Michael, Monasticism, Mysticism: A 13th Century Italian Painted Panel of St Michael the Archangel


  • John Fisher


A small number of painted wooden panels in Italy have survived mostly from around the thirteenth century which show a representation of a saint surrounded by deeds from his or her legend. They remain such a distinct group of works that they form a cohesive category or genre. Examples include the St Peter Altarpiece which originated in the central Italian hilltown of Siena and dates from about the mid-century. Characteristic of this type of painting of sainthood, it reveals the saint enthroned in the central compartment flanked by episodes from his life and, on this panel, as is sometimes included, scenes from the life of Christ. Another such work is the slightly earlier St Francis panel from the town of Prato about twenty-five kilometres west of Florence. This vertical and gabled painting shows Francis standing rather than enthroned and surrounded by eight scenes from his life and miracles associated with him. These two paintings indicate part of the range of depicted sainthood that is one traditional and established, the other recent and Christ-like. Outside this scope of sanctified humanity is a most remarkable painting of St Michael the Archangel; the subject of this investigation.