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Saint Peter Martyr
Giorgio Schiavone
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A saint holding a lily and a book gazes upwards, seemingly untroubled by the curved knife which splits his skull and the dagger in his shoulder. His hair is tonsured (shaved) to show that he was a member of a religious order, and he wears the black and white uniform of the Dominicans. This is Peter Martyr, the second Dominican saint and their first martyr.

The lily is the symbol of his lifelong chastity, while the book represents his writings and his scholarly attitude to his faith. The Dominicans believed in intellectual rigour and the pursuit of truth. They were very important in fifteenth-century Padua as they were closely involved in its university, one of the oldest in Italy.

He once stood at the right side of a polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone, possibly for the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

Key facts
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Full title Saint Peter Martyr
Series S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 66 x 23 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.4
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 They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.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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