The Retable of St. Paul

Abstract

The retable is made up of a central panel of St. Paul Enthroned surrounded by ten smaller painted scenes, eight of which illustrate the main events of his life, from his conversion to his death. The panels are painted in differing styles, and analysis shows that all stem from sources traceable to northern Italy, and dated between the last third of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth. The same applies to the two upper subsidiary panels that were later overpainted. Figure styles, backgrounds, and differing painting techniques are identified with various concurrent trends: Veneto-Byzantine, Lombard, and north-European - the latter reflecting Franco-Flemish work emanating from the great northern centres of patronage. In particular, abstract patterns seen on clothing, furnishings, flooring and backgrounds, are traced individually to named artists. These artists form part of a total of twelve - for convenience they are designated the 'Veneto Group' - all belonging to the generation following that of Guariento di Arpo (documented 1338-1370), and each relating to a particular aspect of the retable. The St. Paul retable was thus a collaborative work, and typical of the current 'international' milieu. In addition, the later overpainting of certain scenes provides valuable insights into developments in northern Italy in the painting of figures and of their setting within a realistic landscape, during what was an important formative period.