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Lorenzo Costa, 'Saint Peter', 1505

Key facts
Full title Saint Peter
Artist Lorenzo Costa
Artist dates 1460 - 1535
Group The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza
Date made 1505
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions 109.8 × 57.1 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1859
Inventory number NG629.2
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Peter
Lorenzo Costa

This balding, grey-bearded saint can be identified as Saint Peter by the keys which he rests on his thigh and supports with his right hand. These are the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which Christ gave Peter as a symbol of his spiritual power. The keys themselves are unusually slender and elongated, just as the saint is younger, slighter and taller than he is often shown. He looks out at the viewer and raises his left hand in blessing.

This painting was originally part of a large, multi-panelled altarpiece which Costa painted for the oratory of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza. As the patron saint of the oratory, Peter was placed in the most prominent position, on the right-hand side of the Virgin and Child, with Saint Philip on the far side. The stepped architecture and landscape continues across all three panels.

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The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza


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.