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Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Evangelist
Giovanni dal Ponte
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Two female saints stand at the ends of this predella (the part of an altarpiece below the main level), one holding pincers, the other with two snakes. These are Saint Agatha, or possibly Apollonia, and Saint Verdiana. In between them are three scenes from the life of Saint John the Evangelist.

These paintings are the base of a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) painted in the early 1420s by the Florentine artist Giovanni del Ponte. It once stood on the high altar of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista at Pratovecchio near Florence, and the saints included were special to the nuns at Pratovecchio. John was their patron saint, Verdiana was a local anchorite (religious recluse) – the nuns lived partly as hermits – and Agatha was the name of the abbess when the altarpiece was commissioned.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title Three Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Evangelist: Predella
Group Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece
Date made about 1420-4?
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 34 x 244.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG580.12
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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