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 The Perugia Triptych is an altarpiece by Fra Angelico painted for the St. Nicholas Chapel in the church of San Domenico at Perugia. The central panel depicts the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels while the side panels represent St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari, as well as St. John the BaptiSt. and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The three predella scenes depict the story of St. Nicholas. The triptych was dismembered and presently it is displayed without its original frame in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia, except two predella panels which are in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Triptych Panels of the Perugia Altarpiece

Center: Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels

Fra Angelico, Central Panel of Perugia Altarpiece Triptych: Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels, 1447–47, tempera and gold on panel, 130 x 77 cm, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

This panel, representing the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, was at the centre of a polyptych painted for the St. Nicholas chapel in the church of San Domenico at Perugia. The side panels represent St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari, as well as St. John the BaptiSt. and St. Catherine of Alexandria. The work is now displayed without its original frame, and the area which this covered can easily be seen along the upper edge of the panel. Compared with the Linaiuoli altarpiece, this Virgin is less monumental and the Child altogether more sinuous and fleshy. Angelico returns to the circle of angels to create an additional sense of depth, but here the two who would have stood forward of the throne have been replaced by three vases of flowers. The Virgin’s throne is a solid classical affair with round arch and pilasters, topped with a swagged frieze. The background of the panel is still gold and abstract.

Left: St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari

St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari stand to the Virgin’s right. They lack the sculptural monumentality of the saints in the Linaiuoli altarpiece, are lit in a softer and more diffuse manner, and are not made to stand in a darkened niche. Here, for the firSt. time Angelico breaks away from the convention of the abstract, all-surrounding gold, and places the figures in front of a long table, whose end can be seen behind St. Nicholas of Bari who has placed his mitre on it. This is not, however, so great a departure from convention as might be implied, as the table is covered with a golden cloth and beyond it is the usual gold background.

The two figures stand at the very front of the space created, St. Dominic’s foot and St. Nicholas’s vestments touching the edge of the step. St. Nicholas wears his bishop’s cope and supports his crook, while at his feet are three full leather bags. These refer to the moSt. popular legend concerning this fourth-century churchman. He reputedly tossed bags of gold through the open window of a house, providing the three women who lived within with dowries and thus saving them from turning to prostitution. The event is shown, with two other scenes from the saint’s life, in one of the predella panels from the altarpiece. Source

Fra Angelico, Lefthand Panel of Perugia Altarpiece Triptych - St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari, 1447-47, tempera and gold on panel, 95 x 73 cm, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia

Fra Angelico, Lefthand Panel of Perugia Altarpiece Triptych: St. Dominic and St. Nicholas of Bari, 1447–47, tempera and gold on panel, 95 x 73 cm, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

Right: St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Alexandria

Fra Angelico, Righthand Panel of Perugia Altarpiece Triptych: St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1447-47, tempera and gold on panel, 95 x 73 cm, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

Fra Angelico, Righthand Panel of Perugia Altarpiece Triptych: St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1447–47, tempera and gold on panel, 95 x 73 cm, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine of Alexandria stand at the edge of the step and, like their companion saints in the altarpiece, have a table running behind them. St. John’s cross is tucked nonchalantly behind his halo and the base of it sticks right forward, but neither this nor his foreshortened hand recreate the impression of three-dimensionality with which he was rendered in the Linaiuoli altarpiece. He holds a scroll with a quotation from his own words, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’, (John 1, v. 29). St. Catherine has fewer sculptural qualities still. Beside her is a broken wheel from the diabolical machine on which she was tested. Some critics see the hand of assistants, rather than primarily that of the master, in these two figures.

The Story of St. Nicholas from the Predella of the Perugia Altarpiece

Birth of the Saint

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas, Birth of the Saint, 1447-48, tempera and gold on panel, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: Birth of the Saint, 1447–48, tempera and gold on panel, Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Giving Dowry to Three Poor Girls

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: Giving Dowry to Three Poor Girls, 1447-48, tempera and gold on panel, Pinacoteca Vaticana

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: Giving Dowry to Three Poor Girls, 1447–48, tempera and gold on panel, Pinacoteca Vaticana.

St. Nicholas Saves the Ship

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas St. Nicholas Saves the Ship (detail), 1447-48, tempera and gold on panel, Pinacoteca Vaticana

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas St. Nicholas Saves the Ship (detail), 1447–48, tempera and gold on panel, Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Liberation of Three Innocents

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: The Liberation of Three Innocents (one of three paintings from the predella of the Perugia Triptych that depict the life of St. Nicholas), 1447-48, tempera and gold on panel, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: The Liberation of Three Innocents (one of three paintings from the predella of the Perugia Triptych that depict the life of St. Nicholas), 1447–48, tempera and gold on panel, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas, The Death of the Saint, 1447-48, tempera and gold on panel, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy

Fra Angelico, The Story of St. Nicholas: Death of the Saint, 1447–48, tempera and gold on panel, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

// Originally published on Art of Darkness: Daily Art Blog