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Saint Bartholomew
Probably by Bartolomeo Caporali
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A bearded saint stands on a marble parapet against a shimmering gold background. This is Saint Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles, the first disciples of Christ. He was skinned alive – the flaying knife is his attribute, the symbol associated with him. He was once part of a triptych (a painting in three parts) that was probably made by Bartolomeo Caporali.

Bartholomew gazes out at us, his robe wrapped around him in deep sculptural folds. His bent knee and turned out feet give him a feeling of solidity, as does the shadow he casts on the marble.

But the illusion of reality is contrasted with the intricately decorated burnished gold background. Caporali was known for doing gilding work and making coats of arms, banners and decorations for ceremonies. The fine incised lines in the saint’s halo and the elaborate curling foliage behind him would have caught the light in a dim medieval church.

Key facts
Artist Probably by Bartolomeo Caporali
Artist dates active 1467 - 1491
Full title Saint Bartholomew
Series Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints
Date made probably 1475-80
Medium and support Tempera and oil on wood
Dimensions 122.9 x 48.9 cm
Inscription summary Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1881
Inventory number NG1103.3
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints

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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.

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