(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)

Sixtus II Consacrates St Lawrence as Deacon

Fresco, 271 x 197 cm
Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Sixtus II (257-258) had charged archdeacon Lawrence with dispersing the church's wealth to the needy. This deed aroused the ire of Emperor Valerian who had claimed the treasure for himself, and formed the basis for the charges brought against Lawrence and his eventual execution.

In its setting in the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican, the dramatic impact of this fresco is aided by its position between two recessed windows. The scene is set in the nave of a basilica, the type of architectural space which in St Lawrence distributing Alms was used only as a backdrop. Five columns are visible on either side, and they are equalled in volume and monumentality by the bishops and other churchmen who witness St Lawrence kneeling before the Pope. The end wall of the basilica and its niche bring emphasis to no figure in the composition, for none stands at the centre. The central axis runs instead through the communion chalice which passes between the Pope and the saint.

It is remarkable that in this fresco cycle the pope and the prelates wear azure vests, then rarely used and presently non-existent.