(known 1394-1440 in Venice)

St Benedict and the Poisoned Wine

Tempera on wood, 109 x 62 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

This scene is part of a series of four episodes from the life of Benedict of Nursia, inspired by the Vita Sancti Benedicti written by Gregorio Magno, divided between the Uffizi Galleries and the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. They were probably part of an altarpiece dedicated to the saint, and despite their destination not being entirely known, they were most likely destined to the Benedictine order.

The four scenes are the following:

  1. St Benedict Makes his Nurse's Broken Sieve Whole (Uffizi)
  2. St Benedict and the Poisoned Wine (Uffizi)
  3. St Benedict Raising a Young Monk (Uffizi)
  4. St Benedict Tempted in the Wilderness (Poldi Pezzoli)

In the second painting St Benedict, called to oversee a monastery without an abbot, sits down in the refectory together with two monks, dressed like him, in the black tunic and cowl that were characteristic of the monastic order he founded. Benedict blesses a cup of poisoned wine held out to him by an elegantly dressed layman, who is also wearing a curious green hat. The full table and the page's elegant clothing may allude to the monks' relaxed customs before Benedict's arrival, who has since restored the strict rules of the order, leading the monks to make an attempt on his life. However, the glass shatters by miracle after the saint's blessing.

Although studies cannot agree on a definitive author, the paintings seem to be the work of Niccolò di Pietro, one of the most important artists working in Venice and north-western Italy during the affirmation of international Gothic style. With regard to the stories of St Benedict and Niccolò's narrative and descriptive skills, it has been hypothesized that the ideation was aided by Gentile da Fabriano, with whom Niccolò di Pietro was certainly in contact in 1408.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.