This panel shows Saint Romanus, who devised an ingenious system – shown here – to deliver food to Saint Benedict, who lived as a hermit. Saint Benedict stands waiting for the basket at the mouth of his isolated cave-dwelling. Both saints are painted with the same colours as the rocks – grey with white highlights and dark shadows – so that they seem to blend into their surroundings. According to the legend, the devil, shown flying in from the left, sabotaged the apparatus but Saint Romanus just found new ways to deliver the basket.
The angel and the building at the panel’s right edge belong to another legend, in which a priest receives a divine order to share his Easter meal with Saint Benedict. The panel has been cut down; the gold borders and decoration were added afterwards. It may originally have formed part of a piece of painted furniture, like a cupboard door.
This small panel is dominated by a craggy rock formation. Deep below the forested plain is a cave. The figure standing at its dark and foreboding mouth is Saint Benedict, who lived as a hermit. Hands clasped in prayer, he looks up to a basket being lowered towards him – it’s attached to a rope that is affixed to a scaffold fitted with a bell. This was the ingenious invention of Saint Romanus, who devised a way to deliver food to Saint Benedict despite the inaccessibility of his dwelling: when the basket was lowered, the bell would ring to alert Benedict to collect it.
According to the Golden Legend the devil – shown flying in from the left – threw a stone which broke the bell; Saint Romanus simply found new ways to deliver the food. The devil’s gesture is almost identical to that of the angel emerging from a gleaming golden light to the right of the picture. The angel and the building at the panel’s right edge belongs to the next legend in the life of Saint Benedict, as told in the Golden Legend. In that story a priest receives a divine order to share his Easter meal with the saint, who, because of his isolation, was not even aware that it was Easter Sunday. The building is most likely the priest’s house. Before the panel was cut down, that scene would have followed on continuously from this one.
The gold borders, coat of arms and inscription (‘ME DUCE’, meaning ‘Lead me’ in Latin) are not original, and were probably added in order to give the impression that this was an individual panel. The coat of arms belongs to the Da Verazzano family from Florence, who must have owned the picture at one stage.
It was once thought that this panel formed part of a predella on account of its small size and the narrative scene. However, the panel’s wood grain is vertical and predellas were almost always painted on long, horizontal planks. It might have formed part of a piece of painted furniture, such as a cupboard door – like The Vision of the Dominican Habit by Fra Angelico.
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