The Compartments of the San Luca Polyptych

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The Compartments of the San Luca Polyptych

Andrea Mantegna  >  Polyptych of San Luca

On the 10th August 1453 the prior of the Monastery of Santa Giustina in Padua, Mauro Folperti, gave Andrea Mantegna the responsibility of executing a polyptych to be put in the San Luca Chapel in the Church of Santa Giustina.
The polyptych was made of 11 panels, following a strict scansion where each character is framed individually, while the unity of the whole is left to the prospective and light which offers the impression of a certain "common atmosphere", as if all characters found themselves together in the same place, inside a porch.

If the golden background is an archaic symbolic reference to the divine presence, the continuous paving and the sole point of view used for all images give an idea of a real presence.

Although Mantegna's pictorial style is definitely from the Renaissance, the composition of the whole respects the customer's wish to comply to the tradition of the medieval polyptych. Mantegna distributed the panels in symmetric organization, with a central axis where the main panel and the moulding are found, and two side wings with eight registers each. In the top row, the saints are represented only from the waist up whereas in the bottom row the other four saints are represented in full.
The saints depicted in the paining are the protectors of Padua, very much revered by the citizens. Besides, the relics of Saint Luke, Saint Prosdocimus, Saint Julian, Saint Felicita and Saint Justine are kept in the Church of Santa Giustina

The Central Panel

The main compartment nominates the work and is dedicated to St. Luke. It distinguishes from the others not only for its major dimensions and central position, but also for the original interpretation of Luke, shown in a "heroic" manner, as a modern intellectual absorbed in his work. For the complete analysis of this character, please refer to the specific article in this website (The Central Panel of the Polyptych of St. Luke).
On the top, in the centre, the moulding presents a Pietà with the Dead Christ in the centre, the Sorrow Madonna to the left and the weeping St. John to the right. 
Mantegna proposes a type of Pietà that comes from the Flemish models, while the dramatic expressionism of the characters seem to come from the influence of Donatello, in particularly from the works of the Paduan period, such as the relieves of the Altare del Santo in the Basilica of Sant'Antonio. The influence of Bellinis' paintings is also evident.
The moulding that seems divided in three panels due to its shape of three acute arches and dividing columns, is in fact just one single wood panel. The restoration works found several damaged and repainted sections.

Top Row

The first compartment to the left of the top row is dedicated to St. Daniel of Padua, one of the patron saints of the city that the scholars identified despite the slight deviation created by Mantegna with respect to the traditional attributes given to this saint, i.e. a towel and a laver. St. Daniel is seen with his head turned almost to profile, facing the central Pietà. He's young and has the clothes and tonsure of a deacon. With his right hand he carries a model castle, and with the other he holds the pole of a white flat with a central red strip, waving by the wind.
In the next panel St. Jerome is presented with his traditional image while he's about to hit himself with a stone, the sign of penitence.
The first saint to the right of the Pietà is St. Augustine, shown with the typical bishop vestments, the pastoral and a book.

The identity of the second saint to the right is more controversial: for many scholars, this boy in elegant Renaissance clothes, holding a sword and the martyr's palm, is St. Sebastian; for others he could be Achilleus, Nereus or Pancras.

Bottom Row

In the first panel to the left of the bottom row St. Scholastica is depicted dressed in nun's vestments, since she was an abbess. With the right hand she holds an open book and on the left she holds a palm. She seems distant from the reading and is depicted with a solemn expression.
St. Prosdocimus in the second panel is another patron saint of Padua. He is depicted as a bishop with an imposing appearance, and holds a jug in the right hand and the pastoral in the other.
To the right of the central panel is St. Benedict, dressed as a monk absorbed by his reading, while holding in one hand a sheaf of grass, which according to some scholars allude to the active and hard-working life of the saint.
The last one to the right is St. Justine, patron saint of Padua and titular of the Church with the same name (Santa Giustina). The saint is represented as a blond maiden with a sword that pierces her heart, a book in one hand and the martyr's palm on the other.

 A. Cocchi

Trad. A. Sturmer



Tags:Mantegna, polyptich, san Luca, painting, Renaissance, Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, .


Per saperne di più sulla città di: Milano, Brera


Per informazioni su questi dipinti clicca qui.


Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. Detail of the moulding. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.


Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. St. Benedict. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.


Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. St. Justine. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.



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