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A Bishop Saint and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino
Zanobi Machiavelli
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This panel depicts Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, a thirteenth-century mystic, and an unidentified bishop saint. It formed part of an altarpiece of which at least two other fragments are also in the National Gallery’s collection. It was positioned to the left of a central panel that depicts the Virgin and Child, opposite an image of Saints Bartholomew and Monica to the right.

Saint Nicholas and the bishop stand side by side on an angular step that encloses a patch of grass. Nicholas, carrying his traditional attributes of a book and lily, wears the habit of the Augustinian Order, which indicates that the altarpiece was made for an Augustinian church. He makes direct eye contact with the viewer, suggesting that the original altar was dedicated to him.

A small panel with a scene from the saint’s life (now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) may have formed part of its lost predella (the part of an altarpiece below the main level, usually painted).

Key facts
Artist Zanobi Machiavelli
Artist dates about 1418 - 1479
Full title A Bishop Saint and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino
Series Panels from an Altarpiece
Date made probably about 1470
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 143 x 59.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG586.2
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Panels from an Altarpiece

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These three panels once formed an altarpiece. The largest, which shows the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, would have appeared at its centre. Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and a bishop saint would have appeared on the left of the central image, with Saints Bartholomew and Monica on the right. The inclusion of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, an Augustinian friar, and Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, suggests that this altarpiece was made for an Augustinian foundation, perhaps the Florentine church of S. Spirito.

The panels have been linked to two others by Zanobi Machiavelli; while their compositions and gold backgrounds correspond, their shapes and sizes do not. A small panel showing a scene from the life of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) has also been suggested as part of the ensemble.

The shape and gold background would have appeared slightly old-fashioned by around 1470, when Zanobi Machiavelli painted this altarpiece.

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