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Saints Bernard, Scholastica, Benedict and John
Giovanni dal Ponte
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These four saints come from a large polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) made for the high altar of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, in Pratovecchio, Tuscany.

From left to right we see Saint Bernard, his book inscribed ‘S.BER’; a nun, probably Saint Scholastica, with her name scratched above her head; Saint Benedict, holding his symbol of a bunch of rods, and a book inscribed ‘B’; and Saint John the Baptist, wearing a purple mantle over a hair shirt.

San Giovanni was a Camaldolese nunnery, and the saints chosen were ones important for the nuns there. Benedict wrote the Benedictine Rule, which the nuns followed, while Scholastica, Benedict’s sister, was the first abbess of the Benedictine Order. Bernard founded the Cistercian Order, which followed a stricter version of monastic life, and John was a hermit – Camaldolites lived partly as hermits.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title Saints Bernard, Scholastica, Benedict and John the Baptist: Main Tier Left Panel
Group Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece
Date made about 1420-4?
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 147 x 66 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG580.2
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece

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This large, gilded polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) is one of the few almost complete early Renaissance altarpieces in the National Gallery’s collection. It was made for the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, in Pratovecchio, Tuscany, probably in the 1420s.

Altarpieces on the high altar had to show the saint to whom the church was dedicated. Here, in the centre panel, we see Saint John the Evangelist being raised to heaven by Christ. A crowd of saints seems to watch from the large panels on either side.

The nuns at Pratovecchio were Camaldolites – a small, strict religious order found mainly in Italy – and the saints on the altarpiece would have been those who were important to them. This is one of the few surviving paintings of this date which might well have been commissioned by women – two abbesses – for the use of women.

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