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Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints


Two of the most popular late medieval saints – Francis, who died in 1226, and Bernardino of Siena, who died in 1444 – present a young man to the Virgin and Child and a choir of angels; he’s the altarpiece’s patron. In the outer panels stand Saints John the Baptist and Bartholomew.

We don't know where this altarpiece came from, although Caporali seems to have worked mainly in Umbria. Neither do we know who the patron was, though clearly he was a man with a special devotion to the Franciscans, the religious order Francis founded.

This is one of the rare paintings of saints that actually resemble the person they depict. Bernardino was a famous travelling preacher who drew large crowds to his outdoor sermons. Many paintings of him were made immediately after his death – possibly from his death mask, which still survives – and show him as here: an old man with a toothless mouth and sunken cheeks.