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Saint John the Evangelist
Lorenzo Costa
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Saint John the Evangelist is seated on a stone ledge. He holds a very fine quill in his right hand, while the other rests on a blank scroll which curls over his knee. He turns to look up over his shoulder towards a heavenly light, as if ready to take dictation from on high. Saint John was one of Christ’s apostles, and is generally identified as the ‘beloved disciple’ and author of one of the four Gospels; as such, he is often shown with writing materials.

This small painting was originally part of a large multi-panelled altarpiece made for the high altar of the oratory of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza; some other parts are also in the National Gallery’s collection. It would have appeared on the upper tier of the altarpiece, opposite an image of Saint John the Baptist.

Key facts
Artist Lorenzo Costa
Artist dates 1460 - 1535
Full title Saint John the Evangelist
Group The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza
Date made 1505
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions 55.2 x 57.1 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1859
Inventory number NG629.4
Location in Gallery Room 2
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The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza

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These five paintings were once part of a large multi-panel altarpiece, or polyptych, made for the high altar of the Oratory of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza. It was originally topped by a horizontal panel, now lost, showing the dead Christ supported by angels.

Although the altarpiece has been dismembered and its original frame – an important part of the ensemble – is lost, we can tell how it would have been arranged by comparison with existing polyptychs and designs for them, and from the paintings themselves. The Virgin and Child evidently appeared in an arched niche: the dark curved areas to either side of the Virgin’s head would have been covered by the frame. They were flanked by Saints Peter and Philip in the lower register, with Saints John the Evangelist and John the Baptist above.

Lorenzo Costa has signed and dated the central panel in Latin, making it look like an inscription at the top of the door frame: LAURENTIUS COSTA F[ECIT] 1505.

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