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Master of Saint Giles, 'Saint Giles and the Deer', about 1500

Key facts
Full title Saint Giles and the Deer
Artist Master of Saint Giles
Artist dates active about 1500
Series Two Panels from an Altarpiece
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 63.4 × 48.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1894
Inventory number NG1419
Location Room 26
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint Giles and the Deer
Master of Saint Giles

A deer cowers in the protective arms of an elderly man; an arrow sticks out of his hand, which rests on the deer’s back. A richly dressed man and a cleric kneel before him; a group of hunters crowd behind them. The wounded man is Saint Giles, a popular French saint who was mistakenly shot when hunters pursued his tame deer.

We don't know who the artist was, but we do know he had an unusual technique. A great deal of underdrawing (the preliminary outlining of a composition) is visible to the naked eye, with technical analysis showing more. He made changes throughout, in the underdrawing and while painting. The archer was not drawn in at all but painted over a horse’s head; a red circle in Giles’s shoulder may have been the first idea for his wound. Clearly this artist was accustomed to working out his ideas on panel and making alterations at every stage of producing the work.

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Two Panels from an Altarpiece


These two panels show episodes from the life of Saint Giles, a seventh-century hermit who was enormously popular in medieval France. They once formed part of the folding wings of a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece). Two more of its panels are in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

When the altarpiece was open it showed scenes from lives of several saints, many with French royal connections, set in Paris churches. On the back were saints painted in tones of grey to look like statues.

We don't know exactly how the panels were originally arranged or where the altarpiece was originally located, or even who the artist was. However, he was probably working in Paris in around 1500, as in these paintings, the clothes worn by the laity (people who are not church officials) were in fashion in the first years of the sixteenth century.