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Unknown Saint, Saint Cosmas and Saint Francis
Giovanni dal Ponte
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These three saints stand on the left side of a large multi-panelled altarpiece painted for the high altar of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Pratovecchio near Florence. Several of its panels are in the National Gallery’s collection.

A label above him tells us that the saint in red is Cosmas, the twin of Saint Damian in the opposite pilaster. They were especially important in Florence as they were favoured by the Medici, the ruling family in the city.

Saint Francis at the bottom might be a reference to a local Camaldolite prior called Francesco, who may have been involved in commissioning the altarpiece: in other Italian altarpieces the officials who were in charge of the commission had their patron saints included in smaller panels.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni dal Ponte
Artist dates about 1385 - 1437
Full title An unknown Saint, Saint Cosmas and Saint Francis: Left 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 NG580.4
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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