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Saints Andrew and Thomas
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
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Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the most successful sculptors and architects of seventeenth-century Rome. This image of Saints Andrew and Thomas is an early work and one of the few paintings he made. Saint Andrew, a fisherman, is identified by the fish and the book (probably a reference to the Acts of Andrew, an apocryphal text written by him). Saint Thomas, a carpenter, is identified by the set square clasped in his right hand.

The two saints, both apostles, were friends and contemporaries, but Bernini was not trying to depict a particular discussion that they were known to have had. Instead he has created a contrast between age and youth, teacher and student. Andrew, balding and grey-haired, points to a passage in his book and turns to explain it to the youthful, animated Thomas, who looks on intensely as understanding begins to dawn on his face. A painting by Andrea Sacchi, Bernini’s contemporary, also depicts two saints and has a similar format and dimensions; it is also in the National Gallery’s collection.

Key facts
Artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Artist dates 1598 - 1680
Full title Saints Andrew and Thomas
Series Four Saints for Palazzo Barberini
Date made before 1627
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 61.5 x 78.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1967
Inventory number NG6381
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Four Saints for Palazzo Barberini

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These paintings were made by two rising stars of the art world in Rome in the 1620s – one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the other by Andrea Sacchi. Both depict two saints at half-length, tightly framed and dramatically lit. They are almost exactly the same size, seem to have been made at around the same date and were in the collection of the powerful Barberini family.

It has been suggested that they were made as companion pieces, but documents suggest that the Sacchi painting wasn’t acquired by the Barberini until 1661 at the earliest, more than 30 years after they bought Bernini’s picture. Close examination has also shown that the Bernini painting was trimmed along both vertical sides after it was finished while the Sacchi was extended slightly, presumably so that the sizes of the two would match. On balance, it seems unlikely that they were originally made as a pair. Instead, the similarities seem to have tempted the Barberini family to adapt the pictures and hang them together at a later date.

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