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Sandro Botticelli, Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius

Key facts
Full title Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius
Artist Sandro Botticelli
Artist dates about 1445 - 1510
Series Two Spalliera Panels
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 66.7 × 149.2 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3918
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius
Sandro Botticelli

This painting was made as part of a group of four works that tell the story of the life of Florence’s patron saint, Zenobius; it is the first of the series. It shows four scenes of his early life as a Christian, from his rejection of marriage to his ordination as Bishop of Florence.

It can be read like a cartoon strip from left to right. In the first scene on the left Zenobius walks sadly away from his fiancée and crosses the road to be baptised under the loggia (open-sided gallery or room) of an elaborate building with columns decorated with gold. His mother is shown being baptised in the next scene. Finally, we find Zenobius kneeling before the pope who is about to make him bishop. He is accompanied by young men in white vestments – they might represent members of the religious group devoted to Zenobius, who may have ordered the pictures.

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Two Spalliera Panels


These two panels come from a series of four that were made by Botticelli late in his career, and which celebrate the life of Saint Zenobius, the patron saint of Florence who lived in the fifth century. The panels have the shape of paintings known as spalliere after the Italian word for shoulder: spalla. Paintings like this were usually hung at shoulder height, often in bedrooms. They were frequently made to celebrate marriages, but it seems unlikely this set was made for that purpose: it begins with Zenobius’s rejection of his fiancée in favour of a life in service of God. The panels show Zenobius’s conversion and baptism, his ordination as Bishop of Florence and the miracles that he performed there. Botticelli has painted young men in white robes as witnesses to many of these episodes; they may represent members of the religious youth group dedicated to the saint, the Compagnia della Purificazione e di San Zanobi (‘The company of the Purification and of Saint Zenobius’). It is possible that Botticelli painted these panels for their rooms.