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The Birth of Saint Nicholas

Paolo Veneziano (Venice, documented from 1333 to 1358)

1340-1347 c.
B3. Contini Bonacossi - Gold founds
Tempera on panel, gold base
Contini Bonacossi No. 6

The panel depicts the birth of Saint Nicholas and his saintliness. Although just born, the child miraculously stands on his own two feet to pray, to the amazement of the women looking after him. The miracle takes place while the saint is receiving his first bath, in front of a midwife who has placed a towel on her lap in which to wrap the newborn. An inscription featuring the name of the saint (S. NICOLAUS) can be seen above the child's halo. In the background, Nicholas' mother rests in bed while two women bring her a nourishing meal.

The panel – together with another compartment featuring the saint giving alms (Contini Bonacossi Inventory No. 7) – most likely belonged to an altarpiece dedicated to Saint Nicholas, whose relics have been kept in Bari since the eleventh century.

The two paintings are attributed to the most important painter working in Venice in the first half of the fourteenth century, Paolo Veneziano. The painter successfully manages to reconcile Byzantine traditions rooted on the Adriatic coast with Giotto’s innovative representations of space and volume, as is evident in the box-like architecture within which the scenes are set. The events are cleverly narrated by the figures’ gestures and the accuracy of their carefully depicted garments, which follow fourteenth-century fashions.

The two panels have occasionally been linked to a painting intended for the chapel of St. Nicholas in the Doge's Palace in Venice, for which Paolo Veneziano was paid in 1346. The work was destroyed in a fire in 1483 and the two scenes are said to be the only surviving fragments.

Purchased by Alessandro Contini Bonacossi in 1925, they were previously held in the Achillito Chiesa Collection in Milan.

Text by
Daniela Parenti
Related artworks

The Alms of Saint Nicholas

Paolo Veneziano (Venice, documented between 1333 and 1358)

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