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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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