Sano di Pietro
- Sano di Pietro
- Saint John the Evangelist
- tempera on panel, gold ground
- overall: 8 1/2 by 10 1/2 in.; 21.6 by 26.8 cm.
painted surface: 8 by 9 7/8 in.; 20.2 by 25 cm.
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Exposition de la collection Lehman de New York, 1957, no. 46;
Cincinatti Art Museum, The Lehman Collection, New York, 8 May - 5 July 1959, no. 53.
T.A. Heinrich, "The Lehman Collection," in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1954;
Exposition de la collection Lehman de New York, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1957, cat. no. 46;
The Lehman Collection, New York, exhibition catalogue, Cincinnati 1959, p. 15, cat. no. 53 (as "Saint John [?]");
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1967, vol. I, p. 377 (as "Saint John the Evangelist").
Saint John the Evangelist is depicted with a sensitivity typical of Sano; the gestures are measured and graceful and his grief is expressed with a poignancy that is understated and restrained. The artist placed the saint in a deliberately sparse landscape in order to encourage the viewer’s contemplation of the Crucifixion scene and minimize distraction. The accompanying Virgin would presumably also have been shown seated similarly on the opposite mound. The undulating line of the horizon and treatment of the grey earth is reminiscent of that in Sano’s Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist in the National Gallery, Washington DC (fig. 1). There, Sano employed a similar paint effect in his representation of the bare earth, creating a darker outline for the edge of the hill and transitioning softly to a paler hue at the foot of the painting. While his treatment of the figures in the Washington panel is faintly more gothic in style, it is interesting to note that the artist appears to have used the same tool in the border for the row of very fine stars as in the present painting. Unlike the Washington picture, which has lost the majority of its punched border, here the beautiful punching and elaborate, floral stippling still frame the image.
The identity of the saint was been repeatedly misinterpreted over the course of the painting’s publication. Berenson, for example, listed the subject as the “Madonna of Humility (?)” but it has also be thought to be Mary Magdalene, perhaps on account of the saint’s red robes. The similarities in the representation of the present figure and the one at the right side of Sano di Pietro’s Man of Sorrows, in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (fig. 2), suggests this is in fact an image of Saint John the Evangelist. The flower motif, which perhaps fueled the mystery of the saint’s identification, was likely to have been painted in at a later date. The vertical line in the figure’s left was intended to represent the crease in the palm formed by the flesh of the thumb. One hypothesis is that this line was misunderstood by a well-meaning restorer who, assuming something must be missing, added the delicate bloom, transforming the line into the extended stem of a flower.
We are grateful to Prof. Laurence Kanter for endorsing the attribution following firsthand inspection.