Wednesday, November 30, 2022

An Altarpiece of St Andrew the Apostle

For the feast of St Andrew the Apostle, here is an altarpiece dedicated to him, produced in Catalonia ca. 1425, and attributed to an anonymous painter known as the Master of Rousillon. It is now housed at The Cloisters in New York City, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public domain image from the Met website.)

The central panel, with the Apostle shown holding his cross and a book.
Above him, the Madonna and Child with angels.
To the left of the central panel are shown the calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, who are already with the Lord in their boat, and James and John, who are on their father Zebedee’s boat. This episode is the Gospel of St Andrew’s feast day, Matthew 4, 18-22. The remaining episodes of the altarpiece show various miracles attributed to St Andrew in his apocryphal acts, or attributed to him after his death, as recounted in the Golden Legend of Blessed James of Voragine. The lower panel shows a repeat of the episode of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, but between a mother and a son; Andrew intervenes to vindicate the son of any wrongdoing, while the mother is hit by lightning and killed.

In the right panel is shown the crucifixion of St Andrew. Below, he saves a bishop from the devil, who had tried to lead his excellency astray under the guise of a beautiful woman.

Two miracles in the predella panels: a woman goes to pray in front of an idol of Diana on behalf of her sterile sister, but the demon inside it tells her that it cannot do anything, and suggests that she go to the Apostle instead. To the right, Andrew comes to the sister and heals her.

To the left, St Andrew drives away from the city of Nicaea seven demons that haunted its outskirts in the form of dogs; on the right, he raises to life a young man killed by those same demons after they had fled to another city. Between them is a panel of the dead Christ in the tomb, borne up by an angel; this motif is often found in this place on altarpieces of this kind, since it would be right in front of the priest’s face as he inclined to say the words of consecration during the Mass.

St Andrew raises from the dead a group of men (forty in the written account) who had set sail to find him in order to learn the Faith, but had been shipwrecked and drowned. The last panel has long since gone missing.

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