Nicolò di Pietro - inv. 1573
The panel shows an episode from the life of Saint Benedict, from the official biography by Gregory the Great of the sixth century. Having retired to live in a grotto on mount Subiaco, the saint was troubled by the devil, in the guise of a blackbird, who made him suffer erotic temptations. To drive out the devil, Benedict decided to remove all his clothes and roll in thorny bushes and banks of nettles. In the painting, the angel represents the divine illumination that helped Benedict escape from sin.
Almost lacking a horizon, the scene is closed by a rocky backdrop with trees, bushes and a stream; in the middle of a clearing the saint seems to be struggling with conflicting thoughts and turns his head uncertainly towards the angel.
The anatomy of both the saint and the blackbird, the leaves of the bushes and the loincloth have all been painted very naturalistically, like the light modelling the volumes. Elegant Gothic touches instead highlight the angel with its multicolour wings and blue cloak. For its high quality, the painting has been attributed to the leading artists of the International Gothic, from Pisanello to Giambono, and Gentile da Fabriano. Today it is attributed to Nicolò di Pietro, a successful Venetian artist, influenced by Gentile. Datable to about 1415-1420, the panel was part of a polyptych, with the image of the saint in the centre. Three other scenes are now in the Uffizi: The Infant St. Benedict repairs a Broken Sieve, St. Benedict and the Poisoned Wine, St. Benedict exorcise a Monk. The provenance of the polyptych is still unclear.