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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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