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Saints Peter, Romuald, Catherine and Jerome
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. Their costumes and attributes – objects they were particularly associated with, often connected with their martyrdom – tell us who they are. We see saints who were significant for the whole of the Camaldolese Order, the rule which the nuns at San Giovanni followed, and those of more local importance.

The eleventh-century Saint Romuald, in white, was the founder of the Order, while Saint Catherine was an early Christian virgin who had refused to marry because she claimed to be married to Christ: a role model for all nuns. Saint Jerome, a desert hermit here dressed as a cardinal, holds a book whose text exhorts penance for sins, perhaps a reference to a political tussle between San Giovanni and its sister house in Arezzo, whose nuns had fought for self governance – but lost.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title Saints Peter, Romuald, Catherine of Alexandria and Jerome: Main Tier Right Panel
Group Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece
Date made about 1420-4?
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 146 x 66.2 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG580.3
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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