Completed Continental European before 1800 67 What is the subject of this fifteenth-century Northern Italian School painting?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This would be a very unusual representation of Saint Paul - for one thing, he appears to be in armour and is accompanied by his charger and a page. Assuming the kneeling figure is a saint, the nearest I have found is the linked:

The collection note:

'This work is part of the Joseph Lucas collection and the identifications/attributions of the items concerned are taken from the associated catalogue which was compiled between the wars. We have found a number of the items to be wrongly identified in the catalogue and I am not surprised that this may be wrong too. I agree that the attribution to St Paul may be incorrect. In addition to the armour and that he is not alone I'll add the lack of a halo. The work has clearly been altered at some point, as shown by the removal of the text from around the figures, but I would have thought there would have been a halo.

We are open to other suggestions as to the scene depicted and a suitable new title. Intriguingly the words 'SEL MANTEGNA' appear on the back of the work but we have little else to go on I am afraid. Given that this work has been known by this title for some considerable time I am uncomfortable in changing the title without a suitable and accurate alternative.'

Al Brown, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The subject of this painting has been identified as the Conversion of St Paul and the title has been updated. The artist remains unknown.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.



Could this be an ex-voto from the kneeling knight, thankful to Christ for being spared some disaster, possiby depicted in the distance, on the left of the painting? I cannot make out the figures and the action there.

While accepting it may be an unusual representation it seems a fairly straightforward interpretation of the story: Paul was a Roman (hence the armour) official converted by the 'blinding light' which struck him on the road to Damascus. At back left here are three figures on horseback descending towards the buildings in the background of which the one at front, apparently dressed the same as the kneeling figure being struck by what appears to be some diagonal bolt from the pinkish halo-shaped cloud at top centre. I.e. one sees in the background what causes the explicit act of 'conversion' homage at front.

Victor Rafael Veronesi ,

The interesting image seems to me not related to a north italian school of painting ( or 'Mantegnesca'), but mainly influenced by a 'greek' figurative tradition for the extensive use of 'gold' moreover into the vests of Christ and its diffusion as 'rays'.

Laura Jacobus,

The ex voto idea also occurred to me. The smallish dimensions of the piece (c.27x21cms) might support that (they were often that sort of size), and there are also two indistinct banderoles; one from the devotee, one from Christ, which might indicate prayer and response. We really need a higher resolution image, but the backgorund scene appears to show the events leading to the vow. Blob in the sky would appear to be the appearance of a divine intecessor coming to the devotee's rescue in the incident; you can just about make out the rays of divine intercession beaming down on him as his horse apparently bolts. Another thing that strikes me is that this is in quite mixture of styles and I wonder if it may have been repainted. That would be unusual for an ex-voto, and very intriguing. So while there is lots that says late-fifteenth century Italian (landscape, horse, figure style of Christ), there are Byzantine striations and even a *very* vague sense of Duccio (early-fourteeth century Sienese) in the face and hands of the devotee. I'd look at the edges for signs of an earlier layer of paint if you can't manage X-ray, while UV light might reveal more of what the banderoles once said.

Peter is surely right to confirm the accuracy of the subject. Paul is in fact often shown in armour, particularly in earlier depictions, with his companions similarly dressed. "The Conversion of St Paul" might be a more conventional title for the subject. The details in the background clarly show the actual event. Christ is prominently showing his wounds, as the event happened soon after His crucifixion.

Victor Rafael Veronesi ,

This is an Hypothesis: maybe the picture represents the dream of Saint Martin of Tours? Both Jesus and the figure of a military Saint seem to be holding a scrap of parchment that maybe is a piece of the cloak and not a cartouche (it seems also particularly 'transparent' the piece handled by the soldier)?

There are certainly strangely ghostly, curling streamers connected to the kneeling figure's right hand, looping up and over to the ground to the right, and ditto from Christ's left hand back and over his shoulder and down to the right. I wonder if they bore some inscription now lost or are perhaps more likely pentimenti for some such abandoned intention, now showing though the overpaint. (Christ extends his right hand to the kneeler, to show the stigmata.) However, neither of the streamers look like bits of cloak and I think one has to apply Occam's razor and accept that it's what the general evidence suggests as regards subject: i.e 'Conversion of St Paul' as Andrew suggests, though for what specific religious application is another issue.

Patty Macsisak,

Can we consider St. Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170-235)?

The two scrolls have similar profiles. The scroll emanating from the hand of St. Hippolytus may refer to his many writings; the scroll behind Christ may represent The Word of which He is the embodiment. In writings about the Christ and Anti-Christ, St. Hippolytus says "Knowing, then, as I do, how to explain these things in detail, I deem it right at present to quote the words themselves. But since the expressions themselves urge us to speak of them. I shall not omit to do so. For these are truly divine and glorious things, and things well calculated to benefit the soul."

The scene including three other figures is confused: one figure mounted, consulting with an unmounted figure; a third figure riding hell-bent, aggressively whipping his horse. If the third figure continues on his trajectory, he will surely come between St. Hippolytus and the church (The Church ?) in the background. This scenario may reflect the events leading to the martyrdom of Saint Hipploytus.

All the while, St. Hippolytus is serenely offering his words to Christ. He has worn the helmet of salvation ("The only ones who can take up any piece of God’s armor, and the only ones who are involved in this supernatural struggle against Satan and his demon forces, are those who are already saved."), but fully trusting in Christ, he sets it aside.

St. Hippolytus became the patron saint of horses and is variously represented being torn apart by horses (like Hippolytus in Greek mythology) or in armor and sword, either mounted or not. (It would be interesting if there is a connection between this painting and the ancient St. Ippolyts Church, county Hereford, as "St. Ippolyts Church became known as a place to which sick horses were brought to be blessed.")

I feel I have just scratched the surface of this possible interpretation and welcome additional comments/corrections.

Gemma Binns,

Could this be Constantine. The cross in the sky could be? "he saw with his own eyes in the heavens and a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, In Hoc Signo Vinces" ("with this sign, you shall win"). In Eusebius's account, Constantine had a dream the following night in which Christ appeared with the same heavenly sign and told him to make an army standard in the form of the labarum.Eusebius is vague about when and where these events took place,but it enters his narrative before the war begins against Maxentius.
The battle is fort at the banks of the river Tiber and the mounted horse man can be seen charging forward on the opposite bank possibly into the battle. Also the church seen central rear of the image could be representing Rome along with the surrounding hills.

Hetty Startup,

I find the cross in the sky compelling.
I also am having difficulty with the condition of the work as the faces look altered. There is abrasion on the figures on the left in the background.
The figure of the page behind the horse is interesting - slightly Piero like?
Not very coherent but I look forward to hearing more about this work.

Simon Gillespie,

I strongly suggest that the painting be IR photographed. This will hopefully bring out any writing that is on the speech scrolls. This will then make it clear who is saying what.
It certainly follows all the early depictions of Paul.
I concur with Pieter and Andrew above.

I am afraid that IR or XR photography is well beyond our budget and our capability. I will change the title of the painting to something like 'Christ Appearing to a Knightly Figure' and retain this discussion in our files for future reference.

I am sorry, but I do not think there can really be any reasonable doubt that the subject is the conversion of St Paul and there seems to be no evidence to support a change of title from something specific and with iconographic support, to something vague. I hope the Group Leader can make a recommendation to this effect soon.

Duncan Walker (Curator, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum) has emailed to say that, as far as the collection is concerned, this discussion could now be reviewed and closed.

Kieran Owens,

As at least every Bible-reading and God-fearing Christian knows, the scrolls in this painting are likely to read (in one version of words or another): "Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?" And the reply in Paul's scroll is likely to be "Who art thou Lord?" And the reply of Jesus (given the length of his scroll here) is also likely to include "I am Jesus, whom thou art persecuting. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."

Italian speakers, or those with a good Google Translate option, can read all about the scene of the conversion of Paul, and the use of horses in the story by medieval artists, at this wonderfully illustrated article here:

It should also be noted that there are many images from this era that do not depict Paul as an armour-wearing Roman collaborator.

Howard Jones,

In response to Simon Gillespie suggestion, that an IR or X-ray photo to be taken, the Russell-Cotes Gallery replies that this would be beyond their budget.

Some modern digital cameras may record IR light better than cameras that use film. In fact even some old film photography would show up details beneath the paint that are not visible on the surface. If the painting is out of storage someone with the right type of digital camera might be able to provide at least a better guide to details that have been over painted.

There are various Tudor paintings in which the original coat of arms have been over painted. Checking the underlying heraldic designs in some cases should enable the identity of the sitters identity to be corrected. Infra red photography should not always have to be expensive.

Howard Jones,

Looking again at the marks for the scrolls they appear to overlie the landscape. Are they the marks left where gold leaf has been stripped away?

Kieran Owens,

Could the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum provide a photograph of the back of this work, so that we can see how the words "Sel Mantegna" and presented?

Jacinto Regalado,

Neither the armour nor the lack of a halo precludes the kneeling figure being Saul/Paul, but what is more unusual or questionable is that he is not shown fallen or falling to the ground as is typically the case. However, as noted by Pieter, the small figure at upper left seemingly atop a falling horse may well be the same person on the same horse as the larger one at lower left, as the colours of the two figures and the two horses match (a higher resolution image, preferably one that could be enlarged, would be quite desirable).

Howard Jones,

The comment by Jacinto looks promising. The colour of the horse in the foreground is unusual. The one in the background looks more like a mule with longer ears but the man might have received a horse upgrade as part of the miraculous process. The clothes of the figure on the horse match up with the attire of the kneeling man.

I had thought that the man could be beating the horse but the rider and stumbling horse could be reacting to the shock of the shaft of light.

Kieran Owens,

This painting is a sort of time-lapse-capturing of the unfolding events. It is similar to the attached depiction of the same scene, though this time without the horses. It shows Saul being blinded, falling and then being led by the hand into Damascus. As the above-mentioned article argues, the inclusion of horses into this Biblical story only occurs from the medieval period onwards.

As one version on the web puts it:

"Acts 9 tells the story as a third-person narrative:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. — Acts 9:3–9 (Biblica, New International Version, 1978)"

In our painting, Saul/Paul is looking up at Jesus, even though at this point in the Biblical story he is supposed to be blind.

Also, in the original New Testament telling of the story, there is no suggestion that he was a Roman soldier.

Again, the same web sources states:

"Before his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul, was "a Pharisee of Pharisees", who "intensely persecuted" the followers of Jesus. Says Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians: "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:13–14) (Biblica, New International Version, 1978)".

Perhaps to the 15th century artist and viewer our painting's rendering of the story was more understandable, and was less in need of the precise historical accuracy that commentators in the 21st century might seek.

Regarding an attribution to an artist, given the reference on the back of the painting, as mentioned in the original posting above by Al Brown, is there any speculation as to whether this might be a work by Andrea Mantegna (1431 - 1506)?

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Martin Hopkinson,

There has been virtually no discussion of the date of this painting - other than Victor Veronesi 's helpful remark about its possible relation to the Greek [ that is late Byzantine] figurative tradition . Is there any reason to prefer North Italian' as an attribution to another 'school' on the Adriatic, South Italian or even Sicilian or Maltese coasts?
What else did Joseph Lucas collect?

Kieran Owens,

In reference to Al Brown's initial posting above, could the word SEL be a misreading of the word DEL, as in the abbreviated art term Delineavit (He/She drew it)? Was someone claiming that it was a work by Mantegna?

If it can still be revealed by the above-suggested x-ray or UV light analysis, the language of the words on the two scrolls should help identify the region of origin of the work.

Howard Jones,

Excuse if I have missed information already given, but is this painting at the Museum in Bournemouth on display or in store?

Tamsyn Taylor,

The subject of this painting is almost certainly as stated- The Conversion of St Paul. The subject of the conversation between Paul and the Risen Christ is as stated by Owens above and would account for the words on the banner.

The painting is from the School of Benozzo Gozzoli, best known for his fresco of the Magi in the Medici's private chapel, but who also executed a major fresco cycle of the Life of Saint Augustine, and several other notable works in the hill town of San Gimigniano.

Benozzo had three sons who worked with him. This painting is almost certainly the work of Alesso di Benozzo 1473-1528, also known as the Esiguo Master.
The faces, gestures and the brilliant colouration of the robes is typical of his work. The landscape is also what one would expect. That robust horse has the distinctive character of horses painted by the great Benozzo himself.

There is one feature which is most unusual for a painter from Florence at this date- while the robe of Jesus looks as expected, the gilding in a manner that emphasises the lines of the drapery had not been usued in Florence for about a century. (Being Florentine, they gilded painted text garments to resemble the magnifient brocades for which the city was famous) Here we have the sort of gilding which was used in Siena, into the 15th century.


In answer to Howard Jones' question of a week ago - this work is not currently on show but can be made available for viewing by appointment.

Kieran Owens,

Tamsyn Taylor, when compared to other known works online, your suggestion of Alesso di Benozzo is compelling. However, of all the paintings by him that I can find, not one has speech banners of the style included in this discussion's work. Also, in pretty much every one his paintings, all of the pious figures are shown with gilded haloes, where there are none here. Might you have a suggestion as to why, in both respects, this is the case?

Jacinto Regalado,

Kieran, this picture looks less proto-Botticelli and more late Byzantine, or more "primitive," to me than the work of Alesso di Benozzo, especially the face of Christ. I certainly do not presume to expertise here, but I am not compelled by the attribution in question.

Jacinto Regalado,

Actually, Alesso di Benozzo was not an especially good painter, certainly inferior to his father, and I think this picture is by a better artist (it really should be cleaned and restored).

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, my concerns about the attribution are contained in my hopefully polite enquiry as to the inclusion of and the absence of the details mentioned above. I am happy to dismiss the suggested author of the work if a good response to these concerns is not forthcoming. In the meantime, I will be happy to hear of any better suggestions than that or those already made by Tamsyn Taylor. While waiting for such a response, I would still be interested to know if the initially-mentioned word SEL could be a misreading of the word DEL, as in the abbreviated art term Delineavit (He/She drew it), and whether it implies that someone was claiming that the painting was a work by Mantegna.

Kieran Owens,

To examine the above-mentioned writing on the back of this painting, a photographic image would be most interesting to see. Can Russell-Coates Art Gallery supply this?

Jacinto Regalado,

The use of "del" for delineavit is very common in engravings to indicate either the creator of the design or the intermediary draughtsman who "transcribed" a painting for the engraver's benefit, and it is virtually always placed after the name, not before. However, I am not familiar with its use on paintings, where I would imagine "pinx" or "pinxit" would be more apt (again, after the name of the painter, as is also done on engravings of paintings). It is conceivable, however, that if this picture is based on a Mantegna, then someone may have wished to indicate his creation of the design by using "del" with his name.

Jacinto Regalado,

Another possibility is that what looks like "sel" is really "sec," which could presumably be an abbreviation for "secondo," meaning "after."

Tamsyn Taylor,

1. I think that the association with Mantegna, or even the region of Mantua, is erroneous. A number of features are Tuscan particularly in the landscape, which is quite a gentle landscape by comparison with those created further north.
2. The painting has the archaic feature of the detailed gilding of the folds of drapery, which remained in use in the region of Siene, long after being replaced with a different style of decoration in Florence.
Nonetheless, Benozzo Gozzoli and his family operated in Pisa and the more provincial town of San Gimigniano. They were not part of the mainstream of Florentine painting.
3. Jacinto Regaiado is right in saying that Alesso is not an especially good painter. He was not as good as his father. That is why his father is rememberedand widely known for his masterpiece at the Medici Chapel.
On the other hand, Alesso was perfectly capable of painting this picture.
4. With regards to the halos, the larger of Alesso's paintings have them, but many do not. It seems strange that the robe is gilded the way that it is, and that the halos are present. I would suppose that it was up to the individual gilder, not to the painter, in this case.
5. I think that the banners, no missing, were an addition. It is unusal to see traces of them, but no white paint or text remaining at all.

Tamsyn Taylor,


Analysis of the painting
1. The landscape makes use of features characteristic of late 15th century paintings.
There is a marked degree of atmospheric perspective i.e. the landscape recedes in layers which become progressivly more blue. It is only a tiny painting, but as a landscape, it is more sophisticated that either Fra Angelico, or Fra Filippo Lippi were capable of, in the early to mid 15th century.
The landscape in this painting looks particularly like one that forms a backdrop to the Resurrection in a painting by Perugino.
Landscapes of this type are present in a number of Alesso's works - the portrait of a Man in Modena, the Gardner Crucifixion, and through the archways of the Madonna of Ss John and Bernardino. It is a characteristic of Alesso.

Tamsyn Taylor,

2. The figure of Christ.
Alesso has a more sophisticated feeling for anatomy than artists of the previous century. (a)
This is apparent in his crucifixions. But he habitually paints hands and feet small, elongated and positioned very simply with all the fingers parallel.
If one can ignore the medievalisng treatment of the drapery, the figure of Jesus is very much more naturalist in form, stance and the flow of the robes than any figure that one would usually associate with that sort of surface treatment. This figure is not typical of any artist of the 14th century. (b)

3 The intense contrast of light and shade on the face of Jesus is reminiscent of the strong contrast found in some formalised Byzantine faces. But while the intense light and shade is present (perhaps accentuated in this reproduction) the features themselves are not consistent ith Byzantine formulaic painting, or even of the softer style f Duccio and his immediate circle.

4. The face of the kneeling figure is very like the face of the young male portrait, even to the Adam's apple, but on a smaller scale.
To me, the figures and faces are entirely compatible with those in the Crucifixion with the town in a valley.
The kneeling Paul also has much in common with the Angels at the foot of the throne in the Crucifixion with St Francis.

5. The horse s quite distinctive and has characteristics that esemble horses painted by Alesso's father Benozzo. The large rump, the low set of the tail, the shape of the shoulder and the curvy contours accentuating the structure of the leg are typical of Benozzo and would have been familiar to Alesso.

6. Similar elaborate armour is worn by the Archangel Michael in a painting by Alesso, and in a number of paintings produced by Benozzo Gozzoli.

7. The colour scheme of the robes of Jesus, with the intense saffron yellow lining to the cloak is unusual. This colour scheme occurs on John th Evangelist in both the Crucifixions. The saffron also appears on Elizabeth in the Visitation, and in chunks of brightness in the Madonna enthroned with saints (for which I previously wrote Bernadino instead of Francis)

Notes on attached images-
a. The comparatively well painted body with three dimensional form and natural contraposto is comparative to Alesso's work of the late 15th C rather than Italian Byzantine works.
b. Painting by Coppo di Marcovaldo indicates the sort of context and the formal structure that would usually be associated with the Sienese style of gold decoration.
c. Painting by Duccio illustrating a similar use of gold.
d. The altarpiece wih John and Francis has many of the features mentioned
e. Madonna and child, odl fashioned for its date, but a sweet painting.

Jacinto Regalado,

The commentary involving Mantegna is related to the inscription on the back of the work, which may or may not be relevant and may, in fact, be spurious. I doubt anyone thinks this picture is by Mantegna.

As far as I can tell, the kind of rather Byzantine-looking face seen on Christ does not appear in the works of Alesso di Benozzo, and the Sienese-type gilding on drapery does not appear in his work or even the earlier work of his father. Those discordant elements would have to be explained, and the explanation might be that this picture is by a 15th century Sienese painter.

Martin Hopkinson,

This could be by a Dalmatian or even Italianising Greek painter of the 16th not the 15th century.

Martin Hopkinson,

Parallels might be found in manuscript painting. Its small size suggests that it was for private use - possibly part of a portative altar.
Could the gallery inspect the edges of the painting to see if it was originally attached to other paintings?
Is it known what else Mr Lucas collected and the provenance of any of the works which he collected?
The horse and soldier at the left might have been copied from another work.

Tamsyn Taylor,

Jacinto, I understand about the reference to Mantegna pertaining to the inscription. I am on top of that.

With regards to the "rather Byzantine-looking face of Christ", I disagree that it is "Byzantine-looking". It has quite strong tonal contrast, which could be seen as a similarity. Other than that, the forms are not Byzantine.

I have not ignored the gilding. I have made the point that it is unusual. I do not think that it indicates a Sienese painter. I think the it indicates a painting done for a Sienese patron.
Keep in mind that Pope Sextus vastly preferred the paintings of Roselli to those of Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Perugino, and insisted on "more gold". Sometimes, it comes down to taste, and particularly at this period, the taste of the artist could have little to do with the final product. So my explanation for gold is that it has nothing at all to do with what was characteristic of either the artist, his place of origin, or even the prevailing taste of the period.

I know of no Sienese painter who would answer as artist for this painting. Benozzo Gozzoli, and presumably his workshop, had strong association with San Gimigniano, close to Siena and where a number of Sienese painters had created frescoes in the previous century. This could account for one of Benozzo's sons producing a work that has a single distinctly Sienese characteristic.

The painting is only about 10x8 inches, so the details of the faces are quite broad by comparison with larger works. None the less, the face of Jesus is gentle and expressive, and the face of Paul is sweet. Neither of them are Byzantine in appearance. They are very close to the faces in Alesso's Crucifixion with a town in the valley.

The landscape in both works is typical of developments in Florence (and those in the work of Perugino once he came under the influence of Florence) The landscape could not have been painted before the mid 15th century, regardless of the antiquated nature of the gilding which suggests 100 or more years earlier. It is an anomaly in the work of almost any artist of that date.

As I have previously pointed out, the form of Jesus' body is 15th Century, the faces are consistent with Alesso, the landscapes are consistent with Alesso, the hands are consistent with Alesso, the colour range in the clohing is consistent with Alesso., the horse is consistent with the School of Benozzo Gozzoli.

In other words, having followed numerous leads, checked works from different regions and from many different painters, I am entirely satisfied that I have identifieded the author of this work.

I have taken the liberty of carefully colour-adjusting this painting to remove the yellowness caused by the lighting and the grime.
I have similarly adjusted the Crucifixion with a town in the valley, for the purpose of comparisonand discovered many similarities.
Soe of the small details include the fall of the yellow border of the robe , and the stone ledge, midground, which is repeated in a series of such ledges in the Crucifixion, even though the other landscape forms are soft.

Find comparisons of distant landscapes, illustrating atmospheric perspective; and faces illustrated.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I am going to say again here that I don't think that gold is a major indicator of the artist. When gold was applied, it was often dome by someone other than the artist.
All we can say is that someone wanted gold on the robes of Jesus in that painting and that the technique by which it was applied is typical of Siena. It was also used on some Russian icons. It isn't typical of Greece.

Can people back up their suggestions with pictures?

Tamsyn Taylor,

Martin Hopkinson, just to respond to the suggestion that this might be the work of an Italianising Greek - the elements that make this unlikely are the simple, balanced composition and the typically Florentine landscape elements.
Italianising Greek painting of the 16th century and later, was not particularly concerned with the more formal qualities of Florentine painting. The elements of Italian painting that they sought to emulate had more to do with Mannerist expression, and compositions that had narrative drama.
Re Dalmatian painters, Nikola Bozidarovic (Niccolo Ragusino) was producing works that maintained many Italian Renaissance traditions into the 16th century. It doesn't look like his work. What other artists from that region should I look at?

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not know how such things work in practice, but would it be possible for Russell-Cotes to take the picture up to London to have a suitable person at the National Gallery look at it?

Jacinto Regalado,

For what it may be worth, this picture is part of the 1924 Joseph Lucas bequest, which included seven other Italian pictures, dated from the 14th to early 16th centuries. Four of those seven are Sienese; the other three are associated with artists based in Verona, Florence and Bologna, respectively.

Howard Jones,

Can anyone make sense of the designs on the armour of the kneeling man, or of the emblems on his helmet?

Kieran Owens,

Although a higher resolution image might prove otherwise, the design on the breastplate looks likes a cross, with possible worshippers on either side. On the helmet there are winged serpents. The whole scene is probably a coded visual guide to the principle embodied in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (6:11) wherein he exhorts believers to "put on the whole armour of God." This includes the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. These elements of armour are seen very regularly in medieval depictions of Michael the Archangel, one example of which is attached. The painting, to the contemporary viewer, is, therefore a piece of Christian propaganda, the inherent meaning of which was most likely immediately understood by its intended viewer.

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Kieran Owens,

As one website puts it:

From St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, "Verses 14 through 17 say, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The only element missing in this painting is a shield.

Kieran Owens,

The painting might embody the following message: Convert to the cause and be prepared to defend it.

Kieran Owens,

Additionally, it is interesting to note that the gold on folds the of the robes of Jesus is still in pace whereas the probable gold on the speech scrolls has disappeared. Could this suggest that one was applied at a different time to the other? And if the robe's folds were painted first, could the speech scrolls have been added later using an inferior quality technique?

Apologies for the lack of response but I have been busying installing exhibitions. Please find some more detailed images of the Christ and St Paul figures, plus an image of the reverse and the ‘SEL MANTEGNA’ inscription on there. Having seen the work again ‘in the flesh’ I see that the kneeling figure DOES have a halo – so my initial concern in that regard is negated.

As has been said, this work is part of the Joseph Lucas Collection. Some valuable research on Lucas and one of his other works has been very recently published by Dr Machtelt Bruggen Israels (‘An Annunciate Angel by Pietro Oriolo and its History from the Piccolomini in Basciano to Joseph Lucas in Fiesole’ in ‘Regards Sur Les Primitifs: Melanges en L'Honneur de Dominique Thiebaut’, Editions Hazan and Musee du Louvre, 2018, p104-109).

This work is available by appointment to view should anyone wish to but I am afraid the Russell-Cotes is, like most museums, operating on extremely limited resources. Therefore, conservation treatment and studio photography are impossible as such things are canted toward our public programming only. As this painting is not required for exhibition, nor in urgent need of repair, any spend on this work cannot be justified.

The idea about approaching the National Gallery for their opinion is a very good one. I shall write to them and share their response here. If anyone can name an individual at the National Gallery to whom I should address the letter, then that would be very helpful.

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Kieran Owens,

And now we can see that the breastplate has neither a cross on it nor worshippers! What a pity that these high resolution close-up images were not initially available. it would have saved a lot of speculation (and face!).

Kieran Owens,

What the breastplate detail does show are two back-to-back sphinxes. Greek or Roman? It also clearly show that St. Paul is wearing a 'Belt of Truth', so the Armour of God idea still is a possibility, especially as we also know that his head is crowned with a halo, so the conversion, one assumes, has taken place.

Jacinto Regalado,

Unfortunately, the National Gallery website does not appear to list specific people in charge of specific areas of the collection, so someone with inside knowledge would have to identify a suitable person on the NG staff. I am assuming that a request for assistance from a UK museum would be treated differently from a request from a private individual like a collector or dealer.

There is, of course, a General Enquiries contact, but I expect that would probably not suffice:

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7747 2885

Kieran Owens,

Does the image presented at this discussion's opening show the whole of the panel? Although the two images in the composite are not exactly and identically sized, horizontally flipping the back view allows for a comparison (marked in yellow) of the line of the repair to the work and the corresponding faint line on the painting's surface. A mismatch of areas suggests that there is a portion to the left of the horse's posterior that is not shown. Could Russell-Cotes Art Gallery please check to see if this is the case?

Could they also take a picture, as detailed as the ones uploaded yesterday, of the helmet? This might held to confirm or otherwise if the design thereon is actually of winged serpents.

Perhaps Simon Gillespie might have an opinion as to when or in what era the repair with the two dovetail key joints was likely to have taken place. Also, as the bottom dovetail key appears to coincide with the area of St. Pauls' right boot and the top key with the stumbling horse and the rather distressed area in that top left corner, perhaps their clumsy and slightly disproportionate appearance might be explained by a restorers poor efforts at repainting these elements.

Finally, is the work definitely on a panel? Perhaps an expert eye could look at the second attachment and explain the presence of what appears to be the edges of a thin canvas.

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Howard Jones,

This discussion has included an extended list of requests for the Russell-Cotes Gallery. May we thank the Gallery for providing additional photos which have already proved to be very helpful.

I can confirm that this work is on panel and the image used on the Art UK website (shown at the top of this discussion) shows all of the artwork with the exception of the frame.

Given previous experience with the Lucas Collection it is possible that this piece was once larger and has been cut down - or possibly out of something like an altar piece - then framed.

Please find attached a photograph of the helmet.

1 attachment

The quite modern inscription on the back may not be as absurd as it seems.

An artist much closer to ours is Carlo Braccesco or Carlo da Milano, documented in Liguria between 1478 and 1501. Significantly he has also been known as Carlo del Mantegna. The images accessible via Wikipedia, the 'Crucifixion of St Andrew' in the Ca' d'Oro (c.1495) and the 'Annunciation' in the Louvre (although attribution disputed) seem to me to bear similarities in figures, faces, palette, landscape etc to ours. Roberto Longhi's 'Carlo Braccesco'. Milan.(1942) would be worth chasing up.

Martin Hopkinson,

The subject is certainly unusual . If once part of a predella to an altarpiece, St Paul should have featured prominently in that altarpiece - but is it an independent small work painted for a Paolo?
Has any one looked in the Warburg's iconographic photo library for this or other paintings of the subject?
If not cut down the edges of the painting , that is the thin sides [ not the front] , might provide evidence if it was part of a larger ensemble

Unfortunately it seems that the National Gallery has a policy of not dealing with queries regarding artworks not in their collections.

...and for this the taxpayer gives it a current annual Grant-in-Aid to of £20.4 million (2018-19), to care for a collection of only about 2,500 oil paintings, however important, and nothing else.

How unlike the home life of other, even national, UK institutions: the NMM's G-i-A in 2017-18 (for example) was £13.4 m, for a collection of 2.5 million items in which there are about 4000 paintings and around 80K P&D...and it does try to answer such queries if possible. And even 2.5 million is less than at least two departments -P&D and Medieval and Later antiquities, if I recall correctly- in the British Museum!

Such comparative value for money things are worth thinking about next time you get an unco-operative response from some publicly well-funded institution better at making additional income (and, to its credit, the NG is very good at that, and soliciting private patronage, in millions) than in being helpful.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, Pieter, I'm afraid the NG feels quite entitled to its conduct, and will no doubt continue it as long as it is allowed to do so. It is hardly a rare phenomenon, generally speaking.

Of course, no one would expect it to answer queries from private individuals, but it should certainly be willing to assist museums, at least those in the UK.

In terms of the subject of the paintings I believe we can be confident that it is the 'Conversion of St Paul'. The artist remains unknown. I have not yet been able to find a copy of Roberto Longhi's 'Carlo Braccesco', Milan, 1942.