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The Ascension of Saint John the Evangelist
Giovanni dal Ponte
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A bearded saint is being raised to heaven by Christ, who leans out of a cloud to grasp him by the wrists. This is Saint John the Evangelist, usually shown as a young man, but here old, balding and bearded.

This is the centre panel of a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) made for the high altar of the church of the Camaldolese nunnery of San Giovanni Evangelista in Pratovecchio in Tuscany. Other panels from the altarpiece are also in the National Gallery’s collection.

The artist, Giovanni dal Ponte, took the story’s details from the Golden Legend, the great medieval collection of saints' lives, and from an earlier painting by Giotto in Santa Croce in Florence. He adapted Giotto’s composition to fit the upright shape of the panel better: Saint John is hauled up vertically rather than sliding diagonally.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title The Ascension of Saint John the Evangelist: Main Tier Central Panel
Group Ascension of John the Evangelist Altarpiece
Date made about 1420-4?
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 163 x 67.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG580.1
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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