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Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius
Sandro Botticelli
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This is the second panel in a series of four paintings that tell the story of Florence’s patron saint, Zenobius. Botticelli shows three of the saint’s miracles set in the streets of Florence. In the first scene, on the far left, he shows the saint – who was the bishop of Florence – dressed in a bishop’s mitre and white gloves, exorcising two boys of demons. In the central scene Zenobius restores a child to life as he lies on the lap of his wailing mother. The final episode shows Zenobius curing a blind beggar, placing his fingers over his eyelids. The architectural backdrop would have been familiar to Florentine locals: the large archway is probably the Volta di San Pietro, which still exists. It is in the square of the church of San Pier Maggiore, which Zenobius founded and which is shown here as the backdrop to the scene of the healing of the blind man.

Key facts
Artist Sandro Botticelli
Artist dates about 1445 - 1510
Full title Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius
Series Two Spalliera Panels
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 64.8 x 139.7 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3919
Location in Gallery Room 58
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Two Spalliera Panels

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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.

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