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The Pietà
Giorgio Schiavone
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The dead Christ, wrapped in his shroud, is held upright in a marble tomb by two grieving angels. This painting comes from a large altarpiece made in the middle of the fifteenth century by Giorgio Schiavone, possibly for the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

This way of showing Christ was based on a vision Pope Gregory (about 540–604) had as he celebrated Mass in the church of Santa Croce in Rome. Gregory was said to have ordered a picture of this vision to be made, and it became known as the ‘Imago Pietatis’, or Man of Sorrows.

This painting would have been at the top of the altarpiece above the Virgin and Child, also in the National Gallery’s collection. For medieval Christians, the two images represented the beginning and end of the drama of human salvation.

Key facts
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Full title The Pietà
Group S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 37.5 x 26 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.6
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 They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.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.