Girolamo da Santacroce, A Youthful Saint Reading
Two Panels from an Altarpiece
These two unidentified saints are panels from an altarpiece. Originally, they would probably have flanked a central image, perhaps of the Virgin and Child. We do not know for which church the altarpiece was painted. The panels show the influence of the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini’s late style in their grassy pastoral landscapes, cloud-streaked skies, rich colour palettes, simplified forms and contemplative mood.
A Youthful Saint reading has previously been identified as John the Evangelist, who is frequently depicted as a young fair-haired man dressed in green and red reading the Gospel of John, however this identification is not certain. The identity of the saint in the other panel is also unclear: although he holds the cross of Saint George, he does not wear armour and is not accompanied by a dragon as is usual in depictions of Saint George. He may represent a local patron saint, perhaps Terentius, the patron saint of Pesaro.
A Youthful Saint reading and A Saint with a Fortress and Banner are panels from an altarpiece painted by Girolamo da Santacroce in about 1512–25. Originally, they would probably have flanked a central image, perhaps of the Virgin and Child. This type of multi-panelled altarpiece is known as a polyptych and was common in Italy before the end of the fifteenth century. By the time this altarpiece was painted it was more usual in Venice to include all the holy figures together in one unified composition, known in Italian as a sacra conversazione (sacred conversation), which allowed for a psychological connection between the figures. The patron’s choice of the more traditional polyptych may relate to the location or community for which the altarpiece was made.
We do not know for which church the altarpiece was painted. Numerous artists with the name Santacroce were working in Venice, and some also had connections to Bergamo. Girolamo da Santacroce was trained by the Venetian artist Gentile Bellini and he probably worked as an assistant to Giovanni Bellini, as well as Cima da Conegliano. These paintings show the influence of Giovanni Bellini’s late style in their grassy pastoral landscapes, cloud-streaked skies, rich colour palettes, simplified forms and contemplative mood.
A Youthful Saint reading has previously been identified as Saint John the Evangelist, who is frequently depicted as a young fair-haired man dressed in green and red, reading the Gospel of John. Although this theory is possible it is not certain.
The banner with a red cross on a white background in A Saint with a Fortress and Banner is usually associated with Saint George, who legend has it killed a ferocious dragon that was terrorising the city of Lydda. The saint in Girolamo da Santacroce’s image holds a model of a stone fortress which might possibly symbolise Lydda. However, the saint does not wear armour and he is not accompanied by a dragon as is usual in depictions of Saint George, so his identity is also uncertain. It may be that he represents a local patron saint and the building he holds relates to the town or city for which the altarpiece was painted. Current research suggests that he could be Terentius, the patron saint of Pesaro.
The choice of saints in an altarpiece usually reflects a number of possible connections: the dedication of the church, the Order to which the church belonged (for example, Dominican or Franciscan), the dedication of the altar itself, any local patron saints, and usually the particular devotion or name-sake of the patron. Until more documentary evidence about the origins of these panels comes to light we can only speculate as to the identity of the saints they depict.