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Saint Bernardino
Giorgio Schiavone
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An old man in a grey habit, cheeks sunken and toothless mouth drawn down, clasps his hands in prayer. This is Bernardino of Siena, the most famous and charismatic Italian preacher of the early fifteenth century. On his chest is a red medallion with gold lettering; it reads ‘IHS’, the monogram of the name of Jesus, to which Bernardino encouraged devotion.

The figure once stood at the left side of a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) painted for the church of San Niccolò in Padua by Giorgio Schiavone. Other parts of it are also in the National Gallery’s collection.

This is one of the earliest paintings in our collection that is based on an identifiable person, although it was not made until after Bernardino’s death. The preacher was well known in Padua; Schiavone possibly even saw him, as Bernardino was said to have visited the artist’s teacher, Squarcione.

Key facts
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Full title Saint Bernardino
Series S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably about 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 72 x 25.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.2
Location in Gallery Not on display
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S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua

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These ten panels once made up a polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone, probably between 1456 and 1461. They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

In the fifteenth century the chapel may have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as she appears in the middle with saints on either side. We don‘t know exactly how the panels were arranged, but the full-length saints would have been in the bottom layer with the half-length figures above; this was a very popular format for Italian polyptychs. The altarpiece may well have had an elaborate frame, now missing.

The artist’s real name was Juraj Čulinović. Schiavone means ’Slavonian': he came from Dalmatia (in modern-day Croatia) but trained in Squarcione’s workshop in Padua in the late 1450s, when these panels were painted.

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