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Saint Peter Martyr at prayer

Saint Peter Martyr at prayer
tempera and gold on panel
25 7⁄8 x 18 3⁄4 in. (65.7 x 47.6 cm.)
Private collection, Italy, from where acquired by the following,
with Investment Art International, London where acquired by the present owner in 2014.
G. Pudelko, 'Ein Petrus-Martyr-Altar des Antonio Vivarini', Pantheon, IX, September 1937, pp. 283-285.
L. Coletti, Pittura veneta del Quattrocento, Novara, 1953, p. XXIX, fig. 52.
R. Pallucchini, I Vivarini, Venice, 1962, pp. 27 and 98.
F. Zeri and G. Gardner, Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. IV, North Italian School, New York, 1971, pp. 89-90, referring to F. Mason Perkins’ unpublished opinion.
P. Humfrey, 'A New Panel by Antonio Vivarini from the "St. Peter Martyr" Polyptych', Venezia Cinquecento, XXIV, 2014, pp. 5-15.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Collection Alana: Chefs-d'oeuvre de la peinture italienne, 13 September 2019-20 January 2020, no. 36.

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Lot Essay

This fine panel illustrates a scene from the legend of the Dominican monk, Saint Peter Martyr, born in Verona around 1205 and renowned for his preaching against heresy. Shown here at prayer in the church of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan, which would later be the site of his shrine, it represents one of the vast number of miracles accredited to him during his lifetime. Seeking consolation as he kneels in front of the image of Christ and asks: ‘what have I done to deserve to undergo such great sorrow?’ The Crucifix before him replied: ‘Fra Pietro, what did I do, that I had to endure the punishment of the cross? But have confidence, for I am with you, and you will come to me with a crown of honor and glory’. Comforted and reassured, the episode formed a key element in the construction of the cult of Peter Martyr, a saint who so closely identified with Christ. Less than a year after his martyrdom in 1252, he was canonized by Pope Innocent IV.

The panel formed part of a dismantled polyptych, whose story has been carefully pieced together over the decades. The existence of such a complex, which must have been quite spectacular, was first deduced by Georg Pudelko in 1937 (op. cit.), when he identified four panels that formed part of the same series, in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; a further three were later discovered in private collections. It is likely that the panels – perhaps originally numbering twelve or sixteen in total – would have been placed around the base of a statute of the saint, possibly arranged in columns of two or three, forming a dossal in an altar dedicated to the saint. This type of arrangement was popular in the fifteenth century, frequently used by Dominican friars to promote the lives of saints. Pudelko suggested that this altar could have originally been commissioned for the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, a theory supported by documentary evidence that has subsequently come to light: an inventory of 1733 of the property of the confraternities of Saints Vincent, Peter Martyr and Catherine of Siena lists thirteen pictures depicting miracles of Saint Vincent. It is plausible, though, that the inventory incorrectly identified the saint depicted, and that these panels instead can be associated with the group to which the present lot belongs.

Antonio Vivarini was a key exponent of late Gothic style in the fifteenth century and the leading artist in a family dynasty whose roots were in the island of Murano, in the Venetian lagoon. His first documented work dates from 1440, a polyptych now in the Euphrasian Basilica, Porec, after which he began to collaborate with his brother-in-law Giovanni d’Alemagna, starting with the altarpiece of Saint Jerome made for Santo Stefano, Venice (now Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). They enjoyed notable success, receiving numerous significant commissions throughout the following decade and continuing to work together until Giovanni’s death in 1450, when they were engaged on the fresco decoration for the Ovetari chapel in the Eremitani church, Padua. Antonio would go on to work in conjunction with his brother Bartolomeo, continuing the success of the workshop into the 1460s.

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