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Benvenuto di Giovanni, Saint Peter

Key facts
Full title Saint Peter
Artist Benvenuto di Giovanni
Artist dates 1436 - after 1509/17
Group Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints
Date made 1479
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 170 × 50 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG909.2
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint Peter
Benvenuto di Giovanni

A saint with a bald head and curly beard stands on a marble platform, his large, deep-set eyes looking straight out at us. He can be identified by the large keys which he holds: he is Saint Peter, the first pope, to whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16: 18–19). This is the side panel of an altarpiece painted in 1479 by Benvenuto di Giovanni, other panels of which are also in the National Gallery’s collection.

The shimmering silks, burnished gold background and decorative detail are typical of Sienese painting of the late fifteenth century, but Benvenuto was trying to combine the traditions of Sienese art with some of the innovations of his own time. For example, Saint Peter’s feet are at slightly different angles to the picture plane, and the toe of his left foot protrudes over the edge of the marble platform.

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Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints


Sienese painting of the second half of the fifteenth century blended the artistic ideals of its own time with a continued reverence for the language of earlier Sienese art. Nowhere is this more true than in this altarpiece, painted in 1479 by Benvenuto di Giovanni, possibly for a church in Orvieto.

In the centre the Virgin Mary is seated on an inlaid throne with the infant Christ on her knee; in the side panels saints stand like statues on a marble parapet which runs across the whole altarpiece. The figures are set against burnished and tooled gold backgrounds, and all are spectacularly dressed in accordance with the Sienese passion for jewels and textiles – but they look convincingly solid underneath their clothes.