Wednesday, December 04, 2019

An Altarpiece of St Barbara

In honor of the feast of St Barbara, here is a particularly nice altarpiece dedicated to her, a work in the International Gothic style by a painter from Valencia, Spain, named Gonçal Peris Sarrià (1380-1451). Originaly made for the parish church of Puertomingalvo in the province of Teruel, in what was then the Kingdom of Aragon, it is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. Each panel is shown and explained separately below; you can right-click each image to see it in a much higher resolution. Last year, I gave a more detailed explanation of the legend of St Barbara and how she came to be honored as a Patron Saint for a great many different things.

(Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)
St Barbara holding the palm of martyrdom and her traditional emblem, a tower.
(Upper left panel) On the left side, St Barbara is baptized by a monk. The story on the right side comes from her traditional legend, which has long been recognized by scholars of hagiography as historically unreliable. Her father, a wealthy pagan named Dioscorus, wishing to hide her beauty from the eyes of strangers, ordered her to be enclosed in a tower. As she meditated on the splendor and harmony of the world, which she could observe from the two windows, she began to think about its Cause. Renouncing the idols worshipped by her father, she became a Christian, and so had her father’s workmen open a third window in her tower to honor of the Holy Trinity.

(Lower left panel) On the left side, Dioscorus learns that Barbara has become a Christian, and threatens her with a sword. On the right, she runs away to hide in a forest, persued by her father; a shepherd who reveals her hiding place to him is turned to stone. 
(Upper right panel) On the left side, Barbara is brought before a Roman official, and condemned for her Christian faith; on the right, she is tortured on her breasts, a detail perhaps borrowed from the traditional legend of St Agatha.
(Lower right panel) On the left side, Barbara is being stoned; on the right, she is beheaded by her father, who together with his servant is struck by lightning strike, as Barbara’s soul is received into heaven by an angel.
The Crucifixion, over the central figure of the Saint; this image would have served as the altar cross for the celebration of Mass.
The left side of the predella, with Ss Ursula, identified by her arrow, Lucy, holding her eyes on a plate), and the Virgin Mary in mourning; this last indicates that the central panel between the two sides, which is now missing, was most likely an image of Christ in the tomb, a very common image to place in the middle of the predella. 
The right side of the predella, with Ss John the Evangelist, Margaret (with a dragon) and Catherine of Alexandria with her wheel. 

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