as a bishop with a crozier.
Nicholas is the patron of travellers, sailors, children and nubile maidens, because of various miracles and charitable acts he is alleged to have performed for such people. He is also one of the prototypes for Father Christmas.
The three gold balls which can clearly be seen in Raphael's depiction of him in 'The Ansidei Madonna', in the Collection, represent gifts he secretly gave as dowries to three maidens from an impoverished family who without them would have had to turn to prostitution.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN