Bernardo Zenale - inv. 1618
This work is linked to Saint Stephan (inv. 1622).
The two saints form the right-hand side panel of a polyptych (from the Saint Francis monastery in Cantù), which was reconstructed for an exhibition held in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in 1982. The other panel, with Saints John the Baptist and Francis is conserved in the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan, while the central panel with the Virgin and Child with Saints is now in the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Stephen can be identified by the stones, symbols of his martyrdom; Anthony of Padua by his habit, tonsure and Franciscan lily.
Their simple unassuming aspect – a characteristic derived from Foppa’s painting – is balanced by elements of great freshness, such as the rapid rendering of the clumps of grass, the loose ties of one of the books and the special martyr’s palm, fruiting and flowering at the same time. Notice Stephen’s spontaneous gesture as he holds a finger between the pages of the book, while Anthony balances the lily on his book and plays with its fastenings. The red sash and yellow gold of Saint Stephen’s dalmatic (the deacon’s tunic) are brightly coloured and enlive the general tone of the painting.
Zenale was one of the artistic leaders in the Milanese area between the 15th and 16th centuries. Deeply influenced by Bramante – the loggia in the Cantù polyptych recalls the architecture built by this artist – Zenale also looked carefully at Leonardo: the rocky landscape behind the two saints refer to the Virgin of the Rocks.
This attention to Leonardo’s model may also depend on the fact that both the paintings were done for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, as revealed by a recently found document, this dates the commission to Zenale to 1502.