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Saints Nicholas, Damian and Margaret: Right Pilaster
Giovanni dal Ponte
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These three saints stand on the right side of a large multi-panelled altarpiece painted in the 1420s by the Florentine artist Giovanni dal Ponte. It originally sat on the high altar of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Pratovecchio, Tuscany. San Giovanni was a Camaldolite nunnery – a strict branch of the Benedictine Order – and some of the smaller saints in the altarpiece may reflect local concerns or have connections with neighbouring Camaldolese houses. Saint Nicholas, at the top, might be a reference to the church of San Niccolo in Montemezzano, as San Giovanni was responsible for electing its rector. Margaret at the bottom may stand for the Camaldolese house of Santa Margherita in Tosina.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title Saints Nicholas, Damian and Margaret: Right Pilaster
Group Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece
Date made about 1420-4?
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 9.8 x 9.8 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG580.5
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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