Piero della Francesca - inv. 445

Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492)

Saint Nicholas of Tolentino
139,4 x 59,2 cm
1879 bequest Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
Inv. 445

Piero della Francesca is considered an artist of outstanding importance in the Italian Renaissance, thanks to his essential and balanced style that had a significant influence on artists in the second half of the Fifteenth century.
The Tuscan master painted this panel as part of a polyptych destined to the high altar of Saint Augustine's church in Borgo San Sepolcro. The polyptych, executed between 1454 and 1469, was one of Piero's major projects and is now one of the most celebrated altarpieces of the Fifteenth century. The other panels are now conserved in different European and North American museums: Saint Augustine at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon; St. Michael the Archangel at the National Gallery of London; Saint John the Evangelist and a Crucifixion at Frick Collection in New York.

The Poldi Pezzoli's panel represents Nicholas of Tolentino, an Augustinian monk who lived in the second half of the Thirteenth century and was made a saint in 1446. In Piero's depiction, Saint Nicholas wears the black gown and leather belt typical of the Augustine order; the star on the right is also an attribute specific to this saint, as it alludes to the supposed appearance of a star on the day of Nicholas' birth.
The face and figure of the saint are depicted in a style very close to portraiture. Indeed, it is likely that Piero took as his model the prior of the monastery of San Sepolcro, who is also cited in the contract for the commission of the altarpiece.
The main panels of this polyptyc were in Milan in the first half of the 19th century, as testified by the sealing wax stamps allowing their exportation.