Saint Vincent Ferrer was a Spanish friar and missionary, and a member of the Dominican Order (the religious order founded by Saint Dominic); he was officially declared a saint in 1455. He is shown raising a finger demonstratively: he was known as a passionate preacher whose stirring sermons sometimes led his followers to self-flagellation.
Above, Christ is seated in a mandorla (an almond-shaped enclosure) – a traditional way of symbolising heaven. The angels who surround him carry symbols of his suffering and death, and balance on clouds that look sturdy, as though they are carved from stone. Cossa had an interest in sculpture and painting stone; his father was a sculptor and it’s possible that he too practised sculpture.
This panel formed the central part of an altarpiece commissioned by Floriano Griffoni for his family’s chapel in the church of San Petronio, the main church in Bologna. It was part of a vast altarpiece – one of Cossa’s major works.
Saint Vincent Ferrer was a Spanish friar and missionary, and a member of the Dominican Order; he was officially declared a saint in 1455. He was particularly venerated in the northern Italian city of Bologna.
This panel formed the central part of a complex polyptych commissioned by Floriano Griffoni for his family’s chapel in the church of San Petronio, the main church in Bologna. It was one of the major commissions of Cossa’s lifetime. By the time he painted it he was well-established as one of the leading artists of the region along with Cosimo Tura and Ercole de' Roberti. Ercole was responsible for the altarpiece’s predella, which is painted with scenes of Saint Vincent’s miracles. There’s a twentieth-century copy of the predella in our collection.
The polyptych was dismembered when the chapel was renovated, but thanks to an eighteenth-century drawing made before this we can be certain of its original design and its huge scale. It consisted of 21 panels and was just over three metres high and almost three metres wide. The other panels are dispersed in collections worldwide: panels with Saint Peter and Saint John the Baptist (now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) flanked our panel showing Saint Vincent. An original document recording payment to the frame-maker dates the altarpiece to the early 1470s.
The saint is shown raising a finger demonstratively; he was known as a passionate preacher whose stirring sermons sometimes led his followers to self-flagellation. He holds a book, presumably the Bible, as a reminder of the basis of his words. The beads that hang down on either side of him are probably rosary beads. It was thought that Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, had established the use of the rosary as an aid to counting through a sequence of prayers to the Virgin Mary. Cossa has used intense, rich colours to give the whole image, especially when contrasted with the black of Saint Vincent’s habit, a powerful and striking effect.
Above, Christ is seated in a mandorla (an almond-shaped enclosure) – a traditional way of symbolising heaven. The gold leaf within it is stippled (indented with a fine round tool) so that in the candlelight of the chapel it would have glowed brightly. The angels who surround him carry the symbols of the Passion, like the column that Christ was tied to when he was whipped and the Cross that he was crucified on. They balance on clouds that look sturdy, as though they are carved from stone – just like those in Mantegna’s Agony in the Garden.
Like Mantegna, Cossa had an interest in sculpture and painting stone; his father was a sculptor and it is possible that he too practised sculpture. Here he delights in painting ruined classical-style columns and architecture that seem to be built into unusual rock formations. The details of little figures walking through the landscape, through archways and over bridges continue through all the main level panels in the polyptych, so that the three saints shown on them appear to be in the same place, at the same moment.
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